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Wait, hold on. *checks how many blogs there are for Kingdom Hearts*
Oh, now this is a fool’s errand. I’m gonna have to fold on being the number one -- so let’s just focus on that new Kingdom Hearts III gameplay and never speak of my rank. It’ll make us all happy in the long run.
Before I go any further, let me just say that I’m glad KHIII exists in some capacity. It’ll be a while before it lands in our hands -- and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we had to wait longer thanks to a sudden delay -- but we’re getting closer to the release day. We’re closer than we’ve ever been before, with something that’s actually tangible instead of some weighty name whose form is nothing more than a nebulous swirl of promises and hype.
I don’t know what will happen with the final product. I’m praying for the best; at this stage, it’d be downright heartbreaking if KHIII dropped, and everyone opened their cases to find a circular mass of plague-riddled trash soaked in septic juices. Given what happened with Final Fantasy 15 -- the game that’s made me swear off the entire franchise for the foreseeable future -- I have every reason to expect the worst. But I’m still holding out hope. I have to, because I like, and believe, in this franchise over that other one.
And based on gameplay footage so far? It looks like my hopes, however desperate, are justified.
I’m glad I powered through 2.8 prior to the recent gameplay footage. Even though the game’s not out yet, I feel like I have a decent understanding of it because I played through 0.2 -- and even though there are BOUND to set the two apart, the baseline is solid enough. Still in need of tweaks, but hey. We’re a ways out from release day, so we should (might?) be fine.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. From what I heard, 0.2 was supposed to be a showcase and taste test for how III would run. They weren’t lying. One of its core mechanics, “Situation Commands”, has been ripped wholesale to give Sora access to some high-end abilities. I’m okay with that; since the Situation Commands you get are dependent on what moves you use to fight, it means you can play your way and be rewarded for it. Your fighting style determines your finisher style.
But to be perfectly honest? I feel like I don’t need to go too in-depth with the combat system comparisons. III looks like 0.2 superficially -- and 0.2, give or take some tweaks, is a dead ringer for KHII.
I have mixed feelings about KHII. Thinking back on it, I don’t think it’s a bad game at all; it just did a lot of things I wish it hadn’t, and brought down what could’ve been an ace title to the level of “decent”. Right now, it looks like III, like 0.2 before it, is primed to revive the same gimmick I hated in II: use all your MP, and you go into an MP Charge state where you can’t use magic until the bar (slowly) refills. To be fair you can use items and equip certain abilities to regain MP faster, but for a magic user like me it’s a serious drag. (Also, I love how they revived the MP Charge system in the same game where you can only play as the magic-slinging Aqua.)
The key difference this time -- as opposed to II -- is that you’re not a sitting duck/forced to mash X nigh-infinitely, or punished too hard for relying on magic as part of your fighting style. Situation Commands give you a secret technique you can unleash in a pinch, and Shot Locks have the same function as long as you’ve built up the meter beforehand. My personal wish list? Make it so that Cure spells don’t instantly drain all your magic (I’d trade its overall power for more uses), and be sure to have abilities that make MP regeneration more viable. Alternatively, follow KHI’s example so that equipping certain abilities = melee attacks steadily rebuild MP. But since we haven’t seen the extent of abilities in KHIII, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
It’ll be crucial to make magic/MP use as viable as possible this time around because of one of the good changes (one that carries over from 0.2): you have much greater mobility with magic this time around, meaning that you’re effectively in Wisdom Form at all times. Sliding around and chucking plasma in 0.2 was more fun than I expected, and I’m glad to see it making a return in III. I want to make some sick magicombos by mixing in physical and magical attacks, and the ability to freely glide around the battlefield will facilitate that -- as long as magic use isn’t gimped or punished. If they have to rebalance or nerf the damage of it, then fine. I’ll take that hit so battle can have a little extra variety.
Granted, it’s not as if we’ll be wanting on that front. Sora looks like he has some of his old attacks from KHII, albeit with some slight modifications. (Not all of them, though; I still remember that Blanka-like aerial somersault he does to close in on foes.) But the real show stoppers are his Attractions, AKA his power to summon theme park rides -- via Situation Commands, it seems -- to utterly demolish his foes. As overly critical as I can be, even I had a “holy shit!” moment when Sora jumped on a massive pirate ship and shredded through foes with pendulous swings.
I have to say, I adore the idea behind Attractions. It’s a strong fit for Sora’s character, and it creates a level of spectacle that’s borderline unprecedented for the series. (Well, I guess “level” isn’t exactly the right word to use, but more on that later.) I don’t know exactly how effective they’ll be in some of the late-game or higher-difficulty fights -- 3D had moves that gave you armor, but still left you WIDE open for big damage -- but their ability to change up the gameplay is decisive.
And that’s not all. Summons are back, meaning you can call in Ariel and Wreck-it Ralph for a quick assist -- with unique mechanics that bend the game’s rules in your favor, however briefly. Limits are back too (seemingly as a Situation Command), so you can go on a rocket rampage with Woody and Buzz. And on top of that, your Keyblade choice is more important than ever. Setting aside the fact that you can change them mid-battle -- with the stat boosts and abilities tied to each -- they give you access to different special weapons and forms. Wisdom Form is back, even if it’s more in line with the Command Styles from BBS; either way, earning a Situation Command with a certain Keyblade gives you access to it, and the new ability to create afterimages that I hope actually lure in unsuspecting Heartless while you blast them with rays of light. But based on the concept alone, that’s pretty cool.
