The original Kingdom Hearts launched in 2002, meaning Kingdom Hearts III will arrive more than 15 years after the series first began. In that span of time, the games have greatly expanded beyond the original’s Disney-Final Fantasy crossover theme, with a proper sequel, Kingdom Hearts II, and several spin-off titles filling up the long gaps between numbered entries. Now, in 2018, Square Enix has promised to finally release the tenth game in the series, which will not end the franchise but close the book on Sora’s battle against Xehanort. There’s a lot to understand, theorize, and keep track of leading into the game’s release, so for all updates on Kingdom Hearts III, follow along with our up-to-date guide below.
What we know we know
What is the story of Kingdom Hearts III? The game’s story picks up immediately after the events of the previous main entry in the series, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream, Drop, Distance, which put a final battle between Sora and Master Xehanort in motion. In order to defeat Xehanort, we’ve learned, seven Guardians of Light must defeat the 13 Seekers of Darkness. Sora, believed to be the final Keyblade wielder in the universe, has throughout the series come across other Guardians of Light like himself, including his close friend Riku. Now joined by former Nobody and Organization XIII member Axel (now known as Lea), his good friend Kairi, and King Mickey, Sora must find the other light wielders. Donald and Goofy, who have been with Sora since the beginning as a favor to Mickey, will travel with Sora to new worlds in search of the remaining warriors, while Xehanort will be pulling together his team of dark users.
Will I be lost playing Kingdom Hearts III if I’ve never played another game in the series? Yes, probably. While the title suggests this to be the third entry in a franchise, Kingdom Hearts III actually marks the tenth game in the series. Each game introduced new plot elements that are important to the upcoming game’s narrative, making the overall plot somewhat convoluted. It’s important to understand as much about the battle between Sora and Xehanort as possible before heading into this latest entry.
What is Kingdom Hearts? What’s happened in the story so far? The series is known for its complicated and deep storyline, so explaining every detail is tricky, but here’s the a quick(ish) explanation: Since the first game, Sora has been tasked to find each world in the galaxy and lock its keyhole, which controls the entrance of darkness, and ultimately, the source of all hearts (light) called Kingdom Hearts. Sora was entrusted with the Keyblade to fulfill this mission, which he actually accomplishes early into the franchise by defeating a seeker of darkness named Ansem. The balance between light and darkness gains complexity when Sora briefly falls into darkness, losing his heart. At that moment, the old shell of his body is reborn as a boy named Roxas. In Roxas’ story, other shells called Nobodies group together to form Organization XIII, which is led by Xemnas, the shell of Ansem. Xemnas’ ultimate goal is to take control of Kingdom Hearts to give hearts (souls) back to himself and the rest of the Organization, making them full people again. However, with the keyholes locked, Xemnas’ only option is to steal hearts from others by using Roxas and other new Keyblade wielders, like a girl named Xion, to open Kingdom Hearts’ gates. In turn, Sora is forced to take down the Organization, which ultimately causes Roxas to disappear forever.
You may be wondering why Xehanort is listed as the big bad. That’s from the other overall narrative thread introduced in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. In the prequel story, which takes place many years before the events of Kingdom Hearts, three Keyblade wielders—Terra, Aqua, and Ventus—are training to become Keyblade masters under the guidance of their teacher, Master Eraqus. During their journey, Eraqus’ former partner, Master Xehanort, pays the group a visit to give his blessing on the trainees’ progress. However, unbeknownst to Eraqus, Xehanort’s quest for knowledge has turned him into a darkness wielder who now has his sights on Terra, the strongest dark wielder of the three apprentices. Through manipulation, Xehanort eventually secludes Terra and transfers his soul into Terra’s body, but to conceal his identity from others, Xehanort refers to himself as Ansem moving forward. Ventus loses his soul in the final battle against Xehanort but retreats into the heart of a young Sora, thus explaining Sora’s ability to wield the Keyblade in the first game. As for Aqua, she falls into the dark realm and is still wandering its endless abyss waiting for Sora and his team to find her. So, in the end, it was truly Xehanort behind the many battles Sora has had to face, and now that he knows the truth, the real battle can begin.
