Kingdom Hearts 2 was released in 2006 while Kingdom Hearts 3 will be releasing in 2019. That’s more than a decade; whole franchises have started and died in that span of time.
While some might mock the Kingdom Hearts franchise due to its annoyingly convoluted storyline and confusing cash-in game expansions (1.5, 1.8, 2.5, 2.8, Final Mix, etc), I have always liked it for successfully recreating Disney worlds in a game and combining them with Final Fantasy elements.
The fact that that this unlikeliest of combinations would work in a video game has never ceased to amaze me, bringing out child-like wonder from even my current 24-year-old self. However, the Kingdom Hearts 3 demo didn’t really evoke those emotions in me but that’s because it wasn’t clear what it wanted to achieve.
There were two parts to the Kingdom Hearts demo, both of which actually debuted earlier this year. Footage of the gameplay demos is even available to watch on YouTube. These include the Olympus boss battle and the Toy Box gameplay.
Olympus Out Of The Ordinary?
I started by playing the Kingdom Hearts 3 Olympus demo, which featured the boss battle against the rock Titan from Disney’s Hercules. The demo showcased a new gameplay feature for the franchise, in which walls or vertical surfaces that shine can be scaled by the player.
I understand how Sora running over the side of a mountain in danger of falling debris and rocks would make for a thrilling setpiece. However, the way it feels during gameplay is anything but. It felt clunky, especially since Sora can only move upwards, downwards, and sideways like he’s on a fixed path. It doesn’t feel as dynamic as it should.
At the top of the mountain, I encountered a few Heartless to battle. If you’re a longtime fan of the franchise, it feels almost exactly like Kingdom Hearts 2, which could be a good thing or a bad thing according to your preference.
The Olympus level layout also seems to feel like it’s a leftover level from the Kingdom Hearts 2 days, down to its unremarkable level of detail and design. When I finally encountered the rock Titan, what should’ve been an epic fight was anything but. I simply hacked at its legs, which had health bars of their own.
Even when Sora is scaling the Titan’s huge frame, it was unexciting. After attacking its head for a bit, a prompt appeared, telling me to press the Triangle button to summon the Big Rocky Mountain. It turned out to be the famous Disneyland Ride of the same name, conjuring out of thin air to help you defeat the Titan. A railgun shooting mini-game ensues, which lasts until the Titan is defeated.
Toying Around With The Toy Box
Fortunately, it was a good choice for me to have played the much better Toy Box segment after Olympus. Instead of the drab and uninspired level that was Olympus, the Toy Box demo finally gives me part of what I wanted in a Kingdom Hearts game. Meeting my favorite characters from classic Disney/Pixar worlds.
As nostalgia bait as it was, hearing some of the original voices of the Toy Story cast in Kingdom Hearts 3 gave me a fuzzy feeling. The circumstances were typical for a Kingdom Hearts setting. Sora, Donald, and Goofy find themselves in a new world which has just been attacked by Heartless, and this one just turns out to be the one populated by Woody and the gang.
Say what you want about Square Enix delaying the game just to change the engine, but I believe the results speak for itself. Rendered in Unreal Engine 4, the Kingdom Hearts 3 Toy Story world looks amazing with its incredible lighting and attention to detail. The recently-released potential Game of the Year (for me, at least) Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age was also developed with Unreal Engine 4, and it shows just how good a game can look even with cartoony and anime-style graphics.
Additionally, the Toy Box demo also featured another new gameplay mechanic which is probably unique to the Toy Story world. I was able to pilot giant toy mechas, with three different types available. It was fun piloting a mecha with different special abilities but ultimately it felt like a distraction from the core Keyblade combat.
The Kingdom Hearts 3 playthrough so far isn’t impressing a long-time fan of the franchise like myself, which says a lot about the demo. It fails at its one job, which is to convince me to buy the game when it releases.
It certainly wouldn’t appeal to non-fans who have never liked Kingdom Hearts in the first place. It’s more of the same franchise we know and love, and that’s probably what Square Enix intended to cater to from the beginning. Those who plan to purchase Kingdom Hearts 3 will be those who already have their hearts set, and it won’t be gaining new fans.
Hollow Bastion? Or Fulfilled Promise?
In hindsight, it does seem to be the case that Square Enix is marketing the game more heavily towards the younger generation, or for lack of a better word, millennials. Have you noticed how the trailers have mostly focused on Tangled, Frozen, and Big Hero 6? These are all newer Disney properties that would be more familiar to the youth.
As a fan who have waited years, I will be purchasing the game regardless of how good or bad the demo is. It is exactly what I expected: nothing more and nothing less, which means to say that there wasn’t anything in there that was a breath of fresh air.
Experience the Kingdom Hearts 3 demo yourself at the ‘Play Everything’ PlayStation Lounge at Sunway Pyramid this weekend from 23rd until 25th November 2018. Kingdom Hearts 3 is slated to release for the PS4 and Xbox One on January 29, 2018. In the meantime, check out the latest ‘Together’ trailer below