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 hit stores in January, fans have now been waiting over a decade for a proper sequel.
At long last, Square Enix announced that Kingdom Hearts III is now on track to launch in 2018. Here’s all of the intel we’ve gathered so far about the game to date.
After years of wishing, and hoping, and waiting some more, Square Enix finally provide a rough release window for Kingdom Hearts III at Disney’s 2017 D23 Expo, the annual convention for fans of all things Disney. Kingdom Hearts III will launch in 2018 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A Nintendo Switch version is a possibility, but game director Tetsuya Nomura claimed in an interview with IGN that other platforms won’t be considered until Kingdom Hearts III launches on PS4 and Xbox One.
While there’s no formal release date, it’s the first time since Kingdom Hearts III was initially announced at E3 2013 that there’s been any discussion of the game’s launch. The news comes just months after game director Nomura said, “In terms of the state of development, there is still some way to go.” In May, 2017 Square Enix told investors that Kingdom Hearts III was not scheduled for the 2017 fiscal year. All of this led some to suspect that Kingdom Hearts III wasn’t coming out anytime soon. Speaking with GameSpot in July, Nomura said that the long wait for Kingdom Hearts III can be attributed to the switch to Unreal Engine 4, and other decisions made by higher ups, not because of himself or his development team.
If the game stays on track now, however, we will have our hands on it by the end of next year, nearly thirteen years after Kingdom Hearts II launched.
In general the action RPG gameplay will be familiar to fans of the series as an evolution of the action in Kingdom Hearts II. As shown in the latest gameplay trailer above, however, successful ideas from the handheld titles, specifically Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, will 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.
- Guard Form – Drive forms, introduced in Kingdom Hearts II, will return. Guard form was revealed on Twitter.
- Power Form – A power form alters the Keyblade into a different weapon, but we don’t yet know what that weapon looks like.
- Second Form – In the latest trailer, we see Sora enter his “Second form,” which gives him the power to unleash special solo or collaborative attacks on a group of enemies.
Story and characters
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 Kingdom Hearts: 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.
Like numerous other entries in the series, there will be an additional playable character beyond Sora. “Unfortunately we’re not able to disclose who it is yet, but there will be [another playable character],” Nomura said in an interview with IGN.
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.
As revealed at D23 2017, Square Enix teamed up with Pixar to recreate the world of Toy Story, marking the first time that Pixar film has made an appearance in the franchise. Demonstrated by the trailer above, Sora, Donald, and Goofy have their own Toy Story-themed costumes while in the world. At D23, we learned the premise of the Toy Story storyline. Sora and crew must seek the help of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Hamm, Rex, and Sarge in order to find Andy, who has mysteriously vanished. The story will be unique to Kingdom Hearts III, but locations and characters from the films are likely to appear (Andy’s bedroom is shown in the trailer).
Besides the setting reveal, the D23 Expo trailer showed that Sora can have more friends fighting alongside him at once than ever before. Sora teamed up with his old pals Donald and Goofy, and his new acquaintances Buzz and Woody — all at the same time. Nomura confirmed to IGN that, unlike previous entries, players won’t have to swap out characters, or limit themselves to a party of three. “Up to five people can join, even more, multiple characters can join your party,” Nomura said.
In a gameplay trailer released just before E3 2017, we received an extended look at the Hercules-inspired world (Mount Olympus). Sora was with his pals Donald and Goofy, and we also saw Maleficent, Hades, and Pete talking in another part of the world. The trailer ended in Twilight Town, with Sora speaking with Xemnas about Roxas.
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.
A fan-favorite Pixar property could also be coming to Kingdom Hearts III. According to a forum post on ResetEra, the game will feature a world based on the Monsters, Inc. series. Screenshots allegedly taken from an older build of the game show monstrous protagonists Mike Wazowski and James Sullivan, originally voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, respectively.
The sources of the image could not be verified by the original poster, who said he received them secondhand from a source who also didn’t know whether or not they were legitimate, but they look fairly authentic, with both 3D character models and UI elements. Though the original Monsters, Inc. movie was released more than 16 years ago and would seem like an odd inclusion, its prequel Monsters University released back in 2013. We wouldn’t count on the screenshots being real just yet, however, as very convincing fakes have been made in the past — in 2015, a YouTube user posted a fake character selection screen for Super Smash Bros. that showed Rayman as a playable character.
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.