Kingdom Hearts 3 is a gorgeous reflection of modern console and PC hardware. The extra horsepower has allowed Square Enix to finally match the visual fidelity of its Disney-owned source material. Olympus looks fantastic and the Pixar-themed worlds are almost indistinguishable from their movie counterparts.
The first time I stepped on to the Laugh Floor in Monsters, Inc. -- the hangar-like room where Mike and Sully work -- I let out an audible gasp. Everything was perfectly placed, including the door clamps and cluttered workstations. You can inspect those desks, too, with the game's built-in photo mode. I must have spent 10 or 15 minutes looking at each one, zooming in to see if the team had left any easter eggs (they had!)
Some iconic movie locations, such as Andy's bedroom, are unmissable in Kingdom Hearts 3. Others require a little bit of exploration. While searching Port Royal, for instance, I found the spot where Elizabeth Swann fell from at the start of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Later, I stumbled upon the gloomy jail cells where Captain Jack Sparrow is frequently held by the Royal Navy.
Kingdom Hearts 3 also gives you the opportunity to explore places that are only glimpsed or hinted at in the original movies. I loved exploring the docks of Corona -- the cheery city that Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder journey to in Tangled -- and peeking behind the garage of Andy's house.
Every world has some obvious omissions, however. You can't travel to Monsters University, for example, or explore the Pizza Planet restaurant from the first Toy Story movie. The cuts are understandable -- to make a game this large, Square Enix had to be selective and stick to maps that serve the story of each world. Still, I can't help but wonder what the halls of Arendelle Castle would have looked like in Kingdom Hearts 3.
You'll also find innocent bystanders -- a rarity in the Kingdom Hearts franchise -- in some of the game's residential areas. Once you've completed the Big Hero 6 story, for instance, you'll see groups of people milling around San Fransokyo. Likewise, Thebes is populated once you've saved the city with Hercules. The volume and variety of people pale in comparison to triple-A blockbusters such as Grand Theft Auto V and Insomniac's Spider-Man. Nevertheless, they're a welcome addition that reinforces the story and makes each world feel like a real, lived-in place.
As I played through some of the new worlds, I couldn't help but think: "This is probably the best video game adaptation that will ever exist for this movie." I can't see Disney making another Tangled or Monsters, Inc. video game, for instance. If that's the case, Kingdom Hearts 3, and the work that Square Enix has done over the goodness-knows-how-many years, is even more important and impressive. It's not only a great game but the best way, possibly ever, for Disney addicts to explore movies that are unlikely to ever get sequels and, by extension, tie-in video games.
The breathtaking worlds are the realization of a long-held dream for many Kingdom Hearts fans: to play through levels that are visually indistinguishable to the films they hold so dear. If, like me, you can't keep up with the weirdly convoluted plot and lore of Kingdom Hearts 3, you can appreciate the artistic and technical achievement behind each world instead. It took a while, but Square Enix has finally, *finally* delivered.
'Kingdom Hearts 3' launches on January 29th for PS4 and Xbox One.