Will this be the last game in the Kingdom Hearts series? Fans of the series are excited but also sad to see Kingdom Hearts III finally arrive, as it brings with it the end of the Seeker of Darkness saga. They can take comfort, however, in the fact that this is not the end for the series. In 2013, series creator Tetsuya Nomura assured players the long-awaited game only marks the end of the antagonist’s story. Since the first Kingdom Hearts, Sora and crew have been fighting against the ultimate seeker of darkness, Master Xehanort. While it took several games outside of the main trilogy to reveal the Master’s importance to the overall plot, his power was seen in each game, making the end of his story an interesting turn for the franchise.
Will there be a new theme song? One of the defining features of a numbered Kingdom Hearts game is a new theme song from the Japanese-American pop artist, Utada Hikaru. In the first game, “Simple and Clean” was the defining song, while Kingdom Hearts II featured “Sanctuary.” Since then, every other spin-off entry in the series has used remixed versions of both tracks. In turn, as it’s the final numbered title in the Xehanort saga, fans have believed Kingdom Hearts III would come with a new theme. Thankfully, the fan community’s theory was correct. During the D23 Expo in Japan, the new track “Don’t Think Twice” was revealed alongside new footage of the game. Just like the first two themes from the series, Hikaru’s new song will feature a ballad-like version for the end credits, along with a remix for the opening.
The Basics (skip)
Who’s making Kingdom Hearts III? While Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II were developed by Square Enix’s Division 1 team, it was revealed Kingdom Hearts III would be handled by the company’s Osaka Team. This studio developed Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream, Drop, Distance, and the two HD collections.
When is Kingdom Hearts III coming out? Ever since the game was announced to be in development, fans have been dying to know the release date. While a specific date has not been given, it has been confirmed it will arrive sometime in 2018.
There’s a possibility we could learn the official launch sometime this summer, though. After the D23 Expo in Japan, a rumor circulated online that the game’s director, Tetsuya Nomura, stated the team will reveal the release date during this year’s E3. However, the statement from Nomura hasn’t been sourced yet, meaning fans should be wary to believe it for now.
What systems can I play it on? Kingdom Hearts III is currently slated to launch for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. However, Nomura has teased a few times that there could be a Nintendo Switch port coming down the line, too.
Is there any gameplay footage or story trailer for the game? Since the brief reveal trailer from 2013’s E3, several new trailers have been released to show off new gameplay and story mechanics for Kingdom Hearts III. The gameplay details and story will be detailed in a later section of this article, but for the most recent and comprehensive trailer revealing the Monsters, Inc.-themed world, see below.
What we think we know
What are the new/returning worlds in Kingdom Hearts III? While only a handful of worlds have been officially announced for the game, fans can expect many other Disney-themed areas and new creations from Square Enix to be a part of the mix. Here are the new and returning worlds we know right now: Twilight Town, Mysterious Tower, Mount Olympus, and areas themed after Tangled, Big Hero 6, and Toy Story. Of the new Disney-themed areas, Big Hero 6 is the only one for which we haven’t seen any gameplay footage or concept art revealing the overall look of the world. For Tangled, Sora, Goofy, and Donald will be adventuring through the Kingdom of Corona, while Toy Story will let the trio battle at Andy’s house and Galaxy Toys. A recently rumored world was also confirmed to be true. The latest trailer revealed a Monsters, Inc.-themed area would be part of the story. Featuring the Pixar movie’s iconic characters Mike, Sully, and Boo, Sora and the group will appear as monsters visiting the monster training facility.
The other confirmed worlds have all been featured in previous Kingdom Hearts titles, with both Twilight Town and Mysterious Tower first appearing in Kingdom Hearts II. However, while Hercules-themed worlds have been in the series since the first entry, Mount Olympus is a new area, separate from the Olympus Coliseum and the Underworld areas featured previously.
As for when we’ll know more, series creator Tetsuya Nomura stated during the 2017 D23 Expo that the remaining worlds will be revealed leading into the launch of Kingdom Hearts III. However, he also posed the idea that this could be the first entry in the franchise to embrace DLC and add extra worlds post-launch. Nomura didn’t seem completely sold on the idea, though, so we might have every world confirmed before fans can even get their hands on the game.
