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Kingdom Hearts III

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Kingdom Hearts III
Kingdom Hearts III box art.jpg
Developer(s) Square Enix Business Division 3
Publisher(s) Square Enix
Director(s)
Producer(s) Rie Nishi
Artist(s) Tetsuya Nomura
Writer(s) Tetsuya Nomura
Composer(s) Yoko Shimomura
Series Kingdom Hearts
Engine Unreal Engine 4
Platform(s) PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release
  • JP: January 25, 2019
  • WW: January 29, 2019
Genre(s) Action role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player

Kingdom Hearts III[a] is an upcoming action role-playing video game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It is the twelfth installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, a 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 paths with characters and visit worlds based on different Disney, and Pixar properties, and Square Enix's Final Fantasy franchise.

Concepts for the game began as early as 2006 after the release of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix in Japan, with the game not 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 expanding parties to five characters total, introducing new "Attraction Flow" attacks that incorporate various Disney Parks attractions, and mini-games inspired by classic Walt Disney Productions Mickey Mouse cartoons in the style of 1980s LCD games. The game was built using Unreal Engine 4, and is scheduled to be released worldwide in January 2019.

Gameplay

Gameplay in Kingdom Hearts III is similar to its predecessors, with hack and slash combat,[1] which director Tetsuya Nomura stated 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.[2][3][4] He also revealed that the handheld games of the series were where he could experiment with the combat, and that some of the well-received additions may appear in Kingdom Hearts III.[2][3] Nomura noted 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."[5] Additionally, the development team "always want to try something new", taking previously introduced mechanics and making small "tweak[s]" to them so they are customized for Kingdom Hearts III.[6]

Sora returns as the main playable character, once again joined in the party by Donald Duck and Goofy,[7] with the ability to have two additional characters join the party for a total of five-player parties. This is an increase from previous main entries in the series, where players were limited to two additional party members at any given time along with Sora.[8] Another main playable character will be available in the game,[8][9] with King Mickey and multiplayer elements being considered.[2][3] Describing the gameplay, Nomura called the action "pretty frantic", as well as "really flashy and exciting. The enemy AI is a lot more intricate, too, and I think the gameplay will reflect that new dynamic balance."[10] Sora can perform magic, with a new, powerful tier of each spell available to him, similar to what Aqua has available to her in Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage.[11] Shotlocks also return, first introduced in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, and uses a focus meter that can target and lock on to individual enemies.[12][13] Team-up attacks are also featured, which combine Sora and various party members into one attack.[14][15] Players can equip various abilities for Sora and his party members, with the system to do so "an evolution of sorts" from the system used in Kingdom Hearts II.[16]

Sora performing an "Attraction Flow" attack that utilizes Disney Parks attractions, a new feature for Kingdom Hearts III

Sora faces Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed in the game,[17][18] with new variants of these enemy types appearing.[14] In addition to these 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,"[5] known as "Attraction Flow".[19] These attacks are inspired by the Disney Parks attractions Mad Tea Party, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters,[20] and Grizzly River Run,[12] and generic pirate ship and carousel attractions;[20][21] these attacks draw visual inspiration from Disney Parks' Main Street Electrical Parade.[20] Sora also has the ability to jump on certain enemies, such as ones shaped like a vehicle.[10] Regarding traversal, Nomura noted the new mechanic, called "Athletic Flow" in Japanese, was refined from the Flowmotion mechanic from Dream Drop Distance, which players felt was "a little too free... and it was kind of hard to control on their end."[22] "Athletic Flow" allows the player to utilize the environment to access previously unreachable areas.[23]

Character summons make a return from previous entries, this time known as "Links", where an additional character joins the battle to assist the player with specialized attacks.[20] Situation Commands also return from previous entries,[24] which can trigger the Keyblade transformations. Nomura revealed that Keyblade transformations were 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."[5][25] He further elaborated stating there were two forms each Keyblade can take, with "multiple layers in terms of transforming" starting with one transformation and achieving the second after "successfully connect[ing] your combos".[23] One of the available forms, the default weapon's "Second Form", changes Sora's battle skills rather than transform the Keyblade.[26] The Keyblade transformations have also been referred to as "Drive Forms", a term which was used for a similar mechanic in Kingdom Hearts II.[27] Unlike previous games in the series, players are able to quickly switch between different Keyblades seamlessly during gameplay rather than from the game's equipment menu,[28] and each Keyblade can be leveled up to increase their abilities.[1]

