Kingdom Hearts III Fan Expo 2018 Impression

A brief aside: I personally haven’t touched a Kingdom Hearts game since 2005, so forgive me if I observe a new element that’s been kicking around since one of the portable spin-offs.

Sony and PlayStation booked out a fair-sized chunk of the floor of Fan Expo’s South building to show off some VR headsets and upcoming titles. Among the lineup of titles is the long-long-long-long anticipated Kingdom Hearts III. The demo stations were kitted out with not one, but two playable sections; a full story sequence set during Pixar’s Toy Story and a climactic boss fight in Hercules’ Olympus. Through some quick bits of flattery with the staff and a lot of patience I did get to try both in one sitting.

Toy Story kicks off with a short scene of Woody, Buzz, and Rex in Andy’s room setting an ambush for some unknown intruders, only to witness the Revoltech-ish looking Sora, Goofy, and Donald wreck some Heartless. The combat feels really loose and floaty even compared to the first entry in the series. It makes sense for the toonish look and feel of the animation, but it still doesn’t quite scratch my personal action-RPG itch. Sora has a lot more options in combat, including the ability to switch between keyblades, such as a cool keyblade that is a hammer. All of these, plus the game’s magical attacks, are easily put into play with some quick d-button presses or holding a trigger with a face button, which at least feels like a genuine improvement over the frantic menu navigation I recall from the first game. Another new element is attraction attacks where Sora hops on a Disneyland ride, like the Mad Tea Party or Big Thunder Mountain, made from LEDs that launch fireworks at the bad guys — it’s pretty nifty.

After that fight there’s a scene that seems to go through three distinct cycles of “Who are you”, “What are those”, “They’re called Heartless, we fight them”, “It’s Yokozora from the game Slinky and I are stuck on” in a row before Buzz agrees to help out and Woody guesses that the Heartless are why Slinky and the humans are missing and they might be at the toy store down the road. This toy store is not Al’s Toy Barn from Toy Story 2, which is weird for a franchise known for recreating the look and feel of cartoon locations. After a fight outside with five party members (it feels no different than fighting with three, but now you can hop on a bottle rocket with Woody and Buzz and crash some baddies), the toy store is found to indeed be filled with bad dudes and friend in needs of rescuing. Players can hop in a giant robot toy and use it to blast a bunch of Heartless to save the day. I am reluctant to condemn any game that adds big stompy robots, but it’s not in tone for the franchise or the movie and doesn’t feel at all interesting to play.

The day saved, I moved over to a fight with the Rock Titan from Hercules. Kingdom Hearts III shows off a more cinematic action section: Sora can run up cliffs and the Titan itself with cool camera angles and nifty animations to change up the pace of floaty double jumping. The fight with the Titan is a question of smashing its legs and then its face until the player can summon a laser train to blast it to death in an on-rails shooter segment. And that was it — no story, no exploration, just wreck the rock guy — thank you, and have a great day.

I am long on record as ‘not getting it’ when it comes to this franchise, and that afternoon with it didn’t help that fact, but fans seem to have plenty to look forward to when it comes out January 29, 2019.

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