What will the gameplay be like in Kingdom Hearts III? According to trailers, Kingdom Hearts III will be a culmination of many gameplay elements seen throughout the series. However, most of what’s been confirmed has been purely visual from trailers, meaning there are still many questions and details to answer. Here’s what we can understand so far: The game will be a single-player, third-person experience, with Goofy and Donald as support fighters in battle. In a first for the series, it seems two more characters can be along in battle with Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Players will control Sora, who uses the Keyblade for his main attacks as well as magic spells for offensive and defensive maneuvers. Returning from previous games will be Drive Forms that give Sora new abilities depending on the situation. In Kingdom Hearts II, for example, Sora’s Final Form equipped him with two Keyblades and the ability to constantly hover above the ground for fast dodging and attacks. In the new entry, we’ve seen two different forms: Guard Form and Power Form. In Guard Form, Sora’s Keyblade becomes a shield that can block enemy attacks while also giving widespread damage to a specific radius around Sora. Guard Form gives more control to Sora, with a Drill Punch attack that transforms his Keyblade into a powerful drill that can breeze through enemy groups and a Hyper Hammer attack that does quick bursts of damage to nearby enemies.
Many of the later games in the Kingdom Hearts franchise have deviated slightly from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II‘s hack-and-slash role-playing gameplay, and it appears some of the elements found in other entries will make their way into Kingdom Hearts III. From Birth by Sleep, Sora will have the chance to learn four-stage magic attacks, much like Aqua, and from Dream, Drop, Distance, Flowmotion will give platforming and battle changes. Sora will be able to bounce off of walls and parlay the movement into a powerful finishing move on nearby enemies. In the trailer featuring Mount Olympus, Sora is seen running up a wall to fight the Rock Titan, meaning Flowmotion will also incorporate into the quicktime events from Kingdom Hearts II. Also from Birth by Sleep, the Shotlock commands will return in a new way. As seen in the Tangled-themed trailer, Sora’s Keyblade will transform into dual guns that can be used to perform the Shotlock, which is a powerful ranged attack that can target many enemies at once.
A brand new twist on the series’ Summon commands, which let Sora bring special Disney characters into battle, will involve Disney-themed rides. Instead of having the chance to summon Dumbo to fly Sora around, it seems Kingdom Hearts III will let Sora, Donald, and Goofy conjure huge Disneyland attractions to aid them in battle. In one trailer, the trio use the train from Big Thunder Mountain to fly high into the air and send it crashing down into the Rock Titan. Other confirmed rides include the ship from Pirates of the Caribbean, which can do loop-the-loops for massive damage to a large area and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups, which let the trio spin wildly around the battlefield together.
The original summon style isn’t going away either. In the Monsters, Inc. world reveal trailer, Sora can be seen calling The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel into battle. It’s unclear what her abilities will be, but if she works similarly to past summons, Sora and the crew will likely experience stat boosts with her on the field. Typically, summon characters are one-off allies that don’t have a world in the game, meaning Atlantica is likely out of the question as a possible returning area in Kingdom Hearts III. Of course, it can be expected many more Summon attractions/characters, Shotlocks, Drive Forms, and new mechanics will be announced leading up to the game’s launch.
During the same D23 event, Nomura told fans about a few more returning features, including the Gummi Ship missions. According to attendees’ social media postings, the upcoming game’s customization options for the ship will be “richer in content” than the two previous numbered titles. While both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II‘s Gummi Ship segments were set paths for players, Kingdom Hearts III will take an open-world approach, with 360-degree movement for the ship.
How far along is development? With the game still set to launch sometime this year, it would be interesting to know how much of it is done so far. Thankfully, Square Enix gave an update recently, stating “everyone in the Osaka studio is working on Kingdom Hearts III, with 100 people from its Tokyo studio also involved.” The development has apparently been divided into three stages—early, middle, and late—with each team handling up to three worlds at a time. 90 percent of the early stage is done, 60 percent of the middle is completed, but progress on the final stage is still a mystery. However, Nomura teased a “surprise” is waiting in the final moments of the game. He didn’t divulge any specific details on what that means, but did say it involves “something he’s always wanted to do and put into Kingdom Hearts, ever since the days of working on Final Fantasy.”
