The first Kingdom Hearts launched in North America on September 17th, 2002 for the PlayStation 2, which marks 2017 as the series’ 15th anniversary. Since its debut, I’ve followed the games religiously and it remains one of my favorite franchises of all time, but that’s not to say I’m not frustrated with it either. Despite its fifteen-year history, there are only two numbered titles while the others are all spinoffs, filling in gaps with the story or creating new ones. Suffice it to say with each question answered, another one pops up making it a convoluted mess. That said hopefully Kingdom Hearts III can make sense of it all. If it ever releases, that is.
Kingdom Hearts III was announced officially at E3 2013 alongside Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which has since been changed to Final Fantasy XV. It was memorable to say the least. However, even though it’s been four years, we know and have seen very little since it was unveiled. As a dedicated fan, I’ve been drinking up every ounce of info like my life depended on it, so if you’re a fan like me, or someone lost in the dark and just wan to know what’s up with Kingdom Hearts III, well I've got your back. Below is a compilation of facts I’ve gathered across interviews, press releases, trailers, screenshots, and more with a little bit of educated guess work thrown in for good measure. Time to open some keyholes and blow some minds because I’m performing a deep dive.
15 It Runs on Unreal Engine 4
When the game originally debuted with that teaser trailer in 2013, the director, Tetsuya Nomura, revealed the game was using the Luminous Engine, which was first demonstrated in a tech demo video during E3 2012 called Agni’s Philosophy. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn used a lower grade version of this engine while Final Fantasy XV used it completely. However, in 2014, co-director Tai Yasue told Eurogamer that they were switching to Unreal Engine 4. In that interview he said that nothing was wrong with Luminous and that switching to Unreal Engine 4 was “right for us.” While this may concern fans that development was halted a year after the reveal Yasue assured Eurogamer that the transition was smooth, there are currently no known games running on Luminous any more past the two Final Fantasy games. Also you can see what the game will potentially look like if you play Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, which was included with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue, as it runs on Unreal Engine 4.
14 There Will Be Many Surprises
Square Enix ran a series of videos at Kingdom Hearts III’s announcement at E3 in 2013. In it the director, Tetsuya Nomura, was cagey about what worlds would be in the game other than to hint he wanted to have a lot of surprises thrown in like past games in the series. While this isn’t much info to go on, it can be said the man doesn’t want to spoil everything before the game’s release. Since Disney has acquired the rights to Marvel and Star Wars, fans have been wondering if any characters, or worlds, from those properties would make it in. The possibility may be slim, but being denied countless times only to be surprised by Iron Man and Luke Skywalker descended from above to help Sora defend the realm from Heartless would make fans, myself included, swoon and melt from pure awesomeness.
13 These Are the Known Worlds
With that said, we do know a few worlds already based off of trailers and screenshots. The reveal trailer showed us Destiny Island and Twilight Town. In the first full trailer of the game from E3 2015, we saw a new world based on Tangled along with a new one based on Hercules. Also in that trailer, it can be assumed, based on the architecture, that young Xehanort and Eraqus are playing chess in the Land of Departure. Later that year at the D23 Expo Roy Conli, a producer at Walt Disney Animation Studios revealed a world based on Big Hero 6 will also be in the game and that it will take place after the movie’s events. Finally we have the moments with Sora and Riku in A Fragmentary Passage, which shows off the Mysterious Tower. To recap, that’s three new worlds and four old ones.
12 These Are the Old Worlds
If it were up to me, Kingdom Hearts III would only feature new worlds, but I do like that even though Hercules has been used in every game, this is at least a new interpretation of it. Anyway, across all eight games, not including remakes, there have been locations, not counting anything Mickey related, based on Winnie the Pooh, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Tarzan, Lilo and Stitch, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Peter Pan, The Lion King, and Alice in Wonderland. Now, I’m going to list every Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars movie they could pull from. The Jungle Book, ha, just kidding.
11 The Basic Combat
In that E3 2013 interview from Square Enix, Nomura discussed how gameplay would work, stating it would be like a combination between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. His spinoffs allowed him to “experiment” and try new techniques and some of them may make it into the game. He mentioned the Flowmotion combat from Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for example. Essentially he wants polish over pizazz and to make it familiar to old fans of the series. To bring up A Fragmentary Passage again, Aqua’s combat is a mashup of Flowmotion and her gameplay from Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep. This is just for her mechanics though and is in no way indicative of how Sora will play though. As far as we know now that is.