Each world offers a specific gameplay element,[29] such as first-person shooter Giga mechs,[20] and naval, underwater, and aerial combat.[30] The Gummi Ship also returns as a means of travel between the different worlds of the game.[6] The mechanic has been split into two phases: exploration and combat. Exploration has been likened to being more open-world, while the combat has increased its scale from previous games, with more enemies present.[31] Gummi Ship customization also returns.[16] Various mini-games are able to be played throughout Kingdom Hearts III,[9] including those in the "Classic Kingdom", where each game is presented in the style of 1980s LCD games such as Game & Watch.[32]

Story

Setting

Most of the worlds featured in the game based on Disney properties are new to the series,[33][34] such as the Kingdom of Corona (based on Tangled),[35][36] San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6),[37][38] Toy Box (Toy Story),[39][40] Monstropolis (Monsters, Inc.)[31][41] and Arendelle (Frozen).[42][43] A new, original world built specifically for the game will also appear.[44] Returning worlds include Olympus (from Hercules),[38] The Caribbean (Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End),[30][43] Yen Sid's Mysterious Tower,[45] the Realm of Darkness,[46] and Twilight Town.[47] Olympus and Twilight Town both serve as tutorial stages at the beginning of the game.[26][1] The "Classic Kingdom" mini-games are inspired by classic Walt Disney Productions Mickey Mouse cartoons, including Giantland, The Karnival Kid, Musical Farmer, and The Barnyard Battle.[32]

The Big Hero 6 and Toy Story worlds feature original stories, with the former set after the events of the film,[48][37] and the latter set between the events of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. This is different from previous worlds in the series, which have often loosely followed plot lines from the films on which they were based.[49] Members of Pixar Animation Studios assisted with the Toy Story world's creation.[49][39] On the amount of worlds featured in the game, Nomura noted the development team focused on creating "rich gameplay in an individual world... designed so players can take their time and enjoy the gameplay that's available" opposed to having "multiple different little worlds".[49] The game will not feature any worlds based on Final Fantasy.[50]

Characters

Sora returns as the protagonist of the game, while supporting characters Riku,[34] Kairi,[22] Donald Duck, Goofy, King Mickey,[34] Master Eraqus,[19] Aqua,[51] Ventus,[52] Lea,[22] Ienzo,[53] Hayner, Pence, and Olette,[51] Roxas, and Jiminy Cricket also returning.[54][55] Returning antagonists include Master Xehanort[34] and his various forms—his Heartless, Ansem; his Nobody, Xemnas;[56] and his youthful incarnation, Young Xehanort[57]Marluxia,[31] Vanitas,[31] Xigbar,[58] Larxene,[59] Luxord,[60] Demyx, Vexen,[54] Saïx,[55] and Disney characters Maleficent and Pete.[7]

Disney characters who serve as members of Sora's party include the returning Hercules[7] and Jack Sparrow,[61] and new to the series, Woody and Buzz Lightyear,[39] Sulley and Mike Wazowski,[31] Rapunzel and Flynn Rider,[62] Baymax,[63] and Marshmallow.[64] Characters that appear as summon "Links" for Sora include Ariel from The Little Mermaid,[62] Dream Eaters, such as Meow Wow, from Dream Drop Distance,[65] Wreck-It Ralph from the film of the same name,[20] and Simba from The Lion King.[66]

Additional Disney character appearances include Hades,[7] Lythos,[67] Hydros,[68] Will Turner, Hector Barbossa, and Elizabeth Swan,[69] with new characters Pyros and Stratos from Hercules;[68] Joshamee Gibbs, Tia Dalma, Davy Jones, and the Kraken from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series;[69][70] Pascal and Maximus from Tangled;[68] Hamm, Rex,[39] Sarge and the Bucket O' Soldiers,[38] and the Squeeze Toy Aliens from Toy Story;[71] Boo and Randall Boggs from Monsters, Inc.;[31][72] Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven from Frozen;[42] and Hiro Hamada, Go Go, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred from Big Hero 6, joining.[63] Remy from Ratatouille appears in one of the game's mini-games.[9] For the Pixar characters, Pixar shared their actual character models with Square Enix and had the original character designers consult on the game "to make sure everything looked as true to the films as we could make it."[40]

