Kingdom Hearts has never been much of a looker. The draw isn’t gorgeous and flashy visuals so much as the excitement of seeing and exploring beloved Disney worlds in 3D. Even the recent HD ReMixes haven’t turned Kingdom Hearts into some kind of visual benchmark; they’ve simply smoothed out the cartoonish graphics so they look clean on modern TVs. Nothing wrong with that – not all franchises can be all things.

Now that we’ve gotten a closer look at the gameplay of
Kingdom Hearts III, however – including our first real glimpse at the game’s take on the world of Tangled – I may have to rethink that conclusion. Kingdom Hearts III isn’t just a swashbuckling adventure set in Disney-themed worlds: it’s actually ramped its graphics and artwork up a notch to become one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful games I’ve seen so far this generation.

It’d be one thing if the new Kingdom Hearts simply captured timeless Disney worlds in 1080p. It’s quite another when you see what Square Enix has achieved so far. While past games were colorful but pre-baked, the world of Tangled feels as though the sun is beating down on it, as though you could wash your face in the rivulets coursing through its mountains. In particular, the area around Rapunzel’s tower is teeming with life, with lush foliage that wobbles in the breeze and gives way as Sora slides into battle. I’d seen the game’s E3 trailer during Square Enix’s press conference, but as I passed by a TV screen at Square Enix’s booth, the vibrancy of the scene caught me off-guard.

The screenshot above doesn’t do it justice: you need to see it in motion to fully appreciate what Square Enix has done here. I’ve embedded the trailer below but, ideally, you’re going to want to
download the trailer so you can view it without lossy YouTube compression.


I’m just as stunned by the visual transformation the team has lent to Twilight Town. The Tram Common looks and feels familiar, but it’s not a 1:1 conversion from the old games. The team’s given the area some extra-special attention to detail. Ivy has begun to overgrow the wall between the city and the forest beyond, and the gaping hole in the wall that Sora and co. used to travel to the Old Mansion has been patched up. While the walls and ground still use flat, repeating textures, my eyes were tricked into thinking that each and every brick was an independent object. Enemies cast more realistic shadows, too, making them feel less like they’re superimposed over the world and more like they’re a living part of it.

So far,
Kingdom Hearts III is shaping up to be one of the most beautifully-crafted takes on a cartoonish world in any video game to date: more fantastical than Ratchet and Clank or The Last Guardian, more detailed than Tearaway Unfolded, more vibrant even than what we’ve seen from the upcoming The Legend of Zelda for Wii U. And it’s still got at least a year of development time to go! I’m excited to see how the world of Kingdom Hearts III continues to evolve, and to finally be able to enter a cartoony world where I’m not just marveling at the art style, but at its benchmark visual achievements.

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