Kingdom Hearts III 101: The Most Important Stuff to Know Before Starting

Adam Mathew
Games Disney
Games Disney Xbox PlayStation

We imagine it’d be weird for an outsider looking in on Kingdom Hearts III. There’d be questions upon questions. Why are those spikey haired, anime-looking kids chilling with anthropomorphic Disney creatures? Was that “sword key” forged to slay foes or deface car panels? And how come everybody is totally cool with the sailor duck not wearing pants?

So many questions. Every one of them important, especially if you wish to dive into Kingdom Hearts III with no prior knowledge. Let’s unpack some of the big stuff, right now, together… [Obvious note: Kingdom Hearts series spoilers ahead.]

A group of heroes prepare to face a wintery foe who's probably snow joke.
"How come your duck is half-dressed?" "Let it go, Elsa. Let it go."

THE ELEVATOR PITCH AND MAIN PLAYERS

Kingdom Hearts III once again asks you to fill the boots of Sora, a teenage boy who’s the recipient of spectacular powers (for starters, an Excalibur-esque Keyblade has chosen him). Set in a vast array of Disney and Pixar worlds — because dimension-hopping is a staple of this series — our hero pals up with Donald Duck and Goofy. Their mission: Stop the evil cabal known as the Heartless.

This 2019 sequel will begin with Sora and co. heading off to prep for a long-anticipated final showdown. Meanwhile, secondary characters Kairi (Sora’s childhood friend) and Lea (token ginger comic relief) are training to become Keyblade wielders under Merlin.

Elsewhere, we have Riku (an on again/off again childhood rival of Sora’s) and King Mickey (as in Mouse) setting off to rescue Aqua (an OG Keyblade Master) from the Realm of Darkness — a sort of Disney version of The Upside Down.

That’s the basic narrative gist covered. But for those of you who still feel lost, it’s worth noting that series director Tetsuya Nomura has promised to include a recap function in Kingdom Hearts III. There’ll be several “elements” to explain the story and get newcomers up to speed with “the minimum required level of understanding.” So that’s nice.

The Keyblade in action.

WHAT IS A KEYBLADE?

You probably never saw this coming, but a Keyblade is a mythical weapon that’s something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it offers the power to easily defeat the worst foes in this universe (e.g. Heartless, Nobodies, Unversed, and Dream Eaters), but it also serves as a high-powered magnet for worse trouble.

It’s probably a good thing, then, that not just anybody can scoop one of these up. Keyblades have that Mjölnir logic going on: Only the worthy may wield one, and the eligible are chosen via inheritance or a strong heart. Should you meet either of those requirements, you’ll be getting yourself a powerful conduit for magic that comes with one of over a hundred different unique abilities.

Better yet, these blades can be leveled up and transmogrified into new tools for advanced end-users. Sometimes this can mean changing into vehicles or even firearms. Other times, these reconfigurings appear to be purely for cosmetic flair during especially large attack moves. It’s not uncommon to see the business end of a Keyblade – the head and shaft – morph into more dangerous melee weapons in the heat of battle.

Outside of combat, the Keyblade is more or less a maker or breaker of worlds. It is imbued with the ability to unlock dimensions and allow passage between them, just as it has the power to seal them tight to prevent evil sneaking in and shacking up. Better yet, it’s also the universe’s most elaborate skeleton master key. If you’ve forgotten where you left the means to unlock your treasure chest, your house, a gate — anything — the Keyblade has you covered. No fuss, no muss.

Sora morphs the Keyblade into a..well, it's a...door.
Evil begone! And don't let the door hit your face on the way out.

WHY MIX DISNEY AND JPRGS?

You know what? We have no real explanation for the newcomers among you. The fusing of what might look like to be two disparate franchises… just… is. If it’s any consolation, back in 2002 quite a few of us went into the original Kingdom Hearts thinking it was a bizarre proposition. Now, after 16 years and a dozen quality titles, that IP merger has proven to be a huge success.

What you’re looking at isn’t some shallow art-style crossbreeding, either: Disney’s greatest creations enhance the gameplay mechanics in meaningful ways. For starters, Disney Spirits are the Kingdom Hearts equivalent of Final Fantasy’s summoning spells. Using a Link command will make a phantom copy of an iconic film character materialise and kick six shades of cel animation out of your enemies. For example, the hyperactive Stitch (sans Lilo) can help you maul mobs, Ariel will deliver powerful vortexes of Mermaid-powered floods, and Wreck-It Ralph can be used to, well, wreck things.

Likewise, you can partner up for Team Attacks with any Disney NPCs who share the same physical space as you (most often this will be Donald or Goofy). For instance, you can expect to enlist Jack Sparrow for bomb attacks, fly around on Baymax, deliver firework airstrikes with Buzz Lightyear and Woody, or ten pin strike foes by bowling Monsters, Inc.‘s Mike Wazowski into them.

Ariel is summoned to lay down some water based attacks
Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beautiful special attacks.

WHAT ABOUT MINI-GAMES AND SIDE QUESTS?

The cameos don’t stop there. Outside of combat, you can catch up with yet more famous faces from The House of Mouse in a smorgasbord of mini-games. You might cook up some health potions with Remy from Ratatouille, play Bejewelled-like puzzle games with the critters from The Hundred Acre Wood or go sledding in the world of Frozen.

As you can see, whatever your gameplay or Disney taste, chances are Kingdom Hearts III has something in it for you. You can now consider yourself armed with more than enough facts to dive into this delightfully weird world.

You can take up a Keyblade yourself and join the epic fight for the future, friendship, and warm fuzzy feelings now in Kingdom Hearts III, available for PS4 and Xbox One.

Adam Mathew
I've seen and played it all – from Pong on a black-and-white CRT to the 4K visuals and VR gloriousness of today. My only regret after a decade of writing and 30+ years of gaming: hitchhiking's no longer an option. My thumbs are nubs now.
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