Here’s my big question, though: is it all going to be too gimmicky?
It seems like KHIII is primed to give players a ton of flashy options at the press of a button. It plays well for previews and events to generate hype, but how will it handle in actual gameplay sessions? On one hand, there’s the threat of these new tricks -- any one of which could have been enough for a game, or even two -- end up stepping on each others’ toes, and are only time-sapping distractions from the dominant strategy of “mash X”. On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where these gimmicks are instant-win conditions. What kind of defenses can enemies have against whirling teacups of death?
Based on Maximilian’s impressions -- and boy was that a pleasant surprise -- it sounds as if the only way to play the game and get some semblance of challenge (or even fun) out of it is to immediately ramp it up to Proud Mode. Otherwise, it’s likely that your toolkit will be too much for rank-and-file Heartless to handle. Maybe that won’t be true with the full release, but I can see it happening. Whining about difficulty is a riot coming from someone who’s played way too many Musou games (and can barely land a combo in Street Fighter), but given that you could utterly wreck KHII Xemnas on Proud Mode just by shooting him in the face during his lengthy lightsaber antics, I have concerns about gaining any catharsis from standard battles.
Still, it looks like III is pulling what it thinks are the best aspects from prior games to create a Voltron of 3D thrills. Like I said, Shot Locks and Command Styles are back in, and it’ll be interesting to see what sort of Situation Commands become available depending on your play style. Flowmotion is back, too, but in a different capacity; you can run up walls (certain walls or any walls, it’s hard to say for now), though you don’t seem to be able to get attacks and jumps out of them anymore. I’m okay with that. You already have more than enough offensive options without it, the levels are WAY too big to make attacks feasible, and Flowmotion pretty much gave you infinite jumps/mobility outside of battle, which utterly nerfed things like High Jump and Glide. I think we’ll be fine without it.
I would like to see the breadth of defensive options in III, though. Guard is back, as is Air Slide (and presumably Dodge Roll); I wonder if there’s more stuff to be revealed, like a new type of Reflect or a special parry command. Really though, my question is whether or not those flow more evenly into your combat repertoire. If this game is going to skew more toward action than RPG, then it needs to have a defense system that allows you to freely cancel your moves mid-animation -- or at least during your simpler, non-massive Situation Command transformations to preserve balance -- so when an attack is coming at you, you can get the hell out of the way. Also, give me defensive mechanics that actually work as intended, and don’t leave me at a disadvantage when I pull off frame-perfect techniques.
I’m not asking for Bayonetta. I’m just asking for a little leeway, because otherwise you get certain…instances...like in 3D.
In terms of miscellanea? I can’t judge the game’s performance for myself, because A) I wasn’t there in the flesh, and B) I don’t have an eye for that stuff. I believe anyone who says it looks gorgeous, though, because the animations of the Toy Story crew -- and everyone, generally -- are on point. The colors are there, the atmosphere is there, and the UI is there. It’ll be interesting to see what the framerate will be on release day, though. 0.2 most certainly did not run at 60fps, which was a hard pivot from the version of 3D I played. Apparently III can hit 60 on Xbox One X, but I don’t have that, and I’d rather not upgrade to a PS4 Pro if I can help it. I guess it wouldn’t be deal-breaking to lose 60fps, but I remember saying the same thing about DmC once upon a time, and then eating my words once Metal Gear Rising came out.
I’m hoping that III follows in 0.2’s footsteps, and consistently, on one point in particular: the art design. Aqua’s side adventure shows what happens when the devs go full tilt with the new engine and assets, and created a world with both splendor and horror even if they sacrificed openness for linearity. Right now KHIII looks like it’s going in the opposite direction, but that might just be a consequence of demoing the Toy Box first; it’s got to be open and simplistic because A) you’re barely even half a foot tall at the time, and B) it’s based on the real world. To the level’s credit, there are lots of nice visual touches in Andy’s room, like Post-It Notes reminding him of upcoming Little League games. Now we just need the ultimate scene recreated.
Really, though, I think that KHIII’s greatest weapon won’t be its gameplay, or its systems, or its visuals, or its level design, or even its technical specs. Circumstantially all of those figure in, but they converge to create the true strength and merit: style. If nothing else? Even at this early stage, it’s not hard to see that KHIII has style. Tone. The spectacle that it’s showing isn’t the standard fare you’d see in AAA Game #3488; it has a character unique to the franchise, made possible by iterating from previous entries and taking advantage of the hardware.
This is what happens when you integrate gameplay and story. We know Sora as a cheery, childish goofball (almost to a fault), and he fights exactly the way you’d expect him too. He doesn’t have the training or finesse to stalwartly duel his foes; he’s just making things up as he goes along, and doing whatever is cool or fun. His spirit is infectious, so much so that it does more than impact the characters around him; it impacts the world, the gameplay, and the audience. I didn’t just go “holy shit!” because he summoned a pirate ship. It was because, in that moment, it was absolutely perfect.
It’s going to be utterly soul-crushing if KHIII doesn’t live up to the hype, or justify the wait. Considering what I’ve dealt with beforehand -- and the band of bumblers bankrolling the game -- I’ve long since accepted the possibility that that’s going to happen. But for now? That’s not our reality. There’s still time for the game to get its tweaks, to play more cards in its hand, and to surprise us. The clock is ticking until release day. That much is non-negotiable, no matter how many delays we’ve seen. But as it stands? I see no reason to dread that day, whenever it may be.
So congratulations, Squeenix. You’ve tentatively done something good for a change.