Hands-On Preview: Kingdom Hearts 3 @ PlayStation Media Thanksgiving

At the PlayStation Media Thanksgiving Event last Thursday, we were able to try out a few new offerings from Sony Interactive Entertainment’s portfolio of upcoming releases. That included Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and the now released PlayStation Classic retroconsole. For my part, I spent time with Kingdom Hearts III, the long awaited conclusion to the saga of Square heroes and Disney icons crossing keyblades in an epic struggle against The Darkness.

This was the same build presented at Tokyo Game Show last September, which presented two playable sections. One is based on Hercules, as in the 1997 animated Disney classic and not say, the Kevin Sorbo-led television series, which is a missed opportunity. The other is based on Toy Story, the flagship series from Pixar whose entire catalog is making its way into the Kingdom Hearts universe.

The Hercules section, set on Mount Olympus feels like a homecoming for Kingdom Hearts fans, who are now thirteen years older since they first played the Hercules section in Kingdom Hearts II. While controls feel – emphasis on feel, since memories I have of the previous games have been eroded by the waves of time – mostly unchanged, Sora is more agile and dextrous than before. He can run up walls and navigate a bit better now, and some at the event pointed out that this is faithful to how Sora now controls in the various handheld spinoffs.

It’s a welcome quality that makes a sequence in which you have to avoid boulders being tossed by an area boss easier to manage. I’m sorry masocore enthusiasts, but let’s be honest, no one really wants to play a PS4 Kingdom Hearts using PS2 controls. Locking onto enemies, swinging the keyblade are still as they were. What’s been added are single-button special attacks, theme park ride attacks and complex Link-based summons. One gets the sense that Nomura and company don’t want to mess with formula, but create more variety and diversity in combat.

The second part focused on the world of Toy Story. It was fun to see Sora, Donald and Goofy incarnated into joint-articulated plastic versions of themselves, sneak out of Andy’s room and head off to Galaxy Toys. It’s also a hilarious opportunity to juxtapose the self-serious monologue of Young Xehanort against the backdrop of an aisle of toy shelves. Not long after, Sora leaps into a giant toy mech to take on other battery operated opponents, whereupon I declared to the audience over my shoulder, “Prepare for Titanfall!”


The toy mech section kind of wore out its welcome by the time I finished it, which is typical of most minigames whose existence is subordinate to the larger game. It didn’t really capture the satisfaction of the game’s base combat. Reports from other outlets indicate that being a toy store and all, there are other instances of special gameplay present throughout the section. Still, it’s clear here that Kingdom Hearts III is aiming for a grab bag of experiences before Square Enix and Disney’s partnership ends with this presumably final installment.

I had a positive impression of Kingdom Hearts III overall. While the game doesn’t push new boundaries in mechanics and design – so firmly ensconced as it is in its own world – the strong art design – resulting from a marriage of Disney kitsch and Square Enix flair – and relentless display of dazzling effects make it difficult to write off artistically, despite the simplistic nature of its gameplay.

As I chewed over my dinner at BAD Late Night Breakfast Bar, where the event took place, I was led to wonder who this game will be satisfy. Will it be the longtime fans who eagerly await the resolution of a long-running saga but might crave a deeper mechanical experience? Or the new generation of would be fans who might be eager to jump around in the Disney playground but feel lost in the now infamously convoluted saga?

We also have our thoughts on what we experienced in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Kingdom Hearts III launches on January 25, 2019 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.