Back in 2005, Square Enix released “Kingdom Hearts II” for the PlayStation 2. Since then, we’ve gotten spinoffs, smartphone games, prequels, and even high-def remasters – but never a proper, numbered sequel.
That all changes on January 29, 2019, when “Kingdom Hearts III” finally releases for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Square Enix used this week’s E3 conference to announce not only that release date, but also a deeper look on this long-awaited game.
If you’ve never played a “Kingdom Hearts” game before, here’s the extremely short version.
You, as teenage hero Sora, travel from world to world, fighting the forces of capital-D Darkness. The twist is that each of those worlds takes you inside a Disney blockbuster: At E3, Square Enix showed off worlds inspired by “Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and Pixar classics “Toy Story” and “Monsters Inc.”
In your quest, you’ll enlist the help of characters from the Final Fantasy game series, as well as Disney characters past and present. Indeed, Sora always has Donald Duck and Goofy at his side, plus a rotating selection of Final Fantasy and Disney characters to round out the adventuring party.
But enough about that. Here’s what we learned about “Kingdom Hearts III” at E3 this week:
The “Kingdom Hearts” series casts you as hero Sora (left), as you travel between Disney-inspired worlds, righting wrongs. This time, that includes “Frozen.”
The footage shown at E3 hints at your task: The mysterious Unversed are trying to convince Queen Elsa to use her powers for evil. It’s up to Sora, and his sidekicks Donald and Goofy, to convince her to … let it go.
We also got new looks at the series’ signature fast-paced combat. Sora uses the Keyblade — literally a sword shaped like a giant key — to fight off enemies. On each world, he gets theme-appropriate powers, like “Blizzard Break,” seen here …
… or the “High Wind” Keyblade skills Sora can use when he returns to the world of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the franchise in “Kingdom Hearts,” but it sure looks to be the most ambitious.
That’s right, you can expect an appearance from Captain Jack Sparrow — and if previous games are any indication, he might even join your adventuring party. In “Kingdom Hearts 3,” you can now have a party of 5 characters for the first time ever.
Other worlds include “Tangled.” You can clearly see that Square Enix has really upped its graphical game this time around — when you see the game in motion, it’s not <i>quite</i> as fluid as an actual Disney cartoon, but it’s closer than ever.
It’s especially impressive in the Pixar-inspired worlds, like “Toy Story,” where Square Enix really seems to have nailed the look and feel. Here, Sora is magically transformed into a toy to blend in, hence his more wooden look.
Here’s 2005’s “Kingdom Hearts II” for comparison. It was a good-looking game at the time, but technology marches on.
And as you can see in this glimpse at the “Monsters Inc.” world here, some boss battles will let you call on the power of Disneyland theme park attractions. Combat has been souped-up, too, to make it faster-paced and more strategic.
When it comes to the game’s story, Square Enix is playing it pretty close to the chest. In the E3 footage this week, we saw glimpses of returning characters Axel, Kairi, and Riku. We even got a glimpse of Aqua, a previous protagonist, who might be evil now!
If you’ve never played a “Kingdom Hearts” game before, I’ll spare you a deep dive on the convoluted story. Just know that despite the name, “Kingdom Hearts III” is the conclusion to a story that’s now spanned 14 games across three console generations.
But even if you haven’t been on the bandwagon since the first game released in 2002, “Kingdom Hearts III” looks to offer a fun and thrilling twist on the action-RPG …
… plus a healthy dose of Disney whimsy, and mini-games inspired by Final Fantasy, another major Square Enix franchise.