Kingdom Hearts III: hands-on preview

The trilogy more than ten games in the making will finally be complete early next year. The Kingdom Hearts series (and its numerous rereleases) has spanned the PlayStation consoles from 2 to 4. They’ve covered Nintendo handhelds from the Gameboy Advance up to the 3DS. They’ve made appearances on the PSP, cellphones, and browser games. Seventeen years since the debut of the first game, and fourteen since the second, Kingdom Hearts III is set to be released in January 2019.  

There were two sections playable in the Square Enix booth at TGS; Olympus, and Toy Box. As you’ve likely seen from the trailers, the look of the Toy Story movies is charmingly recreated in the Toy Box demo. The cutscenes in particular faithfully represent the Toy Story cast with spot on reproductions of their movements and expressions. It’s good to see the attention paid to the details in Andy’s room as well, from the layout to the messages and the pictures posted on his corkboard.  

Once you get into the combat it feels very familiar to its PS2 predecessors, though it’s tighter and more responsive than those sometimes clunky games. It’s simple enough to string together combos, juggles, and air dashes, and it was satisfying knocking about the Heartless with relative ease. With all the chaos of the three-man,-team combat, it can be a little tricky to keep track of where all of your allies and enemies are at any one time, and the camera doesn’t do you any favours as you’re often left to spin it around to find your next target – but with the lock on system, and the ability to zip around the screen in short order, it isn’t too frustrating.  

In fact, the chaotic nature of the combat adds to its appeal. Beyond the Keyblade and usual magic attacks, you’re constantly being bombarding with entertaining alternatives. Whether it’s powering up your Keyblade to different forms, teammates calling for tag team attacks, or more bizarre and spectacular special moves which involved summoning theme park rides such as the teacups or pirate ship, Kingdom Hearts III is always trying to entertain you. So whilst the basics of the combat haven’t changed all that much since the first one, lots of style and flash has been heaped on top of it to keep it fresh. The fact that Sora can just sprint straight up walls and launch himself, in or out of combat, is a pretty good example of how they’ve tried to make it more fun.

Much like how the shift from one Disney themed world to the next kept things fresh and interesting for the player in the first Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts III tries to shake up combat within each level. The Toy Box level starts in Andy’s room, but after clearing the Heartless you are sent out onto the roof, then down to the pavement of the white picket-fenced suburbs, before transitioning to an amusement arcade where the game turns into a first-person mech shooting game.  

The Olympus level also hinted at how the game would try to switch things up to keep them fresh. It featured the usual arena-based Heartless combat sequences as you headed up Mount Olympus, but would occasionally transition to sections where Sora would sprint vertically up the face of the mountain, dodging side to side to avoid boulders being hurled down by a Rock Titan. Once Sora reaches him it changes to a boss battle in which you have to weaken the Titan by chipping away at his legs, cutting him down to size, before scaling him to slash at the face.  

Kingdom Hearts has always been a crowd pleaser when it comes to its presentation, particularly in its take on the Disney characters and worlds. Kingdom Hearts III looks to mirror that sense of style and spectacle in its combat system in a way the previous games never managed to. Simplistic, yet anarchic, they’ve tried to fashion a flashy, fun, pinball fireworks type of fighting system.  From the Tokyo Game Show demo, I’d say it looks like they’ve been successful.

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Written by Stevie L.

Stevie Lim is a man in Japan.

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