Square Enix has revealed the latest installment in the long-running action RPG series Kingdom Hearts. The franchise has been going strong since 2002 and shows no signs of slowing down!
The trailer for the latest entry sees Sora waking up after he seemingly vanished from his own reality. He’s now in Quadrataum, a place that returning character Strelitzia calls an “afterworld.” Quadratum looks suspiciously similar to real-world Tokyo, leading some fans to wonder if the franchise will continue its crossovers with Director Tetsuya Nomura’s other RPG franchise, The World Ends With You.
This trailer also shows Donald and Goofy, Sora’s steadfast companions, searching for him in the Underworld from Disney’s Hercules. Perhaps they’re looking for help from Hades, the God of the Dead? Either way, fans are excited to dive back into the long-running franchise and battle monsters alongside beloved Disney characters.
Kingdom Hearts III
The most recent mainline entry, Kingdom Hearts III, divided critics and left some fans more confused than excited. We can only hope that the new title corrects the mistakes of its predecessor.
KHIII came out thirteen years after Kingdom Hearts II, but it was hardly a direct sequel to the previous numbered entry. Instead, players jumping straight from the second Kingdom Hearts to the third were met with a slew of confusing plot developments and found themselves completely unfamiliar with the layout of the world and its denizens.
The gameplay and story received polarized reviews. Some outlets loved the return to form, while others said KHIII’s storyline and old-school sensibilities were holding it back. Most agreed, however, that the game should have hit the PlayStation 3 in 2010, not the PS4 in 2019. The unbelievably long wait between mainline entries in the franchise remains a sore point for fans and critics alike.
Maybe a brand-new entry and the start of a fresh saga will offer lapsed fans and newcomers a way to engage with the story from the beginning, so to speak. After all, it’s a lot to ask players to acquaint themselves with twenty years of anime-flavored RPG storytelling.
A Chance to Ditch the Confusing Narrative
A series that started as a straightforward and fun crossover between Disney characters and Final Fantasy has become a convoluted, impenetrable franchise defined by melodramatic narrative twists and confusingly dense backstories. Fans who just know Sora as “the kid from Kingdom Hearts” or “the Smash Bros fighter everyone got mad about” get frustrated just reading over plot synopses of the long-running franchise. Even the franchise’s own creator, Tetsuya Nomura, has admitted that he gets confused.
“I do have a general storyline in my head,” Nomura explained to reporters in 2018. “What is the most confusing is that, because there are so many characters in this storyline now, it’s hard to keep track of who actually met who already,” he says. “I’m always like, ‘Okay, so who knows who in this situation, and who’s meeting this person for the first time?’ And that always gets really confusing.”
If Nomura can’t keep up with the game’s plotline, how can any player expect to make sense of this tangled web of storytelling? Thankfully, Kingdom Hearts 4 will offer the studio a great chance to make a clean break from the prior entries and allow newcomers a chance to break into the notoriously convoluted franchise.
But Why Is Sora in the Real World?
If Sora’s photorealistic appearance in Quadratum is freaking you out, you’re not alone. Let’s review what happened in the earlier entries to catch up with the current narrative. I know, I just said that the franchise has a lengthy and convoluted plot that runs newcomers off, but bear with me here. I’ll make it brief, I promise.
In the first Kingdom Hearts, players meet Sora, the disarmingly optimistic hero of the franchise. Alongside his edgy and too-cool-for-everything best friend Riku and his totally-not-girlfriend Kairi, Sora lives out his days peacefully on the Destiny Islands. The trio dream of someday visiting “other worlds,” introducing players to the concept of dimensional travel.
They all soon get their wish when shadowy demons called Heartless attack the Destiny Islands. Sora learns that he possesses an innate power to summon a key-shaped sword called a Keyblade. Kairi vanishes from the island, Riku becomes possessed by a villain named Ansem, and Sora sets out on a journey to find them both. He meets Donald and Goofy, royal attendants to the legendary King Mickey.
