Kingdom Hearts 3: The 5 Key Takeaways From the D23 Expo Japan Trailer

While most of America slept, a new Kingdom Hearts III trailer debuted during the D23 Expo in Japan. Shacknews stayed up after hours to do some analysis.


Square Enix seems quite insistent that Kingdom Hearts III is actually coming out in 2018. And while there's understandably some skepticism, the publisher seems to be well on its way towards that 2018 release date. Over the weekend, the latest Kingdom Hearts III trailer debuted in front of a full house at the D23 Expo in Japan. And it revealed the franchise's second stab at a Pixar world: Monsters, Inc.

Being the resident Kingdom Hearts geek here at Shacknews, I wasn't going to get much sleep until I analyzed this trailer piece by piece, just like I did for the trailer from E3 2017. Let's take a look at it one more time and then let's see what we've all learned.

1. Party of Five

This is something I first noticed back when the Toy Story world was revealed back at D23 Expo in Anaheim, but it is much more noticeable and prominent in this latest trailer. In the first two Kingdom Hearts games, players were restricted to playing with Sora and two pals. Most often, they were Donald and Goofy, but when players would reach another world, they would often get to sub in a classic Disney character. (And occasionally, a Final Fantasy character.) That looks to have changed for Kingdom Hearts III in a big way.

That's because it looks like Donald and Goofy will get to stay in the party, but the party size can now be maxed out at five. This was first seen in the Toy Story world with Buzz and Woody joining the party. This will not be a one-time thing, though. The Monsters Inc. world will see Sora, Donald, and Goofy fight alongside Mike and Sulley. The Tangled world will throw in Rapunzel and Flynn. And one can assume that the Big Hero 6 world will introduce Hiro and Baymax.

This will make party management a little more intense, with players needing to allocate potions and equipment for their guest characters, as well as regulars Donald and Goofy. It also leads to some new possibilities for multi-character Limit Commands.

The most exciting thing to come out of this concept is that it opens up the final battle with Xehanort to be an all-out brawl between Sora and four of his closest friends: Donald, Goofy, Riku, and either King Mickey or Kairi. This has the potential to be a lot of fun.

2. Another Organization XIII Member Lives

Alright, is everybody from Organization XIII coming back? The trailer begins with Sora and friends confronting Marluxia, who long-time fans will recognize as the main antagonist from Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which released on the Game Boy Advance over a decade ago. Marluxia strayed from the main Organization mission and went off on his own agenda, but ultimately met his end against Sora.

Apparently, he got better. He's not the only one. Add him to the list of resurrected baddies, along with Xemnas and Xigbar. There's also Axel, who came back to fight along with the good guys. Or is he Lea? Yeah, going down this rabbit hole can lead to a lot of confusion and this plot's already getting pretty muddy as it is, so let's leave the who's who for later.

Anyhow, Sora and company have no memory of Marluxia, which makes sense because Castle Oblivion (the setting for Chain of Memories) was all about messing with everyone's memories. There's nothing else said beyond that, but this scene does raise the question of whether Organization XIII is fully reformed and back at full strength. It also raises the question of whether Marluxia is still operating with his own end goals in mind. If so, the plot may be on the verge of taking yet another turn.

3. Boss Battles Look to Think Outside the Box

The first clue that Kingdom Hearts III boss battles would look slightly different from KH1 and KH2 came during the D23 Expo in Anaheim. Not the one last year, the one in 2015. Have I mentioned that this game has been in development for a while?

In 2015, it was revealed that the Big Hero 6 stage's big boss battle would see Sora take the fight to the air, with players navigating Baymax against a darker version of himself. The airborn boss battle seemed unlike a lot of other KH boss battles to this point and now it looks like that won't be the only unique encounter coming to KH3.

