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Kingdom Hearts III
|Kingdom Hearts III|
|Developer(s)||Square Enix Business Division 3|
|Engine||Unreal Engine 4|
|Platform(s)||PlayStation 4, Xbox One|
Kingdom Hearts III[a] is an action role-playing game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It is the twelfth installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, a sequel to Kingdom Hearts II, and serves as a conclusion of the "Dark Seeker saga" beginning with the original game. Set after the events of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, returning protagonist Sora is joined by Donald Duck, Goofy, King Mickey and Riku in their search for the seven guardians of light as they attempt to thwart Xehanort's plan to bring about a second Keyblade War. Their journey has them cross paths with characters and visit worlds based on different Disney and Pixar intellectual properties.
Concepts for Kingdom Hearts III began as early as 2005 after the release of Kingdom Hearts II in Japan, with the game not being announced until 2013, following years of rumors and speculation. The game sees many returning gameplay features from the series, while expanding parties to five characters total, introducing new "Attraction Flow" attacks that incorporate various Disney Parks attractions, and minigames inspired by classic Walt Disney Productions Mickey Mouse cartoons in the style of 1980s LCD games. The game was built using Unreal Engine 4.
Kingdom Hearts III was released worldwide in January 2019, and was met with generally favorable reviews from critics. It sold over five million copies within its first week of release.
Gameplay in Kingdom Hearts III is similar to its predecessors, with hack and slash combat, which director Tetsuya Nomura stated would be along the lines of the system seen in Kingdom Hearts II, with an evolution similar to what was seen from Kingdom Hearts to Kingdom Hearts II, and closely tied to the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. He also revealed that the handheld games of the series were where he could experiment with the combat mechanics, and that some of the well-received additions could appear in Kingdom Hearts III. Nomura noted that new gameplay elements are the "skeleton" of the game, saying, "When creating a Kingdom Hearts game, we start with a gameplay system that I think would be a fun element, and once we have an idea of what kind of gameplay or system we want in place, we flesh out the story around it, surrounding the basic concept of what kind of fun we're going to have with this new installment." Additionally, the development team "always want to try something new", taking previously introduced mechanics and making small "tweak[s]" to them so they are customized for Kingdom Hearts III.
Sora returns as the main playable character, once again joined in the party by Donald Duck and Goofy, with the ability to have two additional characters join the party for a total of five-player parties. This is an increase from previous main entries in the series, where players were limited to two additional party members at any given time along with Sora. Certain parts of the game have Riku and Aqua as playable characters. Describing the gameplay, Nomura called the action "pretty frantic", as well as "really flashy and exciting. The enemy AI is a lot more intricate, too, and I think the gameplay will reflect that new dynamic balance." Sora can perform magic, with a new, powerful tier of each spell available to him, similar to what Aqua has available to her in Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. Magic performs differently in underwater sections of the game, with Kingdom Hearts III introducing a new spell, Water. Team-up attacks are also featured, which combine Sora and various party members into one attack. Players can equip various abilities for Sora and his party members, with the system to do so "an evolution of sorts" from the system used in Kingdom Hearts II. Character summons make a return from previous entries, this time known as "Links", where an additional character joins the battle to assist the player with specialized attacks.
Sora faces Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed in the game, with new variants of these enemy types appearing. In addition to these traditional "smaller" enemies, the player faces giant bosses, which give "Sora greater freedom of movement and room to experiment with attacks—including the new theme-park-ride summon attacks," known as "Attraction Flow". These attacks are inspired by the Disney Parks attractions Mad Tea Party, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, and Grizzly River Run, and generic pirate ship and carousel attractions; these attacks draw visual inspiration from Disney Parks' Main Street Electrical Parade. Sora also has the ability to jump on certain enemies, such as ones shaped like a vehicle. Regarding traversal, Nomura noted the new mechanic, called "Athletic Flow" in Japanese, was refined from the Flowmotion mechanic from Dream Drop Distance, which players felt was "a little too free... and it was kind of hard to control on their end." "Athletic Flow" allows the player to utilize the environment to access previously unreachable areas. Co-director Tai Yasue stated this mechanic was created "to try something new" and "radically change the gameplay" for the Hercules world, which led to its use in the other worlds. As a result, each world was able to have "more height, scale and sense of discovery."
