Kingdom Hearts IV was officially announced yesterday with an epic trailer, and there’s a single scene that alleviates any concerns I may have had about the series going forward. For some context as to why, in Kingdom Hearts III, players could unlock a secret ending that showed Sora and Riku exploring a modern city.
Speculation and Theories Galore
Fans immediately began to theorize where this could be. Is this city meant to be in the real world, the city called Quadratum that served as the backdrop for the Verum Rex video game in the Toy Box world, or Shibuya as it appears in The World Ends With You? Theories ranged from being plausible to outrageous, but they led to some fun discourse all the same.
Then Melody of Memory happened. A music rhythm game that came out for Nintendo Switch among other platforms, it (of course) featured important cutscenes that not only provided clues as to where Sora ended up, but also the potential direction for the series as a whole. Basically, Melody of Memory really starts to explore the notion of different realities, wherein the Kingdom Hearts universe could be seen as a “fictional” world and that where Sora is now is the “real” world or vice versa. It’s actually kind of an interesting idea that I would have loved to explore outside of murdering my thumbs trying to keep up with the music. But alas.
It begged the question, was the Kingdom Hearts series going to try and reset and move away from the “Disney” component of the crossover with Final Fantasy? After all, many Final Fantasy characters were excluded from the original Kingdom Hearts III release prior to being included in the game’s DLC episode, Re: Mind. So was this the first step towards the series shifting in a different direction? Licensing challenges have often plagued the development of the Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts games for years, so were they going to use this as an opportunity to start fresh?
It’s also worth noting that there was (and frankly, still is) a ton of discourse about Nomura trying to revive the Versus XIII project through Kingdom Hearts. Versus XIII was originally part of an anthology of games for the Final Fantasy XIII franchise before it was repurposed as Final Fantasy XV. Because of the shift in assets, direction, and development teams, Nomura was not involved in Final Fantasy XV‘s development. Although it’s no question that there are, certainly, aspects of the story and character designs that they kept based on what he worked on.
Whether or not he’s actually trying to revive Versus XIII through Kingdom Hearts is all speculation (he’s vehemently denied the rumors), but I’m not sure you can blame fans for jumping to that conclusion with Yozora strongly resembling Noctis and many scenes reimagining footage from the Versus XIII trailers back in the day. The resemblance is uncanny at times.
So, as you can imagine, there were a ton of different theories and ideas for how Kingdom Hearts IV might look. While we still don’t have any concrete answers, we at least have some ideas based on the new trailer for Kingdom Hearts IV.
What The Trailer Shows
In celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary (isn’t that crazy that this franchise has been around that long?!), Square Enix announced a few Kingdom Hearts-related projects yesterday, and unsurprisingly, Kingdom Hearts IV has been a major topic of discussion since the trailer dropped.
I was over the moon when I watched it. It showcases some truly lovely environments with incredibly realistic renderings that are gorgeous (the trailer is beautifully rendered in Unreal Engine 4, and development is supposedly going to shift to Unreal Engine 5, where it will look EVEN BETTER?!), Strelitzia returning (a character I barely remember from the mobile game but was speculated to be the voice Sora was talking to in Kingdom Hearts III), and Sora sporting a new hairstyle and outfit.
It’s visually stunning, but that’s only part of what it has to offer. The music is epic (it sounds to me that Yoko Shimomura is back with great orchestrations as always), and the gameplay is just as creative and familiar. The gameplay footage showcases Sora spinning on lamposts and leaping into the air, something we’ve seen in Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts III to great effect, but with an added “Keyblade Hookshot” and drill attack (which has to be a Gurren Lagann reference, it’s far too deliberate to be an accident) to keep things fresh and exciting.
Needless to say, the unapologetic fangirl in me jumped for joy at everything I was seeing, and I was immediately along for the ride. And I’m not the only one; the Internet has been abuzz with positivity and excitement over the announcement and what it could mean for the series going forward. But perhaps the thing that excited me the most was the ending scene.
In this closing scene, Donald and Goofy are seen wandering through what I suspect to be the Underworld in search of Sora, with Hades (we don’t technically see his face, but the blue flame followed by red fire made it pretty clear) confronting them. It confirmed that while Sora’s in a new world with a new look, the series would not completely move away from Disney. For me, that was a major relief.
Why I’m Excited and Confident in the Direction of Kingdom Hearts
When the theories were floating around about how Kingdom Hearts was going to become Versus XIII, or how it would move away from Disney, I’ll admit I was worried. I wasn’t sure how I would like that new direction. I’m sure some people would have been fine with it (I suppose I could learn to be fine with it too if they ever decided to do that one day), but it wasn’t something I really wanted to see happen.
For me, Disney is a core part of Kingdom Hearts‘ identity, moreso than Final Fantasy. Sora travels the cosmos to new Disney-themed worlds and has fun interactions with the characters in each one. Your party members are primarily Donald and Goofy in the mainline games, with other Disney characters joining the ranks. The story in the first game revolved around rescuing the seven Princesses of Hearts (almost) all of whom were Disney characters. Many of my favorite worlds are the Disney ones because, along with many fans, part of the fun was exploring the Disney worlds with a JRPG spin.
If Disney is stripped out of Kingdom Hearts, what’s left? There are enough original characters and story beats now where the series could stand on its own, sure, but it would be missing something absolutely integral. What would a game without Disney worlds or characters look like? I shudder to imagine it. But this trailer alleviated those fears I had. If I was mildly concerned about the direction of Kingdom Hearts going forward, this trailer put those fears to rest in that single scene with Donald and Goofy.
Sora may have a new look, and the setting may be modern and contemporary, but Donald and Goofy are still his best friends and won’t give up on him. Disney, one way or another, will still be a part of the Kingdom Hearts IV experience. It’s a reassurance that while the series will continue to evolve, it won’t go so far as to be unrecognizable.
I am beyond excited to learn more. Maybe let’s just not have it be 13 years with 5 spinoffs in between before then? I love the spinoffs, but I can’t wait that long again! What do you think? Are you excited for Kingdom Hearts IV after watching the trailer? Let us know in the comments, and thank you for reading!