10 The Multiplayer Angle
The franchise has dabbled in multiplayer in the past, but nothing on consoles. First there was Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days on the DS, which allowed up to four players to connect and cooperatively tackle missions as the members of Organization XIII. Birth By Sleep had co-op and versus modes in something called the Mirage Arena, although players could only be Aqua, Ventus, or Terra. Then there is the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ (that symbol is pronounced like key, or chi), which is MMO-ish, but lacks any sort of true cooperative play. In that E3 2013 interview, Nomura talked about fans expressing interest in playing as Mickey, where Nomura said he’d consider it along with multiplayer as well if everything fell into place. If it worked similarly to 358/2 Days, where players could choose different characters and venture on separate missions from the campaign, then it is plausible that Mickey will be playable. While cool, I’d rather have the team finish focus on the solo campaign. I need Kingdom Hearts III ASAP!
9 Summoning Powers
In Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts II, Sora was able to call on classic Disney characters in order to aide him in battle, replacing the current party members for a set amount of time. Between all three of those games, Stitch, Simba, Genie, Bambi, Dumbo, Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Mushu, and Chicken Little were all possible. Cloud from Final Fantasy VII is the only non-related Disney hero to appear as a Summon. In that E3 2013 video interview, Nomura confirmed summoning would return, but did not elaborate on how it will work differently than what players are used to. Maybe this is actually where multiplayer comes into play like Dark Souls. Summoning refers to contacting another player to appear in your game for assistance. I’m probably way off, but it's an awesome idea no?
8 Attraction Flow System
In screenshots and trailers, Disney theme park attractions have been featured. Degenki, a Japanese magazine, sat down with Tetsuya Nomura where he called this mechanic Attraction Flow. He explains, “you can make it occur spontaneously by arranging particular conditions…” which actually sounds familiar to two different gameplay mechanics. In Kingdom Hearts II, both Sora and Roxas have opportunities for Quick Time-like events called Reaction Commands that appeared with certain bosses and monsters. In Dream Drop Distance, there was the aforementioned Flowmotion system where Sora and Riku could perform parkour-like maneuvers off of environmental objects and monsters. Attraction Flow appears like it will be a combination of those two previous mechanics. As the moment, we have seen Sora riding in a pirate ship, train, and teacups.
7 Unchained χ and Kingdom Hearts III Have Strong Ties
In another Square Enix video interview, this time from E3 2015, Nomura and Yasue discussed the ties between the mobile game Unchained χ and Kingdom Hearts III. The mobile game, available on Android and iOS devices, takes place prior to the events of the great Keyblade War, which has been mentioned throughout the series but never shown. As I mentioned before, the E3 2015 trailer shows a young Xehanort and Eraqus playing chess, but I did not mention they were talking about the Keyblade Wars. The timeline of the series starts with Unchained χ to the Keyblade Wars to that scene with those two talking, which leads into Birth By Sleep then going into Kingdom Hearts. A chart was also shown during this video to indicate the timeline. Perhaps this means Kingdom Hearts III will end with another Keyblade War or maybe that we’ll actually to get to see what happened during that battle.
6 Your Party Grows
In Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, Sora was able to invite two other characters to join him. His default companions were Goofy and Donald, but other characters could be swapped out for either of them. For example, in the first game you could switch in Aladdin in the Agrabah world. Other heroes throughout both games include Beast, Ariel, Mulan, Auron, Tarzan, Jack Skellington, Jack Sparrow, Peter Pan, Simba, and Tron. All in all, you can only have three members total and it seems like that’s the case for Kingdom Hearts III, but Nomura, in the E3 2013 interview, did say characters could join Sora during certain areas and not just as party members. This may mean that instead of replacing Goofy or Donald, you instead gain temporary fourth, fifth, or more new members. Since Tangled is a known world, Flynn and Rapunzel could both help during battles. Nomura specifically expressed interest in using Rapunzel’s hair in battle in the E3 2015 interview.