The Toy Story battle looks to be an intense fight against a giant Heartless space vessel, atop a giant toy landscape. The idea looks to be to avoid incoming toys until Sora can get a clear shot. One way is to use a new Rocket Ruckus Limit command, which has Sora, Buzz, and Woody strap onto a rocket and fly through the air, avoiding obstacles, until they can send it straight at the boss. The boss battle also has players putting their platforming skills to the test, as Sora bounces off floating toys to best get into attack position.

The Kingdom Hearts series has had a handful of moments where it would approach boss battles in a different way. The best example is the final batch of Organization XIII fights in KH2. But it looks like KH3 isn't afraid to get experimental with boss fights and that will certainly be a major plus for the game.

4. Was That an Ariel Summon? What?

I had to replay the 2:15 mark several times and in slow motion to determine what was going on. This piece of the game was still set in the Tangled world, as evidenced by the Rapunzel and Flynn icons on the bottom-right corner. But here was Sora using what appeared to be one of his new Summon spells.

This summon saw him calling forth an old friend, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. She would appear in a water form, creating a whirlpool before taking to the skies to bring waves crashing down on Sora's foes.

There has been little to no information about Summons in Kingdom Hearts 3 and this looks to be one of the first ones revealed. It also seems to indicate that Sora's time in Atlantica is at an end. There was a full-blown stage in the first game, while the second game's Little Mermaid stage was more of a bizarre rhythm game. But with Ariel making the jump to Summon, it's doubtful that Kingdom Hearts III will be going back under the sea.

5. Vanitas is Back, Too?

Hey, if Organization XIII is coming back from the dead, why wouldn't Vanitas be back, too? Followers of the series last saw Venitas in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. He was originally created by Xehanort out of the darkness in Ventus' heart. He's also the source of the Unversed, the main enemies in Birth By Sleep. He was previously seen in a mental battle with Ventus, where Ventus vanquished him at the expense of his heart. He hasn't been seen since, except for one scene in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, where he popped up during one of Sora's face-to-face encounters with Young Xehanort.

Like various members of Organization XII, Vanitas was dead, but he also appears to have gotten better. And here, he confronts Sora in the Monsters Inc. world.

"I need the half of me that sleeps on inside of your heart," he says to Sora.

This is a reference to the ending of Birth By Sleep, where Vanitas needed to merge with Ventus to reach maximum power. But as mentioned, Ventus was able to put an end to Vanitas, at the expense of his own heart. A comatose Ventus was then placed in Castle Oblivion, where he remains to this day. However, his heart has managed to find its way to a young Sora during the battle with Vanitas, where that currently remains. That's also how Sora's able to recognize the villain by name.

It looks like Vanitas still needs Ventus' heart, so that he can forge the legendary x-blade for his master, Xehanort. And he's finally figured out that Ventus' heart resides within Sora. That's going to be bad news for Sora, because Vanitas proved to be one of the toughest battles in Kingdom Hearts history. I doubt he'll be any easier to deal with here.

Those were my biggest takeaways, but maybe there's something else you noticed in this trailer. Be sure to join the conversation and add your observations in the comments.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 10, 2018 7:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Kingdom Hearts 3: The 5 Key Takeaways From the D23 Expo Japan Trailer

    • reply
      February 10, 2018 7:47 PM


    • reply
      February 10, 2018 9:40 PM

      Why is this game so damn convoluted and complex? I can't wait to play it, of course but I haven't played the games in between and I feel like I'm going to probably be lost. I tried to play chain of memories but I hated the battle system and stopped pretty fast. I have beaten KH1 anf played part of KH2.

      Is there a way for me to play through 2 at this point? I have a PS4 available to me.

      Too bad 3 won't be available on the Switch. That would make it the perfect game.

      • reply
        February 10, 2018 10:39 PM

        Get 1.5 + 2.5 Remix. That has Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. In a perfect world, that would be all you need to know where the story is going into KH3, BUT 2.8 with Dream Drop Distance is actually the most recent story content and leads right into 3.

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