Who would have thought that mixing together angsty Final Fantasy characters with cheery Disney worlds would result in one of the most popular action RPGs ever created? Such is the legacy of Kingdom Hearts, a curious mish-mash of ideas that resulted in one of the most impressive amalgamations gaming had ever seen.
Both Kingdom Hearts and its sequel captured gamers' hearts, but... it's been a while. A long while. Kingdom Hearts II launched in 2005, and since then we haven't seen a single image of its supposed sequel. What gives? Where is Kingdom Hearts 3? Well, we have the answer, but you might not like it...
The first hints came in 2006
As early as 2006 there are instances of Square mentioning a full-fledged sequel to Kingdom Hearts. In an issue of the Japanese gaming magazine Dengeki PlayStation, series producer Tetsuya Nomura said that Disney had been bugging Square about development of Kingdom Hearts III. "We've already been approached by the Disney side saying that they want us to make it," he explained, noting that he had various ideas for the game.
So, awesome, right? It was 2006, Kingdom Hearts II was selling like crazy, and Tetsuya Nomura was pumped! We figured with the average two to three year development cycle, we'd be slashing apart Heartless with our Keyblade by 2010 at the latest. Except… it's 2013, and we still haven't seen the game. What gives?
There's one final thing in the way
Nomura elaborated, saying that despite having some ideas for the sequel, Kingdom Hearts III would have to chill on the back burner for a bit. "Looking at the development schedule, after KHII FM+, the Kingdom Hearts team has Final Fantasy Versus XIII awaiting, so it's physically impossible at the present." Square put the people that made KH onto another project, and while other companies might just create a new group to work on the sequel, that's not how Square does things.
"I feel that it's not the right time to talk about the future of Kingdom Hearts," he concluded. Well that was fairly disheartening, but wasn't the end of the world. It's not like Square would go radio silent for four years, right?
Four years of radio silence
Square avoided talking about Kingdom Hearts III for several years, reaffirming that it simply couldn't be touched until Final Fantasy Versus XIII was complete. Problem is, the status of FFVXIII is as mysterious as KHIII (which, in all likelihood, we'll discuss in a separate article), putting the status of Sora's next journey into limbo.
This changed in 2010 when Square finally decided to acknowledge that Kingdom Hearts III was, in fact, a thing that it would probably maybe eventually do. Nomura was interviewed for the Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Ultimania guide book, and discussed that not one, but three new Kingdom Hearts games were in the works. And guess what? One of them was Kingdom Hearts III.
Acknowledgement is a double-edged sword
The fact that Nomura mentioned Kingdom Hearts III was the good news. The bad news? It hadn't even started production. At all. In 2010, Nomura continued to pound the "We won't take up KH3 until we've reached a certain target with FF Versus XIII," drum, reaffirming that Kingdom Hearts was still a ways away.
Soon after, Nomura told Dengeki PlayStation that gamers should get excited for some awesome stuff surrounding the 10th anniversary of Kingdom Hearts in 2012--though he clarified that it wouldn't be Kingdom Hearts III. Some assumed he might be joking, but considering 2012 has come and gone without the game, it looks like he was being sadly honest.
Four more Kingdom Hearts games
Square continued to support the Kingdom Hearts franchise, but not with numbered releases. 2009 saw the release of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the DS, telling a story between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep was released one year later, and served as a prequel to the original game. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded came out the year after that for the DS, and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance was released in 2012 for the 3DS.
What do all of those games have in common besides not being Kingdom Hearts III? They were all released on handhelds, meaning they required a fraction of the budget of a full retail game. To the pessimist, it looked like Kingdom Hearts fans would have to accept that the franchise would be a mostly handheld affair, at least until FF Versus XIII was finished.
Dream Drop Distance is supposedly the missing link
Between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, Square released Chain of Memories--a handheld game that tied the two releases together. Square has said that Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance would follow that same concept, except for Kingdom Hearts II and III, showing that progress was inching forward. What did Dream Drop Distance tell us (besides that Square shouldn't be allowed to name its own games anymore)?
At the end of the game's secret ending, the stage is set for another Keyblade War. Yen Sid (the goofy wizard from Fantasia) attempts to gather Keyblade users to do battle, and Kairi is shown being trained in the art of swinging around a Keyblade to kill Heartless.
A legacy of fools
Ever hear about the Nintendo/Square crossover, Mushroom Kingdom Hearts? No? Weird, it was announced years ago. What about Project <3, the super-secret sequel to Kingdom Hearts II? That was recently revealed, are you sure you haven't read about it? Actually, it's not all that strange, because while both of those things were announced, neither actually existed at all. Due to the constant rumors and delays, Kingdom Hearts III has become the Duke Nukem Forever for a new generation.
Announcing Kingdom Hearts III has become the go-to April Fools joke, with gaming magazines and websites using the faux-holiday as an excuse to rile up fans. Whether it's an innocent post on a gaming forum or a massive reveal on a fan site, people love to trick fans by playing into their anticipation for the next Disney/Square crossover. In other words: don't trust anyone on April 1, but you realistically should know that already.
Still no sign of progress in 2013
And so we arrive in the modern day, eight full years after the release of Kingdom Hearts II. Sadly, it would appear as though Kingdom Hearts III is still on the backburner, but there's a minor glimmer of hope. Recently, Square hasn't been doing that well--it's posting huge losses, the Final Fantasy XIII brand isn't doing nearly as well as it had hoped, and CEO Yoichi Wada has officially stepped down.
Why is this good news? Well, for Kingdom Hearts fans, it puts Square in an interesting spot--one where it isn't going to be as quick to dismiss a sure hit like Kingdom Hearts III. The handheld games have always sold well, the console games were both huge hits, and in the face of record losses, there's a better chance than ever that the company might finally go full steam ahead with a game that's sure to make it eek closer to the black.
Not so simple and clean, is it?
So, when do you think we'll get it? 2014? 2015? 2025? Let us know what you think about the future of the Kingdom Hearts series in the comments below.
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