This Week in Games
Kingdom Hearts III

by Heidi Kemps & Callum May,

Whoa nelly, is it ever a monumental week! Yes, I know that a huge chunk of North America is currently experiencing weather where you turn into a popsicle the moment you step outdoors, but we've got Kingdom Hearts III now! We don't need to step outdoors when Sora, Donald, and Goofy are here, right?

Yeah, it's hard to ignore this week's juggernaut release, and we'll have some KH3 impressions for you later in the column. The last week has also given us some pretty big news, though, so before we all venture back into the comforting warmth of Square Enix's painfully elaborate crossover fanfiction, let's look at some of the stories that have made waves over the past several days.

Also, before we start, there's a great Eurogamer article about the recent troubles at Payday 2 publisher Starbreeze. I feel it's well worth reading as an example of the kind of mismanagement that seems to afflict many publishers these days, but it's a lengthy read, so make sure the heater's on and you've got a nice cup of hot cocoa before you settle in.

METROID PRIME 4 IS GETTING A DEVELOPER SWITCH AND A FULL-ON REBOOT

Back in December when The Game Awards were preparing to air, there was a lot of speculation that we'd be getting our first look at Metroid Prime 4. Obviously, that didn't happen – Nintendo's big announcement was Joker from Persona 5 coming to Smash – so many folks were left wondering what was going on with the game.

Late last week, we finally found out what the deal was… and, as it turns out, it wasn't good!

Yes, apparently the unnamed developer or developers of Metroid Prime 4 (who were rumored to be Bandai-Namco affiliated, but never confirmed) were basically stuck in development hell, and the game was going nowhere fast, so Nintendo decided to hand the original Metroid Prime developers, Retro Studios, a fresh slate to redo the project.

The good news is that, with the series in the hands of its original development team, fans are a lot more likely to get the follow-up they all really want. The bad news is that they're starting completely from scratch, so we're not likely to see the game for another year at least.

Personally, I think Nintendo absolutely made the right choice here. Games require a lot of money and manpower to make, and it's hard in many ways to admit that something simply isn't working out. In many cases, it's impossible to start over even if it would benefit the end product: deadlines, publisher money, and creative egos can all keep a zombie project alive when it should really be put to rest. Yes, we'll have to wait longer for more Samus, but it's not like there's going to be a shortage of quality Switch games in the meantime.

DRAGONBALL PROJECT Z REVEALED ALONGSIDE MORE FIGHTERZ

This weekend, we saw the Dragon Ball FighterZ world tour come to its exciting conclusion… but for many, it wasn't just the world's strongest battling it out that was the main draw, it was the promise of more Dragon Ball-related game announcements. And boy, did Bandai-Namco ever deliver!

Season 2 of Dragon Ball FighterZ has begun to shape up, and starting today, you'll be able to get your hands on Videl and Jiren. Bamco's doing the same thing they did with Tekken 7 – teasing additional upcoming season pass characters with silhouettes and question marks – though two more characters were also very briefly shown:  Dragon Ball Super-style Broly and SSGSS Gogeta.

Then there's the still-tentatively-titled Project Z, the Dragon Ball-themed action-RPG. While no gameplay was shown, we got a teaser trailer that showed us some in-game cinematics and confirmed the game's developer:

That's right, it's CyberConnect2, the same folks who brought us stuff like the Naruto Ultimate Ninja series, some of the more recent Jojo titles, and the fan favorite game Asura's Wrath – which, while not connected to Dragon Ball, definitely has a similar vibe of crazy-powerful beings fighting it out in increasingly absurd displays of strength. In other words, they're a really good choice for a Dragon Ball action-RPG, as they have a track record of licensed games that both look fantastic and play very well. I have a strong feeling we'll be seeing more of this one at E3.

EPIC SCORES ANOTHER BIG EXCLUSIVE

I've talked before about how the Epic Games online PC game storefront is mounting an increasingly strong challenge to Steam. One of the ways they're doing so is scoring some big-name timed exclusives for the service. A few weeks ago, Ubisoft announced that Tom Clancy's The Division 2 was going to be an Epic exclusive. This week, publisher Deep Silver announced that Metro Exodus is also going to be a timed exclusive for the Epic Games store.

People reacted with surprise, but then accepted it as part of the new competitive download services ecosystem that's slowly dismantling the stifling Steam monopoly. Haha, just kidding! Shrieking online nerdlingers are currently trying to review-bomb the game for… not being available for sale in one place online. I could understand, maybe, being mad if you preordered on Steam a while back, but… come on.

