We just recently got our hands-on Kingdom Hearts III thanks to the good people at Playstation and here’s what we thought about it!
First off, there were two playable levels for Kingdom Hearts III that were made available to us. There was the Olympus level which is set in Disney’s Ancient Greece ala Hercules during the Siege of Mt. Olympus and the Toy Box Level, which is set in the Toy Story Universe featuring Andy’s Room, Front yard and a toy store called Galaxy Toys.
Go the Distance
Out of the two the Olympus Level felt very bare-bones and simplistic. It seemed to also occur earlier in the game judging by how little skills and abilities you start out with. As the level starts, you are introduced to the Lythos, the colossal Rock Titan from Disney’s Hercules fame which serves as the level’s main boss. Our plucky protagonists, Sora, Goofy and Donald are immediately thrown in on the deep end as they scale a sheer cliff while the Rock Titan hurls rocks at them. The scene is less epic than it sounds like, mainly because the camera angle used to depict the action is an uninspired under shot, looking up at Sora and Crew as they run up the side of the cliff to get to the Rock Titan.
In between the climbing, there are a few segments where we get introduced to combat by fighting the Heartless that show up. By and large, the combat in the game feels very similar to previous games in the franchise. Press X to attack, Circle to jump, Square to dash/airdash and L1+(Context Sensitive Button) to cast spells.
A new addition is the ability to use special skills when you rack up successful strikes with your normal attack. These can be activated by pressing Triangle when the prompt appears. These skills range from transforming into a second form to an AoE stunning blast to team-up moves with Goofy where some fancy aerial acrobatics launch him like a missile to the enemies below. During my playthrough, choosing which special move comes out next appeared to be random in nature so there was only a loose sense of control with what we wanted to do next in combat.
We eventually made our way to the Rock Titan where we beat up its legs causing it to topple and allow us to climb its body to reach its head. With a few well-placed strikes we eventually earned the ability to execute the Mountain Coaster train attack by pressing triangle. Upon doing so the game then turns into an on-the-rails shooter with the train flying around the Rock Titan dipping, soaring and diving as we shot colorful fireworks at it.
This segment was visually spectacular with the Mountain Coaster train making its own bright and colorful train tracks in the air before disappearing after us, all while we shoot the massive titan with fiery explosives that detonate like fireworks as we bobbed and weaved around it. Once we defeated the titan the level was over.
You Got a Friend in Me
Compared to the Olympus Level, The Toy Box level seemed to be a lot more fleshed out. It contained more of the actual story and there was a lot more to explore and do. The level starts out when Heartless invade Andy’s Room and Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the rest of the toys try to fight back to protect it. As they plan their attack Sora, Goofy and Donald (in their brilliantly designed toy forms) enter the scene and set off the fracas prematurely.
Here we get more out of the combat with Sora being able to switch Keyblades and Weapons on the fly and by extension is able to summon more magical rides and special abilities. We were able to summon the Mad Tea Cups attack where your party rides giant Tea Cups bumping and ricocheting all over the battlefield dealing damage to every enemy in the way. There was also the Pirate Ship attack that rocked back and forth juggling enemies in the air. Our favorite attack that we saw was definitely the one which conjured up the Rocket from the Toy Story movie which Buzz Lightyear and Sora ride around before launching it at the enemies below.
After another set of cutscenes, we took a break from the action to explore Andy’s Room. The area is faithfully recreated from the movies despite feeling a little tinier than expected. There’s plenty to see around the room, under Andy’s bed and in the various shelves. We spotted Andy’s Toy Box, the iconic Pixar Bouncy Ball, The Army Men bucket, different books and blocks as well as a bed cover of Buzz Lightyear and posters of the ABC Round Up scattered around the room.
In exploring the area we got to try out all of Sora’s traversal and movement options. For the most part Sora controls fluidly. He jumps a decent height, wall runs indefinitely and is able to air dash on command responsively. Sora can now also bound over waist high objects such as various blocks and rocks in his way. Sora can also air dash to a nearby wall where he will momentarily stick to before launching a unique attack at enemies.
