Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: How Kingdom Hearts III is Shaping Up

After too long a respite, we’re finally starting to see more of Kingdom Hearts III again. The main team had ample time to work on the game while a smaller subset handled the recently released Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep — A Fragmentary Promise, released earlier this year as part of the Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue package, which took over the promotional focus for a little over a year. (Can you believe the names some of these titles have?) KHIII resurfaced shortly before E3 in June with the confirmation of an Olympus world from Hercules, hardly a surprise considering it’s appeared in every game. But the big showcase was reserved for last week, with a new trailer that showed a significant amount of gameplay and confirmed the Toy Story World, marking the first time a Pixar franchise has graced the series.

There was another interesting aspect of that trailer: The 2018 release timeframe shown at the end. After years of jokes about this title being the new Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a title which finally released as Final Fantasy XV after a decade last year, it could release within an adequate amount of time — for a Square Enix game, anyway.

But should we trust that timeframe? The footage shown made it look closer to completion than ever before, and more insight on that promise has been provided through co-director Tetsuya Nomura, who discussed the game’s development progress and other details.

In addressing its lengthy development, it’s hilarious that Nomura acknowledged criticism about how long he takes to work on games, and said it hurts. The decision to switch the game’s engine from Square Enix’s internal Luminous Engine (which has powered only FFXV thus far) to Unreal Engine 4 was made after it already had one year of development, which set back its development a little. But he claimed it was one they had to make, which perhaps hints at how much of a pain it could be to use the engine they created. He also claimed they have a limited amount of staff working on the title, who were sometimes preoccupied with other projects. These decisions were made by the company, which he made sure to say so he and his team can’t be solely blamed for behind-the-scenes issues.

Another factor that ostensibly eased the development process is how this game will have less Worlds than Kingdom Hearts II. That’s “ostensibly,” as the team is compensating for that by having more content in each world compared to its numbered predecessor. This wasn’t done to push the Disney influence aside so Square Enix could provide greater focus on their original characters, a criticism that was lobbied at previous titles. This was partly done to fulfill the desires of the modern gaming audience, who tends to enjoy exploring larger, open worlds in their AAA games. But this also allowed for the team to explore more gameplay possibilities within the worlds. For instance, it’s why Nomura asked the team to insert the ability to use mecha in battle in the Toy Story World.

With this game’s status as a sequel, it will have several returning features alongside new ones. Some of those will be more polished this time, like the Gummi Ship minigame so many love to hate. Nomura also hinted that KHIII will have more than one playable protagonist, though it’s clear Sora will dominate most of the playtime. Also, instead of having to swap either Goofy or Donald out for a guest party member, they’ll be able to join the team for a four-character party. Sora’s Keyblade will also be able to occasionally take on new forms, as seen through the hammer, drill, and bazooka forms in the last trailer. This is the team’s first time playing with HD technology, which has allowed them to get creative.

Both Kingdom Hearts I and II contained arena battles with Final Fantasy VII’s Sephiroth, but the team is still debating on whether to include one here. Some fans want them to maintain the trend, but others are advocating for swapping him out for another “badass” boss character, like Darth Vader. That the team is still deliberating on anything at this point sounds bad for the game’s 2018 release prospects, but I get the feeling Nomura knows more than he’s letting on here.

Nomura also compared this game’s development status to the MIA Final Fantasy VII: Remake, since both titles are battling for the crown of “The New Versus XIII.” He claimed that FFVIIR is running ahead in some ways, like in cutscene development. But with recent news that its development was switched from CyberConnect2 to Square Enix’s internal studios, it will be a while before we see it again. It sounds like the more difficult elements in KHIII are done, though.

We’ll be able to determine whether they’re series about the 2018 timeframe on how much is shown between the latter half of this year and early next year. It could make it, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t.

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