Sora’s Early Adventures
Sora’s earliest adventures in Kingdom Hearts, Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts II all saw him working alongside his best pals, Donald and Goofy while opposing Ansem and looking for Kairi. Sora defeats Ansem’s Heartless in the first game, freeing Riku from his control and saving the world. In the Game Boy Advance sequel, Chain of Memories, Sora and his buddies find themselves lost in Castle Oblivion, where a group of shadowy villains called the Organization tricks them into losing their memories.
Using Sora’s memories, and a bit of help from the sorceress Namine, the Organization creates a simulacrum named Xion that can use the Keyblade. This is vital to their plan, as the Keyblade can allow them to access the mythical realm of Kingdom Hearts, an afterworld that grants wishes. However, Xion loses control of her actions and fades from existence in a spin-off game. Still with me?
In Kingdom Hearts II, players take up the role of Roxas, Sora’s “Nobody.” Roxas was created when Sora briefly lost his heart in the first game. Since Sora has no memories as a result of the events of Chain of Memories, he’s in stasis at the start of KHII. Roxas finds Sora’s resting place, the two reunite, and the game begins in earnest. Sora, Donald, and Goofy once again oppose the Organization, learning that “Ansem” was just an alias for a multifarious wizard named Xehanort.
The Dark Seeker
Throughout Kingdom Hearts II, Birth by Sleep, and Dream Drop Distance, players learn that Xehanort’s plan was much more far-ranging than simply possessing Riku and attempting to breach Kingdom Hearts. This is where most fans start to get lost, as Xehanort essentially employs every fantasy trope in the book to make himself and his Organization unbeatable.
The wizard uses forbidden magic to travel back in time and collect versions of himself from throughout history to rebuild the Organization after Sora and his pals defeat them in Kingdom Hearts II. In Birth by Sleep, players meet Ventus, Terra, and Aqua, three Keyblade wielders who failed to foil Xehanort’s plan twenty years before the start of the first game.
In Dream Drop Distance, Sora and Riku uncover Xenahort’s time-travel plan and Riku earns his “Mark of Mastery,” earning the right to call himself a Keyblade Master. Sora, however, fails his exam and sets out to prove himself at the start of Kingdom Hearts III.
Throughout Kingdom Hearts III, Sora rescues all of the lost and defeated Keyblade wielders who fell in the numerous spinoffs released between the second and third mainline entries. He reunites Roxas and Namine, brings Xion back to life, finds Aqua wandering in a dark netherworld, restores Ventus’s memories, and frees Terra of his ongoing possession by Xehanort.
Finally, he defeats Xehanort’s renewed Organization, beats every incarnation of the Dark Seeker, and even saves Kairi from oblivion by utilizing the same time-travel shenanigans that Xehanort used to create the Organization in the first place. By doing so, however, Sora gives up his own life and fades away.
Whew, there you have it! An extremely condensed version of what’s happened in Kingdom Hearts over the past 20 years. That’s where KH4’s trailer picks up: with Sora awakening in the afterlife following his final battle with Xehanort and meeting Strelitzia. I skipped the part about Strelitzia being a returning character from a mobile game because that’s just a bit too much to get into here, but just know that she’s another Keyblade wielder who was killed for investigating this whole “Master of Masters” thing. Who’s the Master of Masters, you ask?
Lost Masters Saga
The trailer for KH4 openly identifies the new game as the start of a new “saga,” the Lost Masters Saga. Every game before the fourth mainline entry was part of the Dark Seeker Saga, which centered around the heroes battling Xehanort and the Organization. This arc will see Sora and his friends instead facing off against a mysterious character who has made few appearances in the franchise: the Master of Masters.
Now that you’re roughly caught up on Kingdom Hearts lore, you’re ready to dive into the next entry and face off against the forces of darkness. Believe it or not, you might even be lucky enough to bump into a Disney character or two along the way!
If you’re itching to play Kingdom Hearts right now, you’re in luck. The All in One Collection for PlayStation 4 contains the majority of games from the franchise as well as cutscenes recapping the games that aren’t included in the package. The collection is often available on sale for around $30, offering a ridiculous amount of hours of game time for such a low price.