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Kingdom Hearts’ 20th Anniversary Trailer Reveals ‘Dark Road’, ‘Missing Link’, and ‘Kingdom Hearts 4 (IV)’

11 Apr

Yesterday, Square-Enix dropped a trailer celebrating Kingdom Heart‘s Anniversary, adding announcements for all brand new projects to be released, extending the Kingdom Hearts universe.

It has been a little over year since Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, the game that focuses on Sora’s love interest Kairi, was released, and Kingdom Hearts Union X [Cross] has been updating as well (though Square-Enix announced the online game is due to end).

It doesn’t look like the journeys for the Keyblade Masters in this never-ending tale are over. That’s great news for fans looking for more content to be poured out of a 20-year franchise. The real question is: Does Kingdom Hearts have any more juice left? Based on the reactions of many fans across the fan space, including Youtube and Twitch fan influencer The Gamers Joint, it does.

For decades, Kingdom Hearts has excited fans with its amazing graphics, open game-play, ability to wrap audiences into its heartfelt story, and relatable characters.

Kingdom Hearts began in 2002 as a surprisingly successful role-playing game combining Square-Enix’s “Final Fantasy”-style anime-like characters and Disney. It followed the character Sora, a keyblade wielder, and his team of Disney lovables, Donald and Goofy, as they fought creatures called “Heartless”, denizens of darkness. It was updated to include an extension called Final Mix.

The story was much simpler then, though more complex than the average game’s story at the time.

Throughout the years, other games have expanded the Kingdom Hearts universe with new characters, new worlds, new “dark” enemies, and even more additions to the already-complex story.

Throughout, the franchise has released Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004, remade into Re: Chain of Memories), Kingdom Hearts II (2005, extended with Final Mix), Kingdom Hearts: Coded (2008, later remade into Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded), Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (2009), Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (2010, extended with Final Mix), Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Kingdom Hearts X [Chi] (2013, later extended into Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ / Union χ around 2015), Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep-a fragmentary passage- and Kingdom Hearts X Back Story (2017, included in the packaged game Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue), finally, Kingdom Hearts III (2019, extended with Remind), Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory (2020), and Kingdom Hearts Dark Road (2020).

Sora was also a featured character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

The franchise has expanded on various gaming platforms, including PlayStation 2, Game Boy Advance, Mobile phones, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable (PSP), Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, Web browsers, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android iOS, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows.

Many of the games were re-packaged into one, onto singular platforms (Playstation 4, Xbox one, Nintendo Switch), probably one of the first franchises to do this with its older games so that new fans can keep up with the story. Recently, Kingdom Hearts – All In One Package has been the repackage that carries all the most current titles.

And just when we all thought that was the end of this very involved gaming series (insert sarcasm here, because we all know that there were already cliff-hangers and secret scenes at the end of the most recent games), here came the announcement of three new extended projects.

The Kingdom Hearts X story is finally wrapping up and coming to a conclusion with Kingdom Hearts Union X Dark Road, set for iOS and Android users.

Next, Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link was announced, and it appears to cover the world Scala ad Caelum (a world originally designed for Kingdom Hearts III that was left bare and hardly playable). Along with being a long-asked-for extension of the world, it appears fans are amazed that the game has managed to capture the Unreal Engine feeling for iOS and Android phones. For an app game, the game promises to be almost on-par with hard console games and it is a sign of the future of gaming. As online gaming becomes more and more advanced, the appeal will allow players to play beautiful and detailed games from the convenience of anywhere they bring their phones. It’s the portable gaming experience brought to the modern world.

There are many sides to the debate as to whether online app gaming can truly replace hard-copy console gaming. The ability to watch your gameplay on a master screen, giving a fully immersive experience, is clashing with the convenience of carrying your games on a rectangular brick, on an item that already carries tons of other important and non-important apps, anywhere you want to. Wherever games are going, though, Kingdom Hearts doesn’t want to be left behind.

The new game appears to also offer brand new playable characters, including more female characters that wield keyblades. There’s a lot to look forward to.

However, I’m sure, at this point, for most people, the story will get even more confusing with the addition of more character connections (though that’s basically the fun of Kingdom Hearts, since most fans get a kick out of piecing together this very convoluted story).

Finally, the most important piece of information fans have received is the announcement of Kingdom Hearts IV. Could this mean that the Kingdom Hearts saga we know and love will have its real final conclusion soon?

