Kingdom Hearts is about to launch another title in its massively popular series, with Kingdom Hearts 2.8 on Tuesday, January 24th. While I am a gamer, I have never actually played any games in this series because I never had a PlayStation before. This led to a dilemma as I started to play Kingdom Hearts 2.8: should I go back and play the other games to get an understanding of what I was about to enter or do I go in cold and just play the new game? I chose the latter because I wanted an unbiased opinion about the game. For example, I remember disliking Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault because it wasn’t as good as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. They were two different games and, looking back on it, I shouldn’t have compared them. They were far different for many reasons. With this memory in mind, I turned on my PS4 and started my new adventure.

What I did know about the Kingdom Hearts franchise was its mix of Final Fantasy with magic and mysticism along with some action adventure. Plus, the game is created in association with Disney Interactive. There were lots of Disney characters in this game, and I couldn’t wait to find them all.

This release is a compilation of content that leads into the upcoming release of Kingdom Hearts III. It includes:

  • Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD
    Originally released in 2012, the full-HD remastered version will allow players to join series protagonists Sora and Riku to take on the Mark of Mastery exam in preparation for upcoming threats. Players can experience faster-paced battles and exploration at a blistering pace.
  • Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A fragmentary passage –
    A completely new playable episode that links to the story of Kingdom Hearts III, taking place after the storyline of Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep played from the perspective of Aqua. This is the first Kingdom Hearts experience developed from the ground up for the PlayStation4 computer entertainment system.
  • Kingdom Heartsχ Back Cover (movie)
    A new HD movie that tells the mysterious story of the Foretellers, connecting the earliest parts of the series' history, showcased in the mobile title Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ[chi].

When I popped into Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HDI was very happy to see that I could start my experience with three modes: Beginner, Standard, and Proud. Since I was new, I chose Beginner.

From the cut scene to my first bit of action, I was taken with how incredible the visuals were. The color in all of the scenes is so bright and clear. Gamers meet the main characters of Sora and Riku as they stand on a beach ready to start a journey on a raft. I couldn’t help but smile at the connection to Moana, and then marvel at how beautiful the water was and the scenery around the two. They start their ocean journey and encounter trouble early on.

Ursula rose from the sea and here in my first tutorial, I learned how to fight the wicked sea witch. Being on Beginner mode, I won and moved on. Defeating Ursula is only the first small task in the massive game. Riku and Sora end up meeting with Master Yen Sid and Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy following their victory. Now it was nice to see the three main Disney characters appear, but taking orders from the sorcerer in the Mickey cartoon The Sorcerer’s Apprentice made this Disney geek excited for what was to come in the game. I was only a few minutes in and experiencing a high level of Disney geekdom. What would happen in two hours? I didn’t have to wait too long for more excitement.

As I navigated my way through the multiple levels, the many tutorials, and the special segments where I built spirits to help me along my journey, I couldn’t help but stop to take in the scenery. Everywhere you went, the design speaks of a deep affinity for all things Disney. The color choice for the towns, the bright pinks in some of the monsters, and of course the use of so many Disney characters, the well-known and the obscure. When you are finally able to access the World Map, you can travel between worlds. One of those new worlds is The Grid, set to the Tron theme, and another is Pranksters Paradise. When I entered Prankster’s Paradise, there was Jiminy Cricket waiting for me and needing my help. Jiminy Cricket, the best Ghost of Christmas Past and the conscience anyone could want, lives in this game.

The game itself allows you to go on an epic journey akin to the Lord of the Rings, where the journey is long, filled with danger, but a lot more fun. My recent favorites in gaming have usually involved first person shooters and zombies. It’s been a long while since I have ever been interested in a game that makes me be patient and challenges me to persevere with things that I don’t know much about. Spending an hour playing Call of Duty online, shooting a bunch of people I don’t know and gaining points is fun, but it gets monotonous.

Players can skip the cinematic scenes in favor of getting to the action. I couldn’t do that as a first-time player in this world. A player must be willing to devote a large portion of time to playing Kingdom Hearts 2.8. It’s like being an active participant in a movie. Half the fun is sitting and watching as Sora and Riku move along their journey, and for Disney fans, the chance to see how beloved Disney characters like Mickey and others are brought into this fantastical world keeps your attention throughout the gameplay. There was a two-hour period I was playing that I didn’t even notice my wife and kids had gone out for groceries until the door slammed upstairs signaling their return home.

It’s hard to describe how impressed I am with this game, without giving spoilers away. To the wondering gamer who is not a Disney fan, you will enjoy this game for the story element, the action, and the quest-like structure of the story. To the gamer that is also a Disney fan, you have an original universe that has incorporated a multitude of Disney characters that help support and enhance the game.

To the non-gamer who happened to be a Disney fan, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is the game that will make you a gamer. Having played PlayStation VR (PSVR), I can only imagine and hope that Kingdom Hearts 2.8 would be released for PSVR. Unfortunately for my bank account, now that I have played Kingdom Hearts 2.8 I realize I have got to get the other games in the series and play them as well.

Kingdom Hearts 2.8 goes on sale Tuesday, January 24th. Fans of this series know this already and have no doubt reserved their copy. To the uncertain gamer, check out Kingdom Hearts 2.8, it just might change your outlook on gaming.

** Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Kingdom Hearts 2.8 to review for this article**