Kingdom Hearts 3, though, makes me feel like a teenager again. At E3 2018, I played two demos that covered the Hercules and Toy Story-inspired worlds. Both were bright, cheery affairs, with plenty of Heartless to pummel with a ridiculous arsenal of keyblade combos, magic and amusement park-themed attacks. I was surprised by how quickly my fingers and thumbs recalled the basic combat system; within seconds I was launching Sora into the air and chaining together a bevy of slices and spells. The fights were chaotic, but in a way that was familiar and strangely comforting.
That's not to say Square Enix doesn't have some new ideas. In the Olympus demo, for instance, I had to guide Sora up a huge cliff while a giant Heartless launched rocks from above. The keyblade wielder will now auto-run up surfaces that have a shimmering sheen to them. "There are a lot of open world games," director Tetsuya Nomura said via an interpreter. "I think a lot of them just focus on trying to go bigger and bigger in a horizontal map. But when I thought about having dynamic actions, I felt that verticality should be very important to these types of games."
At the top, I had to grapple with a multi-stage boss battle that included a ride on the Disney World-inspired Big Mountain Railroad train. These attractions are new to the franchise and break up the usual hack-and-slash monotony with some special movement or, in this case, shooting sequences. "Disney theme parks are a place that everyone gets excited [about] once they step right in," Nomura said. "It doesn't matter if you're young or old, and [many people] will have some kind of fun memory from one of those theme parks. I just wanted to recreate that in the game. I also wanted some kind of move in the game that was fun just by looking at it."
Despite these additions, the game felt like the Kingdom Hearts I fell in love with more than a decade ago. For one, Sora was wearing his classic black and yellow outfit from Kingdom Hearts II. My guess is that the world acts as a prologue, or tutorial, to Kingdom Hearts 3, before the spiky-haired hero picks up his new garb and abilities. I was flanked by Donald and Goofy too, who appeared in previous games and regularly help out with attacks, spells and helpful team-up abilities. Just hearing their voices mid-battle brought a huge nostalgic smile to my face.
The Toy Story-themed demo was just as impressive. Andy's room was the first time since 2005 that I had been floored by the sheer detail and film-like accuracy of a Kingdom Hearts world. The space is identical to how it appeared in the Toy Story trilogy, and it was thrilling to climb out the window and jump down to the driveway below. The world isn't perfect -- you can't just roam around the house, for instance, or open up drawers -- but the game makes it easy to buy into the illusion. You really feel like you've stepped into a Pixar film with Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the gang.