There’s no telling. There were 14 years between Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts III, with plenty of other games in-between, and some fans thought the third game would finally wrap everything up (though hard-core fans knew better). As long as Kingdom Heart’s story remains so complex, with the holes not quite sealed, there appears to be more information to squeeze out across new games, with fans begging for more information. Could Kingdom Hearts IV really clean everything up neatly with a bow? And do the developers really intend it to? It seems like Kingdom Hearts has amassed a solid following in the years it’s been kicking, and Square-Enix seems pretty interested in keeping the enthusiasm alive by advancing Kingdom Hearts into the future.

As to what fans can expect from Kingdom Hearts IV, it’s too early in development to tell. So far, the trailer focuses on Sora, asleep in an apartment building or flat, in a Tokyo-like city called Quadratum (a world built off of a fictional video game in Kingdom Hearts III’s “Toy Box”, a world based off of Toy Story). The trailer doesn’t seem to focus on promoting Disney-ish Worlds, like trailers of old have, so it appears that’s under wraps.

Then again, in the past, many secret endings or early trailers avoided revealing the Disney developments (especially since gaining the rights to the worlds is a slow process). It is clear that Donald and Goofy (and possibly Hades?) will appear in the next installment. It appears that Sora is in the “After World”, some sort of “after life”, possibly passed on. That could be why Hades, from Disney’s Hercules, with his flaming hair, seems to appear in the trailer lurking behind Donald and Goofy.

Many are analyzing how “realistic” the art style looks (so far) in comparison to games before. I’d compare the newly-revealed world to Sanfransokyo in Kingdom Hearts III with a more dark and sinister twist. My theory is it is an “entry world”, similar to Traverse Town, Twilight Town, or Daybreak Town, that the character Sora and other keyblade wielders would often return to for perspective, to recharge, or to complete the main story. It definitely deviates from the other worlds’ more colorful and cartoonish feeling.

To be honest, based on my analysis, it appears that Sora’s “real world” is full of magic and cartoonish color, while the “after world” is our real world. I can get with this symbolism. Our ordinary life can feel like the underworld. It’s already making me think, and I can’t wait to see how Sora navigates it all. If someone in the Kingdom Hearts universe passes on, do they then go on to live in our hum-drum world? It’s almost as mentally stimulating as The Matrix.

Kingdom Hearts may be changed to fit its older audience now, so the realistic touches almost force us to realize that the kid Sora is all-grown-up now.

Aside from these types of changes, I’m sure most fans hope to see some improvements in the next game. To get a break-down on how I believe Kingdom Hearts IV could improve from Kingdom Hearts III, I created an in-depth review of the pros and cons present in the the third major game here.

As Kingdom Hearts IV is coming in, after everything that has happened recently, I can say I’m finally going in with a fresh palette of expectations. Many Disney worlds have been used already, the story has really gone from one extreme to the other, and the gameplay and graphics can only move forward from here. For the first time in years, I feel like I’m looking forward to a brand-new Kingdom Hearts experience, and I didn’t expect to feel that so soon. I really don’t know what to expect next.

It would be nice to see more Disney worlds with characters of color enter the game, worlds found in Disney movies such as The Princess and the Frog or Coco, but we’re talking about a game based in Japan. I don’t even think they promote Tiana at their local Disney Land. Still, I can hope that those movies appear.

Thinking of all that the franchise has put fans through, the journey we’ve all experienced through the many games released, I think most of us can expect it to be a while before this game is completed to perfection. I’m not getting my hopes up that this game will arrive any time soon. We all have time to come up with our hopes and dreams for the perfect Kingdom Hearts game, and the company has plenty of time to listen.

Playing this franchise as a kid, to now as a full adult, it seems so surreal to be able to witness how everything is unfolding as it is. But through it all, I’ve also learned not to expect too much from a game I’ve really fallen in love with. My love for Kingdom Hearts has become unconditional, as it were, with me embracing its flaws and all. No matter how much I try to say I’ve had enough, it draws me in one more time.

So, amidst my suffering pockets, and odd jobs, I will be the first in line when this game finally drops.

In the meantime, all of us fans can still play all of the other games and freshen up on the story. It’s a lot to comb through for newcomers, so I suggest buying the latest repackage to keep up. For old-timers, it’s time to dive back in so everyone is ready for the next chapter.

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