16 years ago the first game in Square Enix’s action RPG series Kingdom Hearts hit the PlayStation 2 and captured the imaginations of Final Fantasy and Disney fans everywhere. It was then only 3 years until we saw a proper follow-up, with a spin-off game on the Gameboy Advance in between to tide fans over. Now a further 13 years and 12 releases later (including spin-offs and rereleases across a number of platforms making it nearly impossible for even the most devoted fan to keep up) it was hard to believe that Kingdom Hearts III was actually ever coming out, seemingly doomed to become a meme much like another mythical tertiary game, Half-Life 3. But after numerous delays, we not long ago got a release date of late January next year, and now ladies and gentlemen I can confirm that KHIII does indeed exist, it’s playable, and while I only had a short time with it I can also confirm its pretty darn good.
Let me preface this with the admission that I have never played a Kingdom Hearts game, but I’m the only one of the team who went to EGX so you’re stuck with my thoughts. However, don’t for a second think that’s because I didn’t want to. Back in 2002 I had a Gamecube, a decision I don’t regret at all, but a choice that prohibited me from playing these games on release, which as a big fan of both Disney and Final Fantasy was always a sore point (I also begrudged not being able to get FFX and X-2, Crystal Chronicles was a fine game, but not the edgy Final Fantasy I was looking for as I entered my teens). Then by the time they were re-released on PlayStation 3, as a new player, I found the series and its 9 entries quite daunting and never made the leap. But rest assured, I will now definitely be picking up 1.5 + 2.5 Remix in preparation for the new game (and maybe HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue but I’ve still not quite worked out if that’s necessary!).
The 15-minute demo I got saw me playing two areas, the first being Mt Olympus from the world of Hercules. This level involves scaling the side of the aforenamed mountain dodging boulders being thrown down by a humongous Titan. Once you reach the peak you are then tasked with kicking said Titan’s ass, and after the grief he gave me on the way up I was more than happy to oblige. Combat felt very intuitive, one of the complaints I often hear of the original games is that the controls were not the easiest, but I had no issues picking this game up and causing some damage (I understand the controls were fixed for the remastered originals). The level of challenge was pretty much bang-on, not so easy that it felt like a child’s play, but I still felt powerful from the get-go, my attacks really had a good sense of impact. If I had one gripe, it would be that for the bulk of the time lord knows what Donald and Goofy were up to. I couldn’t really see them throughout the battle so taking this Goliath down felt like a solo effort for the most part.
The second half of the demo was in Toy Box, the much anticipated Toy Story level. My playtime on this got cut short as my 15-minute demo session ended not long after the cutscenes finished, but when those scenes are basically a perfect extension of the movies I have no real problem with that. Playing in Andy’s room was pure awesome, and the visuals really do the Pixar trilogy justice. This right here solidified my need to catch up on this series before KHIII hits shelves. It pushed all the right nostalgia buttons, all the while maintaining some excellent gameplay, and I think for those who’ve been patiently standing by for this game for over a decade it’s going to have been worth the wait.