Kingdom Hearts bring a special excitement with it. Whether you get giddy at the sight of Disney characters or have spent the last 16 years piecing together every intricate detail of its spiraling plot, a new mainline entry in the series brings a certain level of fervor. Every new reveal is dissected, theories are born, and cheers (sometimes even tears) pour from fans after seeing Sora and company on screen for a new adventure. This franchise has brought a lot of people joy; it has also left them hanging to see the final chapter in the Xehanort arc. After slowly trickling out information and showing off some worlds, in particular Pixar’s Toy Story and Monsters Inc., Square Enix finally allowed hands-on for the game at a recent press event in Santa Monica. For a game that always seems off in the distance, this was a big step, making its 2018 release window seem not so far off.
Raining On A Titan’s Parade
In Kingdom Hearts III, everything is bigger, with more detailed environments and a speedier feel. Think of it as a cross between Dream Drop Distance’s Flowmotion and Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – aA Fragmentary Passage, where you have to use the world around you to get the jump on enemies alongside comboing your heart out to unleash special attacks. The demo first placed me in a boss battle with a titan at Olympus Coliseum. I quickly notice movement is much more fluid and the increased verticality for this entry really shows. Sora can run up walls in a jiffy, and in one sequence, must consider his speed and placement as the titan throws huge boulders to deter his progress up the wall. That being said, be prepared for the poor camera that’s plagued the series since its inception.
Soon, I’m attacking the titan’s humongous feet in hopes of stunning him so I can attack his most vulnerable areas. The key to dealing major damage is using keyblade transformations, attractions, and links. Sora’s keyblade transformations occur by building up combos. Early keyblades only have two transformations, but later in the game, you get three. In this fight, I often activate his second form, which issues a stun impact. In another instance, I trigger Goofy shot, spinning and flinging him at the enemy. Attractions are only available at certain points and can also be activated by building up combos. Big Magic Mountain is the attraction option for this battle. Once activated by pressing a button when the prompt appears on screen, you get a to do basic attacks with the attraction, before pulling off your big finisher, which has you trying to line up your shot in a smaller area to hit the target for increased damage. At first, the window seems small to get it perfect for optimal damage, but I do better on another playthrough.
Links have now taken the place of summons and can be activated by using the d-pad. This fight is early in the game, so the only link I have is Wonder Balloon, which features Dream Eater Meow Wow, who fans know from Dream Drop Distance. Combos flow quickly and build up to specials at a speedy rate. You also want to use magic in your combos, because it gives you access to higher spells like Firaga. Before I know it, the titan is stunned and I must climb him, which is another speedy process of jumping from one gold orb to the next, to deal a deadly blow to his head. It sure feels like a Kingdom Hearts fight, damaging this larger-than-life foe by taking out specific body parts.
Enter The World Of Toy Story
The Toybox in Andy’s Room is the next area where the demo takes place, and later has us escaping to Galaxy Toys. Although we saw a lot of this footage last year at D23, this is our first look at the English voice acting. It’s worth noting that the actors who originally voiced these characters are mostly absent, such as Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Tom Hanks as Woody. That being said, the performances do justice to these characters and match up well with the original film’s voiceovers. In Andy’s room, I face off against Heartless dressed as toys, and it’s my first real look at the power of the Infinity keyblade, which can transform into a deadly hammer that lets you knock your enemy around, making you feel as powerful as Thor. Another transformation lets you fly an unwieldy rocket with Buzz and Woody in tow, lining up your attacks to crash directly into the enemy. I also get a look at the Mad Teacups attraction here, which is just as fun as you’d expect it to be. You control the direction as it spins rapidly to knock into baddies. I should also mention parties are no longer regulated to three characters. Buzz, Woody, Donald, and Goofy can all fight with Sora at the same time.
Since this is further in the game, this is my first look at the Wreck-It Ralph and The Little Mermaid’s Ariel links. Wreck-It Ralph’s 8-Bit Blast link lets you lunge forward and topple over enemies, similar to a gorilla. He can also build. The more blocks he creates, the higher the damage he deals. Ariel’s Lagoon Showtime lets her dive and throw enemies into the air, and then you can attack them using the splash command. Her finisher is a beautiful sequence of her teaming up with Sora for a water-filled attack.
Once we enter Galaxy Toys, I get my hands on the Gigas for the first time. These are mechs that Sora can battle and control. Three different Gigas are in this demo, all with special attacks, such as the ability to launch canons, create explosions, and tackle enemies to the ground. The mechs control really well and were one of my favorite additions in the demo. Each has their aforementioned special attack, but you can also fire your guns and have a punch option to line up a hit that can make the enemy fall. If your Giga takes too much damage, you can always eject and enter another one on the battlefield. This level also has you riding on rails. Each is a different color that leads to various areas, as we saw in Dream Drop Distance. In this level, we do everything from finding a way to new areas through vents to running around on a record player to get musical toys to perform. We also fight a good variety of enemies, such as those called “Monstrous Monsters” and a creepy doll boss.
I also use this time to test out more keyblades. The Monsters Inc. keyblade, called Smile Gear, transforms into agile claws (it’s just like what it sounds like) and twin yo-yos that spin with speed to damage baddies. The Ever After Keyblade from Rapunzel gives you access to a flowery mirage staff, but the big highlight is its finisher which features Rapunzel’s tower and her teaming up with three Soras to damage an enemy. Speaking of Rapunzel, what they’ve done with her hair is amazing. She holds a great deal of it, with some of the excess she can’t carry flowing on the ground. I also manage to unlock another attraction: the pirate ship, which just like the ride sways back and forth into enemies.
So far, it’s hard to say just how the rest of the game will shape up. I like how much smoother combat feels, and there’s certainly a lot of bombastic action going on at every turn. Sometimes keeping track of all the keyblade transformations and activating them accordingly has you watching your action commands more than paying attention to what’s happening in front of you. I have no doubt this will take some adjustment time. My other observation is just how detailed the environments are and how fun it is to explore them. For instance, Galaxy Toys housed a cool video game section and even had a nod to Dissidia, the Final Fantasy fighting game spin-off. Even the fun interactions between characters I love are here. At one point, the whole party inhales helium to have high-pitched voices for a fun, optional dialogue. The game plays very in line with what Square Enix has said they wanted to achieve, from going bigger and incorporating various elements from past entries. I just hope we have a release date soon. It sounds like Square Enix may have more information for us in June.