Kingdom Hearts III Due to Hit Stores January 2019

(Square Enix)

Well, that took long enough. But at least it's almost here.

Kingdom Hearts III, a video game sequel more than a decade in the making, is finally on the horizon. Due out in January 2019, it will arrive a whopping 14 years after the last true Kingdom Hearts game.

Square Enix has been inching its way in this direction for awhile now, releasing a series of games that moved the storyline forward in different ways on portable consoles, but this upcoming Kingdom Hearts game is the one fans have been waiting for.

And it's showing a ton of promise. Once again, you'll suit up as Sora in a game that marries the vast universe of endearing Square Enix characters (think: your favorite Final Fantasy heroes) and the even more vast universe of Disney superstars (Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and more). But after a recent demo of the game, I came away getting a decidedly different vibe from this third go-round of Kingdom Hearts.

While Mickey and Donald and Co. remain iconic as anything, Disney has been marching head-on into a new era, one driven by CGI films and far more Pixar Animation. That's captured in Kingdom Hearts III through the inclusion of the Toy Story cast, as well as worlds from Tangled (the land of Corona) and Big Hero Six.

That creates a lot of new ground for Square to tread, and the developer promises to do so with aplomb. Gameplay will feel similar to previous Kingdom Hearts games: The action moves at a fast and furious pace, and this is real-time action/adventure role-playing fun. Somehow, the tempo picks up even more in this game, though, as Square works to prevent you from ever falling into rote habits in combat.

You'll pilot mechs in this Kingdom Hearts game, and get introduced to a new era of summons, these more bombastic than you've ever seen them. At one point, a Disney theme park rollercoaster was at my disposal, a key weapon in a battle against a gigantic boss. Later, I was aided by a mermaid summon.

Meanwhile, protagonist Sora's Keyblade will have a multitude of Keyblade transformations a his disposal, each with it own functions, attacks, and battle pacing. Shotlocking is also back; it will be available to you when you pilot mechs (somehow they fit that in here too), and in certain Keyblade iterations.

With so much variety available, I never grew weary of the combat in the half-hour demo, and was constantly being exposed to something new. Mastery was challenging -- and likely will be for you over the course of the game -- but that shouldn't keep you from enjoying the fun.

None of this means Kingdom Hearts is forsaking its roots. Sora, Donald Duck and Goofy made up the heart of my party for the demo, which created a sense of series familiarity for me. And the classic villains, the Heartless, were there, too. The action may be fast and furious, and there may be new stars, but this is still Kingdom Hearts, and there are enough callbacks that PlayStation 2 fans will feel plenty comfortable.

Kingdom Hearts III faces a great burden upon its release: It needs to endear itself to a new generation of gamers after 14 years without a truly sequential sequel, but somehow, it needs to retain the older gamers, the Kingdom Hearts faithful.

At the moment, it seems prepared to do both things. ___

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