Those of you who’ve ever spent any time talking to me about anything will probably have unearthed the fact that the Kingdom Hearts franchise is one of my favourite things. Not just among video games, but Things Of Any Kind. I love it.
I rarely actually talk KH on here, though, partly because I’m not much of a news blog so it’s not the kind of thing I’m used to. But, heck, we’ve had some news, and I may as well share it!
Naturally I was fairly hyped in the lead-up to E3, especially as Nomura had promised news of a release date in ‘early June’ – and a release date we did indeed get. Kingdom Hearts 3 will be released on January 29, 2019 (Jan 25 in Japan). This marks the first time that KH3 has been delayed, for those of you keeping track: we had the announcement that it would be coming some time in 2018 back in July 2017 at D23, and to be honest I’m fine with waiting a few more weeks.
Quick tangent while we’re on the topic: yes, KH2 came out thirteen years ago. No, that doesn’t mean anyone’s been waiting thirteen years for KH3! It’s like saying that you’ve been waiting since 1941 for Citizen Kane 2; we’ve had so many other releases since then, and KH3 was always a possibility during that time, but until it was announced that KH3 was actually going to be a thing, I don’t think you can say you were ‘waiting for it’. It has been five years, though, if you go from when KH3 was officially revealed to be in development all the way back yonder in 2013, so… I mean, it has been a while!
Back to the news! The release date announcement happened at a Kingdom Hearts Orchestra event (I would do more than I care to admit to be able to go to one of those), where a trailer was also shown to the audience in attendance. This happened, I think, some time on Saturday 9th June – it was in the middle of the night for me. In fact, all of this has been going on in the middle of the night my time, so I’ve just been waking up each day to more reveals! The trailer that was shown there was not allowed to be recorded and was not released, although based on descriptions of it, I suspect it contained no new footage that wasn’t revealed in one of the other trailers.
Over the next couple of days, we got no less than three new trailers (albeit that they do reuse quite a lot of the same sequences, but each of them has something exciting to reveal), with KH3 making its presence known in some odd places. If memory serves, it popped up during Sony’s conference (not that peculiar), Square Enix’s (to be expected), and Microsoft’s (wouldn’t have predicted!). It certainly makes a degree of sense that Kingdom Hearts 3 would be showing its face in a more diverse set of places, as it’s the first time that a KH title will be available on both PlayStation and XBox, but it was still a bit of a surprise; whether it was a good move is up for debate, especially since the audience reaction videos to the Microsoft one, at least, seem to indicate that the crowd weren’t particularly into it. Anyway, I’ll just put all three of those trailers here for you to have a look at, then we’ll get into the big newses.
So! Things to talk about!
NEW WORLD REVEALS
We now have it confirmed that Arendelle, the world of Frozen, will be making an appearance. This is no great surprise, as it was probably the single most-predicted world to be showing up in KH3. (The possibility of it being an all-singing-minigame world a la Atlantica in KH2 was wearing heavily on the minds of some fans, though, so there are definitely people who will be pleased to see that it appears to be a full, normal-gameplay-style world.) More surprisingly, Pirates of the Caribbean is back! I don’t think anybody predicted this one; its world in KH2 was an interesting idea, but not the best-executed, and its ambition to visually recreate a live-action movie alongside original and more ‘cartoonish’ Disney characters outstripped the ability of the technology at the time to make that a reality. For KH3, though, it looks gorgeous. It’s the world nobody knew they needed back, but – but ships! Swimming! Sora with a gold tooth! I’m excited to see what The Caribbean (the world’s confirmed name, if I’m not mistaken, replacing ‘Port Royal’) might hold; it looks as if it’ll probably follow the events of the third movie.
Our confirmed worlds (or rather the franchises they come from), then, now include:
- Toy Story
- Monsters, Inc.
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Big Hero 6
We’ve seen some gameplay and story clips from all except the last now, which is interesting given that BH6 was one of the first new worlds to be confirmed.
We also know that we will have some sort of appearance from Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Wreck-it Ralph, Simba (The Lion King), Remy (Ratatouille) and probably more that I’m forgetting. These have all been briefly shown in footage or in playable demos, but we don’t know exactly what role they’ll each play; the Kingdom Hearts franchise has had numerous ways of including characters without having a whole world of theirs show up, including summons, D-Links, minigames, and indeed just off-the-cuff appearances (Scrooge McDuck, for example, is an NPC in a world inhabited mostly by Final Fantasy characters in KH2). I think Ariel and Ralph are confirmed as summons, Simba really looks like one, and Remy is some sort of as-yet-unspecified minigame.