5 It Will Launch on PS4 and Xbox One
Since its debut in 2002, the series has graced the PS2, PS3, PSP, PS4, DS, 3DS, browsers, and mobile devices, but no games have appeared on the Xbox family of consoles, though that will change with the next game game. Now that a collection exists on PS4 you’d think that would be the right time to partner up with Microsoft in order to make sure their user base is ready for Kingdom Hearts III, right? After all, why would anyone jump in randomly with this ninth installment? I guarantee they’d be lost. That’s not to say the Xbox One version won’t be canceled or that a version of the collection is the next release for the series, further delaying the inevitable. If this Xbox One collections does happen, it may even add in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 along with the combo pack of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 HD ReMIX and be called something like Kingdom Hearts 2.99 Xbox Is Late to the Party Edition: Super Ultra Finale Promo Demo Prologue Plus. I might be one or two words off with that.
4 Utada Hikaru May Not Be Composing a New Song
One of the things that is most annoying about all the spinoffs is that they have been reusing the same theme songs, albeit remixed to hell and back, from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Utada Hikaru is a Japanese singer and songwriter who composed Simple and Clean for Kingdom Hearts and Sanctuary for Kingdom Hearts II. As a notable mention, she did both Japanese and English versions of the song. Anyway, there has been some conflict between statements on Twitter about the female artist’s involvement in Kingdom Hearts III, via her label and father going back and forth. At the moment, nothing has been confirmed. Her music is an integral part to the series and going forward without a new song from her specifically would be a shame. That said, I’m all in for fresh blood as well and giving a newer artist the chance to shine.
3 There Have Been Four Trailers
Screenshots and interviews are great and everything, but nothing excites me more than trailers, so let’s recount every single one. The game was revealed via a teaser trailer at E3 2013, where we saw Sora pick up a Keyblade on Destiny Island followed by a sequence of him fighting a swarm of Heartless in Twilight Town. The next footage was shown via an E3 2014 trailer for Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, where a teaser was added at the end. Nomura said this would be the opening scene of Kingdom Hearts III in interviews afterward about this teaser, which only depicted two voices talking about the Keyblade Wars. Then, in the E3 2015 trailer, this scene was actualized with that scene between Xehanort and Eraqus. A few months after that, there was the 2015 D23 Expo trailer, which focused on Sora using the Attraction Flow system versus Heartless in Twilight Town and against the Rock Titan in Mount Olympus. And that’s unfortunately it so far.
2 Our Most Recent Info
However, our most recent information comes not from trailers, but screenshots, which was the inspiration for writing this list. Tetsuya Nomura was interviewed onstage during the MAGIC 2017 convention, which Gameblog.fr wrote a live feed of. In the interview, Nomura recounts working on designing characters throughout the Final Fantasy series before and after Kingdom Hearts started in 2002, along with discussing the original design of Sora. He also shared a screenshot of Sora facing a new Heartless in Thebes, which is one part of the Hercules world with the other taking place in Mount Olympus. As of February 18th, that is our most current information and my guess is we won’t see anything new past this until E3 2017, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
1 The Plot So Far
Now with all that information out there, we can now review and point out the overall plot of Kingdom Hearts III. Sora and his comrades are trying to gather seven guardians of light in order to thwart the thirteen vessels of darkness led by Master Xehanort. At the end of A Fragmentary Passage, Master Yen Sid appoints Sora, Donald, and Goofy to find a Keyblade that can return hearts. Their first destination will be in the Hercules world although whether that starts in Thebes or Mount Olympus is underdetermined. Mickey and Riku on the other hand need to find another Keyblade wielder. The actual beginning of the game will start with Xehanort and Eraqus playing chess, which may then lead into more background on those two characters growing up and becoming Keyblade Masters. Speaking of which, Kairi and Lea now have Keyblades so they need to train in order to become masters to join the fight as well. Kingdom Hearts III will end the Dark Seeker saga, which will wrap up Xehanort’s plot according to Nomura in a 2013 LA Times interview. However, he said this doesn’t mean it will be the end of the series. Who knows what will come after Kingdom Hearts III, but let’s stick to crossing our fingers we even get this game first.