If you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan, your eyes have been glued to Los Angeles this weekend, where Square-Enix, flanked by members of the Pixar Animation Studios creative team, revealed their first playable build of the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III.
The demo was only available to a select few members of the press, as well as some Kingdom Hearts YouTubers. Unfortunately, I was not invited to the event, but after reading what articles and viewing what videos I can, I have a good idea of what the lucky few were exposed to.
Rather than a rundown of what the demo featured (there are plenty of articles about that), I will instead give you my thoughts and impressions of what the event revealed. There’s plenty of gameplay that was showed off, as well as the corresponding production values Kingdom Hearts is known for, so let’s jump in.
The demo featured two worlds, Olympus from Hercules and the brand new Toy Box from Toy Story. Olympus was the shorter of the two, by all accounts, so we’ll start there.
Olympus will most likely be the game’s first world you visit, and there are a couple reasons for this. One, Sora is still rocking his outfit from Kingdom Hearts II. Two, based on the ending of Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, Sora is visiting the world to meet up with Hercules, who can hopefully help our hero regain some of the power he lost at the end of Dream Drop Distance.
After fighting through a few waves of Heartless, gamers were pitted up against the Rock Titan, clearly the highlight of the world. The fight featured Sora’s new wall running mechanic, giving our hero more movement options at his disposal (more on this later), as well as the all-new Attraction Flow technique, as Sora called upon Big Magic Mountain, an homage to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
It’s clear the wall running, like the Flowmotion in Dream Drop Distance, will give Sora the ability to reach places originally thought impossible, opening up side paths or just additional treasure. Many of those who played the demo said the camera had a hard time keeping up with Sora’s vertical ascent up the mountain, and videos I’ve seen certainly suggest that. The camera has always been wonky in the Kingdom Hearts series, so it will remain to be seen if it gets cleaned up by release.
The Attraction Flow, while literally quite flashy (since it also pays homage to the Main Street Electrical Parade), is only one of the many new combat options at Sora’s disposal. Using Big Magic Mountain against the Rock Titan made the fight feel more like a God of War-style quick-time event rather than an epic boss fight, but without actually having played the demo myself, that’s just an assumption on my part.
Speaking of Sora in combat, it’s clear the developers wanted to give gamers the feeling of Sora being an accomplished keyblade master, with all the tricks and tactics in his arsenal. The developers are countering this by throwing lots of Heartless at Sora, as seen in not only the demo but in many of the trailers released thus far. I think this is a fair trade-off, while also giving gamers the satisfaction of being able to plow through wave after wave of enemies with grace and precision. I also expect the rewards each individual enemy offers to be reduced, to account for the increased numbers.
The next part of the demo placed Sora in Andy’s room, where he meets up with Woody, Buzz and more of Andy’s toys. While it does not sound like they got Tom Hanks for Woody (Hanks has stated his brother Jim usually voices Woody in the video games), and it’s hard to determine whether that is Tim Allen voicing Buzz (if it’s not Allen, the guy sounds very similar), they did manage to bring John Ratzenberger and Wallace Shawn on board for Hamm and Rex at least.
This part of the demo shows off one of the franchise’s most prominent strengths, the interactions between Sora and company and all these Disney characters. Hamm and Rex are excited to see Sora, with Rex confusing him with the hero Yozora from his favorite video game in a delicious bit of meta humor, while Buzz is a little skeptical. Still, these interactions were enough to bring a smile to my face.
An aside on the voice actors: it will be interesting to see if Disney can bring on any of the voice talent from the new worlds introduced. For example, will we see Billy Crystal and John Goodman lend their voices to Mike and Sulley once again? Will Mandy Moore come back to Kingdom Hearts (remember, she voiced Aerith in the first game) to voice Rapunzel this time around?
It’s in Toy Box where Sora shows off some of that aforementioned combat repertoire. Aside from being able to switch keyblades on the fly (which is a cool new feature that should open up combat strategies) and the Attraction Flow techniques, Sora also displays the keyblade transformations and Link attacks. We’ve seen Ariel as a Link in a prior trailer, and the demo introduced a new one, Wreck-it Ralph.
While it’s cool being able to call in Ralph as a summoned character, I wonder if this means we will not get a world based on his movie. After all, with the exception of Genie, summon characters in Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II were obtained through items in the field rather than story events. Then again, the Links, first introduced in Birth By Sleep, were obtained through story events. With summons being called Links in this game, that still opens the possibility, however slight, we see a world based on Game Central Station.
Also, I have to say that among the keyblade transformations, the transformation of Ever After (the keyblade from Tangled‘s world) into the Mirage Staff was the coolest featured. Being a magically-inclined transformation (which seems to take a lot of cues from Kingdom Hearts II‘s Wisdom Form), it allowed Sora to keep his distance and pelt foes from afar. The finisher, in which he sprouts Rapunzel’s tower and makes destruction rain from the heavens (Chrono Trigger reference), was also a sight to see.
Also, I have to comment on the music. While using both Links and Attraction Flow, we got to listen to remixes of “An Adventure in Atlantica” and “Hand in Hand” from the original game. The boss fight with the Rock Titan gave us a remix of “The Deep End.” These remixed tracks from prior games are a nice touch, and is more proof that composer Yoko Shimomura is crafting quite an arrangement for this game.
There are some complaints about the combat from those in attendance. Chief among them is that it’s too “floaty.” I could see instances of that, and instances that seem to dispute that notion, but it’s hard to confirm without playing it myself. Some also complained that keyblade transformations, finishers and Attraction Flow techniques are all mapped to one button through situation commands, introduced in 0.2. That was something that took some getting used to, but being a demo, it’s possible the developers just wanted to give gamers an idea of the tools that will be at their disposal, while the release version will gradually build Sora’s arsenal.
Another important point. While the Toy Box was huge, perfectly encapsulating how it would feel to be a toy wandering through the outside world and in a large toy store, developers said the demo only showed off around 30% of the world. If that’s true, then it’ll be interesting to see what else they have in store for us in that world and all the others. Looks like series creator Tetsuya Nomura’s promise of having bigger worlds is being realized.
With all the demo showcased, it’s easy to forget this is a small taste of what’s upcoming. E3 is next month, and Square-Enix has already announced they will reveal Kingdom Hearts III‘s release date in June. E3 will probably also bring us a new trailer and a new world, so news will continue to come fast and furious. And I, for one, can’t wait. Not just for E3, but for the final build of the game, as it looks quite impressive in all facets.
What about you? What was the highlight of the Kingdom Hearts III preview event for you? Or are there some things that cause you some concern? Let us know in the comments below!