Gamescom 2018: Kingdom Hearts 3 Hands-On Preview

August 23, 2018

Transcribed from notes taken by Adam Ghiggino

The wait has been long, with a decade passing since the last console Kingdom Hearts game released, but there’s now less than 6 months to go until Kingdom Hearts 3 arrives. At Gamescom, we had the chance to go hands-on with two levels from the game – Toy Box from Toy Story and Olympus from Hercules – running on an Xbox One X.

The Toy Story demo was mostly cutscenes, with only limited playtime being available, but it looks absolutely dead on to the original film visually. Woody, Buzz, Rex, Hamm and the Aliens all look exactly, or even better, then they did in the movies. Finally, we’re seeing the realisation of those Toy Story-level graphics that were promised by Bill Gates with the release of the Xbox. Unfortunately, while the visuals were fantastic, the actual direction of the cutscenes didn’t work quite as well. They were slow and stilted, feeling too much like a direct translation from another language (which, let’s be honest, it is) as opposed to a more widely localised effort.

The demo began with the toys all being fearful of the intruding Heartless who are beginning to appear in Andy’s Room and are immediately suspicious of the arrival of Sora, Donald and Goofy. To fit with the general direction and ‘maintenance of world order’ – a rule similar to the Prime Directive in Star Trek – Sora, Donald and Goofy are all magically transformed into toys so as not to reveal the existence of worlds outside of this one. However, unlike the others, Rex is instantly trusting of Sora, who he mistakes for the hero of a videogame series he’s been playing, adding a whole other layer of meta-narrative to the scene. The toys indicate that an Organization XIII member has been sighted and join the party as they head out to follow him, fighting heartless along the way as they progress from Andy’s Room to the roof outside and down the street. These transitions are all seamless and cover a much larger area than the old boxed-in areas of the earlier games in the series.

Sora’s combat is very similar to that of Aqua in Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage from Kingom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, with his movements being much faster and more fluid than ever before. Keeping up a high combo meter unlocks special styles like ‘Second Form’, or ‘Attractions’ which are summonable rides from Disney Land. We could summon the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups to spin around the area dealing damage, or the swinging Pirate Ship to follow simple quick-time button presses to juggle enemies. There are also contextual actions for the world you’re in – one let us summon a firecracker like in the original Toy Story movie and ride around on it with Woody and Buzz, chasing down enemies as we went.

Eventually, the fight took us to a toy store, where Sora tracked down the Organization XIII member, who removed their hood to reveal a silver-haired figure… ‘the first of the Xehanorts’. To explain this line and the conversation that follows is a long, dark path we don’t have time to go down right now. Needless to say, if you’ve played through earlier games in the series, you’ll likely understand what that means. Continuing on, Sora basically has to jump into a toy robot in the store and use it to fight the Heartless who are attacking and can also pilot their own toy mechs. Sora can jump out and swap between mechs he defeats at will, which each have their own unique abilities. It played like a very kid-friendly version of MechWarrior, with simply first person controls and missiles, but it was definitely fun.

The Olympus demo was a lot simpler than the Toy Box demo; it essentially had a few battles leading up to a boss encounter with the volcanic Titan from Hercules. As part of this, Sora displays his new wall running ability, which lets him run up vertical surfaces that are glowing. It’s a little stiff to control, but once you complete the sequence you get to fight the Titan, first by taking out his feet and then working your way up to his head. Once you do enough damage to the Titan, Sora gets to summon Big Thunder Mountain Railroad from Disneyland, which creates a railroad in the sky lit with neon, which he rides along on top of a steam train. It can dire missiles out of its smokestack at the Titan, and goes around a pre-programmed route, as you fire not only at the Titan’s weak spots but also at any fists he throws to try and stop you.

Overall, both of the demos changed up the pace of what regular Kingdom Hearts gameplay constitutes pretty frequently. There were a lot of gimmicks throughout them, but admittedly they were quite fun to trigger and play. With our hands-on experience completed, we’re interested to see what the full game ends up being like.

Kingdom Hearts 3 releases for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 29th, 2019.