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E3 2018: Kingdom Hearts III Hands-On Preview – Disney Magic & Final Fantasy Mayhem (PS4)

Kingdom Hearts III needs no introduction. It’s the long-awaited sequel to 2006’s Kingdom Hearts II, the twelfth entry in the popular series, and the final chapter in the “Dark Seeker” saga in the franchise. After many teases and a very lengthy development cycle, Square Enix finally announced its official launch date of January 29, 2019. The game unsurprisingly had a large presence at E3 2018, and we have our hands-on impressions ready for you below.

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

The E3 demo shown at Square Enix’s massive E3 booth contained two levels. Each lasted around 15 minutes or so, but they encompassed many of the mechanics that are typical representations of what someone thinks of when they think of Kingdom Hearts games. This entry also marks a huge shift for the series, as it is being developed in the Unreal Engine 4. It looks great and colorful, as previous games. But it also runs a lightning speed – perhaps at a near-constant 60 frames per second (this could not be confirmed). Sora and crew have never looked better.

The first level on offer took place in the world of the 1997 film Hercules, as Sora, Goofy, and Donald took on a Titan (which many of us will be acutely familiar with thanks to God of War’s older games). This introduced Kingdom Hearts III’s new traversal mechanic, currently known as “Athletic Flow.” Certain walls shimmer occasionally, which is an indication that they can be run on by Sora. Once approached, the camera shifts 90 degrees south on its vertical axis, and the wall effectively becomes the ground. Sora runs perpetually in any of the four cardinal directions, until he makes it to the top, is hit by something, or jumps off. This odd form of Matrix-style running felt a little stiff, but worked well enough that I was able to deftly dodge massive boulders being hurled my way from the Titan sitting atop a mountain.

The second level, titled Toybox, took place in the bright and colorful world of Toy Story. Sora, Goofy, and Donald are once again thrust into a strange world, and the toy versions of each character feel perfect for this new world. A fairly lengthy cutscene started things off, and I have to say it really felt like a Toy Story cutscene. The banter between Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Rex had the same charm as the nearly 23-year-old film. Once the scenario played out, and it was time to battle the Heartless who had journeyed into this world, the party size was increased by an additional two members, including Woody and Buzz. When it was time to fight the area’s mini-boss, the entire game changed into a first-person shooter as Sora took control of a “Giga Mech.” Controls changed entirely, and it would be easy for a passerby to be confused as to why this game was labeled as Kingdom Hearts III. Then again, those who know Kingdom Hearts perhaps wouldn’t be so surprised.

All Aboard the Special Moves Express

In both levels, the new “Attraction Flow” mechanic could be utilized. Once a bar was filled, the Triangle button could be pressed to initiate the transformation. These special attacks include assets which represent attractions from any of Disney’s real-life theme parks, such as a train from the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, or a more generic pirate ship. In the case of the pirate ship, attacks could continue for as long as desired, or until a meter ran out. During these attacks, Sora and crew were presumably invincible, and any enemies in the area were guaranteed to be inflicted with heavy damage, if not wiped out entirely. It’s a flashy, over-the-top, fun move to pull off, and the slight randomness of which attraction would be shown during each use added to the charm of the move.

Kingdom Hearts III appears to be everything fans have been waiting for. It’s a melding of worlds, a mixture of video game genres, an audiovisual treat. Familiar mechanics mix with new combat options, including a larger party, to give players more options. It looks like things are all set for Kingdom Hearts III’s official release on January 29, 2018 (26th in Japan), one that is sure to please fans.