Kingdom Hearts 3 is Fun Even if You’re New to the Series

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I think it’s safe to say that Kingdom Hearts 3 is one of the most anticipated titles of all time. From what I experienced, it seems this long-awaited installment will have everything fans could have hoped for and more. Even newbies to the series will find a lot to like here.

I’ve never played a Kingdom Hearts game. Outside of seeing friends play it back in the day or checking out a short demo of the HD re-release from 2013, I have no real experience with the franchise. I know it has a combination of Disney and Square-Enix characters. I also understand it has a convoluted storyline thanks to all of the prequel spin-offs released over the years.

Besides that, I went into the demo knowing next to nothing. I’m happy to report that I end up having a wonderful time despite my ignorance of the franchise. This is a quality title through and through.

For those who don’t know, Kingdom Hearts takes place in a universe where all the various Disney worlds are connected. It should come as no surprise to learn that Mickey Mouse is king of this shared universe. One day, he notices shadowy creatures called “Heartless” are invading the realms. In their wake, a wave of darkness begins to consume the lands.

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Mickey sends Donald (the royal mage) and Goofy (captain of the guard) to find a keyblade wielder. Keyblades are mystical weapons in the Kingdom Hearts universe. They have the power to seal the keyholes at the heart of each world (where the Heartless are sneaking in from). They find Sora, whose world (Destiny Island) was destroyed by the Heartless. The three companions then travel to different Disney lands to fight back the Heartless. Along the way, they become friends with many Disney characters.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with all the intricacies of the series, you can jump into Kingdom Hearts 3 blind. The core story about friendship and light overcoming darkness is one general audiences will easily grasp. You’ll instantly know who the good and bad guys are.

While there is certainly some complexity to the story, you don’t need a master’s degree in Kingdom Hearts to understand the third entry. Certainly, the more you know the backstory, the more you’ll appreciate the return of certain characters. But overall Kingdom Hearts 3 is easy to get into for everyone.

At the start of Kingdom Hearts 3, Sora, Donald, and Goofy return to Olympus. This level partly serves as the game’s tutorial world. Here, I had to battle a large number of Heartless while familiarizing myself with the controls. This is an action RPG, which means hack and slash combat, magic attacks, and plenty of over-the-top special moves. Though I’m not a Kingdom Hearts veteran, I instantly understood the controls. They instantly became second nature.

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A Square-Enix PR representative explained that Sora is more agile than in past installments. For example, he can now wall run up shimmering vertical surfaces. He also has some context-sensitive motions. I can’t compare the controls to previous games, but they certainly felt fluid. There was never an instance where I fought against the controls. They felt natural, which is a testament to how solid the mechanics are.

Tapping R1 locks on to enemies. By holding the button, you can “shot lock” foes. This enables you to line up with enemies and do multi-hit combos on them. Doing a shot lock attack is risk versus reward since you’re frozen in place while lining up opponents. Holding down the attack button after lining bad guys lets you get the full effect out of the attack. This move uses up the charge meter so you’ll need to build it back up again by doing attacks or by drinking an elixir.

After dispatching the Heartless, I had to run up the side of a mountain to face off against the stage’s boss. As I made my way up the vertical path, the giant two-headed rock monster tossed giant boulders which I had to avoid. In order for me to get to his head, I first had to weaken his feet by attacking them. After damaging both feet, I ran up to his face and smacked him around with my keyblade.

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During the boss fight I got to check out the Link system, which is effectively this game’s version of summons. I summoned a creature called Meow Wow, which is from a previous Kingdom Hearts entry. There are many different summons in the game and each have their own attacks and finishing moves.

While attacking the boss’ heads, I got to try out another new mechanic called the Attraction attack. Basically, you can summon certain park rides from Disney theme parks. The rides are context specific, depending on the situation or boss fight. In this case, it was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. By pressing R2, I could attack the boss with fireworks as the train rode on its tracks. I could also do a finishing move by pressing Triangle. By doing this attack, I was able to finish off the fearsome foe and complete that portion of the demo.

The next world I tried out was Toy Story. Each of the game’s worlds have an art-style corresponding to each property. In the Mount Olympus level, Sora, Donald, and Goofy looked like they were from that world. In Toy Story, they all looked liked CGI toys. The developers went out of their way to capture the look and feel of each world. They even put in subtle details like scratches on the toys or making sure to add stitches to Woody’s left arm (which was ripped off in Toy Story 2).

