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Kingdom Hearts III First Impressions (Premiere Showcase Demo)

Is this really it?

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Kingdom Hearts is the crossover you never expected to happen back in 2002. Characters from the Final Fantasy series and the many Disney movies share the same world? A project that started thanks to a literal elevator pitch from Square Enix (Squaresoft back then) and Disney employees in Japan, that happen to share the same office building back then?

But years have past, crossovers are pretty normal nowadays. The Kingdom Hearts series only had one numbered sequel, but plentiful of non-numbered titles released sporadically on various platforms. But the wait for Kingdom Hearts III has been very long, around 13 years.

Thankfully, it’s going to come out soon enough.

The folks at Sony Interactive Entertainment Hong Kong Limited Singapore Branch (SIES) (i.e. Playstation Asia) has brought the Premiere Showcase demo of Kingdom Hearts III to its newly-launched Play Everything Lounge. We were invited to the launch event and had played the demo.

A question lingers after I played it: is this really it?

Joy and Pain

For context, I am a lapsed Kingdom Hearts fan. The surprise reveal that the game was playable for the media filled me with both joy and pain.

Joy, because it brings me good memories of the fun I had with the previous numbered installments. Pain, because this game was in limbo for so long. The many games Square Enix has announced too early like this turned out to be only decent at best, like Final Fantasy XV. These two conflicting feelings remain throughout my playthrough of the demo.

The Olympus demo is the shorter of the two, and also the rougher of the two. Here you see protagonist Sora, still in his Kingdom Hearts II garments, alongside Donald and Goofy battling against the Titan from Hercules. It’s a full-on set piece moment where non-stop action is the name of the game.

First thing that did not sit well for me is the auto-run. Sora can now walk on specific walls indicated by a shimmer of light glowing from the top down. It’s cool, until you try turning. Sora can only auto-run either straight up or left/right. Boulders are dropped along the wall to impede you. Abruptly turning 90 degrees left/right from running upwards feels… off.

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Flashy Moves

Thankfully the combat is as fun as ever. Maybe too fun. Just like previous numbered entries, there’s only one attack button, but do enough attacks and you’ll start getting prompts to do follow-ups. Some involve your party members. Launching Goofy like a missile and throwing a flare spell with Donald that’s actually just a fireworks display are cool. And there’s other contextual abilities, including Attractions based on Disneyland rides. You can even hold the lock-on button and fire a spread shot.

It’s all fun, but nowhere has the demo gave you context on how these abilities are triggered and should any of these have different consequences or different strategic use. There’s no access to the party menu in this rather early build, so it’s more of a showcase of what fun things you can do during the combat and boss fights.

Speaking of, the Titan fight definitely looked epic- those rain effects and the general graphics are great thanks to Unreal Engine 4. But maybe not the most nifty or inventive boss fight. Just mash X and follow the instructions.

Toys To Life

The other level, Toy Box, is our first look at the new Toy Story world. It’s also a showcase of what sort of cinematics to expect. It’s hitting the right references, the developers definitely know enough about the Pixar IP to weave in memorable moments from the movies into the overarching story of the Heartless and too many dudes in black hoodies. There’s even an elaborate reference about Rex the green dinosaur who sort-of recognises the trio- he does play games after all.

Again, it looks great, the different selection of abilities available for this level is also interesting. The moment you jumped out of Andy’s room and then continue fighting Heartless outdoors was brilliant. It gave the impression that the area is bigger than expected. But then you just walk along the road, a long black screen later you arrive at the next plot point and set-piece, a toy store.

So there’s not much map exploration to speak of in the demo. Everything is laid out so you go on the critical path, and there’s not really side paths but treasure chests tucked around the single map to reward you for exploring. Again, this is an early build, hopefully it’s not too streamlined. Sure, map exploration can be tiresome (cue Kingdom Hearts 1’s early sequence in Traverse Town nightmares) but it helps flesh out the world. The game needs them.

The next set-piece moment starts with another cinematic featuring a dude in a black hoodie (one of the many Xehanorts of the Organisation), spouting grandiose, ambiguous speeches in the center of the toy store. And then you get into a mecha toy and pilot it.

Oh, Kingdom Hearts III is being very generous with the amount of fun sequences it throws at you. The game goes into FPS-style controls. But you can also eject and tackle the mechas with your keyblade, or just hijack other mechas for fun.

Is This Really It?

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Again, the question remains, is this really it? I continue to have mixed feelings with Kingdom Hearts III. On one hand, I’m hyped at the crazy things the game will throw at you and the production quality is looking solid as you would expect. On the other, I am worried that combat is too inconsequential, too much set-pieces and not much depth in the combat/RPG aspects.

Granted, this demo was the first playable slice shown to the world, back in May. Now that development has finally wrapped up, maybe we’ll see the elements missing in the demo to be better fleshed out. But that’s wishful thinking, imagine the bits from this demo stay exactly in tact without much change.

I guess the best way to approach Kingdom Hearts III is how you should approach Final Fantasy XV. That game is definitely flawed, but it has its moments that you can enjoy and cherish. It won’t be a game of the year contender, but Kingdom Hearts III still has one important void to fill- the hearts of its long-time fans seeking closure.

And that alone may just be more than enough to make up its shortcomings.

Kingdom Hearts III is now available for pre-order in Malaysia. Price for the PS4 version starts at RM209 for physical disc and RM199 for digital on PS Store Asia. There is also a collector’s edition (RM349), and an All-In-One digital collection featuring Kingdom Hearts 1.5, 2.5 and 2.8 (RM429). It is also available on Xbox One.