Tetsuya Nomura reveals new Kingdom Hearts III details

Square Enix legend Tetsuya Nomura (Director of the Kingdom Hearts franchise and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, among others) has leaked a few more tentative details about Kingdom Hearts III in Famitsu magazine.

Nomura is said to have confirmed that Kingdom Hearts III will be the last instalment featuring the series’ iconic villain Xehanort. This doesn’t mean that the franchise is set to end though, as Nomura later added that a structure has already been created for future sequels with Sora.

It’s important to remember that Kingdom Hearts III is a long way from realisation. The team is currently developing Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3DS, which is reported to be at about 40-50% completion. Although Kingdom Hearts III has been rumoured for many years, there has been no confirmation that title has made it to production or planning.

Fans can find answers to some of their questions regarding Kingdom Hearts III in the aforementioned KH3D, according to Nomura. He also mentioned that Square Enix were looking into the technology that could render older titles in high definition. Is this a hint that we could soon see HD remakes/ collections for Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts or Dragon Quest?

It’s an attractive prospect, but one that I hope they don’t undertake. The team has already spent far too much time in side projects and now need to refocus their efforts on Kingdom Hearts III. Although fans are enjoying some of the recent portable outings, I can’t help but feel that they are growing more and more restless for a sequel on home consoles.


Birth By Sleep: Part One

The two main entries in the Kingdom Hearts franchise have been succeeded by a whole horde of portable titles; some of which have been more successful than others. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep promises to live up to the pedigree of the home console outings by emulating the worlds and combat with a surprisingly powerful engine. It acts as a prequel to the existing storyline, following three keyblade wielders on their quest to gain the title of ‘keyblade master’.

Terra, Aqua and Ventus all start off as the best of friends, but quickly find themselves thrown in different directions as the balance of light and dark becomes disrupted. You’ll play as each character one at a time, building up the story as you see events unfold from their different perspectives. I’m currently only eight hours into the campaign of Ventus, but I can already see how many of the interactions will overlap. The cutscenes are beautiful on the system, giving life to the established Square Enix and Disney personalities. Some of the script writing can be a little forced and overly philosophical, but the voice acting is solid and conveys a great deal of tension and emotion. If you’ve played any of the previous titles, you’ll be pleased to know that the quality of presentation hasn’t dipped in Birth By Sleep.

Ventus might wield his keyblade backwards, but his play style closely resembles former protagonists Sora and Roxas. Quick on his feet and stocked with a flurry of combos, it’s easy to hammer the X button and watch him pull off some dazzling moves. However, go for the throat and you’ll quickly suffer on the higher difficulty settings. Reaction commands have been replaced with a customisable deck of skills, which are key to mastering spells, health and blocking skills. Mixing these together produces further devastation known as command styles; for example, use a variety of fire spells and Ventus will borrow the FireStorm style, hitting each opponent with added flame damage. Characters that you meet can also set up Dimension Links, temporarily lending you their deck of commands. Using all of these effectively is essential to taking down the tougher bosses of each world.

The assault of gameplay mechanics can feel a little bewildering at first, but it offers a system both deep and rewarding enough to rival most classic RPGs. Choosing the right spell on the D-Pad can be a little tricky (you’ll be using the same thumb both to run away from the enemy and heal yourself) and the lock-on system could use a little work, but these are limitations of the hardware, not the software.

The Command Board (a Mario Party inspired affair) and various mini games act as additional distractions on  your main quest. They’re surprisingly well made and offer fantastic rewards, making them a legitimate alternative to grinding in the field. There’s also a multiplayer mode that I’m excited to try, finally offering players the chance to see who would in a one on one brawl.