Situation Commands also return from previous entries, which can trigger the Keyblade transformations. Nomura revealed that Keyblade transformations were conceived as early as the development of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix and would be similar to Aqua's ability in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, saying, "Each Keyblade transformation is unlocked by clearing all missions in one of [the game's] worlds, and each individual world offers its own unique Keyblade transformation." He further elaborated stating there were two forms each Keyblade can take, with "multiple layers in terms of transforming" starting with one transformation and achieving the second after "successfully connect[ing] your combos". The Keyblade transformations active the various "Formchanges"–Power, Guard, Magic, and Speed–[better source needed] and change Sora's outfit, similarly to the "Drive Form" mechanic in Kingdom Hearts II. Various Keyblades are linked to each form; for example, the Toy Story world Keyblade actives Power Form for Sora, with the Keyblade's transformations changing into a hammer and then into a drill. There is also "Second Form", which changes Sora's battle skills rather than transform the Keyblade. Unlike previous games in the series, players are able to quickly switch between different Keyblades seamlessly during gameplay rather than from the game's equipment menu, and each Keyblade can be leveled up to increase their abilities. Shotlocks also return, which use a focus meter that can target and lock on to individual enemies with the attack depending on which Keyblade is equipped.
Each world offers a specific gameplay element, such as first-person shooter "Gigas" mechs in the Toy Story world, downhill sledding in the Frozen world, and naval, underwater, and aerial combat in the Pirates of the Caribbean world, which also features numerous smaller islands at sea which can be explored. The Gummi Ship also returns as a means of travel between the different worlds of the game. The mechanic has been split into two phases: exploration, which has been likened to being more open-world without a fixed travel route as in previous games; and combat, which has increased its scale from previous games, with more enemies present. Gummi Ship customization also returns, with more options available than in previous Kingdom Hearts games.
Various mini-games playable throughout Kingdom Hearts III, including a cooking-themed game featuring Remy from Ratatouille, and a music game one in the Tangled world. Additionally, the "Classic Kingdom" features over 20 games presented in the style of 1980s LCD games such as Game & Watch, while the 100 Acre Wood world features puzzle games. Members of the development team suggested each type of mini-game featured, with Nomura working on the "Classic Kingdom". Kingdom Hearts III also has a "Memory Archive" features, which has several short films explaining the basic story elements of the series from the previous games.
The story opens with the final scenes of Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, and serves as a conclusion of the "Dark Seeker/Xehanort Saga" that occurs in all preceding games. Most of the worlds featured in the game inspired by Disney properties are new to the series, including the Kingdom of Corona (based on Tangled), San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6), and Arendelle (Frozen), and the Pixar-based worlds Toy Box (Toy Story) and Monstropolis (Monsters, Inc.). Two new original worlds created specifically for the game also appear: a limbo for dying hearts called the "Final World"; and Scala ad Caelum, a "seat of power" for past Keyblade wielders, where the game's final battle takes place. Returning Disney worlds include tutorial stage Olympus (Hercules), the Caribbean (Pirates of the Caribbean), the 100 Acre Wood (Winnie the Pooh), while original worlds include Twilight Town, the Dark World, the Land of Departure, and the Keyblade Graveyard. Worlds such as Yen Sid's Mysterious Tower, Radiant Garden, Disney Castle, and the Destiny Islands appear exclusively via cutscenes. The "Classic Kingdom" mini-games are inspired by classic Walt Disney Productions Mickey Mouse cartoons, including Giantland, The Karnival Kid, Musical Farmer, The Barnyard Battle, The Klondike Kid, and Mickey's Mechanical Man.
The Toy Story, Monster's Inc., and Big Hero 6 worlds feature original stories, with the former set between the events of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, and the latter two set after the events of their respective films. This is different from previous worlds in the series, which have often loosely followed plot lines from the films on which they were based, including the Tangled, Frozen, and Pirates of the Caribbean worlds. On the amount of worlds featured in the game, Nomura noted the development team focused on creating "rich gameplay in an individual world... designed so players can take their time and enjoy the gameplay that's available" opposed to having "multiple different little worlds".
Sora returns as the protagonist of the game, alongside Donald Duck and Goofy. Supporting characters also returning include Riku, Kairi, King Mickey, Master Eraqus, Terra, Aqua, Ventus, Lea, Ienzo, Roxas, Hayner, Pence, and Olette, Jiminy Cricket, Chip 'n' Dale, Yen Sid, Chirithy, and Ansem the Wise.
Returning antagonists include Master Xehanort and his various forms—his Heartless, Ansem; his Nobody, Xemnas; his youthful incarnation, Young Xehanort; and his primary vessel, Terra-Xehanort—Marluxia, Vanitas, Larxene, Xigbar, Luxord, Demyx, Vexen, Saïx, Riku's Replica, and Disney characters Maleficent and Pete.
