It’s been many long years since the release of Kingdom Hearts II and fans, myself included, have been anxiously awaiting the next full numbered entry. Kingdom Hearts III has received a wealth of news recently, and I was anxious to jump in during my hands-on time at E3 2018. After playing two short sections of the game I found myself satisfied, and immediately wanting more. However, there are a few niggling issues I found during my playtime that keep popping up, and I hope they don’t turn into something more when the game releases.
The demo I played let me dive into roughly 20 minutes of the Toy Story world, Toy Box, and also take down the giant Rock Titan in Hercules’ world. You’ve probably noticed this in trailers, but playing Kingdom Hearts III solidified even more just how beautiful of a game it is. The Toy Story world looks like you’re literally just watching scenes from a Pixar movie, and the Hercules world had some great weather effects on display.
Jumping right into Toy Box I battled it out with Heartless in Andy’s room, getting a first taste of the new combat mechanics. Magic works a little differently this time, mostly just affecting a larger area and causing AoE damage. Thunder created a big dome of sparks around Sora, Blizzard fired off a wave of ice at enemies, and fire worked to both shoot as a projectile and spin around me, like in Kingdom Hearts II. The big change, however, comes with the Keyblade Transformations and special attacks that Sora can do. The Toy Box segment clearly took place later in the game than Hercules, as Sora had more options, and simply sported the Kingdom Key in the Hercules world.
By attacking enemies and building a gauge I could hit Y to transform my Keyblade into a rocket-powered hammer, letting me hit the ground and cause massive fractures, also damaging multiple enemies in the process. By continuing to attack I could then turn my hammer into the teacups ride from Disneyland, spinning around Andy’s room in a flurry and knocking over enemies. This kind of continuous transformation basically combines the reaction commands of Kingdom Hearts II and the Command Styles of Birth By Sleep.
You don’t have to use specific attacks to get the transformations, however, unlike Birth by Sleep. Going further in the demo showed me even more special attacks I could use like a super-powered blizzard, or a team attack that has Sora, Buzz, and Woody hopping on a rocket. All of these abilities seem to be contextually based on what you’re doing in battle, but they kept things feeling fast-paced and frenetic. At one point I also called in Wreck-It Ralph as a summon, who had completely different gameplay mechanics. I used Ralph to set different blocks that could hurt enemies, and ultimately chained together into one giant explosion when I used his finisher.
Now this leads to my main problem with the demo, combat feels floaty, and at times imprecise. It’s a problem that the series has continuously struggled with, along with camera issues, which once again seem to pop up. It felt like Sora just couldn’t home in on enemies the way I needed him to sometimes, and there’s so much happening on screen with such fast attacks that the camera has trouble keeping up. Kingdom Hearts fans have been dealing with these problems for years, so it’s not something entirely new, but the combat just didn’t feel as precise as I was hoping, despite all of the incredible new abilities. Considering the game’s recent delay, it makes me hopeful that this is something they can nail down and improve in the coming months. Don’t get me wrong, Kingdom Hearts III’s combat isn’t bad at all, but if I’m listing things I want from the sequel, fixed combat issues are definitely on that list.
The last part of my time with Toy Box ended in Galaxy Toys where our party ran into Xehanort and has to fight a number of Gigas mechs. This is one example of the unique gameplay mechanics in each world, and in the case of the mechs, Sora can jump in and pilot them from a first-person point of view. It’s a fun little moment that mixes things up, even though you can do the entire fight on foot if you want to.
The second part of my demo was much shorter, having me make my way up the cliffs of Olympus as the Titan rained rocks down upon me. This was a good opportunity to test out the wall running mechanics, which lets Sora dash across shining surfaces at high speed. Dodging rocks and battling Heartless I made my way up the area, until I could attack the Titan’s feet. After attacking these parts, and dashing up the Titan’s side I used a special attack that let Sora and crew hop aboard a Magic Mountain, a glowing neon version of the iconic theme park ride. A reticle popped up and I blasted the Titan in the face with fireworks while a track appeared out of thin air, carrying me around the boss.
I didn’t play Kingdom Hearts III for hours or anything, but the amount of variation even in that small vertical slice is astounding. Unfortunately, very little of the story was shown, but the cutscenes were fantastically directed, and although Sora’s older voice will take some getting used to, the voice acting has that same Disney-like charm.
Playing Kingdom Hearts III was like seeing an old friend after years apart, it was immediately familiar, but at the same time has grown and changed. I immediately knew what I was doing, but had some great surprises in store as I saw how Kingdom Hearts has grown up. I sincerely hope the issues with combat get ironed out, because other than that, what I played left me more excited than I’ve been for the series in years.