Fans of the Kingdom Hearts series will be more than aware that it’s been a bloody long time coming, but Saturday’s D23 Expo finally gave us the closest thing to a release date yet.
For those who don’t know the context here, I feel I need to lay out the timeline a little (I’ve done it elsewhere before, but now seems a good time to reiterate):
- The first KH game comes out on PS2 in 2002 and becomes a sort-of surprise hit, combining Disney and Final Fantasy in a way many thought wouldn’t work. It’s immediately apparent that there’ll be a sequel.
- Chain of Memories releases for GBA in ’04, flying under the radar of a lot of players who probably didn’t realise it existed until way after they’d played KH2, but CoM sets a trend of handheld non-‘main’ (i.e. not numbered) entries which are still pretty much required play if you want to understand anything at all.
- KH2 is released to pretty much universal acclaim in ’05, again on PS2. Almost as soon as 2 releases, it’s rumoured that the first bits of work are underway on a third main game.
- In ’07, we get Re: Chain of Memories, a remake of the GBA game for PS2. By the way, there have already been ‘Final Mix’ versions of 1 and 2: Japan-exclusive ‘extended edition’ cuts. Remakes are already an established part of the KH development cycle by now.
- ’08 gives us Coded, a Japan-exclusive mobile title; in ’09 and ’10, we get 358/2 Days on DS and Birth by Sleep for PSP. Days covers some interquel material between CoM and 2, while BBS goes right back into the past. BBS is definitely the most important of the three, story-wise, but all are more important than their low-key handheld releases might seem. It’s now been five years since 2, and no news of 3. (Oh, yeah, and ’10 also yields Re: Coded, a DS remake and expansion of the mobile game.)
- In ’12, Dream Drop Distance comes out on 3DS. Again, it almost flies under the radar, but it’s incredibly important to the overall story. Helpful.
- 2013’s E3 event finally confirms that yes, Kingdom Hearts 3 is in development. That’s all it says, though. Nothing about how long, or how many other releases there might be before we here anything else! Series director Tetsuya Nomura actually said later that he felt it was too soon to announce KH3 when they did, but they wanted to make the announcement at the same time as revealing Final Fantasy XV and figured the fans were sick of all the spin-offs. Nomura’s known to be a bit of a perfectionist, so we all figured that there’d probably be a bit of a gap between XV and 3 because he’d want to finish one and then start the other. The world sighed in collective underwhelm…ment.
- Between then and now, we get a screenshot here, a teaser there: tiny drips of information about what KH3 might actually look like. We also get HD 1.5 ReMix and HD 2.5 ReMix, PS3 compilation edition… things. 1.5 includes KH1 Final Mix, Re:CoM and a cinematic version of Days; 2.5 includes KH2 Final Mix, BBS Final Mix and the obligatory movie version of Re:Coded. Japanese players got X (the letter chi), a browser game, and later Unchained X, a sort-of port sort-of sequel, was released worldwide on mobile devices. (It’s now renamed to Union X.) Then there was… *sigh*… Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue for PS4, which included a remade DDD, X Back Cover (a cinematic expanding on X) and 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, an all-new snippet of what gameplay in 3‘s engine might look like. Oh, and then PS4 players also got 1.5 + 2.5, which included… well, 1.5 and 2.5 all in one place. Got it.
That’s literally the briefest I can make the timeline on this thing. I mean, I’m looking back at it now and it barely even looks like words to me at this point, even though I’ve been following the series forever and experienced each new release as it came. I think the fact that a decade-and-a-half-long adorer of the series can be sighing apathetically just recounting the release schedule says a lot about what a drawn-out experience it’s been getting to this point. Not that it’s been a bad decade and a half. I’ve enjoyed everything this series has thrown my way and been grateful, but it’s started to feel like a bit of a slog as more and more side-stories emerge from the virtual primordial ooze while KH3 starts to feel like more and more of a pipe dream. (Honestly, it was turning into Half-Life 3 levels of unobtainable for a while there.)
So when we finally got confirmation at D23 that yes, KH3 is happening and it’s happening before the end of 2018, you can imagine that the fandom pretty much just screamed with something between orgasmic bliss and reluctant scepticism. This is the first concrete promise we’ve had that something will definitely be happening within a defined timeframe, and it is exciting as hell – I know I squeed like my life depended on it – but I guess years of waiting have made us all a bit reluctant to actually believe it. 2018’s a big window, too, so I don’t think any of us are expecting anything to happen before November at the earliest. It’s not a release date as such, just a promise that we will see a release within that year, and that’s… about as good as we could possibly have hoped for, I guess.
Hilarious moment, by the way: the date reveal came at the end of a very interesting trailer showing the new Toy Story world that’ll be appearing in 3, and the Youtuber hosts of the panel were all like ‘Toy Story yeaaaah’ while the entire audience freakin’ lost it at the words ‘Coming 2018’. Somehow I suspect the hosts might not have been fully aware of just how ravenous the KH fandom was for that one simple phrase.
Anyway, I’m hyped as hell. It’s weird, because any other game just announcing that it’s going to be released in a particular year wouldn’t seem like news at all, but this one seems like the biggest news of all time. Now we’ll just have to wait and see, and hope. Honestly, I’d almost given up expecting KH3 to be out in my lifetime, so this is big for me. I’m unbelievably stoked, but there’s some sort of… eh, I don’t know. Put it this way: I won’t be that surprised if in a few months I’m writing an article called ‘KH3 Date Pushed Back to 2045‘. Watch this space.