GameCentral examines everything that’s currently known about Kingdom Hearts 4 and when it might be released.
Kingdom Hearts 4 is almost certainly not going to be released in 2023, in fact it’d lucky to arrive in 2024 or even 2025. It was only announced last year and while its trailer did provide glimpses of what looked like real-time gameplay, there was 14 years between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3 – so this is not a franchise that Square Enix tends to rush themselves with.
Even beyond that, there was a five and a half year gap between Kingdom Hearts 3’s reveal trailer and its release, so there’s not even any guarantee Kingdom Hearts 4 will be out this decade.
However, we feel confident that there’ll at least be another trailer, and maybe even confirmation of a release date, by the end of 2023, since Square Enix has (hopefully) learned its lessons and rumours suggest the game is further along than many fans imagine.
Director Tetsuya Nomura admitted that Kingdom Hearts 3 was revealed far too early and wound up suffering internal delays due to switching to Unreal Engine 4 midway through development. With Kingdom Hearts 4 using Unreal Engine 5 from the get-go, that should mean things will progress far more smoothly.
In terms of the game itself though, there’s almost no official information at all. Kingdom Hearts 3’s status as the finale to the Dark Seeker saga, that began with the first game, meant fans had some rough ideas of what to expect. By comparison, it’s almost impossible to guess what Kingdom Hearts 4 has in store.
Aside from kicking off the new Lost Master story arc, main hero Sora has been whisked away from the fairy tale Disney universe fans know and love to a realm known only as Quadratum.
It’s a place that’s been described as both a world of fiction (or unreality, which remains one of the stupidest terms we’ve heard in any Square Enix game) and the afterlife – yet it also happens to resemble the real world city of Tokyo. Sora even looks semi-realistic for a change, right down to wearing hilariously controversial normal-sized shoes.
As confirmed both by Nomura and the trailer, Kingdom Hearts 4 isn’t ditching the Disney connection, as it shows regular party members Donald Duck and Goofy searching for Sora. However, the more realistic art direction seems to point to live action properties becoming the focus, rather than the traditional animated features Disney’s best known for.
So far, Star Wars is the only property most people seem convinced will be included, thanks to the trailer highlighting a location that looks suspiciously like the forest moon of Endor from Return Of The Jedi (you can even see what looks like the foot of an AT-ST walker).
Star Wars has always been a popular pick for Kingdom Hearts, partially because the latter has quite blatantly drawn influences from the former (villain Master Xehanort has far too many similarities to Emperor Palpatine for it to be a coincidence) and the prospect of a lightsaber Keyblade and Darth Vader boss fight seem too good to pass up.
Also, both franchises are about the ongoing struggles between light and darkness, heroes have succumbed to the dark side and sought redemption, and one character wields what look blatantly like lightsabers. One of the games (Birth By Sleep) may as well be a retelling of the prequel trilogy, with Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, as the voice actor for an Obi-Wan type character.
Its incorporation brings up a whole other slew of questions though. Would a Star Wars world adapt just one movie? Would it involve multiple planets? How would the player travel between them? It’s a concept far grander than simply visiting the snow covered kingdom of Arendelle from Frozen or even the oceans of the Caribbean from Pirates Of The Caribbean (both of which have already been in previous games).
Not to mention, if Kingdom Hearts 4 is focusing mainly on live action properties, could we see Sora exploring the jungles of Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar? Or pal around with Marvel’s Avengers? Given its own exceedingly large last of characters, a Marvel world alone seems too big to just be a bit part of a wider game, even if it’s not explicitly based on the movies.
Yet it feels very unlikely that Kingdom Hearts 4 will have no worlds from animated properties, especially after the series only just got to add Pixar movies in the last game. There are too many modern classics that Disney will be no doubt eager to push for Kingdom Hearts 4, such as Moana, Coco, and Encanto. Let’s not forget, 50% of this series is just advertising the Disney brand.
You’ll notice we haven’t so much as touched the game’s actual story, but that’s because it’s almost impossible to guess at. The only thing we know for certain about it is that, despite being the start of a new storyline, it’ll be typically incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with the series since the mid-2000s.
Even the recent mobile games dumped a lot of new and vital lore that’s clearly setting up future plot points, with the upcoming Kingdom Hearts: Missing Link already promising to be closely connected to Kingdom Hearts 4.
This isn’t even getting into Yozora, a new character introduced in Kingdom Hearts 3, who looks to be a stand in for Noctis. Not Noctis from Final Fantasy 15, though, but the Noctis from Final Fantasy Versus 13, which was what Final Fantasy 15 started as. The history of Final Fantasy Versus 13 is complicated, but all you need to know is that it was a project of Nomura’s that ultimately never came to be and now it looks as if he’s trying to revive it through Kingdom Hearts.
Nomura’s ambitions and unfiltered approach to game direction and storytelling has never been for everyone but, for Kingdom Hearts fans, this may be the most intriguing and exciting stage of the series’ entire history. If the last 20 years have been anything to go by, the road to the end of this Lost Master arc will undoubtedly be long and full of distractions, but it’ll be a spectacle that fans will still be talking about in another 20 years.
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