Kingdom Hearts III
|Kingdom Hearts III|
|Developer(s)||Square Enix 1st Production Department|
|Distributor(s)||Disney Interactive Studios|
|Engine||Unreal Engine 4|
Kingdom Hearts III [a] is an upcoming action role-playing game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It is the eleventh installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, sequel to Kingdom Hearts II, and the final chapter in the Dark Seeker saga. Set after the events of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, returning protagonist Sora is joined by Donald Duck, Goofy, King Mickey and Riku in their search for the seven guardians of light and the "Key to Return Hearts" as they attempt to thwart Master Xehanort's plan to bring about a second Keyblade War. Their journey has them cross path with characters, and visit worlds, based on Disney properties and Final Fantasy.
Concepts for the game began as early as 2006, after the release of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix in Japan, with the game not officially confirmed to be in development until E3 2013, after years of rumors and speculation. Kingdom Hearts III sees many returning gameplay features from the series, while introducing new "Attraction Flow" attacks that incorporate Disney Parks attractions. The game also is the first in the series to utilize the Unreal Engine 4.
Gameplay in Kingdom Hearts III is similar to its predecessors, with director Tetsuya Nomura stating that the combat would be along the lines of the system seen in Kingdom Hearts II, with an evolution similar to what was seen from Kingdom Hearts to Kingdom Hearts II, and closely tied to the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. He also revealed that the handheld games' combat was a place he could experiment and try new things, and that some of the well received additions may appear in Kingdom Hearts III. "Drive Forms" are also being considered to return. Sora returns as the main playable character, with other characters being considered such as King Mickey, if it fits in the context of the game, with multiplayer elements also being considered. Sora faces Heartless and Nobodies in the game.
New gameplay elements seen in a trailer revealed at E3 2015, showcased new enemies, traversal elements such as wall running and jumping, summons, Keyblade transformations, and team-up attacks, which combine Sora, Donald and Goofy into one attack. From the trailer, Nomura explained about the Keyblade transformations, revealing that it was conceived as early as the development of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix and would be similar to Aqua's ability in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep saying, "Each Keyblade transformation is unlocked by clearing all missions in one of [the game's] worlds, and each individual world offers its own unique Keyblade transformation." Examples include transforming into a rocket launcher, dual bow guns, a large sword, magic blasters and a Pegasus leading a chariot. In addition to the traditional "smaller" enemies, the player will face giant bosses, which give "Sora greater freedom of movement and room to experiment with attacks–including the new theme-park-ride summon attacks," known as "Attraction Flow", such as "Mad Tea Party", "Big Magic Mountain", "Pirate Ship", and "Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters". Sora also has the ability to jump on certain enemies, such as ones shaped like a vehicle.
Describing the gameplay, Nomura called the action "pretty frantic", adding "Kingdom Hearts III has three-person parties, but NPCs and other characters join the fight in each individual world, and the resulting action is really flashy and exciting. The enemy AI is a lot more intricate, too, and I think the gameplay will reflect that new dynamic balance." He later revealed that new gameplay elements are the "skeleton" of the game, saying, "When creating a Kingdom Hearts game, we start with a gameplay system that I think would be a fun element, and once we have an idea of what kind of gameplay or system we want in place, we flesh out the story around it, surrounding the basic concept of what kind of fun we’re going to have with this new installment."
Most of the worlds featured in the game based on Disney properties are new to the series, such as the Tangled-themed Kingdom of Corona and one based on Big Hero 6, though returning worlds appear, such as the Hercules-themed Olympus, Twilight Town and Mysterious Tower. Nomura revealed the Tangled world was the first determined to be in the game as the development team wanted to include Rapunzel due to her strong personality and her hair, saying, "she is able to utilize her hair in such a way where she’s whipping it around. She can even use it for attacks, and that was just so appealing, and we thought it would make for such great gameplay, so we had a very strong desire to include that."
Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II, The Walt Disney Company has acquired Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, and Lucasfilm. When asked if any of these properties would appear in Kingdom Hearts III, Nomura said he contacts Disney after he hears of an acquisition, though noted that "Disney's pretty honest [on the possibility of an inclusion]. If the situation is really difficult, they’ll say, it’s really difficult. If it’s impossible, they’ll say it’s impossible." He later stated, that even though the Disney Company has acquired these properties, Disney Interactive Studios may not necessarily have the ability to license the content due to existing deals (such as Disney's deal with Electronic Arts for Star Wars games). Co-director Tai Yasue added that they were "looking at all of Disney, the new ones as well" when choosing worlds for the game, including worlds based on Marvel Comics and Star Wars. He expanded, saying, "We have to come up with a world that has a lot of originality. We want variety... so we don’t want too many of one sort of world, that would look the same. For each world there has to be some meaning for it, in the plot... Also, gameplay-wise, is that world something that would make gameplay fun?" The game will not feature any worlds based on Final Fantasy.
Sora will once again be the protagonist of the game, while Riku, Donald Duck, Goofy, King Mickey, Master Xehanort and Master Eraqus also return, alongside the inclusion of Disney characters, such as Rapunzel and Baymax.
Continuing from Dream Drop Distance, Sora, Donald, and Goofy will attempt to search for seven guardians of light and the "Key to Return Hearts", while King Mickey and Riku search for previous Keyblade wielders, in an attempt to stop Master Xehanort's plan to balance the light and darkness, which may ultimately lead to the final showdown between Sora and Master Xehanort. By the start of the game, Sora has completed his Mark of Mastery, which he was attempting to do at the end of Dream Drop Distance.
