No matter how it ended up turning out, I knew that Kingdom Hearts III was always going to be the most important game of the decade to me - and potentially, one of the most important games of my life.
Ten years ago, I cracked the back of my head open trying to do a handstand on my bed. As a reward for “being brave” (though I’m still convinced it was just to shut me up), I was told I could have one game I wanted. I picked the game with the Disney characters and catchy song I’d been seeing on the TV, Kingdom Hearts II.
What I expected to be a simple Disney-filled distraction turned out to be so much more than that. The characters embodied my entire childhood’s hopefulness and determination, spouting off about light, friendship and everything else I held dear. The Disney worlds that attracted me in the first place were just as great as I’d have hoped and the gameplay that accompanied them kept me occupied for a long time, although I’m sure I wasn’t playing it to the highest level of skill.
I must have sunk 200+ hours into what is normally considered a 30-hour game. Though there are now games I’ve played that easily top that, the amount of time I must have spent simply wandering around and fighting Heartless is obscene to me now. Kingdom Hearts always stuck in my head growing up and I tried to carry it with me even years after it released.
The fan excitement surrounding the announcement still gives me goosebumps to this day. I’d never felt more in sync with a group of people. I spent many hours watching theory videos, breakdowns, and reactions.
I also started to realize that I had noticed a lot of things that weren’t being said. I wasn’t fooled into thinking the first trailer featured gameplay. I made the distinction between Sora’s Keyblade transformations and attraction flow. I could recall every enemy that had or hadn’t appeared in the series. I’d always been big on games growing up, but this was a new level of attention and detail I hadn’t realized I had.
It was around about this time in my life where I was being pushed to decide what I wanted to do with my future. I started wondering if I could apply this knowledge to a lot of games - to become invested in knowing as much as possible about all of them and in turn, write about them critically and analytically.
In short, Kingdom Hearts III made me decide to become a gaming journalist.
A couple of months after those trailers, I started doing voluntary gaming writing online and tried to get my foot in the door. Eventually, I even starting writing for KH13, a website solely dedicated to Kingdom Hearts news. My inspiration had finally linked with my work and I was loving it.
As time goes on, life gets a lot harder and it happens fast. There’s a lot more to deal with and you don’t always see things the way you want. I had many things happen both good and bad happen in my personal life after 2015, but Kingdom Hearts III always remained as the light at the end of the tunnel for me.
I knew that no matter what, I had to get to Kingdom Hearts III. Through every exam, every party, every death, and every birthday, it kept me going. I dreamt about it, I theorized on it day and night and I wrote about it A LOT. Soundtracks and quotes filled my brain and even as new games filled my shelf and my heart, Kingdom Hearts III always occupied a part of my mind as the big game I was waiting for.
To be completely honest, I almost wish it ended up as vapourware. The hope KH3 gave me in all aspects of life and the joy I got out of every trailer is still unmatched by any other game. Yet the long-awaited day finally came, Kingdom Hearts III was eventually given a release date. Knowing when it came out made things a lot harder. Suddenly, it became apparent that I’d spent five years of my life actively waiting for a game and the journey was soon coming to an end.
Kingdom Hearts III released on January 29, 2019 - 12 years after the last numbered mainline title and 5 years from its reveal. I took it all in over 30 hours of pure Kingdom Hearts goodness and it’s still the most overwhelming experience I’ve had with a game. I cried multiple times throughout my playthrough and barely stopped to eat or sleep. I loved almost every second of it. The final few hours still rank as my greatest personal experience in a game yet.
The story managed to cap off almost everything I’d been wanting to see in the series and the gameplay made some massive improvements in both combat and exploration. Its Disney worlds were some of the more interesting selections so far, as well. Kingdom Hearts III both looked and sounded incredible too. It really felt like the natural evolution for the style of the series.
Funnily enough, if you asked me to review Kingdom Hearts III, I doubt I could go much higher than an 8. Even though for me it’s always going to be a special experience, it’s by no means a perfect game. The combat doesn’t match the second game and the story leaves some sections to be desired. There’s a distinct lack of content compared to what was previously available, even if what was offered was ten times the resolution.
When you build something up for a whole decade, there’s no chance in hell that it’ll ever be able to reach what you dream. I experienced that with Kingdom Hearts III for sure, but it definitely came a lot closer than I ever thought it could.
Even with all of its flaws and the fairly mixed reaction from fans, Kingdom Hearts III guided me through growing up, helped decide my career, and surrounded me with a loving community. Chances are you wouldn’t even be reading this article, if it weren’t for a spiky-haired boy named Sora being followed by his best friends - Donald and Goofy.
I now have Sora’s crown tattooed on my wrist as a constant reminder that no matter the destination, it’s the journey that matters.