Premise

Continuing from Dream Drop Distance,[10] Sora, Donald, and Goofy 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,[34] which may ultimately lead to the final showdown between Sora and Master Xehanort.[25] 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.[5]

Kingdom Hearts III will serve as the final chapter of the "Dark Seeker/Xehanort" saga,[10][73] 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.[74]

Development

After Square Enix finished development of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, Tetsuya Nomura was approached by Disney, who expressed interest in a sequel. In regard to a possible release of 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—titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII at the time—"it's physically impossible at the present. I feel that it's not the right time to talk about the future of Kingdom Hearts."[75] In response to questions about the secret film 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.[76] 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.[77] He later noted that Kingdom Hearts III would not see a release until after 2012, due to his continuing work on Final Fantasy XV, regardless of the 10th anniversary of the series occurring in that year.[78] 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.[79]

Sony announced Kingdom Hearts III for the PlayStation 4 with a teaser trailer at its E3 2013 event in June 2013.[80] Square Enix later confirmed the game's cross-platform release for the Xbox One as a port of the PlayStation 4 version.[81][82] 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 and Square Enix's Business Division 3.[83][84] Rie Nishi serves as the game's producer.[85] Directly after E3 2013, Nomura claimed that Kingdom Hearts III was announced "too early", based on where the game stood 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".[86] Kingdom Hearts III is not intended to be the final game in the series.[73] 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 would be a 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."[87]

A short teaser for the game appeared at the end of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix trailer at E3 2014. 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".[88] 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.[89] 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 had the full support of Epic, and the change would not hinder the game's development.[90] 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.[90][91]

In January 2015, 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.[92] In June 2015, Nomura revealed that development was on track and that secret films were being considered. He also stated that the team had an internal release window they were trying to hit.[33] In August 2015, at D23 Expo 2015, a world based on Big Hero 6 was announced.[37] In November 2015, new footage was shown at D23 Expo Japan 2015,[17] footage which was cut from the E3 2015 trailer for time.[19]

A gameplay trailer was released during the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra World Tour in Los Angeles in mid-June 2017.[7][56] The next month, Nomura stated that a Nintendo Switch version of the game might be created, but wanted to focus on the development and promise of completing the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions before exploring other platform possibilities.[93] Commenting on the long development process, Nomura noted it was not due to problems with development or any choices made by the development team, but rather internal Square Enix corporate decisions, such as changing to the Unreal Engine 4 about a year into the game's development, which lead to "extensive delays" and "a bit of time that needed to be rewinded and started over", and "certain timing and resources challenges within Square Enix", despite submitting and getting approved a plan for when more personal resources would be needed on the project. Regarding downloadable content for the game, Nomura stated that "nothing is set in stone" regarding it, but he told the development team to "be prepared to be able to accommodate for something like that. We can't suddenly develop a system where we're accommodating for downloadable content. So it's not confirming or denying either way, but just so that the development team will be prepared".[94] He would later add that he wanted to have some sort of additional content for the game, but nothing in depth had been discussed. Nomura was open to potentially adding customizable accessories, as was able to be done in Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage with Aqua, as that feature does not return for Kingdom Hearts III.[95]

At D23 Japan 2018, Square Enix revealed the game was being developed in three sections, with approximately three worlds in each section. At that time, the worlds in the first section were said to be 90 percent complete and development of the middle section at around 60 percent. No update was given on the final section of the game, though Nomura stated its contents were "something he's always wanted to do and put into Kingdom Hearts, ever since the days of working on Final Fantasy... It is bound to surprise everyone."[31] In April 2018, the "Classic Kingdom" mini-games were revealed for the game, while also announcing the games would be playable in the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Union χ.[32] A selection of the mini-games were made available in Union χ in its "χ3" added in September 2018, which enables players to obtain the "Starlight" Keyblade in Kingdom Hearts III by completing certain objectives.[96] At E3 2018, worlds based on Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End were revealed.[42][30] Nomura also provided an update to the development of the Big Hero 6 world, revealing all the gameplay had been created, with the cutscenes still needing to be completed.[43] Shortly after, Square Enix released on their website short story recap videos for the series in Japanese.[16]

