Now that I've finished Kingdom Hearts III (minus some item farming and the last couple post game battles), here are my thoughts.
Kingdom Hearts III has been a long time coming. While the franchise has always remained active, Kingdom Hearts II came out around 13 years ago and even the last major new entry in the series was 6 or 7 years ago. I've been following the series ever since the first game and have picked up and played every new entry (except the mobile titles) at launch. As such, I've been waiting a long time to see how the story of Sora, Riku, Xehanort, and the others ends. Or at least, how the story arc ends. While Kingdom Hearts III ties up a lot of loose ends and marks the official end of the Xehanort or Dark Seeker story arc, it's not the end of the series, or even the end of Sora's story. But more on that later.
First, the basics. Kingdom Hearts III looks fantastic. Each world has a distinct graphic style that expertly mimics the movie upon which it's based. And the music, both Disney and original, is fantastic. The gameplay builds on everything that's come before. It's got a lot of Kingdom Hearts II, but with some elements from Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance (such as shot locks and flow-motion) and new abilities (keyblade forms and attractions) mixed is. As such, Sora controls really well and combat is more fun and over the top than ever (though I do miss all the enemy specific quick time events and such from KHII). Sora's new ability to run up many walls also means that many of the environments have a lot of verticality to them, which makes for some fun designs. Most of the worlds are really large and diverse as well...except The 100 Acre Woods, which is so small and short that you kind of have to wonder why they put it in at all. There's also Twilight Town, which is nice to revisit, but smaller than it was in KHII as you can only visit certain parts of it. There are also fewer worlds than in KH or KHII. Eight Disney worlds (including the ridiculously short 100 Acre Woods) and two original (one of which is the smaller Twilight Town) and, unlike in KHII, you only have to visit each of them once (though they do all have a bunch of collectables and a mini-game or two). I also really miss the coliseum and lack of optional bosses (there's only one). You can still spend 60+ hours if you want to do everything, but the main story itself is on the shorter side for the series.
The Gummy Ship is back and now revolves around exploring several large sandbox areas, each with a lot of collectables and scripted battles. While I know it's divisive, I always enjoyed the Gummy Ship and I still did in KHIII. Especially the customization. But while exploring the different parts of space to find new worlds and collectables was fun, I didn't get quite as into it as I did the intricate rail shooter levels from KHII. Speaking of mini-games, the the others are all fun as well, if not especially deep.
So what about the story? First off, KHIII takes place shortly after the end of Dream Drop Distance and brings together all the dangling plot threads from the previous main series games. As such, if you haven't played most/all of the previous games, you're probably going to get lost pretty quickly. For long time fans, like myself, however, it's awesome to finally see Sora team up with Donald and Goofy once again and set off to rescue lost keyblade wielders such as Aqua, Ven, and Roxas in preparation for the final showdown with Xehanort and his True Organization XIII (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, forget about KHIII for now and go play the recent HD rereleases of the past games). I'll also note that, towards the end, there are a lot of nods to the mobile game, Unchained X, especially in regards to what will come after KHIII. Though if you haven't played it, the movie included in the 2.8 collection covers the most important parts.
The main plot moves at a fairly steady clip, interspersed with the stories of the individual Disney worlds, and features a lot of moments that fans will love. Though I do wish that the Organization took a more active role in things early on. They mostly just pop in to taunt Sora and monitor the situation and you don't get to actually fight any of them until the end. Maleficent and Pete are also pretty passive. They pop up from time to time, searching for a mysterious black box, but they're only there to start laying the groundwork for next major story arc. But at least they're present. The Final Fantasy characters, such as Leon and Yuffie, are entirely absent. Though, to be fair, their story pretty much wrapped up in KHII. I also wish we got to spend some serious time exploring the dark world and some of the other worlds that only really show up in cut-scenes. The other issue I had with the story is that in a couple of the Disney worlds (such as Arandale) it doesn't really feel like Sora, Donald, and Goofy are a part of the story so much as they happen to be in the general vicinity when the story is taking place. But while the story isn't perfect, the plot is fun, engaging, and features an epic and emotional final act that is pretty much everything I hoped for while also setting the stage for another major story arc to follow (especially in regards to the mysterious secret movie).
I know there was a lot of nitpicking in there but KHIII really is a great game. It's not quite everything I hoped it would be, but it's still full of fun and heart and provides a stirring conclusion to the Dark Seeker arc. I loved it and I'm really looking forward to both the inevitable Final Mix version and the next game (which will hopefully come out a lot sooner than KHIII did).