Disney characters who serve as members of Sora's party include the returning Hercules and Jack Sparrow, and new to the series, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, Sulley and Mike Wazowski, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, Baymax, and Marshmallow. Characters that appear as summon "Links" for Sora include Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Dream Eaters, such as Meow Wow, from Dream Drop Distance, Wreck-It Ralph from the film of the same name, Simba from The Lion King, and Stitch from Lilo & Stitch.
Additional Disney character appearances include Hades, Lythos, Hydros, Pegasus, Megara, Phil, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Hector Barbossa, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Roo, Gopher, and Scrooge McDuck, with new characters Hamm, Rex, Sarge and the Bucket O' Soldiers, and the Squeeze Toy Aliens from Toy Story; Boo, Randall Boggs, and the CDA from Monsters, Inc.; Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, Sven, and Hans from Frozen; Joshamee Gibbs, Tia Dalma, Davy Jones, Cutler Beckett, and the Kraken from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series; Pyros, Stratos, and Zeus from Hercules; Pascal and Maximus and Mother Gothel from Tangled; Hiro Hamada, Go Go, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred from Big Hero 6; and Lumpy from the Winnie the Pooh franchise, joining. Remy from Ratatouille appears in one of the game's mini-games. The Final Fantasy Moogle character returns as the item shopkeeper.
Most other Final Fantasy characters were excluded from the game as Tetsuya Nomura felt that they would detract from the story, and that the Kingdom Hearts characters needed less support than they did before.
Following Master Xehanort's return, Yen Sid begins preparing for seven Keyblade wielders to counteract Xehanort's plan to forge the χ-blade using a reconstituted Organization XIII. Sora, who was nearly taken over by Xehanort,[b] discovers that he has lost much of his own strength as a result. Accompanied by Donald Duck and Goofy, Sora resumes his travels across other worlds in order to regain his "power of waking", the ability to restore lost hearts. Meanwhile, Riku and King Mickey traverse the realm of darkness in search of Aqua, while Kairi and Lea train to properly wield their newly obtained Keyblades.
During their travels, Sora and Riku are contacted by Ienzo, who discovers via Ansem the Wise's research data that Sora's body contains the hearts of Roxas, Ventus, and Xion. Riku surmises that the Organization's members from the past are using artificial human replicas created by Vexen as vessels that enable their existence in the present, which inspires Sora to restore Roxas by transferring his heart into a replica body. Meanwhile, the Heartless Ansem enters the realm of darkness and kidnaps Ansem the Wise, corrupting Aqua's heart in the process. However, Vexen reveals himself to be a double agent loyal to Ansem the Wise, whom he helps rescue before sending a spare replica to Ienzo for Roxas to inhabit.
Riku and Mickey eventually locate and battle the corrupted Aqua in the realm of darkness. At the same time, Sora discovers Master Eraqus's Keyblade on the Destiny Islands and uses it to enter the dark realm, where he exorcises the darkness from Aqua and returns her to the realm of light. Sora, Donald, and Goofy then follow Aqua to Castle Oblivion, which she transforms back into the Land of Departure to awaken Ventus. When she is attacked by Vanitas, Sora rediscovers his power of waking and revives Ventus, who fends Vanitas off.
The seven Keyblade wielders depart for the Keyblade Graveyard to battle the Organization, only to be quickly consumed by a swarm of Heartless summoned by the possessed Terra. Awakening in a limbo realm called The Final World, Sora is guided back to the realm of light by Kairi and uses the power of waking to revive his friends. Returning moments before their initial defeat, the guardians of light successfully destroy most of the Organization's members; in the process, Terra regains control of his body and reunites with Aqua and Ventus, while Lea reunites with Xion, whom Vexen recreated for the Organization, and Roxas, who regains his own heart to protect Lea and Xion.
Once Xehanort remains the last Organization member, he provokes Sora into attacking him by destroying Kairi's body, allowing Xehanort to acquire the χ-blade and summon Kingdom Hearts. Using Xehanort's power of time travel against him, Sora, Donald, and Goofy transport him to his boyhood training grounds of Scala ad Caelum, where they defeat him. After the other Keyblade wielders rejoin them, Eraqus's heart emerges from Terra and convinces Xehanort to surrender. As Xehanort succumbs to old age, his and Eraqus's hearts depart together to The Final World, while Sora and his friends use the χ-blade to close it and return to the Keyblade Graveyard.
