Kingdom Hearts 3 Is Shaping up to Be Flawed Disney Magic

Since its inception in 2002, Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts franchise has grown to become an international sensation. Seeing as how the last main iteration in the series released in 2006, there has been no shortage of fans eager to play the third installment. For better or worse, Kingdom Hearts 3 has a lot of expectations to live up to when it launches next year. Though the Toy Story demo I played at Anime Expo this year instilled me with a sense of wonder and charm, it stumbled often enough to leave me feeling somewhat disappointed.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Preview: The Toys Are Real

Kingdom Hearts 3 E3 2018

The demo I played allowed me roughly 15 minutes with the game’s Toy Story world, appropriately titled Toy Box. What’s perhaps most apparent from the get-go is how gorgeous Kingdom Hearts 3 is. The comparisons to Pixar movies you’ve probably heard are definitely warranted. Little details like light gleaming off metallic parts or grass floating into the air really add to the immersion. So far, it seems as though the game runs at a stable frame-rate too, as I noticed no technical issues.

Sound design is equally impressive, as chops and blasts feel crisp. Though Tom Hanks and Tim Allen almost assuredly aren’t reprising their roles as Woody or Buzz Lightyear, their stand-in voice actors do an excellent job of convincing the player that these are indeed the toys we’ve come to love over the years. In the case of Ham and Rex, the difference is practically unnoticeable.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Preview: An Overwhelming Arsenal

After a brief cutscene, I was thrust straight into the action with some Heartless in Andy’s room. My biggest gripes with the demo arose here, when an overwhelming arsenal of gameplay options was at my disposal. Suffice to say that combat is crazy in Kingdom Hearts 3. Sora can switch between Keyblades in the midst of battle. This gives him access to a broad range of transformations and special moves that show up in the form of in-game prompts. By building a gauge in Toy Box, for instance, players can convert the protagonist’s Keyblade into a hammer. Continuous use of this allowed me to transform my weapon into Disneyland’s teacups ride, dragging enemies in only to fling them back out again.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Magic attacks return and remain great spectacles, as I was able to unleash a gigantic blizzard that covered my enemies in one go. Two Links, or summons, were also available in my demo. The first called forth Wreck-It-Ralph from an arcade screen. The second introduced Ariel, who swims around in a circle to create destructive whirlpools. As if all of that wasn’t enough, there are also team attacks to consider. I managed to partner with Woody and Buzz to fly through the air on a rocket before finding a target to send the projectile to.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Preview: Master of None?

Though this all sounds exciting, it begs the question whether all of this is simply too much. I, for one, enjoyed the simplicity of basic combat and magic attacks in the prior two main entries in the series. Kingdom Hearts 3 feels as though it’s trying to appeal to everyone that’s played ever played a Kingdom Hearts title. Gameplay is like an amalgamation of the reaction commands of the second main series entry with the command styles of Birth By Sleep. The result is something that’s incredibly flashy but feels as though it lacks originality. It’s great that the game is trying to appeal to its large fan base, but its hard to say where exactly Square Enix is drawing the line.

Another flaw arises in two recurring problems that the series seemingly still hasn’t remedied: floaty controls and odd camera angles. Even with lock-on, I found it hard to get Sora to attack enemies precisely when I wanted to. There’s so much going on onscreen that the character is constantly zipping around, and it’s hard for the camera to keep up with the action. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get hit by an unseen enemy, drawing a little frustration as I was just about to execute a Link or special move. Square Enix has time to fix these issues, though for now, they remain as annoying as in prior games.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Preview: Style Over Substance

kingdom hearts 3 announced too early game director

The most uninteresting aspect of my time Kingdom Hearts 3 came in the last portion of the demo. Here, I was tasked with destroying a host of Gigas mechs. Once inside a unit of my own, I blasted away other bots with a series of melee attacks and energy shots. The overall impression this left me with was one of a generic, run-of-the-mill gameplay mechanic that too many games rely on to break up the formula. My time inside a mech wasn’t particularly exciting in any way, outside of the fact that I didn’t have to worry about the title’s camera issues, as the action here was from a first-person perspective. Hopefully Square doesn’t rely on this mechanic often, lest it bore its core audience.

On a similar note, cutscenes seem to be featured much more prominently than in previous entries. Unfortunately, this meant I found myself watching Woody and Buzz talk more often than I got to play alongside them. What’s more is that these miniature movies are as drawn out as they’ve ever been. Characters talk at length about the light and dark to no discernible degree. How this evolves into the overarching narrative remains uncertain, though hopefully cutscenes are much better placed in the final product.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Preview: Stuck in the Past

Disney Fox Kingdom Hearts 3

My time with Kingdom Hearts 3 left me wanting more, but not in the best sense. Instead of embracing change, it seems as though the franchise still sticks to convention from a gameplay and story perspective. The visuals are as charming as they’ve ever been — there’s no doubt about that. But when it comes to substance, this demo left me with much to be desired. In more ways than one, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like a relic of the past. It remains to be seen whether the title will be able to truly fit into modern times when it finally launches on January 29, 2019.

Are you looking forward to Kingdom Hearts 3? Have you gotten a chance to play it yet? Let us know in the comments below!