If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that a good game and the bonds of friendship are incurable antidotes to the darkest moments in our lives. Fittingly enough, no game embodies this sentiment in the strangest way possible than an iconic 2019 RPG that’s about to make its unfortunate exit from Xbox Game Pass on January 15. You still have a few days left to enjoy this experience in all its might, majesty, and unexplainable oddities.
Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Kingdom Hearts III.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise is the unlikely brainchild of a nearly 20-year partnership between the Final Fantasy stewards at Square Enix and licensees at Disney Interactive. And since the franchise’s inception, these games have always done a stellar job of pleasing both of these seemingly disparate audiences by fusing Final Fantasy character design and storytelling with good-natured Disney sensibilities.
Want to have an epic sword-slashing battle with the likes of Cloud Strife? Would you rather chill with Winnie the Pooh and dig up some carrots? There’s no other game that can or will ever faithfully offer both of these divergent thrills in a single package, and Kingdom Hearts III offers the best distillation of that unique formula across the franchise’s dozen titles.
If you appreciate gaming enough to have an active Xbox Game Pass subscription, odds are you’ve heard quite a few claims about Kingdom Hearts that may have discouraged you from trying the series in the past. Is the larger lore of Kingdom Hearts confusing as hell? Is its baseline gameplay somewhat simplistic compared to other Square Enix RPGs? Unfortunately or not, the answer to both of those questions is an unequivocal yes.
It goes without saying that those who enter the series via Kingdom Hearts III will endure some downright confusing cinematics, but even long-time fans often get confused by this bewildering story. The major pull of the series is in the wide variety of worlds you visit along the way. Not only do these environments perfectly recreate familiar landmark plots and locations from the likes of Tangled, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Frozen, but there are also original destinations like Twilight Town and Destiny Islands. All of the above serve as examples of the unparalleled charm that has allowed Square Enix to endure as a publisher.
True to the sheer variety of properties on which these worlds are based, you’ll also be able to accomplish a dizzying array of objectives once you get there.
Traditional hack-and-slash combat remains the bedrock for a lot of what you’ll be doing, but you’ll also be able to fight with mechs inside Galaxy Toy Store, collect parts for a fully customizable pirate ship in an open-world version of Port Royal, and dance with Repunzel at the Kingdom of Corona. Last year’s releases like It Takes Two were lauded for taking risks on a wide variety of gameplay mechanics, and Kingdom Hearts III occupies this space better than any other RPG ever made. Its core action keeps you grounded, but there are mandatory and optional gimmicks everywhere to ensure you never feel like you’re adhering to a prescribed loop.
Still think a game that features fully animated renditions of “Let It Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” might not be hardcore enough for you? Here’s the straight dope: Especially if you’ve enjoyed recent Final Fantasy titles like Final Fantasy XV or Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Kingdom Hearts III remains a crucial step in the evolution of the modern JRPG. Enjoy the real-time combat menus of XV? Those were largely pioneered in Kingdom Hearts. Think Cloud’s Buster Sword in FF7R feels fantastic? I promise you’ll feel right at home wielding a Keyblade.
The unfortunate truth is that the Kingdom Hearts series never gets enough credit for how influential it’s been in charting the course for Square’s recent creative endeavors, and Kingdom Hearts III is a particularly important stop on that evolutionary scale. More modern Final Fantasy and even Nier games owe a lot to Kingdom Hearts.
All of the above serves as a stark reminder of why series protagonist Sora was chosen as the top-voted character in 2015’s infamous Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot. The experiences in which he’s starred are truly formative RPGs, and Kingdom Hearts III may be the very best of them.
Regardless of its messy narrative, Kingdom Hearts III’s adherence to its Disney roots should be enough to make gamers of any age smile. And for those who’ve played at least some of the other games, the conclusion of the Dark Seeker Saga is a thrill ride that ties absolutely everything (and I mean everything) together. With only a few days left on Game Pass, there’s just enough time to blast through it all before the offer expires.