A deep dive into the two new D23 Expo 2018 trailers.
Square Enix released not one but two new Kingdom Hearts III trailers at D23 Expo 2018, introducing the new Monsters, Inc. world. These trailers are also packed to the brim with new gameplay and story details that are worth exploring, so let’s dive into the heart of these new glimpses both below, and in the video above.
The main D23 2018 trailer kicks off with the surprising re-introduction of Marluxia, who was leading the charge at Castle Oblivion for Organization XIII. Sora battled and defeated the Nobody Marluxia back in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, but because he, Donald, and Goofy had their memories of their time in Castle Oblivion wiped, Marluxia is a total mystery to him.
It’s unclear exactly how he has returned, though it’s likely as part of Xehanort’s adventures through time and space to form the true Organization XIII — but he’s back with a vengeance and his memories fully intact.
But the centerpiece of the trailer is undoubtedly the reveal of the previously leaked Monsters, Inc. world. Sora, Donald, and Goofy all get monster transformations, much like how they change to toy form in the Toy Story world. It’s unclear exactly when in the universe the story of this world takes place, but it’s pretty likely in the midst of the original movie and possibly right after. The factory is still scaring because it cares, but later in the trailer, a gauge for Boo’s laugh power appears, indicating the monsters learn the power of laughs at some point in the level.
Our first look at gameplay in the Monsters, Inc. world confirms a nice touch we haven’t seen yet in KH3 footage — world-themed command menus! Yes, it’s a small thing, but seeing the command menu change to fit the aesthetic of each world in past games has been a delightful little touch. It’s nice to see it return in every world teased in both trailers, and may be an indication of just how far along development is.
Ahh, Real Monsters!
Atop the world’s monster factory is where we also see the Monsters, Inc. Keyblade for the first time. You’ll notice the end of the blade is wearing a monster helmet, while the charm appears to be Boo in her monster costume.
Speaking of that Keyblade, we also get to see two transformations for it in this trailer. The first is Quick Claws, in which the Keyblade splits into two metal chompers on Sora’s hand. Much later in the trailer, we also see the Twin Yo-yos transformation, which also splits the Keyblade into a dual set of weapons. With both of these transformations, Sora’s grayish, blue fur transforms into an orange-y shade with pink highlights.
What’s interesting is that Sora is fighting with each respective world’s Keyblade within that world. Normally, Keyblades were world-completion gifts in past Kingdom Hearts games. Sora seemingly receives new Keyblades at or near the start of levels, if the scenes from Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, and Tangled are any indication. This would make sense, given how important these weapon transformation seem to be to the gameplay this time around.
A small thing to note during the battle footage seen throughout the trailer — the MP orbs are no longer clear, as they were in Kingdom Hearts II, but this will be unsurprising to anyone who played Kingdom Hearts 2.8’s 0.2: a fragmentary passage. Aqua’s magic orbs in that game were also a richer shade of blue.
Getting back to Monsters, Inc., the Pixar film’s iconic doors return in Kingdom Hearts, though it’s unclear if Sora will actually get to hop through to different locations using them. Whether or not he does, there’s no doubting the cavernous scale of the Monsters, Inc. world is impressive, and an indication of truly just how big each new world is.
A Tangled Web of New Details
And on the subject of these new worlds, though we first saw Tangled’s land of Corona back in 2015, we finally have our first look at Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. Rapunzel, unsurprisingly, uses her hair for combat and traversal, while Flynn can be seen both using a frying pan and a barrel mid-battle.
There’s also a brief look at the Tangled Keyblade, which appears to be in the shape of Rapunzel’s tower. That Keyblade also goes through a transformation into the Mirage Staff, which we get a much better look of in the second D23 trailer. Much like Sora’s fur changing in the Monsters, Inc. world, his outfit changes color when he takes on the new Keyblade form.
Summoning Old Friends and Dream Eaters
One of the coolest aspects of the main trailer, though, is the look at the game’s first summon ability, Ariel. Past Kingdom Hearts games largely just replicated the look of a Disney character and had them appear in battle, but Ariel’s summon is a gorgeous take on the mechanic. Ariel melds with the water, which cascades around Sora like a tornado. It’s awesome, and I hope an indication of unique summons in the sequel, though this may also indicate Atlantica likely isn’t going to be revealed as a world this time around.
(Previous games did include characters who appeared in worlds as summons, but because of KH3’s focus on newer and fewer worlds, the fan disdain for Atlantica’s KH2 appearance, and Ariel’s cameo here, I’d peg it as an unlikely unrevealed world.)
The trailer also hops back into the world of Toy Story, which most interestingly showcases a seeming boss battle in the world. Based on its health meter, I’d estimate this is one of the earlier worlds in the game, but the battle still looks appropriately epic. It includes both day and night phases, an awesome blend of platforming and situation-specific attacks, and a design that looks more fantastical than anything we’ve seen in the level so far.
One quick return to the world of Monsters, Inc. shows off the return of Dream Eaters, summonable creatures who appeared in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. How exactly they’ll factor into gameplay is unclear — there isn’t a summoning prompt that appears on screen yet. But they only add to the incredible variety of combat featured in these trailers so far.
The trailer ends on yet another surprising return, Vanitas. Long story short, Vanitas is a being formed from the darkness of Ventus, a Keyblade warrior from Birth By Sleep whose heart rests inside Sora’s body. Ven’s soul seemingly recognizes Vanitas, who Sora has not met before, but the villainous character appears to be yet another member of Xehanort’s true Organization. The Unversed, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep’s enemies, are born from his darkness, which accounts for their appearance in the Monsters, Inc. world throughout the trailer.
“The Other Me”
Hopping back to the second trailer, which highlights Utada Hikaru’s new theme song, there’s one final story tease, and a few other gameplay details to note. The trailer shows footage from Mount Olympus, which is almost identical to footage from the E3 Orchestra 2017 trailer. It’s important to note Sora now appears in his KH2 outfit here, and Hercules is not in your party while diving in, while he was in that previous trailer.
Last but not least, one final story tease. Riku and Mickey appear in the Realm of Darkness’ most visited beachside spot. Sporting their new duds, likely given to them by Yen Sid in the 2.9 cutscene featured in 2.8’s 0.2 a fragmentary passage, Riku and Mickey are on the hunt for Aqua, a key aspect of how 2.8 perfectly sets up Kingdom Hearts 3’s story. And this specific focus on Riku and Mickey’s story could indicate one of the two is the possible second playable character director Tetsuya Normura hinted KH3 might include.
They likely just finished a massive battle, too, because Riku’s Keyblade, the Way to the Dawn, is now broken. But rather than fully retiring it, he leaves it “in case my other me needs it.” There’s no indication of who exactly The Other Me is, though my money isn’t on the Riku Replica featured in Chain of Memories, who, while playing an important part in that game’s narrative, hasn’t really been a key player in the series’ overall mythology.
Terra, who chose Riku to inherit the Keyblade in Birth by Sleep, is one likely possibility, especially if he hasn’t secretly had a Nobody all this time we haven’t known about, though it’s likely we won’t find out exactly who it is until Kingdom Hearts III is released later this year.
Jonathon Dornbush is an Associate Editor for IGN who loves Kingdom Hearts, even if he prefers to say Marluxia differently from its canonical pronunciation. Ask him about Kingdom Hearts on Twitter @jmdornbush.