So here we are, 5 years after the game was first officially announced and Kingdom Hearts III finally has a release date with the game is set to glide onto PS4 and Xbox One consoles on 29th January 2019. Directly following the events of Dream Drop Distance (or, as the PS4 remaster is hilariously titled, 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue) the game will serve as the epic conclusion to the Dark Seeker saga.
Sora is joined by Riku, Donald, Goofy and Mickey in his quest to stop the evil Master Xehanort from bringing about a second Keyblade War. The heroes will travel to various Disney and Pixar worlds; battling Heartless, Unversed and members of Organisation XIII as they search for the seven ‘Guardians of Light’ and the ‘Key to Return Hearts’. Or in other words: ‘lots of weird and confusing stuff happens that we don’t quite understand but will definitely enjoy anyway.’
So with Microsoft, Sony and Square Enix’s E3 conferences having wrapped up, we decided to take a look back at everything we now know about the long-awaited conclusion to this epic saga. And then proceed to try and fit it all onto one page…
Which Disney worlds and characters will feature?
Let’s begin of course with what everyone here is no doubt most interested to know: which Disney/Pixar worlds and characters have been confirmed? In no particular order, here are the ones we know about so far:
Pirates of the Caribbean
Big Hero 6
As for the non-Disney worlds, we have seen clips of franchise favourites Twilight Town and Mysterious Tower. There will apparently be at least 9 worlds in all (whether that is including these 2 is not clear).
In terms of characters we, of course, have Disney Castle’s main trio Donald, Goofy and Mickey Mouse playing heavy roles in the story, along with series regulars Maleficent, Pete and Hades returning as some of the games’ classic villains. Ariel, Simba and Wreck-it Ralph have been shown to be summonable characters, each showcasing some pretty gorgeous animations to boot, and Ratatouille‘s very own beloved rodent-chef Remy popped up in Square Enix’s Conference trailer, in what appeared be some sort of mini-game.
Alongside these Disney personalities, a slew of Kingdom Hearts original characters will also be turning up to help bring the story to its exciting conclusion. Series favourite Aqua (voiced by Arrow‘s Willa Holland) has an intriguingly new ‘Xehanort-y’ look, if you know what I mean. Vanitas also turned up in the Monsters Inc. trailer, so we can safely hope Ventus and Terra will be making some pretty pivotal appearances as well. Organisation XIII are back; with footage already shown of Xemnas, Luxord and Xigbar, as well as returning members Marluxia and Larxene from Chain of Memories. The Sony Conference trailer even gave us our first good look at Axel and Kairi.
As for the logistic of the worlds themselves, the scale and depth to each location has been tremendously enhanced, with game director Tetsuya Nomura explaining to Game Informer that the KH team wanted to devote some serious time to achieving the desired levels of detail and accuracy:
“With Kingdom Hearts 3, I feel like we were able to recreate the world of the original CG film pieces close to its original quality in terms of its graphics and the look of the different worlds. Up until then, we created the worlds so that it looks like it is a stylized Kingdom Hearts world, but now with Kingdom Hearts 3, we were able to depict the world of the original film close to its original form as possible.”
Take at look at the Square Enix Conference trailer and you can instantly see what he means…
See? Looks gorgeous doesn’t it. We can also see examples of some of the more expansive sections of certain game-worlds, clearly representing the franchise’s departure from the tighter and more restrictive layouts that effectively ‘funnelled’ players through previous game levels. In light of this, Sora and the party will be afforded increased traversal capabilities; including wall-running, grinding, sledding and, of course, using Rapunzel’s hair as a makeshift grappling hook…
Gameplay – Kingdom Hearts combat on steroids
Yes, as can also be seen from the trailers, Kingdom Hearts III‘s combat is going to be as hectic as ever, and then some. Players will be zipping all over the screen, chaining ground and aerial combos, as well as magic attacks and all manner of visually elaborate, seizure-inducing moves. Classic spells such as Aeroga, Firaga, Blizzaga and Thundaga are of course on the command list, along with the classic ability to cast Summons (now called ‘Links’) which call on popular Disney characters to temporarily aid Sora in battle. Rapid-fire Shotlock abilities also return from Birth By Sleep, with variations in their attack styles seemingly tailored to each game-world.
It appears Kingdom Hearts 2‘s ‘Drive Forms’ and Birth By Sleep‘s ‘Command Styles’ have been intuitively combined into the powerful ‘keyblade transformations’. Like Drive Forms, activating the ability changes Sora’s appearance slightly while also often affecting the way he moves around during combat. And like Command Styles, each transformation grants access to a specific range of uniquely powerful attacks. As can be seen in the above trailer, these ‘keyblade transformations’, similar to the updated Shotlock abilities, have been designed according to specific game-worlds.
With the added ability to switch between keyblades on the fly by pressing either left or right on the D-pad, these exclusive techniques will be sure to add a new and constantly evolving sense of variety to combat encounters.
Similarly, boss fights will be infused with unique set-piece animations that see Sora and the party rather amusingly employing Disneyland rides as unconventional weapons using the ‘Attraction Flow’ mechanic. I mean what better way is there to defeat a Titan than by scaling Mount Olympus and slamming a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad train into his stony noggin’?
Nomura has also talked briefly about the improvements made to A.I. Not only are enemy encounters promised to be more challenging, but allies will have their own complex fighting styles too. Here, for instance, we can see Rapunzel cleverly using her hair to interact with the environment during one battle:
Combine all of this with a selection of level-specific combat abilities, such as the option of piloting mechs (called Gigas) in the Toy Story world, and it seems each individual level will in turn offer an entirely unique gameplay experience – something we haven’t necessarily seen before from the series, at least on this kind of exciting scale.
For better or worse, the gummi ship will also be making a return, with gamers once again building their own innocent little spacecrafts. Like in previous entries, the gummi ship enables the party to travel between worlds, offering intermissions of various speed and combat trials to break up traditional gameplay. Where this differs from previous iterations, however, is that there will also be an exploration dynamic to gummi ship gameplay, with open areas to traverse as well as typical race and combat arenas.
Finally, another interesting little addition is the announcement of ‘Classic Kingdom mini-games’. Inspired by famous Mickey Mouse cartoon-shorts, these nostalgically hark back to the days of the Game and Watch titles from the 80s. Check out the rather adorable trailer below:
All things considered, Kingdom Hearts III is looking, in a word: ‘absolutely fantastic’. Okay, fine, that was two words but in my defence the game looks far too amazing to sum up in a single word. Not only does it offer a mouth-watering selection of Pixar worlds for us to immerse ourselves in, the gameplay also looks to have been improved beyond measure. Plus it seems practically impossible to take a screenshot of the game that doesn’t look drop-dead gorgeous. Yes the release date is still a fair ways off, but I think we can finally start allowing ourselves to get a little bit more excited about it. And in response to the paranoid concerns of further delays that some gamers have already started voicing, I have to say, in the wonderful words of series lyricist Utada Hikaru: “♪ Regardless of warnings, the future doesn’t scare me at all…♪ ”
Kingdom Hearts III is slated for release on PS4 and Xbox One on 29 January 2019.