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Expert tips Kingdom Hearts 3 doesn't tell you

14 years stand between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3. An entire console generation went by before we saw Kingdom Hearts 3 launch on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in January 2019. The series has a reputation for telling one of the more convoluted stories in gaming history, but underneath the dense narrative lies an engaging action game full of dynamic movement and flashy attacks.

At many points, Sora, Donald, and Goofy will find themselves completely surrounded by opponents, whether they're Heartless, Nobodies, or something entirely different. Being outnumbered, especially by some of the more powerful enemies, can prove to be difficult. The highest difficulty makes every enemy hit like a truck, but even on Standard Mode, some combinations of enemy attacks can keep you stunned until you die.

Luckily, Sora can pull off some incredible feats to manage any opponent that stands in his way, but the game doesn't tell you about some of them. Amid all the chaos, you can find a variety of ways to maintain control of every battle. To help you on your journey to defeat the darkness, we've gathered some tips that you can start using right now.

Manage the chaos

Early in the game, Kingdom Hearts 3 introduces Situation Commands to you. Longtime fans of the franchise may know the ability under other names, such as Reaction Commands. Nonetheless, certain moments can trigger these actions, which usually lead to massive attacks that cover a wide area. However, the number of commands at your disposal can become overwhelming very quickly. For example, after you land a few hits with a Keyblade, your weapon can transform with a Situation Command. Launching a few spells can trigger a Grand Magic Situation Command. Your teammates will occasionally ask you to do team attacks, and even hitting specific enemies gives you the option to activate an Attraction Command. That's four in the span of ten seconds.

Clearly, there's a lot riding on the "Triangle"/"Y" button. Each of these actions can disappear after their individual timers run out, but immediately using them one after another isn't always the best option. More often than not, you'll want to save certain Situation Commands for certain, well, situations. While the game doesn't make it apparent, you can use "L2" or the left trigger to cycle between all your available commands. This gives you total control over the flow of a fight, saving wide-reaching attacks for large mobs while using transformations to deal massive damage to a boss.

Achieving a state of flowmotion in combat

A lot of your time in Kingdom Hearts 3 will be spent running. Each world sports gigantic spaces to travel through, with a lot of verticality added for extra measure. To make the steep cliffsides a nonissue, the developers added the flowmotion system to the game. Originally introduced in the Nintendo 3DS title Dream Drop Distance, flowmotion bestows gravity-defying powers upon Sora. Now he can run up walls and bounce off parts of the environment, opening up different sections of the map.

However, Sora can and should use these skills in the middle of combat. Certain fights will be nothing short of pandemonium, with long-range enemies pinning you down in the midst of the melee. To be successful in the game, you need to be moving nonstop. While Sora's attacks in general keep him on the move, it'll behoove you to liberally use the dodge button. Aside from its obvious function, dodging into certain parts of the environment will activate flowmotion.

For example, air dodging toward a wall keeps Sora on it for a second. From there, he can leap off the wall and launch a devastating ground attack. Alternatively, Sora can swing around certain poles or columns, pulling nearby enemies into a damaging vortex. Flowmotion, while offering a plethora of mobility options, can also expand your combat repertoire.

Sora is (sometimes) invincible!

Kingdom Hearts 3 already provides you with many ways to avoid getting hit, especially with its robust flowmotion system. However, it never hurts to have more options to avoid taking damage. Luckily, Situation Commands have many forms of utility, one of which being immediate invincibility.

The way it works varies with the kind of Situation Command it is, but across the board, they will get you out of sticky situations upon activation. When you hit "Triangle" or "Y," a short cutscene plays, despite whatever position the enemies have you in. It's a good alternative to blocking or dodging that also turns the tables on enemies. Above all, you'll remain invincible until that cutscene ends.

However, certain team attacks — particularly the ones with Disney and Pixar characters — and some Attraction attacks retain that invulnerability until the end of the attack. It takes some experimentation to find out which ones will keep you safe for longer periods of time. For example, the Magic Carousel Attraction maintains your invincibility, while the Blaster Blaze one leaves you open to damage, despite how long it lasts.

Explore your versatile keychain

Kingdom Hearts 3 expands the frantic yet fun combat of the franchise. To accomplish this, the game lets Sora equip three separate Keyblades, and he can switch among them on the fly. Previously, he could only equip one, requiring you to pause the game to make any changes. Having access to three at any given time opens up new avenues of strategy. For example, you could equip a Keyblade that specializes in magic to spam your hard-hitting spells. While your MP regenerates, switch to a weapon with more strength, making each of your normal hits do absurd damage.

Various possibilities await, and you can tailor the set to fit your personal play style. The best part about the versatility is that it promotes experimentation. Each Keyblade in the game complements different strategies. Aside from orienting toward strength or magic, each weapon's secondary transformation changes the game entirely. The Pirates of the Caribbean Keyblade, for example, turns into a lance that specializes in medium-range combat. Meanwhile, the Winnie the Pooh weapon turns into two guns, offering Sora more options from afar.

Never be afraid to try a new Keyblade out to see which ones fit the way you play. Before you upgrade any Keyblades, it's worth being sure of which ones you like using. The specific upgrade materials remain fairly scarce unless you like grinding for them, so make them count when you upgrade a Keyblade.

Magic is, well, magical

While the iconic sword-sized Keyblade is the cornerstone of combat, its magical abilities shouldn't go underutilized. Throughout the early parts of the story, Sora unlocks different elemental spells, like Fire and Thunder, and these spells receive upgrades further into the game. While they're useful for dealing long-range damage, some of these spells have hidden utilities that the game doesn't mention.

