Fusing the worlds of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy games with Disney’s stable of beloved, animated characters in an action-RPG, Kingdom Hearts was one of the most surprising hits of the PlayStation 2. Kingdom Hearts II followed just a few years later to even greater acclaim. Despite a dizzying array of spinoffs and prequels in the intervening years (including the nonsensically titled “Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue,” which hits stores in January 2017), fans have now been waiting over a decade for a proper sequel.
The wait may be nearing completion, however, with rumors suggesting that Kingdom Hearts III may finally arrive soon. Accordingly, here is all of the intel we’ve gathered so far about the game and what to expect.
Nothing has been formally announced yet, but fans reading the tea leaves of Final Fantasy game development say they believe Kingdom Hearts III may be coming out in 2017. The game was first announced at E3 2013 alongside Final Fantasy XV, which is scheduled to finally come out in November 2016. Both games shared the same director, Kingdom Hearts series’ original director Tetsuya Nomura, for several years. In 2014 FFXV co-director Hajime Tabata stepped up to lead the project, allowing Nomura to focus more on Kingdom Hearts III, but his attention is still split by also directing Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue and the wildly anticipated Final Fantasy VII Remake. With 2.8 currently scheduled for a January 2017 release, it seems reasonable that the full sequel would follow later in the year.
Kingdom Hearts III was announced for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Several fans noticed that the game’s listing disappeared from the Xbox Japan website, leading to speculation that Square Enix was dropping Xbox to make it a PlayStation 4 exclusive. However, Square Enix’s site still lists it for Xbox One, as does the Microsoft Store.
Story and characters
Protagonist Sora returns to lead the cast of Kingdom Hearts III, along with series mainstays Goofy, Donald Duck, King Mickey, Master Eraqus, and Master Xehanort. Continuing the story from Dream Drop Distance, Sora, Goofy, and Donald will search for the seven masters of light while Xehanort attempts to overcome the “tyranny of light” by restoring equilibrium between light and dark. King Mickey and Riku, meanwhile, will search for previous keyblade masters. All of this will likely lead to a climactic confrontation between Sora and Xehanort.
As in past games, Kingdom Hearts III will feature game world based on popular Disney properties. According to trailers and gameplay demos, the game will have worlds based on Disney’s Frozen, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Hercules. In many cases, those worlds often feature characters who temporarily fight with Sora: It appears that Rapunzel will join him in the Tangled world, and the inflatable robot Baymax will back him up in Big Hero 6 land. Rapunzel was apparently the first new Disney character considered, because of her strong personality and the mechanical possibilities of her hyperbolically long hair.
Nomura told the LA Times that Kingdom Hearts III will be the concluding chapter for the “Dark Seeker Saga”, which has cataloged the struggle between Sora and the sinister Xehanort. He said he intends for the series to continue on afterwards, however, telling new stories in the same world.
The series so far
Series newcomers or fans looking for a refresher may want to play through the series so far in preparation for III. With so many spin-offs and remakes, that can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. Here is the series in narrative chronological order:
- Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ (iOS/Android)
- Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep (PSP)
- Kingdom Hearts (PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories (GBA)
- Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (DS)
- Kingdom Hearts 2 (PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (DS)
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (3DS)
- Kingdom Hearts 3 (PS4/XB1)
If you don’t have ready access to all of those platforms, however, the series has been remastered and compiled into convenient collections:
- Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (PS3)
- includes the final versions of Kingdom Hearts, Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days in an extended, unplayable cinematic form.
- Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix (PS3)
- includes Kingdom Hearts II, Birth By Sleep, and Re:coded, also as an unplayable cinematic.
- Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (PS4, scheduled for January 2017 release)
- will include Dream Drop Distance, and two new chapters: 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, and χ Back Cover.
If you’d prefer to just get the cliff notes, the now-defunct Game Trailers produced this hour-long Timeline video to explain the series’ story:
In plain sight
If you’re looking to get caught up on the Kingdom Hearts series’ massive amount of lore and narrative before Kingdom Hearts III releases, you may want to pick up HD 1.5 ReMix, HD 2.5 ReMix, and HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue — or at least their boxes.
In an interview originally translated by fan site KH13, director Tetsuya Nomura revealed that there are two separate “secrets” hidden among the three games’ box art. Protagonist Sora, seen in the center of all three pictures, is sitting in HD 1.5 ReMix, standing in HD 2.5 ReMix, and finally walking forward in HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. In addition, the time of day changes between the three games — dusk, then night, and finally dawn.
“Those illustrations have a message regarding the final chapter,” said Nomura in the interview.
It isn’t clear what this secret message actually conveys, but all signs point to it focusing directly on Sora, and not his cast of allies. Only Sora remains in the same position in each cover (Goofy, for example, is on the right in the first two before moving to the left in the third), and Nomura reminded fans of the other meaning for Sora’s name — “sky” — which seems to have special importance.
One particular fan on the interview’s page puts forward his own theory, saying that in the final Kingdom Hearts III cover art, Sora will be “running for cover” as he anticipates his final battle. He also speculates that the sky behind the characters will be bright, reflecting a “ray of hope” the friends still believe in.
In general the action RPG gameplay will be familiar to fans of the series as an evolution of the action in Kingdom Hearts II. Successful ideas from the handheld titles, such as Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, might be integrated as well. There will be a greater emphasis on mobility, with Sora able to jump on certain enemies and to wall run. Major new features revealed so far include:
- Attraction Flow – These new super attacks, somewhat analogous to the powerful and elaborately animated summon attacks from Final Fantasy games, will invoke iconic rides from Disney’s theme parks. Moves revealed so far include the Teacups, Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Pirate Ship. The attacks will be triggered under “certain battle conditions,” but it is not yet clear what these are.
- Keyblade Transformations – Protagonist Sora’s iconic keyblades make a return, with the added ability of dramatic transformations in battle. Each weapon will have a unique transformation, such as into a pair of colorful guns, or a chariot pulled by a pegasus.
Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar?
In the intervening decade since Kingdom Hearts II, Disney has been quite busy staking a larger and larger claim of the pop cultural landscape, most notably acquiring the rights to Marvel Comics, Star Wars, and Pixar. The Kingdom Hearts team has expressed in interviews that they are certainly interested in the possibility of bringing in worlds and characters from these fictional universes. For instance, when asked about Disney and Marvel, co-director Tai Yasue said: “they’re all under consideration. Nothing’s off-limits, we’re considering all of the worlds. There are so many wonderful concepts. We’re happy about that, but at the same time it’s really tough to choose.” However, when asked about Star Wars, series lead Nomura cautioned that “the other associated companies under Disney [are] not something that is as simple as us consulting with Disney Interactive. So, unfortunately, the lineup is kind of considered as different.” He was alluding to how extant licensing agreements for these other properties, such as Electronic Arts’ deal for Star Wars video games, might complicate bringing them to Kingdom Hearts.
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Updated on 10-14-2016 by Gabe Gurwin: Added “In plain sight” section.