Kingdom Hearts III will serve as the final chapter of the "Dark Seeker" saga, with Nomura revealing that the plot of the game will pick up "immediately after the events of Dream Drop Distance." He also added that the plot will examine the seven lights and thirteen darknesses coming together for the final battle, but that everyone that is expected to fulfill these roles may not.
After Square Enix finished development of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, Nomura was approached by Disney who expressed interest in a sequel. In regard to a possible release of a Kingdom Hearts III, Nomura said "We have various ideas, but we're not at the point where we can say that." He added that due to the development of Final Fantasy XV (which at the time was Final Fantasy Versus XIII), "it's physically impossible at the present. I feel that it's not the right time to talk about the future of Kingdom Hearts." In response to questions as to the secret movie in Final Mix, Nomura noted that it was of a "new series" in Kingdom Hearts rather than Kingdom Hearts III. When asked about Kingdom Hearts III, Nomura noted that fans and partners alike were interested in its release, and would work to "realize it" as soon as possible. In the Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Ultimania guide book, Nomura announced three upcoming titles, one of which was Kingdom Hearts III. However, Final Fantasy XV was still his primary focus, preventing him from starting production on Kingdom Hearts III. He later noted that Kingdom Hearts III would not see a release until after 2012, due to his pressing on Final Fantasy XV, regardless of the 10th anniversary of the series occurring in that year. The Nintendo 3DS video game Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance was announced to connect to Kingdom Hearts III, both in terms of gameplay system and story, similar to the connection between Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II. It has been confirmed by Tetsuya Nomura that the game will conclude the "Xehanort Saga" but will not be the final game in the series.
Sony announced Kingdom Hearts III for the PlayStation 4 with a teaser trailer at its June 2013 E3 event. Square Enix later confirmed the game's cross-platform release for the Xbox One as a port of the PlayStation 4 version. Unlike Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, which were developed by Square Enix's Product Development Division 1 team, Kingdom Hearts III was developed by Square Enix's 1st Production Department, who developed Birth by Sleep, Dream Drop Distance, and worked on the HD 1.5 Remix collection. Rie Nishi serves as the game's producer, while series composer Yoko Shimomura returns to compose the music. Directly after E3 2013, Tetsuya Nomura claimed that Kingdom Hearts III was announced "too early", based on where the game currently stands in development. He continued by saying, "Many fans were feeling impatient due to our continuous releases of spin-off titles, so we decided to announce it at the same time as Final Fantasy XV".
Series producer Shinji Hashimoto stated in September 2013 that as both Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy XV are directed by Nomura, it is expected that there will be significant gap between the release of the two, "as [they] want each game to be perfect in terms of quality." Hashimoto also reiterated Nomura's statements about the game's announcement at E3 2013, as "the company thought it was about time it addressed speculation about the long-awaited conclusion to the trilogy." The following month, Teruzane Utada, father of singer Hikaru Utada, stated on Twitter that Hikaru would once again be involved in the theme song for Kingdom Hearts III, as she did with Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. He later clarified, however, that it is still undecided on their involvement. In early 2014, Haley Joel Osment, the English voice of Sora in the series, stated he had been in talks with the development team after the announcement and, assuming he would be back, added that since dialogue was one of the last parts of the process, he believed he would not begin until mid-2014 at the earliest.
A short teaser for the game appeared at the end of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix trailer at the June 2014 E3. Yasue revealed that the sequence seen in the teaser was the opening scene for the game. He added that it was created by Nomura who had "a real clear picture of [what] the starting sequence" should be and that the text seen and heard was going to "be a real integral part of the story". In September 2014, it was announced that Nomura would no longer be the director of Final Fantasy XV, focusing his attention on other projects, including Kingdom Hearts III. Nomura had been the director of Final Fantasy XV since the game was announced, as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, in 2006. The following month, Nomura revealed that the game had switched to using Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4, due to a "variety of reasons". He also added that the development team has the full support of Epic, and the change would not hinder the game's development. According to Kotaku and IGN, it was noted that it had been assumed that Square Enix had been using its in-house Luminous Studio engine to develop the game.
Bill Farmer, the English voice actor for Goofy, stated in January 2015 he believed the game would release in 2015 and revealed he had completed his voice acting for the game. Also in the month, Yasue revealed that working on HD 2.5 Remix simultaneously allowed the developers to learn all the best qualities from the series to aid in creating III, saying "For III we want to evolve it in a new direction, but at the same time we don't want to change what is fundamental about Kingdom Hearts." Additionally, he stated the Kingdom Hearts team was sharing knowledge with the Final Fantasy XV team to expand the game and get the most out of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. In June 2015, Nomura revealed that development was on track and that secret films were being considered. He also stated that the team has an internal release window they are trying to hit. In November 2015, new footage was shown at the Japan D23 expo, footage which was cut from the E3 2015 trailer for time.
In June 2013, Nomura discussed the updated visuals saying that the development team tried to return the character's texture to the original "paintbrush art from Disney productions". The resulting visuals were referred to as the Kingdom Shader. Nomura continued, "It may look like a pretty drastic change, but I see it as a rich evolution of everything we've shown you up to now." Nomura also revealed that Sora is the same proportions as in previous games, however, they "muted the volume on his hair—it’s not as wild." Regarding updating Sora's look from his Kingdom Hearts II design, Nomura noted that outfit's popularity, but felt "the desire to change it" since the game is the first numbered sequel since II's release. He added that the basis for the resulting design is a mix between Sora's costumes for Kingdom Hearts II and Dream Drop Distance, one that is "a lot more sleek and sporty" since "Sora does a lot more... acrobatic [and]... action-oriented movements".
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