Take, for example, the Blizzard spell. It launches a ball of ice in a straight line, and if launched on ground level, it leaves a trail of ice on the ground. That ice trail can be used as a rail to grind on courtesy of flowmotion. If you need to move across the large maps quickly, find a fairly straight and flat path and launch a ball of ice.

Aero, on the other hand, leaves behind a small wind vortex that Sora can use to launch himself in the air. It's a roundabout way to jump, but you'll reach greater heights than a normal jump. Water doesn't necessarily have a use outside of combat, but it's worth noting that upon activation, it also attacks enemies immediately around you.

Beyond the extra utility, Keyblade form changes also affect how certain magic spells work. For example, the Monsters Inc weapon transformation turns every spell into an elemental swirl that immediately surrounds you. The Tangled Keyblade-form change, however, beefs up your current magic spells, making them do more damage.

Put your transformations on hold

As previously mentioned, the Keyblade transformations are very powerful and useful. They can drastically change the way you play while giving you the edge in any fight. However, each one runs on its own timer after they're activated. When the timer runs out, the Keyblade returns to normal. Alternatively, you can activate a weapon's finishing move before the timer depletes, which does massive damage but results in a normal Keyblade again.

The value of these transformations are immeasurable, and there's nothing worse than having to watch them disappear when you aren't fighting. Luckily, you can pause those timers pretty easily. The game neglects to tell you this, but if you switch to one of the other three Keyblades on Sora, it pauses the transformation timer for the weapon you just swapped. Using this technique, you can maintain your favorite form change between fights. You could even theoretically walk into a battle with two transformed weapons in the chamber, unloading massive damage at the start.

Don't mess with the Command Menu

For those who are newer to the Kingdom Hearts franchise, the perpetual menu in the bottom-left corner could be a little daunting. That's called the Command Menu, and it never goes away. In the middle of the action, players can scroll through it to choose what action Sora should take. It defaults to the Attack command, which lets Sora swing his Keyblade. Think of it as confirming a command rather than attacking.

When you navigate the Command Menu, you can confirm the highlighted action, bringing up more menus as your opponents continue to hit you. It's extra overhead that can be mostly ignored thanks to the Shortcut Menu, which has been expanded in this game to offer three times the utility. You can map spells, items, and Link Attacks to face buttons in the menu. Then by holding down "L1"/"LB," the Command Menu turns into the Shortcut Menu, and a quick press of the face buttons will launch a spell or use a potion. Up and down on the D-pad scrolls between three sets of face-button shortcuts, so take full advantage of that convenience rather than scrolling through the layers of the Command Menu in the midst of battle.

Save Cure for last

The Cure spell is a finicky one. Unlike other spells, which cost a certain amount of MP to use, Cure takes up all of your remaining MP. However, the amount of MP you have left isn't directly proportional to how much you heal. Cure, Cura, and Curaga all restore set amounts of health. Using a full mana bar heals the same amount as spending your last drop of MP. Thus, we recommend blasting some offensive spells out before you heal, if possible. Switching to a Keyblade that specializes in magic damage will help tremendously, but it's not necessary.

An important skill that Sora obtains early in the game, called MP Safety, is crucial to managing your mana pool. The skill costs nothing to equip, and it prevents you from hitting zero MP with any spell except Cure. In the chaos of battle, it's easy to lose track of your mana, and spamming Fire could cost you your entire MP bar. MP Safety stops you at the last moment, preventing that last Fire spell from eating up your MP bar. This allows you to almost always have a Cure spell ready to go when you need it most.

Never battle on an empty stomach

When you reach the second world in Kingdom Hearts 3, you'll meet Remy, from the movie Ratatouille. He runs the kitchen in the town's local bistro, and he'll gladly make dishes for you. These provide direct bonuses to your stats for a period of time. All you need to do is bring the correct ingredients to the bistro, which can be gathered around the Disney worlds or bought at the Moogle Shop.

After presenting Little Chef with the correct ingredients, you play a minigame where he stands on your head as you cook specific dishes. There are four different games to master, each one rewarding you with a rank depending on your skills. With enough practice, you can consistently get an Excellent rating, which nets you the highest quality of the dish you're making. We recommend equipping a Gourmand's Ring to increase your chances of getting an Excellent rating.

These meals land in one of five categories, like les desserts, les entrées, and les poissons. While eating a dish in one category nets you tangible bonuses to your strength or magic, consuming a full five-course meal presents you with very noticeable buffs. You'll notice a visible boost in your health bar, along with improvements to your magic, strength, defense, and MP. Whenever you do consider eating, which can be helpful before you tackle a boss, always get as close as you can to a five-course meal.

Keep an eye out for Hidden Mickeys

Another concept the second world teaches you concerns the various Lucky Emblems that hide throughout the worlds. These are more commonly known as Hidden Mickeys. The game tasks you with taking pictures of these emblems using Sora's smartphone. The tutorial vaguely alludes to "lucky" things happening for the person who finds them, but you should know that it's more than random luck.

For one, the game rewards you with stat-boosting items and powerful accessories at certain milestones. While some of these rewards can be crafted using the Synthesis mode in the Moogle Shop, it doesn't hurt getting them without paying materials. However, one incentive that cannot be crafted is the Orichalcum+, which you get at 80 Lucky Emblems. There are only seven of these in the game, and all seven are needed to craft the Ultima Keyblade, the strongest weapon Sora can wield.

Beyond accessories, Lucky Emblems are also crucial for unlocking the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts 3. After collecting a certain number of them, you'll be able to play the cutscene after beating the main story. The threshold depends on the difficulty you're playing on. The easiest difficulty requires you to collect all 90 emblems, while Standard Mode players only need 60 of them. Those who took the extra challenge of Proud Mode don't have to worry as much because 30 emblems unlock the secret ending.