A taste of darkness — Kingdom Hearts III Hands-on at E3 2018

Kingdom Hearts II was released in 2006, 12 years ago. At the end of that game, fans were teased with more story to come. Since then, there have been several spin-offs (that still hold important key elements to the overall saga) and hints about Kingdom Hearts III, but fans have been waiting a long time. Even at the end of 2012’s Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, the credits spelled out “Next is Kingdom Hearts III” (it wasn’t, Union Cross and Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter prologue have been released since then). Fast-forward to 2018, I’ve finally been handed the chance to play Kingdom Hearts III, and it finally goes back to its glorious roots, with some liberties, of course.

In the demo I played, I checked out Toy Box, a world based on Pixar’s animated film, Toy Story. This demo began with a lengthy cutscene that introduced our heroes Sora, Donald, and Goofy to Andy’s room, where Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Ham, and Rex watch from above as heartless appear along the map. Finally, after the two groups meet, I’m able to run around Andy’s room and give the heartless a good walloping with my Keyblade.

Each “spin-off” Kingdom Hearts game has had its own unique style of combat. Birth by Sleep had the command deck, and Dream Drop Distance had an interesting parkour move (also known in-game as “flowmotion) you can use on enemies, but Kingdom Hearts III largely focuses on the combat styles of Kingdom Hearts II. The Focus system, where you can transform Sora into a powered-up form for a limited time, is back, but I didn’t get a chance to use it. Also returning are limits with a new addition to combat. Occasionally, an action command would appear above the attack menu that would give me unique moves for the party to use. One of these moves was the set of teacups, where finishing up the move will have everyone in the party ride in teacups and smack into enemies below.

Another move was the pirate ship, which swung back and forth like another carnival ride, destroying heartless that dared reach its path. And finally, I could wield a giant hammer to lay the smack down. The hammer was by far my favorite of these moves because of how much control I felt I had over it. The others seemed, while excellent for fans that recognize the rides from Disney World, to favor style over substance.

But, is it even an issue for these moves to be too flashy? The game is Kingdom Hearts at its core, and it’s fun. Everything about the series besides its main story is a joyful romp through the magical kingdom and embracing it, not caring about how ridiculous combat seems. Magic is back to how it should be, and each hit with the Keyblade has a satisfying feedback. If this demonstration of basic combat was fun, I’m excited to see how the full game will go when I’m able to customize my attacks and combos.

Summons make a return as well. These give players the ability to summon popular Disney characters. While fighting the hoard of heartless, I summoned Wreck-It Ralph to well, wreck heartless. I rode on his back and controlled him, punching everything in our path. Like the summons in Kingdom Hearts I and II, it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

The world of Toy Story highlights how beautiful Kingdom Hearts III can be. After beating the heartless in Andy’s Room, my party leapt through the window onto the front yard, which looked more beautiful than Toy Story 3 presented its world. The grass had plenty of color, the road felt realistic, it felt like I was really in a Pixar movie. Finally, after running down the street and making it to the toy store, things got even more ridiculous.

In the toy store, I ran into one of the Organization XIII members, Xehanort. After a spiel about darkness and hearts, he sent my party a parting gift, heartless in control of a massive toy robot. Fortunately, I had a massive toy robot as well, and hopped in it to counter the heartless’ clever onslaught.

The demo became, in a way, a first-person shooter. I could fire at heartless, robots being controlled by heartless, and punch my way through the battle. It was incredibly satisfying to see their health drain and watch the resulting explosion. After this brief fight in the toy store, the demo ended.

Kingdom Hearts III is exactly what we’ve been waiting for. While we’re still several months away from release, it’s shaping up to be an incredible experience. There are still plenty of worlds yet to be revealed, but we will learn about them in the coming months. Kingdom Hearts III will be released on January 29th, 2019 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Stay tuned to Gaming Trend for more news out of E3.


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