Sora decides to use the power of waking to revive Kairi; despite warnings that his repeated misuse of this power could result in him losing his heart, Sora promises to return. Afterwards, Sora's friends gather at the Destiny Islands for a celebration, where Kairi stays beside Sora before he fades away. In a post-credits scene, Xigbar, who survived the Keyblade War, retrieves Xehanort's Keyblade and summons four of the five Foretellers, revealing himself to be a reincarnation of their fellow Keyblade apprentice, Luxu. He begins to recount his actions to the Foretellers, with Maleficent and Pete watching from afar. In a flashback to their youth, Eraqus and Xehanort begin a new game of chess that predicts a battle between Sora, Luxu, the five Foretellers, and the Master of Masters.
After Square Enix finished development of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix, Tetsuya Nomura was approached by Disney, who expressed interest in a sequel. In regard to a possible release of Kingdom Hearts III, Nomura said "We have various ideas, but we're not at the point where we can say that." He added that due to the development of Final Fantasy XV—titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII at the time— which was being developed by the Kingdom Hearts II team, it was "physically impossible at the present. I feel that it's not the right time to talk about the future of Kingdom Hearts." In response to questions about the secret film in Final Mix, Nomura noted that it was of a "new series" in Kingdom Hearts rather than Kingdom Hearts III. When asked about Kingdom Hearts III, Nomura noted that fans and partners alike were interested in its release, and would work to "realize it" as soon as possible. In the Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Ultimania guide book, Nomura announced three upcoming titles, one of which was Kingdom Hearts III. However, Final Fantasy XV was still his primary focus, preventing him from starting production on Kingdom Hearts III. He later noted that Kingdom Hearts III would not see a release until after 2012, due to his continuing work on Final Fantasy XV, regardless of the tenth anniversary of the series occurring in that year. The Nintendo 3DS video game Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance was announced to connect to Kingdom Hearts III, both in terms of gameplay system and story.
Sony announced Kingdom Hearts III for the PlayStation 4 with a teaser trailer at its E3 2013 event in June 2013. Square Enix later confirmed the game's cross-platform release for the Xbox One as a port of the PlayStation 4 version. Though some development and concepts for the game began during the seventh generation of video game consoles, it was always intended that the game would release during the eighth generation.:65 Unlike Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, which were developed by Square Enix's Product Development Division 1 team, Kingdom Hearts III was developed by Square Enix's 1st Production Department, who developed Birth by Sleep, Dream Drop Distance, and worked on the HD 1.5 Remix collection and Square Enix's Business Division 3. Rie Nishi serves as the game's producer. The game began using the in-house Luminous Studio engine to develop the game after some initial development tests had been done using the Unreal Engine 3.:66
Directly after E3 2013, Nomura claimed that Kingdom Hearts III was announced "too early", based on where the game stood in development. He continued by saying, "Many fans were feeling impatient due to our continuous releases of spin-off titles, so we decided to announce it at the same time as Final Fantasy XV". Kingdom Hearts III is not intended to be the final game in the series, and serves as the final chapter of the "Dark Seeker/Xehanort" saga. Series producer Shinji Hashimoto stated in September 2013 that since Nomura was director of both Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy XV, it was expected that there would be a significant gap between the release of the two, "as [they] want each game to be perfect in terms of quality." Hashimoto also reiterated Nomura's statements about the game's announcement at E3 2013, as "the company thought it was about time it addressed speculation about the long-awaited conclusion to the trilogy."
A short teaser for the game appeared at the end of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix trailer at E3 2014. Yasue revealed that the sequence seen in the teaser was the opening scene for the game. He added that it was created by Nomura, who had "a real clear picture of [what] the starting sequence" should be, and that the text seen and heard was going to "be a real integral part of the story". In September 2014, it was announced that Nomura would no longer be the director of Final Fantasy XV, focusing his attention on other projects, including Kingdom Hearts III. Nomura had been the director of Final Fantasy XV since the game was announced as Final Fantasy Versus XIII in 2006. The following month, Nomura revealed that the game had switched to using Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4, due to a "variety of reasons", with the development team having the full support of Epic.
In January 2015, Yasue revealed that working on HD 2.5 Remix simultaneously allowed the developers to learn all the best qualities from the series to aid in creating III, saying "For III we want to evolve it in a new direction, but at the same time we don't want to change what is fundamental about Kingdom Hearts." Additionally, he stated the Kingdom Hearts team was sharing knowledge with the Final Fantasy XV team to expand the game and get the most out of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. In June 2015, Nomura revealed that development was on track and that secret films were being considered. He also stated that the team had an internal release window they were trying to hit. In August 2015, at D23 Expo 2015, a world based on Big Hero 6 was announced. In November 2015, new footage was shown at D23 Expo Japan 2015, footage which was cut from the E3 2015 trailer for time.