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Every Disney world is self-contained. The characters in each realm do not know the other Disney worlds exist. To preserve the integrity of each land, Sora and pals have to match each world. With Toy Story, Sora and pals look like action figures. In Monsters Inc. they become monsters, while in Pirates of the Caribbean, they look like pirates. I was told the devs gave each world its own style but also tried to maintain a cohesive look for the overall game. As you can imagine, this wasn’t easy.

You can now power up keyblades, which is something completely new to the series. As you land attacks on enemies, you’ll build up a meter on the bottom left hand side of the screen (right above the actions menu). Pressing the Triangle button (on PS4) unleashes a powerful special move. The game has a wide assortment of special moves for players to try out. Since you build up energy relatively quick, you do not have to be frugal with special moves. You’re encouraged to use them often.

Players can now equip up to three different keyblades at once. They can also level up each keyblade to make them stronger. Before, there was no incentive to continue using keyblades obtained from previous worlds since the newer keyblades were more powerful. Now, keyblades you have a fondness for are viable even later in the game since you can level them up.

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Different keyblades are used even in the middle of combos. During the Toy Story section, I had the Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Tangled keyblades. The Toy Story keyblade has special attacks that summon yo yos and teacups, Monsters Inc. has different kinds of melee attacks, and Tangled has magic-based attacks. Since a keyblade’s attacks last for 30 seconds, you have time to switch to another keyblade and use its attack and finishing moves. Trying out all of the different attacks is a lot of fun.

Toy Story is a brand-new world to the franchise, as is Frozen, Monsters Inc., Pirates of the Caribbean, Tangled, and more. There are also worlds specific to Kingdom Hearts which aren’t based on Disney properties. When Sora and pals arrive in Toy Story, they meet Woody, Buzz, Rex, and the rest. They learn that all of the humans (including Andy) disappeared the instant the Heartless arrived. Woody and Buzz join Sora’s gang to stop the Heartless and restore the world.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first time you see the world outside Andy’s window. After climbing out of the window and going into the street, you must engage with various pockets of Heartless. In a series first, characters from each of the worlds fights alongside your core three-man group. This effectively gives you a party with five members. These characters do their own unique attacks. For example, Woody reaches behind his back and pulls his talking string to use as a lasso against enemies.

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As mentioned above, every world has its own Attraction and Link attacks. Instead of riding a train that shoots fireworks, you ride on top of a giant firecracker alongside Buzz and Woody in the Toy Story world. For the Link attack, you get help from Wreck-it-Ralph.

This character has a CRT filter on his body which gives him a classic game feel. With his special attack, he creates a static field that traps foes he can then smash. This is a perfect area-of-effect attack to use against multiple bad guys.

The final part of the demo took place in a new area called Galaxy Toys. The demo only had the ground floor, but in the final game, players can expect to see multiple floors each with their own specific type of toys. There will be a floor for toddler toys, a floor for dolls, and even an entire floor full of Final Fantasy figures.

For this section, Sora gets to pilot a toy mech and faces off against other mechs. The camera angle is in first person, which gives it a proper mech game feel. After damaging a robot enough, you can jump inside of it. Each of the different colored mechs has unique moves and attacks. This portion is awesome because of how different it is. I’m told to expect more of these kind of surprises in the full game.

In addition to the main story, players can look forward to several mini-games. One is a cooking game with Remy from Ratatouille. You must find ingredients hidden across several of the worlds and use them to create new recipes.

There are 20 different old-school Tiger Toys/Game & Watch style 2D side scrolling games based on Mickey cartoons from the 1930s and 40s. Building your Gummi ship (used for traveling to each world) is pretty much a mini-game of its own. I was told Kingdom Hearts 3 is around 40-50 hours if one stays on the critical path.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is looking great so far. Players who’ve been with the franchise since 2002 are sure to enjoy what’s in store for them. As the final part of the story which began in the first game, this title will no doubt serve as a form of closure for longtime devotees.

Even if you’re like me and are just diving in for the first time, you’ll enjoy seeing the game’s insane mix of Disney whimsy and Square-Enix production values.