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".[19] The Toy Story world was also one of the first discussed with Disney for inclusion in the game, with Disney taking one year to approve its inclusion.[44] Nomura had hoped to include a world based on Toy Story since Kingdom Hearts II, saying he felt "Sora really fit in and matched well with that world" and being "able to execute that into the game is something I'm really excited for."[49] Nomura noted the approval process for each world became more difficult than with earlier games, because many of the worlds are based on some of Disney's more contemporary films, which made it harder to have some freedom with the worlds. He explained, "Because we are working with more recent titles, the staff who were on the original project are the ones we go to for approvals. For instance, Frozen. The staff is still there and they work with us on Frozen. Because we go directly to the creators, they have the most passion for their titles."[44] The Pirates of the Caribbean world was included because Nomura wanted at least one world based on a live-action Disney film, stating that the Caribbean location allowed for "interesting" gameplay opportunities.[97] He also chose to have the world be based on the third film At World's End, over other films in the series particularly Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, because Dead Man's Chest is "setup" for At World's End and the game would "have to end [the story] in the middle as well".[30]

Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II in 2005, The Walt Disney Company acquired Pixar, 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 he 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."[98] He later stated that even though the Disney Company had 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.[99] 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 potentially based on Marvel Comics and Star Wars properties. 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?"[100] In July 2017, at D23 Expo 2017, a world based on the Pixar film Toy Story was revealed to be a part of the game.[39] The second Pixar world in the game, based on Monsters, Inc., was revealed at D23 Expo Japan 2018.[31]

Design

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."[10] 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".[19] Riku and King Mickey also receive updated outfits.[46] Speaking on the designs of the worlds, Nomura said the updated graphical capabilities allowed the development team "to depict the world[s] of the original film[s] as close to [their] original form as possible" after previously creating worlds to be "a stylized Kingdom Hearts world".[101]

Audio

Music

The game's soundtrack was written by longtime series composer Yoko Shimomura,[85] and features additional contributions from Takeharu Ishimoto and Tsuyoshi Sekito.[102] As with the first two main Kingdom Hearts games, it will have a theme song written and performed by Hikaru Utada, titled "Chikai" in Japanese and "Don't Think Twice" in English.[103]

Voice cast

English voice actors reprising their roles from previous games include Haley Joel Osment as Sora,[67] Bill Farmer as Goofy, and Tony Anselmo as Donald Duck.[104] They are joined by Carlos Alazraqui as Mike Wazowski, Christopher Swindle as Sulley,[104] and Josh Gad as Olaf, reprising his role from the film.[105] Kingdom Hearts III also has full voice acting in optional dialogue moments outside of cut scenes, which is a first for the series.[67]

Release

Kingdom Hearts III is scheduled to be released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 25, 2019 in Japan and on January 29, 2019 elsewhere.[51][106] In July 2017, at D23, it was announced that the game would release in 2018.[39] Almost a year later, at an additional performance of the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra World Tour in Los Angeles, the game's North American release date was revealed to be January 29, 2019.[106] Nomura spoke to moving the game's release date outside of 2018, stating the development team had been told the original release date they had considered was not "good timing in the year" to release the game, especially considering "differences in holiday lengths and how stores behave in different regions". In addition, Square Enix requested the game be released as simultaneously as possibly between Japan and the rest of the world, and not wanting to move up the release at the expense of development, resulted in the January 2019 date being chosen.[43]

A deluxe edition of the game features an art book, steelbook case, and collectible pin. Another edition, exclusive to the Square Enix store, includes Bring Arts figures of Sora, Donald, and Goofy in their Toy Box outfits in addition to the deluxe edition contents.[107] A limited edition Kingdom Hearts III-themed PlayStation 4 Pro and DualShock 4 controller will also be released.[108]

Reception

Kingdom Hearts III was nominated by IGN for the Best Game of E3 2018, Best PlayStation 4 Game of E3 2018, Best Xbox One Game of E3 2018, and Best Action Game of E3 2018.[109] It also won the Momocon E3 Choice 2018 Game Award, and was nominated for Unreal's E3 awards.[110]

Notes

  1. ^ Kingdom Hearts III (Japanese: キングダム ハーツIII, Hepburn: Kingudamu Hātsu Surī)

References

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