This is a franchise with a lot of characters: it has a huge pool of existing Disney and Final Fantasy mainstays to draw from, as well as an increasingly enormous roster of originals. It’s also a franchise which has a lot of wibble-wobble around whether anyone’s ever really dead for real (thanks to some admittedly complicated, but actually rather consistent, lore around what makes up a person and what happens to each of those parts after ‘death’, not to mention time travel), which means that the door is always open for fan favourites to make a comeback even after being defeated. It’s been speculated that we would be getting a lot of returning baddies, in particular, since at least Dream Drop Distance if not before: the current state of affairs is that Biggest Baddie Xehanort is trying to create an organisation of thirteen members, each of whom will bear a fragment of his heart, and it just so happens that he already kind of tried this once.
I’ll try to explain this super-quick (and over-simplified, so don’t correct me!): in the KH universe, when people fall to darkness, they become a little thing called a Heartless. The body left behind may also become a creature called a Nobody, which could be a little amorphous thing or, if the person had a sufficiently strong will, a humanoid, intelligent being. Thirteen of the most powerful, most human-looking Nobodies formed Organisation XIII, which supposedly had the aim of restoring them to full beings but was secretly designed to create new vessels for Xehanort. Sora (and Riku) beat up most of the first set of thirteen over the course of Chain of Memories and KH2; we later learned that destroying both a person’s Heartless and their Nobody can restore the original person, which means that several of the people from the original Organisation XIII are now back and ready to be freshly ‘norted.
(Norting, by the way, is a fan term for what Xehanort does when he puts a bit of his heart in someone, turning them into a vessel of sorts. It seems to give them yellow eyes like his own, and sometimes turns their hair a bit whiter as well. This will come up again soon.)
So basically what this means is that we have room for Marluxia, Xigbar, Larxene and Luxord to return – although they may not be using those names any more, as those were their Nobodies’ names – and face Sora again in what will doubtless be some highlight-of-the-series boss battles. It appears that they’re all acting as vessels for Xehanort, as they’ve all been shown with the distinctive yellow eyes (yes, even Marluxia, who appeared in an earlier trailer with blue eyes but can now be spotted in a quick scene in the Japanese version of one of the trailers with yellow ones), and it also appears that they’ll each be acting as the antagonist in a particular world. This is no surprise, as KH2 did something similar, but what we’ve seen so far suggests that they’re on missions which will tie the story of each individual world into the overarching plot in a smooth way. We’ve seen worlds be integrated into the main plot before, but often in previous entries the Disney worlds have felt disjointed from the original story, so I’m excited to see how this is handled.
Oh, and Vanitas is also back. Whether he’s been norted or not is unclear due to his full-face helmet, but we’ll see what his deal is. (Vanitas is a being of pure darkness created by Xehanort by extracting all the darkness from the heart of a boy called Ventus, leaving him in pretty bad shape. Under the mask, he also happens to look a lot like Sora, but more evil.) We also got a glimpse of Riku Replica, a sort-of clone of Riku who was mostly antagonistic during Chain of Memories, but seems to be back and on the same side as his original self. Repliku’s presence was hinted in a short trailer a while back in which Riku mentioned an ‘other me’, but this seems to be confirmation that he is indeed making a return. Finally, Ienzo – the original self of Zexion, another of Organisation XIII’s original roster – can also be seen, and it looks as if he’s on the good guys’ side too. This is no huge surprise, as we know that not all of the Organisation were really all that bad, especially not in their pre-Nobody lives, but it’s nice to see him.
We’re still missing confirmation of a lot of potential returns, of course, including: the remainder of the unaccounted-for members of Organisation XIII, any of whom could be back any time; Ansem the Wise (originally played by the late, great Christopher Lee), who was apparently killed in KH2 but has, I think, been spotted in some form in the Realm of Darkness since; Roxas, Sora’s Nobody, whose return seems almost inevitable as Sora seems to be actively working towards it, so I doubt they’ll spoil it; Xion, one of the most divisive characters in the fandom, who also seems almost sure to make a comeback in some form; and, come to think of it, any of the Final Fantasy crew at all. Expect more teases and reveals before KH3 finally releases, but I think we’ll get some unannounced surprises too.