After exploring and rooting around the Andy’s room, we then jumped out of the window to the outside where you do battle with the heartless on the rooftop and in Andy’s front yard. All the free space allowed us to really let loose with the special attacks and really showcased them in spectacular fashion.
Eventually, we crossed the street to activate a cutscene that transports us to Galaxy Toys where a white haired man dressed in black who Sora calls the First of the Xehanorts awaited us. After a short and ominous interaction he unleashes a wave of gigantic toy robots called Gigas after us as we board our own giant Gigas to fight back. The game then transforms into a first person shooter while Sora is in the Gigas complete with a custom HUD. There were three types of Gigas that Sora can either fight with or against each with their own distinct skills and abilities. We can eject from one robot and board another pretty smoothly. We also had the option to fight regularly on the ground. Once we cleared the Gigas the level is over and the “Thank you for playing” screen comes on.
How Could You Be So Heartless?
We came out of our Kingdom Hearts III experience optimistic but a little underwhelmed. The combat felt a little too light and simplistic. There isn’t much nuance in the combat mechanics: simple button presses to attack carried me throughout most of the fights seldom needing to cast spells, heal up or use items. The special attacks, though fun, powerful, and visually very pleasing feel unearned when used. Stringing simple combos with a few hits usually generate enough to summon devastating abilities that would obliterate the enemies ranks. I didn’t feel like there was any actual challenge to the combat nor was there any real ceiling of skill required to progress.
I also have a gripe with the game’s excessive use of cutscenes to progress the plot. In the Toy Box level in particular, it takes so long to start playing despite the Heartless arriving on-scene almost immediately. After finally being able to fight them off we were taken out of the action again by yet another lengthy cutscene which saw Sora and Crew get introduced to the Woody and the rest of Andy’s Toys. In this age of modern gaming, I feel as though there are more efficient ways to convey information and move the plot along without having to take the player out of the experience for so long.
Luckily, there are also a lot of good aspects that we enjoyed with Kingdom Hearts. The variety of the gameplay via the different shooting sections and quick time events baked into the special abilities are great additions to the franchise. These are welcome breaths for fresh air that help break up the grind of traditional combat. We look forward to how many more of these gameplay types will be in the game proper when it comes out.
The main draw of the Kingdom Hearts franchise has always been the beloved characters and familiar locales being brought to life. We’re happy to report that KHIII manages to deliver on that regard and then some.
The gorgeous graphics and exceptional art direction faithfully recreate iconic locales with a decent amount of detail here and there. Running around in Andy’s room or fighting off heartless in Andy’s iconic driveway is enough to set off any Disney fan’s major nostalgia good vibes.
Exploring these areas by jumping, dashing and wall running is satisfying to do. In addition to finding little easter eggs from the movies, you can also find chests that give of loot, as chests from videogames are want to do.
The special attacks feature the same feeling of familiarity and nostalgia and are absolute wonders to behold. The Train section in the Olympus level is easily the demo’s biggest highlight and there’s nothing quite as fun for a Toy Story fan as blasting off with Buzz on the iconic Rocket zooming around in the air before launching it towards hapless enemies. Kingdom Hearts knows where most of its fan’s hearts are and it delivers right where it matters.
While I do have my fair share of gripes about the little bits I’ve played, I’m looking forward to Kingdom Hearts III optimistically. I’m excited to see other beloved worlds and franchises in the universe being fleshed out and explored. We’ve barely seen or heard about the games narrative which I suspect will have a lot riding on it on whether the game is good or not. It is, after all Kingdom Hearts. That being said, there’s a lot of potential with what we’ve played so far and it constitutes a fairly solid baseline to build the narrative.
I guess we’ll all have to find out when the Kingdom Hearts III releases January 25, 2019
How do you think the Kingdom Hearts 3 is shaping up? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to us via our Facebook Page!