A gameplay trailer was released during the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra World Tour in Los Angeles in mid-June 2017. The next month, Nomura stated that a Nintendo Switch version of the game might be created, but wanted to focus on the development and promise of completing the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions before exploring other platform possibilities. Commenting on the long development process, Nomura noted it was not due to problems with development or any choices made by the development team, but rather internal Square Enix corporate decisions, such as changing to the Unreal Engine 4 about a year into the game's development, which led to "extensive delays" and "a bit of time that needed to be rewinded and started over", and "certain timing and resources challenges within Square Enix", despite submitting and getting approved a plan for when more personal resources would be needed on the project. Regarding downloadable content (DLC) for the game, Nomura stated that "nothing is set in stone" regarding it, but he told the development team to "be prepared to be able to accommodate for something like that. We can't suddenly develop a system where we're accommodating for downloadable content. So it's not confirming or denying either way, but just so that the development team will be prepared". He would later add that he wanted to have some sort of additional content for the game, but nothing in depth had been discussed. Nomura was open to potentially adding customizable accessories, as was able to be done in Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage with Aqua, as that feature does not return for Kingdom Hearts III. Nomura also preferred DLC to expand or change the game over releasing a Final Mix version as had been done with some past entries in the series.
At D23 Japan 2018, Square Enix revealed the game was being developed in three sections, with approximately three worlds in each section. At that time, the worlds in the first section were said to be 90 percent complete and development of the middle section at around 60 percent. No update was given on the final section of the game, though Nomura stated its contents were "something he's always wanted to do and put into Kingdom Hearts, ever since the days of working on Final Fantasy... It is bound to surprise everyone." In April 2018, the "Classic Kingdom" mini-games were revealed for the game, while also announcing the games would be playable in the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Union χ. A selection of the mini-games were made available in Union χ in its "χ3" mode added in September 2018, which enables players to obtain the "Starlight" Keyblade in Kingdom Hearts III by completing certain objectives. By June 2018, the secret film for the game had been created. Additionally, Nomura revealed the development team was concerned with the size of the game and if it would fit on the game disc. To help with this, the team was turning some of the cutscenes into pre-rendered films to help reduce load times.
At E3 2018, worlds based on Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End were revealed. Nomura also provided an update to the development of the Big Hero 6 world, revealing all the gameplay had been created, with the cutscenes still needing to be completed. Shortly after, Square Enix released on their website short story recap videos for the series in Japanese. These videos were the same that were included in the game's "Memory Archive" feature. At X018, a world based on Winnie the Pooh was revealed. Shortly after, it was reported that the character of Winnie the Pooh would be censored in China. This was due to the Chinese government banning any depictions of the character after the character's appearance had been compared to that of Chinese president Xi Jinping. To improve the Gummi Ship gameplay, a criticism in previous entries, the development team who created the scrolling shooter 1997 game Einhänder was brought in to handle this portion of the game, along with other programmers and engineers who have worked on driving games. Development of the game was completed by November 20, 2018.
Following the release of the game, Nomura confirmed the development of downloadable content to support the game, saying that the development team's current "top priority is on making DLC for KH3" with the intention of releasing a single content package of DLC in lieu of a separate "Final Mix" version like previous titles in the series. 
Nomura revealed the Tangled world was one of the first determined to be in the game, as the development team wanted to include Rapunzel due to her strong personality and her hair, saying, "she is able to utilize her hair in such a way where she's whipping it around. She can even use it for attacks, and that was just so appealing, and we thought it would make for such great gameplay". The Pirates of the Caribbean world was included because Nomura wanted at least one world based on a live-action Disney film, stating that the Caribbean location allowed for "interesting" gameplay opportunities. He also chose to have the world be based on the third film, At World's End, over other films in the series, particularly Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, because Dead Man's Chest is "setup" for At World's End and the game would "have to end [the story] in the middle as well". The world also mimics the color palette from the film, being "deliberately washed-out", with the sky, for example being more grey-blue over "[t]he typical fantasy blue".:64
Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II in 2005, The Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, and Lucasfilm. When asked in 2013 if any of these properties would appear in Kingdom Hearts III, Nomura said he contacts Disney after he hears of an acquisition, though he noted that "Disney's pretty honest [on the possibility of an inclusion]. If the situation is really difficult, they'll say, it's really difficult. If it's impossible, they'll say it's impossible." He later stated that even though the Disney Company had acquired these properties, Disney Interactive Studios may not necessarily have the ability to license the content due to existing deals, such as Disney's deal with Electronic Arts for Star Wars games. Yasue added that they were "looking at all of Disney, the new ones as well" when choosing worlds for the game, including worlds potentially based on Marvel Comics and Star Wars properties. He expanded, saying, "We have to come up with a world that has a lot of originality. We want variety... so we don't want too many of one sort of world, that would look the same. For each world there has to be some meaning for it, in the plot... Also, gameplay-wise, is that world something that would make gameplay fun?"