I’m enjoying my time with Birth By Sleep. Titles with this level of production are few and far between on the Sony PSP, so it’s always a pleasure to see Square Enix push the system to its limit. Whether the storyline and characters continue to engage is up for debate, but I’m excited about levelling up the trio of heroes and discovering new worlds. When I hit another landmark in Birth By Sleep, you can expect updated opinions.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep

The Japanese release of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep seems to have snuck under the radar of many Square Enix followers. As part of a three pronged portable assault (the others being Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days and Kingdom Hearts: Coded) this is no doubt the biggest and most highly anticipated sequel in the Disney/Square hybrid series. The visuals, control scheme and elaborate plot closely mimic its PlayStation 2 brethren, with many critics proclaiming it to the be the only ‘true’ next instalment.

The storyline and characters were hinted dramatically in the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts 2, causing a predictable uproar in fan speculation. But with very little in the way of trailers and cut scene footage, it’s been some time since we’ve been able to judge the progress of Birth By Sleep. Yesterday’s Japan release has been the catalyst for a wealth of opening shots and gameplay previews, some of which we can divulge in below;

The opening cinematic instantly releases some of Birth By Sleep’s best kept narrative secrets. The three armoured knights now have faces and names; a tall, brown haired male by the name of Terra; a slim, blue haired girl called Aqua and a short, blond haired boy named Ventus. Players will no doubt recognise the familiarity between Ventus and the angsty Organisation nobody Roxas. There seems to be a directorial purpose for this, linking to the title theme of giving ‘birth’ to the protagonist Sora.

At 0.25, Terra and Aqua rush at one another, facing off with two recognisable keyblades. All three of them are no doubt wielders and from my deduction, one of them will fall into darkness in a similar fashion to Riku, hence causing the conflict between friends. Master Xehanort appears as a balding and sunken man, with great power and a masked apprentice by the name of Vanitas. Evidently, the ‘one true keyblade master’ ethos from the original title seems to have fallen by the wayside.

At the climax of the opening cinematic, Ventus falls into the ocean of Destiny Islands. A very young Sora and Kairi sit in the sand, pointing to the early chronological setting. How Ventus relates to Sora and Roxas’ keyblade abilities is yet to be explained.

From the video above we can see that the gameplay mechanics are very similar to previous instalments. Battles are action heavy, with light RPG elements for equipping accessories and keyblades. The card based system from RE:COM and the panel system from 358/2 Days has thankfully been dropped. Not that these systems were weak, but I feel that Birth By Sleep will prosper from the button-heavy combos that we all know and love. Reaction commands and special abilities seem to have returned, but with the absence of following companions. The limitations of the Sony PSP has no doubt forced a few understandable cutbacks in design.

I’m pleased with the media being released from Birth By Sleep and hope that its success in Japan will cross over into an early European release. The characters and plot seem to have appropriate amounts of scope and drama, adding a fresh dimension to the universe of Sora and his friends.


Kingdom Hearts: Triple Threat

To me, it makes sense for a franchise to stay on its original platform. Even if you create a multitude of sequels, the core of the series should always be available on the console where it all started. Take Halo; Bungie’s world famous first person shooter eventually found its way onto the PC, but each title has always been available on its respective Xbox console. If it wasn’t, Microsoft fan boys would be in outrage.

Sora and co. above Hollow Bastion

Sora and co. above Hollow Bastion

So, it’s strange to hear that the next instalment of Kingdom Hearts will come in the form of a trio. Perhaps most bizarrely, all three games are set to be released on completely different handheld consoles.

Now if you’ve managed to hide yourself from the might of Square Enix for the last seven years, I’ll do my best to quickly fill you in. The original Kingdom Hearts was an action role-playing game for the Playstation 2, throwing together the cast of Disney and Final Fantasy into a brand new cameo universe. As the young boy Sora, you travel alongside Donald and Goofy with the mysterious keyblade, attempting to ‘lock’ Disney worlds away from evil and find your missing friends.

With strong voice acting from Walt Disney and sharp game play from Square, the game was a smash hit. So much so that it warranted a sequel three years later, reuniting old faces and introducing a menacing Organisation called… Organisation XII. Not very imaginative, I know. However, I will admit that I loved both of these games dearly. The presentation was superb, the characters were easy to fall in love with and the controls were quick to pick up/ hard to master.

Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix, only available in Japan

Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix, only available in Japan

There’s been a few directors cuts since then (named Final Mix and not available in Europe) and a remake of the Game Boy Advance intermediary Chain of Memories (also, not available in Europe) so for UK dwellers, a new Kingdom Hearts has been a long time to coming. So what about this new trio on the horizon?

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

Transferring the franchise to the Sony PSP makes a lot of sense. Presumably, a proportion of Playstation 2 owners have stayed brand loyal and invested in Kutaragi’s portable. The PSP is also the most graphically powerful of the handhelds, offering a control scheme that closely mimics the original Playstation 2.

Birth by Sleep was announced in 2007 at the Tokyo Game Show. This prequel takes place ten years prior to the original Kingdom Hearts, following three apprentice keyblade wielders named Terra, Ven and Aqua. They were hinted as much older knights in the scenes at the end of Kingdom Hearts II and Nomura has since confirmed them all to be playable characters. Gameplay is reportedly similar to the PS2 version of Chain of Memories, though hopefully without the irritating card system. Each character will play differently in their separate scenario and offer unique special attack modes.

Birth By Sleep is still a long way off release

Birth By Sleep is still a long way off release

The team behind development are using the same graphical engine behind Crisis Core and the game is set for a December 2009 launch in Japan.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days

Square Enix has found a new home on the Nintendo DS. Nearly every classic Final Fantasy has been remade, the strategy Tactics series is improving and Jupiter, the team behind the original Chain of Memories has found critical success with The World Ends with You.

Pronounced “Kingdom Hearts Three-Five-Eight Days over Two”, this interlude is set between the first and second Kingdom Hearts game. You take on the role of Roxas, the Nobody and Organisation XIII member born from Sora in Hollow Bastion. The single player mode teams you up with other Organisation members and allows your friends to take control of them on the fly. Players follow the birth of Roxas as he grows up during Sora’s absence, eventually defecting from the Organisation and getting tangled up with a brand new member called Xion.

Twilight Town has frequently been shown in trailers, but Destiny Islands, Beast’s castle, Halloween Town and many other worlds have all been confirmed. The 3D graphics look impressive for the system, but I’m sceptical on how the control scheme will fair. The touch screen seems to have been avoided in favour of a traditional control scheme, but with less buttons I could see this being a big problem. With multiple heartless attacking on screen, the camera will no doubt make or break 358/2 Days.

Roxas and Axel, fan favourites from Organisation XIII

Roxas and Axel, fan favourites from Organisation XIII

Developed with the assistance of h.a.n.d Inc, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days will be released in Japan on May 30.

Kingdom Hearts: Coded

Excluding the iPhone/ iTouch, I’m not a huge convert of games on the mobile phone. Most don’t have the screen or game engine powerful enough to do it justice, or the target audience is so small that the budget never lasts more than a few hours of play.

Coded might just be able to change my mind on that. A very simplistic, but pretty 3D engine brings Sora back in his original Kingdom Hearts outfit. It’s primarily a puzzle game though, which may confuse a lot of players that are expecting a straight up action RPG. Set after Kingdom Hearts 2 (so if you’re still managing to follow the insane chronological order, this is the most recent one in time) Jiminy Cricket discovers a strange message about Naminee in his journal. Wanting to find out what it means, he digitizes his journal and awakens a virtual Sora to carry out the adventure.

Kingdom Hearts... but a puzzle game?

Kingdom Hearts... but a puzzle game?

It’s likely this will be the least successful sequel and Nomura seems to have acknowledged this. The plot seems a minimal part of the Kingdom Hearts core and I’m guessing only a few important answers will be given away in the game. There doesn’t seem to be a concrete release date, but I’m betting it will co-inside with the release of Birth by Sleep or 352/8 Days.

So if you’re craving Sora, Riku and the rest of the gang it looks like Square Enix has got the answer. It might not be a true, home console experience… but three handheld games at once come pretty close.