Fans have been waiting years upon years for the latest numbered entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. We’ve known that Kingdom Hearts III was coming, it was just a matter of when. Square-Enix would constantly tease us with trailers, screenshots, and even brand-new games expanding the story. Well fans won’t have to wait much longer (hopefully). Kingdom Hearts III finally has a firm release date, and we’ve played it at E3 2018.
The E3 demo was mostly the same one showed at the Kingdom Hearts premiere event a few weeks ago, so no new content. That demo consisted of Mount Olympus (from Hercules), or the Toy Box (from Toy Story), and we played both. The Mount Olympus world demo is much shorter and consists of less story, so we’ll start with that one.
Mount Olympus is a somewhat new area to Kingdom Hearts, as previous games only let players visit the Coliseum and the Underworld. This stage is basically a boss fight with the Rock Titan. As he stands high up on the mountain, he rains boulders down on Sora and his friends. This is when the game introduces a new mechanic: wall-running, a new variation of “Flowmotion” from Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. When Sora goes up to a glowing wall, he can automatically run up the side and maneuver around quickly to gain higher ground. Admittedly, it feels a bit out of place and makes him feel like Sonic the Hedgehog, but maybe there is a story explanation for the mechanic.
With the glowing cliffside in front of us, we ran up the cliff, moving side to side to dodge falling boulders. The movement felt very fluid and responsive for even last-minute adjustments. Even if Sora gets hit, his run isn’t completely interrupted, and he just takes a bit of damage. Climbing up to higher ground, there’s tons of pots and crates to smash to refill health and energy. Controls still feel a bit off with the button layout, but with today’s consoles, reconfiguration is commonplace.
Continuing the climb, heartless eventually appear to act as an obstacle for Sora’s goal. Taking them down is easy enough, but the combat is still as fun as ever. Aerial combos feel great to perform, especially with how accessible Square-Enix has made it. It was good that there were plenty of heartless to fight, because we wanted to test as much as we could. Sora has a new second form that appears to power him up a bit, but it also gives him access to a new finishing move.
Seems like Donald and Goofy get more involved in finishing attacks as well, as Sora can activate various moves with a button prompt. Sora may jump high up and throw Goofy shield first like a meteor to unleash a devastating blow. He might also work with Donald to perform an explosive magic attack. It all transitions pretty seamlessly, though sometimes the camera doesn’t quite agree with the moves. This is where Kingdom Hearts III suffers a bit, but it’s a minor issue. Magic works just as it did before, working through the menu to select it, with shortcut keys as an option. New to the magic seems to be powered up versions that can activate extra attacks. Turn a blizzard attack into a blizzaga by pressing a button and watching it detonate like an ice bomb.
Upon reaching the top where the Rock Titan is, Sora engages in a boss fight. With the massive size of the titan, Sora’s basically stuck at his feet, attacking till he reveals an opening to get to his head. When the Titan falls over, jump points appear for Sora to automatically traverse up to his head to deal even more damage. Continuing this can activate the new “attraction flow”, a sort of summon attack based on popular Disney rides. In this case, we used Big Magic Mountain to ride a decorative train covered in lights as it flies about around the Titan.
The Big Magic Mountain essentially works like a shooting gallery, giving players a targeting reticule to aim at the boss. Using the trigger, players can use the Chimney Flare to shoot at the boss. This attack can be used to block his attacks during key moments, so it’s best to pay attention. There’s also a finishing move that plays out as a spectacle of lights and sparks as it deals major damage to the boss. Upon beating the Rock Titan, the stage ends and the demo resets. That means it’s time for the Toy Box.
Being more of a story demo, this demo is significantly longer. Sora and his friends end up in Andy’s room from Toy Story. Sora is shocked to see his new toy-like transformation, though Donald still must remind him about maintaining world order. They come across the heartless, who have recently started appearing, and upon defeating them, they come across some new friends.
Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Rex and Hamm meet Sora and friends as introductions are made. Rex seems to confuse them as new toys from a hit video game, as he humorously calls Sora “Yozora” even mentioning his game progress and his struggles against fighting Bahamut. Buzz seems to be a bit more suspicious, not willing to trust them right away, though Woody seems to be more open. Eventually, they’re caught up to speed about how Andy and his family and the rest of the toys have suddenly disappeared. Coincidentally, the Heartless started to show up shortly after. Sora and his friends agree to help the toys on solving the mystery, which takes them outside of Andy’s home. It’s worth mentioning that the voice acting is very spot on, and the voice of Woody and Buzz do a great job sounding like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.
Upon leaving Andy’s room, players have his front yard to roam around, now accompanied by Buzz and Woody. It’s here that we can really see the new graphical enhancements with the Unreal Engine 4. Lighting is more realistic, and environments have a look that feels right out of a Pixar movie. Combat definitely excels here because of the wide-open area. It’s in this world that we have access to more attraction flows, the Mad Tea Cups and the Pirate Ship. These attraction flows are a bit more interactive, with the Pirate Ship having players push one button to swing forward and another to swing back, using momentum to deal damage. The Mad Tea Cups move around the field and deal quite a bit of damage as well.
It’s also in this world that we get a good look at the transforming keyblade. Some of the previous games experimented with new keyblade abilities, but Kingdom Hearts III takes it over the top. Playing in the Toy Box world, Sora’s keyblade transformed into the Hyper Hammer and the Drill Punch. These transformations unleash devastating special attacks that deal damage in a large area of effect. With Buzz and Woody available, you can also activate the Rocket Ruckus attack. This has Sora, Woody and Buzz riding on a firework (which at their size is like a rocket). I ran out of enemies by the time I activated this attack, so I didn’t unfortunately see the full effect.
Progressing the story further, we find ourselves at Galaxy Toys, where the new Gigas toy is on sale. A young Xehanort meets Sora and friends and summons several heartless to attack using the Gigas toy. Luckily, Sora can use the Gigas too. Riding in the cockpit, Sora has access to punches, guns, and a special attack depending on the Gigas model. Some can do a charging tackle, while others can fire a powerful canon. Defeating a heartless controlled Gigas allows for Sora to hijack it and control it himself. Upon defeating the Heartless invasion, the E3 demo ends.
Unfortunately, there was so much loaded in the demo that I didn’t get a chance to try it all. I never got to use all the keyblade transformations, nor did I try any of the summon links. Wreck-it-Ralph and Ariel were supposedly in the demo, but I was too busy trying other mechanics. Even so, having seen gameplay for them, it’s great to see players have a bit more control for the summons. There were also a few upgraded magic attacks that I didn’t get to try. Just shows that there are a lot of options fans will have in Kingdom Hearts III. It’s likely not representative of the final game, but it was nice to have a lot of abilities at this point. Makes Sora a lot more versatile than he was in the beginning of previous games.
With both demo worlds played, it really just excites me to see what’s to come in Kingdom Hearts III. With the Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean worlds revealed at E3, it’s rather exciting to see what worlds might be added next. We already know about Monsters Inc. and Big Hero 6, as well as Tangled, but it’s likely that Square-Enix is still holding onto a few surprises. With Kingdom Hearts III finally having a release date, fans of the series have a lot to look forward to. We’ll have more coverage on Kingdom Hearts III as it approaches its January 29th, 2019 release date, coming to both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.