Nomura had hoped to include a world based on Toy Story since Kingdom Hearts II, saying he felt "Sora really fit in and matched well with that world" and being "able to execute that into the game is something I'm really excited for." Nomura felt Pixar worlds were extremely important to include in Kingdom Hearts, specifically one based on the film Toy Story, and stated he considered not making Kingdom Hearts III if he could not get the rights to use Pixar properties from Disney. This world was the first submitted to Pixar for approval shortly after the completion of Kingdom Hearts II, with Nomura presenting them a general outline of the story he had planned for the world. It would take Pixar "several years" to approve the story and character designs, as Nomura and Square Enix were negotiation through Disney and not Pixar directly.:58, 61 In July 2017, at D23 Expo 2017, the Toy Story world was revealed, and the second Pixar world in the game, based on Monsters, Inc., was revealed at D23 Expo Japan 2018.
Nomura noted the approval process for each world was more difficult than with earlier games, because many of the worlds are based on some of Disney's more contemporary films, making it harder to take creative license with the worlds. He explained, "Previous to Kingdom Hearts III, I think these companies kind of saw it more as like, secondary rights permissions. They saw it more as a product, like you would a branded toy or something.":61 Continuing, Nomura noted, "Because we are working with more recent titles, the staff who were on the original project are the ones we go to for approvals. For instance, Frozen. The staff is still there and they work with us on Frozen. Because we go directly to the creators, they have the most passion for their titles."
In June 2013, Nomura discussed the updated visuals, saying that the development team tried to return the character's texture to the original "paintbrush art from Disney productions". The resulting visuals were referred to as the Kingdom Shader. Nomura continued, "It may look like a pretty drastic change, but I see it as a rich evolution of everything we've shown you up to now." Nomura also revealed that Sora is the same proportions as in previous games; however, they "muted the volume on his hair—it's not as wild." Regarding updating Sora's look from his Kingdom Hearts II design, Nomura noted that outfit's popularity, but felt "the desire to change it" since the game is the first numbered sequel since II's release. He added that the basis for the resulting design is a mix between Sora's costumes for Kingdom Hearts II and Dream Drop Distance, one that is "a lot more sleek and sporty" since "Sora does a lot more... acrobatic [and]... action-oriented movements". Riku and King Mickey also receive updated outfits.
Speaking on the designs of the worlds, Nomura said the updated graphical capabilities allowed the development team "to depict the world[s] of the original film[s] as close to [their] original form as possible" after previously creating worlds to be "a stylized Kingdom Hearts world". Disney shared basic polygon information with the development team, who ultimately had to remake all of the characters, animations, and environments from scratch.:65 Members of Pixar assisted with the Toy Story world's creation, and for the Pixar characters in the game, Pixar shared their actual character models with Square Enix and had the original character designers consult on the game "to make sure everything looked as true to the films as we could make it." The design team would talk weekly with Disney, sharing their assets to receive feedback, with Disney sometimes asking "for minute alterations such as insisting a character show less teeth, having their eyelids move differently or their line of sight adjusted". The line of sight notes, which came from Pixar, "were instrumental in raising the general quality of the animation throughout" according to the development team.:65
Supporting characters can explore an environment on their own if Sora idles momentarily, sometimes triggering additional cutscene moments. For example, Rapunzel responds if an Aero spell is cast on a group of dandelions. Speaking specifically to interactions such as this with Rapunzel, Yasue said "finding and activating these moments builds trust with" her and can lead "to additional combat scenarios and treasure opportunities".