Here's what I don't get: people seem to love getting angry at Steam (most recently, they pulled a bunch of visual novels off the storefront again for nebulously defined content violations), but now that there's a genuine competitor popping up, they're suddenly demanding companies’ loyalty. Let's be real here: this isn't like a console exclusive, as you don't need to spend $300 on another black hardware box for it. Hell, it's not even as bad as an exclusive on Crunchyroll or Netfix, since you don't need a monthly subscription. All you have to do is download an installer for another online storefront for your PC and put your details in. It's a minor inconvenience at best.

Anyway, let's place bets – who do you think will be the first Japanese developer to put a game exclusively on the Epic store? I'll wager either Bandai-Namco or Square Enix!

First Impressions: Kingdom Hearts III

By Callum May

It kind of feels surreal to say this, but Kingdom Hearts III is a physical thing and I've been playing it.

Last year, I decided to fill in all the gaps in my Kingdom Hearts experience with the 1.5+2.5+2.8 Remix collection, playing through titles like Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days and Re:Coded. Little did I know how essential these experiences would be. Rather than thinking of these titles as side stories, they're best regarded as parts of Sora's journey just like the main numbered entries and they're full of important details relevant to the central story.

I fear for the person who only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II in preparation for this title. Early in the game, Maleficent appears searching for a black box and talking about a book. This is a reference to the story of the Kingdom Hearts mobile game, Union Cross and a scene in Re:coded. In a way, it almost feels like Avengers: Infinity War in its dedication to including as much of the previous titles as possible. I'm sure it will be confusing for those that have managed to skip over any entry, but for those that have kept up with the series, particularly in the gap between Kingdom Hearts II and III, it's a brave apex to a 17 year story.

Kingdom Hearts III takes place immediately after the events of Dream Drop Distance with Sora and his Disney friends visiting new worlds to recover the power he lost. Throughout these adventures, fans are treated to frequent cutscenes of the team interacting with Disney characters as well as cutscenes showing what Riku and Kairi are up to as well. For the first time, it doesn't feel like it's Sora's sole responsibility to save the world and the feeling of having a Keyblade team at your back is very positive.

The Disney worlds themselves can be a mixed bag and can resonate based on how they decide to integrate Sora into the movie worlds. For instance, Toy Story genuinely felt like an original canonical adventure which fit into the themes of both Kingdom Hearts and Toy Story. However, it was a bit disappointing to follow that with a choppy recap of the film Tangled where movie plot points are skipped over and Sora feels like a narrative third wheel. I spoke to a friend who hadn't seen the film before and playing the Kingdom Hearts world left them confused. These parts of the game are definitely at their best when the worlds are familiar, but the stories are original.

Kingdom Hearts III is a game that I believe could make anyone smile. The comedy and writing is at its best in the whole series and even the combat sparks joy with its triangle commands. These include attacks based on signature Disneyland rides, Keyblade transformations and combos with Donald, Goofy and the Disney/Pixar characters joining you for their adventure. However, although these do make the combat feel like a fun celebration with plenty of silly moves, it does feel a little much. There's almost always a special move available to use and it makes accomplishments like blocking or dodging attacks feel a whole lot smaller when you could've just summoned a invulnerable pirate ship to deal with it. At the moment, it doesn't feel too intrusive, but I fear that any magical upgrades I make in the future may be overshadowed by a slew of combo attacks that can be initiated at no cost.

Ultimately, Kingdom Hearts III is the end of a story. I'm not sure which stories it'll be ending, but it feels gratifying having loose ends finally be tied up. Kingdom Hearts gets a lot of flak for being convoluted and that is entirely true, but based on the first 15 hours, it seems determined to reward players who have stuck with it. In the same way that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was a celebration of everything that came before, Kingdom Hearts III includes gameplay mechanics, characters and plot points from every Kingdom Hearts title that it seeks to conclude. Needless to say, this is all achieved through an incredible achievement in graphics and animation that shocked even Disney creators. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to get back to cooking with my good rat friend.

NEW RELEASES

Yes, there are games besides Kingdom Hearts III out this week! The promising-looking Inti Creates platformer Dragon: Marked for Death hits the Nintendo eShop this week, with a physical version due out at a later date. The tear-jerking kinetic novel Planetarian is also making an appearance on Switch, if you're looking for something less gameplay-intense and more emotionally intense. And if you've already bought Smash Ultimate, you now have a Piranha Plant lurking in your character ranks.

And we're done! You're free to go back to your Keyblading sessions. Just remember: you need to go out and shovel the driveway eventually.


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