Kingdom Hearts 3 Gameplay Deep Dive With Its Co-Director
In the same way Kingdom Hearts 3’s story looks to meld all the disparate threads from each entry in the series, its gameplay looks to be a similar melting pot of franchise history.
Refining the staples of the series — magic, summons, and good ol’ fashioned Keyblade bashing — while integrating ideas from other entries and throwing in new mechanics, there is A LOT going on in Kingdom Hearts 3’s combat. So much so that we wanted to break down as many of the different pieces as possible. And IGN got the chance to do so with KH3 co-director Tai Yasue.
Read on for Yasue’s thoughts on the many aspects of Kingdom Hearts 3’s gameplay characters can expect to encounter, and be sure to check out IGN’s hands-off Kingdom Hearts 3 gameplay preview for more.
Every Disney world in Kingdom Hearts 3 has its own gameplay hook, a gimmick specific to that world — you’ve likely seen it in the Giga robots of Toy Story’s Toy Box or the downhill shield sledding of Frozen’s Arendelle.Pirates of the Caribbean’s Port Royal will also let Sora captain his own ship.
“We all love the original Disney films, obviously. We watch them over and over again and we just ask ourselves, ‘What will be the most fun [thing to do] there, in the world,’” Yasue said of the starting point for these different gameplay types.
Even further integrated into these different gimmicks are world-specific minigames. Yasue discussed how the developers aimed to incentivize players to return to worlds, and these gimmicks allowed them to build minigames unique to each level.
Yasue pointed to Arendelle’s sledding as an example, which originally players want to simply complete to continue the story of the world.
“The first time around you just clear it, but the second time around there’s new routes and there’s a score attack mode,” he said.
Similarly, there’s a score-based minigame using the Gigas in Toy Box, and, as glimpsed in the original Big Hero 6 trailer, there is a score-based ring collection minigame.
There’s a lot of surprise left in seeing how all these gimmicks will be used fully in each world, as well as what all the minigames will entail. Curiously, Yasue left us with the tease of one minigame, referencing “The Puddings.”
“Each world has its original pudding minigame that you can enjoy,” Yasue said. “They’re called The Seven Puddings.”
Yasue said each Pudding is different, but left finer details a mystery, making me more interested in pudding than I have been in years.
Square Enix has shown off plenty of Sora’s Keyblade transformations — from yo-yo’s to a toy hammer, a key isn’t the only household item you’ll be hitting Heartless with in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Yasue explained that their inclusion came from a similar place as the form changes of Kingdom Hearts 2, and Birth by Sleep’s Style Mode — maintaining a pace to battle.
“The tempo was quick and I think it’s really important to have a change in rhythm in the battle systems, and the game, so we wanted to take that feeling and put that into Kingdom Hearts 3, as well,” he said.
“We wanted our players to be surprised. But at the same time, we wanted it to be true to the world,” Yasue said of the various, unexpected items the Keyblade changes into throughout battle, noting how the Toy Story transformation isn’t into an actual hammer, but a toy one.
“So by using that, by changing a [Keyblade]’s look and also how he fights, you never get really tired or bored of the game.”
Another new way to keep variety to combat is the Attraction Flow system, which incorporates Disney theme park rides into fantastical light shows of combat chaos.
“Art-wise we wanted to pick up [an]… electric parade-like look, and change the rules for each sort of ride, so you have a new feel to it,” Yasue said of the various rides, which range from a river raft that can be summoned throughout a world to a Big Thunder Mountain-esque train specific to an Olympus boss fight.
Like the Olympus fight, which allows the attraction to take on a much more cinematic look, Yasue said there are other battle-specific rides, as well as others that take into consideration the world they would be used in..
“We decide which ride we want, according to the field and which enemies you fight with, so it’s not really story-linked,” he said. “There is another point where you use an attraction, and that really fits into the sort of overall game flow, but usually it’s just battle-based, and you know, your enemies and your environment, and how that fits in.”
The Gummi Ship hasn’t always been the most-loved aspect of Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. KH2 tried to make the on-rails space shooting experience a bit more vibrant, with more unique enemies and a moving camera perspective, but its gameplay largely remained the same.
Yasue explained that Kingdom Hearts 3’s take on the returning space combat is actually a 360-degree world players can fly around and discover things on their own with no fixed route.
“You choose your own route. There’s also treasure all over the place, and missions, and things to explore. You can use the camera feature to take pictures of stars, and that gives you a recipe to make a gummi ship,” he explained.
And this specific element has some storied space combat developers creating it.
“The Gummi ships, we have the team from Einhander…working on that with us,” he said. “For the ships as well, we have a programmer or an engineer who actually works a lot on cars and driving games as well.”
While Kingdom Hearts 3’s use of magic will be largely familiar to players of Kingdom Hearts 2, the developers have gone to great lengths to integrate the use of magic more fluidly into the animation.
“When you look at the animations, for example, even when you’re running and you shoot a fireball, Fire, for example, you’re continuing to run and shoot at the same time,” Yasue said. “We wanted it [to have] that seamless look.
“We wanted the magic spells to evolve, so you get the Situation Command after you’ve, for example, used fire a lot, you have a new level of Fire coming up on your Situation Command.”
Additionally, the Keyblade transformations have been taken into consideration when it comes to magic.
“So if you have a [Toy Story] hammer, for example, and use fire, it’s doesn’t just shoot forward, it actually changes to a circular movement,” he said, also noting the dual pistols transformation will shooting several rounds of fire.
I’ve always loved the larger levels of Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 — treasures tucked into corners and plenty of rooms with secrets to unlock — and Kingdom Hearts 3’s huge locales look to have that in spades.
Yasue, who loves exploration, said the team wanted to strive for verticality in these levels. But on a mechanical level, they wanted to incorporate the gameplay into these exploration.
“For example, the smart phone camera picture feature. You [can] take pictures of hidden Mickeys, and by taking pictures of hidden Mickeys that are placed all over the place you get items,” he said.
“There’s also a lot of food items hidden away. And if you have food items, you [can] take that to Remy’s restaurant at Twilight Town and make your own dinner.”
Combined with the exploration of the Gummi Ship, the minigames of each world, and more, it’s clear Kingdom Hearts 3’s developers are aiming to give players plenty of reason to return to the game’s many Disney worlds even after its story has been seen to the end. With plenty of gameplay types and options thrown in, there’s no shortage of ways for Sora, Donald, and Goofy to spend their time, including even a pudding hunt for the ages.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s News Editor, PlayStation lead, Beyond! host, and resident Kingdom Hearts expert. Talk to him about the series on Twitter @jmdornbush.