The game's soundtrack was composed by long-time series composer, Yoko Shimomura, and features additional contributions from Takeharu Ishimoto and Tsuyoshi Sekito. As with the first two main Kingdom Hearts games, it has a theme song written and performed by Hikaru Utada, titled "Chikai" in Japanese and "Don't Think Twice" in English. It serves as the game's ending theme. An additional theme, titled "Face My Fears" by Skrillex, Poo Bear, and Utada, is used for the opening of the game. Skrillex, a fan of the series, originally intended to remix "Don't Think Twice", before creating "Face My Fears", which also has a Japanese version. Both "Face My Fears" and "Don't Think Twice" were released on January 18, 2019.
English voice actors reprising their roles from previous games include Haley Joel Osment as Sora/Vanitas, Bill Farmer as Goofy, Tony Anselmo as Donald Duck, David Gallagher as Riku/Riku Replica, Bret Iwan as Mickey Mouse, and Alyson Stoner as Kairi and Xion. Many of the voice actors for the Disney and Pixar characters reprise their roles from their respective films. These include: Josh Gad as Olaf; Kristen Bell as Anna; Idina Menzel as Elsa; Jonathan Groff as Kristoff; Zachary Levi as Flynn Rider; Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel; John Ratzenberger as Hamm; Wallace Shawn as Rex; Tate Donovan as Hercules; James Woods as Hades; Kevin McNally as Gibbs; Susan Egan as Megara; Ryan Potter as Hiro; Jamie Chung as Go Go; Scott Adsit as Baymax; Genesis Rodriguez as Honey Lemon; Khary Payton as Wasabi (who reprises the role from Big Hero 6: The Series replacing Damon Wayans Jr. from the film); and T.J. Miller as Fred. They are joined by Carlos Alazraqui as Mike Wazowski (who reprises the role from other video games, replacing Billy Crystal) and Christopher Swindle as Sulley (replacing John Goodman). Rutger Hauer voices Master Xehanort, replacing Leonard Nimoy after his death in 2015, while Jason Dohring, Willa Holland, Jesse McCartney and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Terra, Aqua, Ventus (and Roxas), and Master Eraqus from Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, respectively. Kingdom Hearts III also has full voice acting in optional dialogue moments outside of cut scenes, which is a first for the series.
Kingdom Hearts III only features English and Japanese voice acting and lip syncing, despite previous entries in the series having dubbing in other languages. Nomura noted that the development team wanted to prioritize a global simultaneous release for the game, and given the time and resources for recording the dialogue, this would not have been possible with additional language recordings. Though the game has both English and Japanese voice acting, the game does not have the ability to switch between them, as the development team found this feature difficult to properly support. A version of the game with Chinese subtitles will also be released.
Kingdom Hearts III was released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 25, 2019 in Japan and other Asian countries, and on January 29, 2019 elsewhere. In July 2017, at D23, it was announced that the game would release in 2018. Almost a year later, at an additional performance of the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra World Tour in Los Angeles, the game's North American release date was revealed to be January 29, 2019. Nomura spoke to moving the game's release date outside of 2018, stating the development team had been told the original release date they had considered was not "good timing in the year" to release the game, especially considering "differences in holiday lengths and how stores behave in different regions". In addition, Square Enix requested the game be released as simultaneously as possibly between Japan and the rest of the world, and not wanting to move up the release at the expense of development, resulted in the January 2019 date being chosen. The game's epilogue was planned to be added to the game on January 26 for Japan and January 30 elsewhere, while the secret ending content was planned to be added worldwide on January 31, 2019. This was done in order to help prevent them from leaking beforehand, since Nomura called them "the biggest spoilers" in the game.
A deluxe edition of the game features an art book, steelbook case, and collectible pin. Another edition, exclusive to the Square Enix store, includes Bring Arts figures of Sora, Donald, and Goofy in their Toy Box outfits in addition to the deluxe edition contents. A limited edition Kingdom Hearts III-themed PlayStation 4 Pro and DualShock 4 controller was released on January 29, 2019, exclusive to GameStop and EB Games in North America.
Kingdom Hearts III received "generally favorable" reviews, according to video game review aggregator Metacritic. Game Informer's Kimberley Wallace called Kingdom Hearts III "the series at its strongest", a game that "provide[d] satisfying answers to the biggest question marks" of the series. Regarding gameplay, Wallace thought "everything that worked in previous entries" was utilized, calling the combat "fast and fluid". Wallace was frustrated with some of the required quests in the various worlds, "but even with those frustrations, the expanded size and scope of the worlds in Kingdom Hearts III makes this the best and most varied collection of destinations in the franchise." Some additional disappointments in the game for Wallace was the Gummi Ship, the extra content such as some of the mini games, and the "repetitive boss battles toward the end". Writing for IGN, Jonathon Dornbush praised the technical advancements for the game, but felt that came at the expense of the story, which at points had "stagnant pacing". The combat of Kingdom Hearts III was an unexpected surprise for Dornbush, as the "new elements help make battles into spectacles that keep them varied and fresh". He also called the Gummi Ship "wonderfully revamped" adding being more open world "gives so much more control over the ship [making] these sections a more palatable interstitial." Dornbush called the ending "the real payoff" of the game, with all of the final battles "satisfying on both narrative and gameplay levels" since each "hold such weight for the franchise".