KAIRI’S NEW DUDS
Sora and Riku have had new designs officially out there for a while, so it was only a matter of time before the final (and most woefully underused!) member of that core trio had her new look revealed too. It was sort-of teased when Union X, the KH mobile game, included her KH3 outfit as an unlockable, but we didn’t know what it would look like in its full appearance, and now we do! She’s also rocking new shorter hair, which to me makes her look younger than she did in KH2, but this could just be the engine making people’s features look smoother and younger in general. It looks as if she’s going to be hanging out with Lea for at least some of the game, which will be interesting: Lea’s Nobody, Axel, sort-of kidnapped her in KH2, albeit he wasn’t entirely happy about it.
(Oh, and it also appears that Kairi’s original VA, Hayden Panettiere, may not be returning. Disappointing if true.)
AQUA GOT NORTED?!
Right. So this is probably the single biggest thing to come out of these trailers, and it’s an interesting one. Aqua got (maybe) norted.
Nomura, by the way, has mentioned that he was thinking the new world reveals would be what people would lose their minds over, but they’ve been overshadowed by this plot point! Apparently he didn’t realise how much people love Aqua and ‘wonders if everyone will be OK’ after playing the game. We’re so dead.
So what’s actually happened? Well, we don’t really know. What we see in the trailers is a shadowy figure, who seems to have overcome Riku and Mickey, pick up (what seems to be) Mickey’s Keyblade, and turn to tell Mickey that he’s too late before revealing herself to be Aqua with yellow eyes and white (well, whiter than usual) hair.
Now, a lot of people are yelling that Aqua’s been norted – made into a vessel for Xehanort – and this is a possibility. There are several other possibilities that might explain what we’re seeing here, though:
- Aqua (who has spent over a decade in the Realm of Darkness) has fallen to the darkness. She has therefore been corrupted, but isn’t a Xehanort. Yet. I think yellow eyes and white hair would be consistent with this explanation: Ansem the Wise, who was never norted, had yellow eyes and white hair, which may have been as a result of spending a lot of time in darkness. Xehanort’s yellow eyes and white hair seem to have been with him since before he started exploring darkness, though, so I’m not sure on this one.
- This is not Aqua, but some sort of illusion created by a different baddie, or another being that has taken Aqua’s form. KH has included illusory/ phantom bosses in the past, and there are characters known to be capable of creating illusory beings, so it’s more than plausible. Aqua even faced off against a phantom version of herself in 0.2, so we have precedent. That said, that phantom seemed to have been created by her own fears and darkness, so was ‘just for her’.
- As an alternative to the above, rather than being an illusion or phantom that someone else created or that exists as a separate entity, this is a hallucination or phantom created by the Realm of Darkness preying on Mickey and Riku’s own fears. This, I think, is my favourite explanation.
- It could potentially be a Heartless that’s come across Aqua and is impersonating her, although the fact that she speaks to Mickey as if she knows him suggests this isn’t likely.
And probably countless others that I’m just not smart enough to think of right now. I think I lean towards Aqua either having been deeply affected in some way by her time in the Realm of Darkness (I mean, who wouldn’t be?!) or this being a phantom meant for Mickey and/ or Riku and the real Aqua being off somewhere else having a great time.
If she is indeed a Nort, then this is a pretty huge problem. She’s the only one who knows how to get to Ventus, and if Xehanort gets hold of him then his path to forging the X-Blade suddenly becomes a lot clearer. Plus she’s one of the most powerful and pure Keyblade Masters on the side of light (if not the most powerful, actually), so losing her would be a massive blow for Team Sora.
AND OTHER GAMEPLAY STUFF
There’ll be videos from plenty of YouTubers talking about the nitty-gritty of all the gameplay elements before long, I’m sure (I recommend Soraalam1, Limitform72 and Bizkit047), so I won’t go into too much detail. I did notice that the Keyblade transformations for both the Arendelle and Caribbean Keychains look pretty nice, especially Arendelle’s ice-skating one – a bit reminiscent of KH2‘s Wisdom Form. It also looks from demo footage at E3 as if work is being done to balance the game based on feedback, including balancing situation commands and reducing floatiness (a concept that a lot of people don’t quite get, so I’d recommend Bizkit047’s video on it).
I think I’ve gone on quite long enough, so let’s leave it at that. There’s a lot to digest, but these are probably the things I’m most interested in and excited about! Let me know what you’re most excited for in KH3 – or, indeed, what you’re most concerned about.