Nothing is worth a two-hour wait, but to finally get my hands on the elusive Kingdom Hearts III at the Square Enix booth for E3 2018 was a delightful surprise. That being said, I had plenty of opportunity in said line to watch and break down the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean trailer for the game, and ahoy matey, there is so much shipping. Not just pirate ships, but also Kairi and Axel hooking up, Riku with himself but younger from some PSP game or something, and seeing Xehanort and Xemnas standing side by side and threatening Sora felt like a flashback to the James Van der Beek bit on The Eric Andre Show.
I have to say though, having recently been playing through Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and seeing the latest visual upgrades in comparison, the Toy Story, Frozen and Tangled worlds are such massive improvements in animation and visual fidelity that they truly could be mistaken for deleted scenes or direct to DVD Disney sequels like The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.
E3 attendees, who were mostly unaware of the games ability to be played by the public for the first time until their arrival, were allowed 20 minutes time with two demos, one a longer story based mission in the Toy Story world that was already mostly unveiled this past year, and a boss battle on Olympus following up on the previous appearances of Hercules.
Knowing the combat would be more essential to get bearings with on the Olympus level, I chose that one, and having only played the two main PS2 entries, I can confirm it plays like a Kingdom Hearts game with a lot of quality of life updates to the UI. Demoing the title on Xbox, the button mapping and control feels at home and pretty homogenous with those on the PlayStation, so there should really be no reason to not play it on Xbox One, if that is the console you happen to own. The Attacking, parry, and ariel dodging is consistent with how my muscle memory of the Sephiroth losses and the Battle of 1000 Heartless, though the demo did not allow for any sneaky previewing of the modifiable AP point skills, weapons, and armor. However, the demo is set with a lot of those AP moves you remember already enabled so first impressions of combat are not that X button mashing that everyone remembers, there’s a little O recovery and countering going on there, but whether Sora will have those abilities early on has yet to be determined.
Obviously, there are new rush modes, special attacks triggered by Triangle,/(Y) button, and specialized Limits (like with Buzz and Woody or Donald and Goofy,) and also the summons, now including the likes of Wreck-It Ralph. The limits, interestingly, aren’t on a timer, so the player has the ability to initiate the climactic final shot of cinematic Disney-ness when they need to, instead of hoping it doesn’t run out in a place where you’re not near any enemies and wasted all your MP.
The biggest addition that I had found in the demo is that the super anime-style wall running that looks so cool in the trailers is not quite as fun to play. While having to run up a long way to dodge massive boulders looks thrilling, the control of the movement is so rigid it may as well be resigned to the D-Pad- no diagonal movement. This presents some challenges, but when I fall off the top of a mountain-sized boss, it feels frustrating to wall run back up from the ledge.
More confusing was when the boss was weakened, and in a wounded kneeling position, and Sora needs to scale up to attack its head. This seems like it would be relatively simple as indicated by some golden stars shimmering around his knee, prompting you to hold down the X/A button and also move the directional stick to casually float-jump up, but it’s only halfway auto-platforming that Kingdom Hearts III offers in this demo, and I can’t tell if it’s going to be an afterthought just put into boss battles or if it will be an essential part of the gameplay, as its features weren’t fully articulated in the battle.
The wall running, however, is definitely a part of the core gameplay, as white shimmers trailing up walls like waves are seen throughout both demos, including the walls of Andy’s house in the Toy Story world, which has some wonderful presentation value. As usual, the localization of the Kingdom Hearts series finds steller impersonators of the beloved Disney branded characters from Buzz Lightyear to Jack Sparrow, but the unique oddity I discovered is that the voice of cowboy Woody, typically voiced by Tom Hanks in films, is voiced by his brother, Jim, who has always portrayed the character on behalf of Tom in external marketing for Toy Story.
I have yet to play a single bit of the non numbered entries in the franchise yet, but I honestly don’t care because playing the small amount of Kingdom Hearts III was a lot of fun and makes me confident that the final game will seem to be consistent with the best in the series, and the plot equally simple and confusing for the reiteration of now hyper professional Disney story exploration and Organization XIII plotting, respectively.