Caty McCarthy of USgamer felt Kingdom Hearts III was "an all or nothing sort of game". She said, "So many modern JRPGs look only ahead or get too trapped in the past, but Kingdom Hearts III is comfortable in straddling both lines; moving onward where the series needs it, but hanging back in ways that would make it feel untrue to the system that birthed it." Regarding the story, McCarthy said the game "knows how to both hold the hands of players not familiar with the past 17 years of the series, as well as respect the knowledge of diehards" with all of the games in the series and various plot threads getting "some sort of nod". However, the reliance of frequent cutscenes led the game to feel "a tad outdated, pacing-wise". While the larger scope of the worlds were "more welcome" to McCarthy, and she enjoyed the designs of San Fransokyo, Kingdom of Corona, and The Caribbean, Monstropolis and Olympus "[fell] flat", with Monstropolis "largely just a bunch of boring hallways and factory rooms" and Olympus having "a bit of a 'been there, done that' vibe". Calling the combat "chaos", McCarthy noted there was enough variety in it to distinguish itself from other entries in the series, but felt the Attraction Flow attacks were "the weakest new addition" and playing the game on "Normal" mode was not much of a challenge overall. Writing for GamesRadar+, Rachel Weber said, "Whatever the flaws, there is nothing quite like Kingdom Hearts III, and it's a wild, wonderful ride as a result." She added, "no battle, no matter how big... or small, is ever boring" but called the Gummi Ship sections "the blandest part of the game". One of her favorite parts was the cooking mini game with Remy from Ratatouille and, conversely, felt the Pirates of the Caribbean world was "joyless" and "the only time the magic [of the game] failed".
Tamoor Hussain of GameSpot called Kingdom Hearts III an overall "enjoyable, if uneven, third entry" in the series. Hussain was critical of some of the story and felt some of the worlds "feel either empty or lacking in what they offer", but did praise the design of the worlds, while also enjoying the amount of gameplay variety. While the combat felt "fast, frenetic, and spectacular in its cinematic flourishes", Hussain noted the game should be played on the "Proud" mode difficulty "if you want the game to challenge you". Speaking to the game's ending, Hussain felt there was "heavy-handed storytelling that inevitably culminates in battles that are impressive set-pieces but feel cheap and spammy to play" with the story wrapping up "in an incredibly unfulfilling way." In an unscored review, Polygon's Allegra Frank was more critical of Kingdom Hearts III calling it "little more than a lackluster leftover from 2006" as it had "a flat story, repetitive gameplay, and very few surprises." Frank felt Sora's characterization was "off", with his positive attitude continuing as if the events of previous games in the series "have had zero impact on him". Regarding the various worlds, Frank called them "lifeless dioramas... with fewer details and references to the films themselves". She ultimately concluded that Kingdom Hearts III was "an example of what can go wrong when a series that once stood in contrast to its peers as a lighthearted alternative loses its way".
The absence of Final Fantasy characters, apart from the Moogle, in Kingdom Hearts III drew ire from some fans, however.
In its debut week, the game topped the EMEAA (Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia) charts, in terms of both unit sales and gross revenue. In Japan, the game debuted at the top of the Media Create charts with 610,077 retail sales, above Resident Evil 2. It also debuted at the top of the UK charts, with Kingdom Hearts III more than doubling the launch week sales of Kingdom Hearts II.
In North America, it was the top-selling game in January 2019, and the third top-selling game in February 2019 (behind new releases Anthem and Jump Force). Kingdom Hearts III is the overall top-selling game in North America during the first two months of 2019, exceeding the sales of Kingdom Hearts II by over 80% during the same time span.
Kingdom Hearts III was nominated by IGN for the Best Game of E3 2018, Best PlayStation 4 Game of E3 2018, Best Xbox One Game of E3 2018, and Best Action Game of E3 2018. It also won the Momocon E3 Choice 2018 Game Award, and was nominated for Unreal's E3 awards.
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