It goes without saying that the wait for Kingdom Hearts 3 has been a long one, which makes its release a dangerous game for Square Enix: the longer the gap is between the story’s evolution, the more expectations fans will have that it can live up to the sheer nostalgia of its predecessors. We recently had a chance to go hands-on with two sections of Kingdom Hearts 3 and our key takeaway is that Square Enix has certainly made this title worth the wait.
We took Sora through both Mount Olympus from Hercules and a variety of locales from Toy Story, where we were able to examine the gameplay, storyline, and level of fine-tuning that Square Enix has wrenched into the title. With Donald Duck and Goofy at Sora’s side, the trio quickly delve into the classic combat that Kingdom Hearts fans have been yearning for: heartless jumping around the screen as chaos unfolds, and a transforming keyblade that can make all the difference.
After jumping through Andy’s window and looking around the gigantic sunny outdoor neighborhood in Toy Story it doesn’t take long to realize that Kingdom Hearts 3 is a gorgeous game, but that moment from the demo is a stellar example of just how much bigger the stage feels this time around. Each world looks and feels appropriate to the intellectual property that it stems from, and it’s complemented with solid voice acting. These are faithful recreations that players will experience on a scale that the series hasn’t been able to deliver in prior iterations.
This time around Sora will have a transformable Keyblade, and gamers can set up to 3 different transformations to be on the roster at once. Our demo included Toy Story (of course), Monsters Inc, and Tangled variants that allowed for everything from a twin yo-yo attack (Monsters Inc.) to Buzz and Woody riding the classic toy rocket into enemies haphazardly. The ability to utilize three different keyblades at once is a great evolution to the gameplay mechanic, and fans should expect to chain some mighty attack sequences with these transformations as they progress through the game.
Fans should also expect plenty of attraction attacks, which are moves based off of real-life Disney park attractions. These involve everything from a Pirates of the Caribbean ship that swings back and forth damaging enemies to a Mad Tea Party “summon” that has Goofy and Donald Duck literally turning into tea cups. These bright and attention-getting attacks feel appropriately grandiose, but so do the enemies that players will encounter beyond the typical heartless: players will take down a giant rock golem in Mount Olympus via a boss battle with multiple stages after an obstacle-dodging segment, and even the Toy Story segment turns cute into creepy via rag-dolled possessed toys and cute animals with possessed off-putting bright eyes. Make no mistake, each stage will bring with it plenty of unique opponents, and this should keep the gameplay from ever getting stale.
It can’t be understated how well Square Enix captures the Pixar look and feel of the Toy Story world. Even when players enter fictional settings of the world that are completely developed by Square Enix, like the gigantic Galaxy Toys store, gamers will feel like they’ve just stepped into a fitting extension of the Toy Story universe. The world is creatively designed with plenty of humorous environmental inclusions (not to mention tie-in Final Fantasy cameos), and the large map will even allow for players to pick where they want to go first within the store.
The Toy Galaxy segment of the game also changed up the gameplay with the introduction of Gigas, which are gigantic mechanized toys that the Heartless hijack. Of course, it’s a two-way street: Sora can jump in one of the three kinds of Gigas as well, dealing massive damage to enemies in areas that the mech can travel within. This switches to a first-person combat view that feels very different than typical Kingdom Hearts 3 gameplay, adding yet another layer of versatility that compliments the Kingdom Hearts experience. If flying around with Buzz and Woody on a rocket isn’t enough for some, perhaps punching a heartless across the room with a giant mech will do the trick.
Beyond how well the game looks and players, the storyline and character interaction is what ultimately ties everything together. Fans will likely laugh at Rex’s predictable cowardly antics in the Toy Story world, just as they’ll watch Buzz and Woody react to what’s happening in a manner that feels like it was pulled right out of a Pixar demo reel. The magic of these characters has been carefully sampled and reprocessed, and the end result should be able to pull in gamers old and new.
Kingdom Hearts 3 looks to be a finely polished affair: the grandiose setting sparkles with the confidence of hefty development time, even if the plot may be too convoluted for even the most dedicated fans to fully follow. With plenty of recognizable voice talent, gameplay that feels smooth, natural and (most importantly) fun, and a world full of intellectual properties that gamers will be keen to interact with, Kingdom Hearts 3 will be a massive release for Square Enix. It looks like fans will get exactly what they’ve been waiting for all these years: a nostalgic, polished, and entertaining ride filled with a roster of beloved Disney and Pixar characters perfectly capable of not only scratching that nostalgic itch, but exceeding its often-too-high expectations.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is set to launch on January 29th, 2019 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
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