What we still want to know
How will Xehanort’s final battle play out? It’s been confirmed the story of Kingdom Hearts III will take place immediately after the events of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream, Drop, Distance, which followed Sora and Riku as they took their Mark of Mastery exam to become true Keyblade wielders. After successfully stalling Master Xehanort and his minions of darkness from properly forming the ultimate Keyblade, the X-blade, it was revealed only Riku mastered his test, leaving Sora to play second fiddle to Riku. However, there are many questions about what Xehanort needs to accomplish outside of bringing together the light and dark forces. There have been a few leaks to suggest a second Keyblade war will take place at the end of the game, and according to the scattered prophecy from Xehanort’s research pages, it can also be assumed players will see seven characters acting as the Seven Guardians of Light and 13 characters acting as the Seekers of Darkness. What about the Disney worlds, though? There are several keyholes still untouched from the story, and with the inclusion of new areas never seen in the series, will Sora have to lock new keyholes to prevent Xehanort from gaining an extra foothold in battle?
Who are the seven Guardians of Light and 13 Seekers of Darkness? For the Guardians of Light, we know Sora, Riku, King Mickey, Lea, and Kairi will fulfill their roles, which leaves two slots to fill. While there have been other characters in the series that could have filled the remaining spots, including Roxas, Xion, Ventus, Terra, and Aqua, all are either missing, turned to darkness, or dead. Roxas and Xion both “died” to give Sora back his full soul, Ventus’ body is merely a shell without a soul, Aqua is lost in the dark realm, and Terra is under the control of Xehanort. Aqua is the most likely addition to the team, as Sora still has a chance to find her in the realm of darkness, but as for the final spot, it could be anyone. Another strange point comes from the latest D23 Japan trailer. In it, Riku states he wants to leave his Keyblade in the realm of darkness in case his “other self” needs it. It’s unclear what this could mean, but we have seen characters get Doppelgängers in the past.
As for the Seekers of Darkness, the choices are extremely complicated. Dream, Drop, Distance introduced the idea of time travel into Kingdom Hearts, and while the story thankfully put limitations on how moving through time works, darkness seems to get an extra benefit from it. We for sure know we will see Master Xehanort, his young self from the past, former Organization XIII members Braig, Isa, and Xemnas, and finally, Ansem (also known as Xehanort’s Heartless). As for the final seven, there are many contenders to consider. While Terra’s original form was defeated by Sora early in the series, there could be a way to bring him back under the control of Xehanort, but it’s likely a majority of the remaining members will come from Organization XIII. Several members have regained their hearts and returned to normal, including Xaldin, Laxaeus, Vexen, and Zexion, meaning they likely won’t be used for the darkness. However, Demyx, Luxord, and Larxene are all viable options, as we still don’t know their whereabouts past Kingdom Hearts II.
In the Monsters, Inc. world trailer, two more villains are introduced: Vanitas and Marluxia. While Sora defeated Marluxia at the end of Chain of Memories, it seems he has returned just like the other Organization members. He tells Sora that he still serves the Organization, but nothing else is learned about his role in the final battle. When we first learned about him in Chain of Memories, he was the traitor of the Org that planned to manipulate Sora for his own gain, so it would be odd to see him firmly align himself with Xehanort’s team. As for Vanitas, his demise in Birth by Sleep was supposed to be final. However, his strong alliance with Master Xehanort likely means he’ll be using all of his power against Sora. This is especially true since Ventus, who is living in Sora’s heart, holds the key to restoring Vanitas’s full power.
What’s in the black box? In the orchestra trailer for Kingdom Hearts III, Maleficent and Pete interrogate Hades about the whereabouts of a black box, which seems to be a direct reference to an ancient item from the series. During the events of Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover, it’s revealed the first Keyblade wielder, Master of Masters, entrusts the No Name Keyblade and a black box to one of his apprentices, Luxu. While the Master trusted Luxu to never look inside the box, Luxu’s curiosity took over and he inspected what it contained. Whatever it was sent the apprentice into a spiral of doubt and anger. From there, his allegiances to the other Guardians of Light wavered, ultimately causing him to clash with them and begin the original Keyblade War. While we don’t know anything else about the box outside of Back Cover‘s story, it seems it will play a meaningful role in the upcoming game. How does Maleficent know about the ancient box and, more importantly, does she know what’s inside of it?