Ah, Kingdom Hearts. This long-running series is a charming Disney/Final Fantasy crossover. It's also one of the most convoluted narratives in gaming, where each subsequent installment serves only to complicate things further. Whether you're actually invested in the ongoing story of Sora's struggle against Master Xehanort or you just want to see which Disney worlds Sora will visit next, Kingdom Hearts 3 will satisfy your curiosity.
Thanks to a recent trailer from the D23 Expo, we know that Kingdom Hearts 3 finally has a release date — or at least a release year. The game will debut on PlayStation 4 sometime in 2018. (Previous titles' releases have ranged from January to November, but because it's a big-budget title, it would make sense for it to be released just before the holiday season.) We also know a little bit about Kingdom Hearts' gameplay, its setting and its ultimate story arc — and precious little else.
Now that Kingdom Hearts 3 is on the horizon, here's everything we know about the game so far, as well as a few things we're still eager to find out.
The story so far
Kingdom Hearts is an action/role-playing game from Square Enix, in collaboration with Disney. The story concerns … well, a number of things, but primarily, a group of friends: the optimistic Sora, the brooding Riku and the steadfast Kairi. Sora comes into possession of a legendary weapon known as a Keyblade, which allows him to travel between worlds. Riku follows along, and becomes corrupted by the forces of darkness.
In the first game (Kingdom Hearts, 2002 (opens in new tab)), Sora discovers that his Keyblade can connect him to a host of Disney-themed worlds. Teaming up with Donald Duck and Goofy as party members, Sora travels to a variety of worlds from different Disney films, including Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Sora eventually redeems Riku and defeats a villain called Ansem, who planned to unleash the power of a realm known as Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts is supposed to be … complicated, to say the least. But both the good guys and the bad guys want it, and it could prove very dangerous for either of them.
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The subsequent games — Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II, Birth by Sleep, 358/2 Days, Re:coded, Dream Drop Distance and Union χ — moved the story forward in unexpected ways, although they've done little to clarify it. Here is the very, very, very basic gist of it:
“Ansem,” whom Sora defeated, was actually a time-traveling manipulator called Xehanort. By planting copies of himself throughout the timeline, Xehanort is poised to conquer Kingdom Hearts and snuff out the forces of light once and for all. Sora — along with Riku, Kairi, Donald, Goofy and Mickey Mouse himself — have finally become powerful enough to stop him — maybe. That's where Kingdom Hearts 3 will begin.
New (and old) worlds
Unless you're really invested in the story, the big draw of playing Kingdom Hearts is to explore some of your favorite Disney settings firsthand. At present, we know of five settings inspired by Disney films: the Kingdom of Corona from Tangled, San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6, Mount Olympus from Hercules, the Mysterious Tower from Fantasia and Andy's house from Toy Story. Previous Kingdom Hearts games have featured about a dozen worlds apiece, so there's every reason to think that half (or more) of the levels in the game are still unrevealed.
As for what levels could be next, there aren't many restrictions. With the inclusion of Toy Story, we know that Pixar films are fair game. Disney has also taken inspiration from live-action films in previous games, such as Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, while Final Fantasy characters show up as supporting cast members in almost every Kingdom Hearts game, players won't get to visit any of their worlds.
Disney's acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm have also left fans wondering whether Sora could find himself joining the Avengers or wielding a lightsaber. Given the complex legality of each entity, the answer is “probably not” — but it's not a hard “no.” On paper, at least, it's no crazier than a teenager with a huge key teaming up with a talking mouse and a guy with spiky hair to save the world from the witch in Sleeping Beauty.
To infinity, and beyond
Kingdom Hearts 3 will also get a variety of gameplay upgrades, but these are easier to see in the trailer than they are to explain. In short, Sora is more acrobatic, and combat appears to have more verticality than before. He can also call on a variety of Disneyland-style rides to trounce enemies. Expect flashy combos, an interesting variety of Disney party members and optional bosses that make Dark Souls look pretty tame by comparison.
While Kingdom Hearts 3 probably won't be the last Kingdom Hearts game, it should wrap up the Xehanort story arc, which gamers have now been following for longer than some of the franchise's younger fan base has been alive. With any luck, the wait between Kingdom Hearts 3 and 4 won't be quite so excruciating.
Credit: Square Enix