People love Kingdom Hearts, the long-running Disney and Square Enix mashup, for a few reasons.
There's the accessible and mesmerizing combat, which trades the turn-based roots of the Final Fantasy franchise for a frenetic blend of keyblade combos, summons and transformations. Some fans also enjoy the bizarre and, at this point, borderline nonsensical storyline concerning Sora, his friends and the eternal struggle between light and darkness. Others are simply enamored by the chance to explore their favorite Disney worlds with Donald Duck and Goofy.
If you fall into the latter camp, good news: The Disney and Pixar-themed locales in Kingdom Hearts 3 are absolutely stunning.
The latest entry offers eight major worlds: Olympus (Hercules), Toy Box (Toy Story), Kingdom of Corona (Tangled), Monstropolis (Monsters, Inc.), Arendelle (Frozen), 100 Acre Wood (Winnie the Pooh), The Caribbean (Pirates of the Caribbean) and San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6). The game has a few extra surprises, but I won't spoil them here.
The total count is a smidge lower than Kingdom Hearts 2, the last major release (I'm not counting 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, or any of the HD re-releases) for a home console. At first, I was a tad disappointed. I love the 'road trip' vibe of the Kingdom Hearts franchise and how it ties to together such a vast collection of characters and worlds.
But then I played through Olympus. The ancient home of Hercules is absolutely massive -- by Kingdom Hearts standards, anyway. The classic Disney world covers Thebes, large chunks of Mount Olympus and, at its summit, the heavenly home where Zeus and the other Greek gods live. Admittedly, it doesn't compare to the sprawling maps found in modern open-world RPGs like Assassin's Creed Origins. But that's okay, because Hercules is only a piece of Kingdom Hearts 3. Put all of the worlds together and you have a varied and incredibly diverse universe to explore.
In previous franchise entries, the worlds were often barren and boxy; a series of interconnected rooms to battle through one after the other. There were exceptions, of course, and the map designs have slowly improved since the original game was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2002.
Kingdom Hearts 3, by comparison, is a massive improvement. The worlds are still linear -- there's always an obvious direction to head in -- but the different sections vary dramatically in shape and size. Thebes is fairly open, for instance, with wide streets and large plazas. The mountain trail, however, alternates between narrow paths and rocky outcrops just large enough to stage a battle with the monstrous heartless.
All the worlds have a greater sense of verticality, too. Sora can run up any surface that has a light shimmer, including Rapunzel's tower and the skyscrapers of San Fransokyo. The level designers have used this to their advantage, building worlds that slowly shift between higher and lower elevations. In Toy Box, for instance, you visit a store with multiple floors. Sora's quest takes him to different sections, themed around video games, dolls and outdoor equipment, and even through the ventilation system. Grinding a giant gumball machine to reach a higher floor, only to swan dive back to the bottom, is always exhilarating.