LOS ANGELES – As if to reassure us that, yes, it's really coming out after all these years, no fewer than three separate press conferences at E3 2018 highlighted Kingdom Hearts III. Square Enix's (admittedly not-that-exciting) retread familiar ground, but at Microsoft and Sony's shows, we got to see two new worlds that Sora and friends will visit in the upcoming action/RPG. Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean will both feature prominently in the game's story, meaning that Captain Jack is back, and Princess Elsa will debut in the series.
For those who can't quite follow the convoluted Kingdom Hearts chronology and spin-offs, the series is a mashup of Disney and Final Fantasy characters. An original protagonist, Sora, teams up with Donald Duck and Goofy in order to explore a variety of Disney worlds. So far, the heroes have traversed fan-favorite settings such as Tron, Aladdin, Cinderella and even Fantasia. A level based on Pirates of the Caribbean first appeared in Kingdom Hearts II back in 2005, but Frozen represents uncharted territory for the series.
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At Microsoft's event, representatives were excited that Kingdom Hearts III on Xbox One represented the first time the franchise has ever shown up on a Microsoft console. To celebrate the occasion, we got our first glimpse of the game's Frozen level. The evil Organization XIII wants to lure Princess Elsa into the forces of darkness (not an impossible scenario, if you've seen the film), while Sora believes Elsa has light in her heart. Naturally, supporting characters Anna, Kristoff and Olaf the animate snowman appear as well.
We're not sure which characters will wind up joining the party yet. In Kingdom Hearts III, players can recruit two characters from each world visited, rather than just one, as in previous titles. The smart money would be on Elsa and Anna, but given that Kristoff had one of the more action-packed roles in the movie, letting him join the party would not be unprecedented.
Sony also got a chance to show off a new Kingdom Hearts III level, this one based on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. (In Kingdom Hearts II, the story followed the events of Curse of the Black Pearl.) The charming, improvisational Captain Jack Sparrow will join the party once again. Like Elsa, Jack has yet to declare a side in the ongoing war between light and darkness, and if previous games are anything to go by, his struggle to do so will probably feature prominently in the title's storyline.
Once again, we're not sure exactly which characters will join your party yet, but Jack Sparrow and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom's character from the films) seem like solid bets, as both of them showed up during the trailer.
Kingdom Hearts III will be out in January 2019 for both the Xbox One and PS4. Following the story may be difficult if you haven't kept up with the myriad spin-offs up to this point, but PS4 players will have the option to buy a complete collection of games along with KHIII. Just set aside a few hundred hours, and you'll be fine.