Yesterday, Kingdom Hearts 4 was announced after only a three-year wait. Wow, sorry, I have to write it out to make sure I’m not just in some weird fever dream. The first trailer for the game showcased Sora, who’s such a real boy now that Pinocchio is probably feeling robbed, running around Quadratum and fighting what looks to be some kind of evolved Darkside.
As exciting as Quadratum is, and the tears on my face and wee in my trousers say it’s very exciting, it also raised a fair few questions about the Disney side of things. If Sora is really dead and stuck in the afterworld alongside such important characters as Strelitzia, Yozora, the Master of Masters, and presumably, Riku, is the whole adventure going to take place on Quadratum and be about Sora trying to figure out how to come back to life? Or is it just some kind of prologue area, similar to how Olympus or Twilight Town introduced previous games in the series?
So far we don’t know, but the footage we’ve seen has a distinct lack of Disney so far, unless you count the small glimpse at an AT-ST’s foot in what might be Endor and the cinematic with Donald and Goofy that’s likely unplayable. If this next Kingdom Hearts game is acting as a main entry in the series and not one of the many (many, many) in between games, it needs to keep hold of a major part of its identity and put a bit more love into the Disney.
Before everyone digs into my sordid Kingdom Hearts history, I’ll admit that I’ve previously said that I think Kingdom Hearts could do without the House of Mouse, an opinion I still hold. However, that doesn’t mean it should. I’ve been under the impression for a long time that the next game in the series would be a bridge between the third and eventual fourth game, and that it would focus on Yozora, Riku, or Kairi. Well, I was wrong. It’s Kingdom Hearts 4. And that means it needs to do Kingdom Hearts right.
If the next game in the series is going to call itself Kingdom Hearts 4, there’s no way it can miss out on Disney worlds. That doesn’t seem to be the plan based on some of Nomura’s comments about a world being in development, but the focus on Quadratum and the more original sides of Kingdom Hearts in this first trailer are a bit worrying considering how some of the Disney content was handled in the last game.
At its very best, Kingdom Hearts 3’s Disney worlds featured original stories, transformations for Sora and the party, Disney party members, and areas unique to the game that had fun content throughout. At their worst, they were pretty boring recreations of films with Sora and the gang inserted in, or in the case of Arendelle, a confusing mishmash of Kingdom Hearts content and the world of Frozen that chucked in ice towers but refused to give Hans a single line. Don’t get me started on Let It Go.
Even for the worlds that got the best treatment in Kingdom Hearts 3, the stories told there didn’t feel like they really mattered. Sora was on a grave quest to figure out the power of waking to save Ventus and Roxas, but his trips to the Disney worlds taught him nothing about that until he suddenly remembered how to do it just to get the game’s final act into gear. Even the original stories found in the Toybox, Monstropolis, and San Fransokyo didn’t really further Sora’s character all that much, as charming as they were.
Compare that to other games in the series, like how Birth By Sleep essentially had each world teach the characters something about themselves and their relationships with one another or how the Organisation factored into pretty much every world in Kingdom Hearts 2, and it’s clear that not as much thought was put into why you even go there in Kingdom Hearts 3.
This could also be seen with how Sora interacts with the characters he meets in those worlds. You felt like Sora really cared about and made bonds with Jack Skellington, Hercules, and Mulan, but he probably can’t even remember who Elsa and Anna are. He certainly won’t be screaming “give me strength!” as he summons them for help. Boy had a better relationship with bloody Chicken Little, I swear.
When Sora or Kairi ends up visiting Moana, don’t let it just be a sightseeing tour with a ‘You’re Welcome’ minigame. Let it teach Sora about responsibility and identity. Let him learn something from it that progresses his character and lets him grow up. Kingdom Hearts 4 doesn’t have all the baggage that the last chapter in the Dark Seeker saga did, so I’m hopeful that it won’t just have them be time wasters leading up to the final confrontation and will have them once again mean something to Sora.
And hey, while we’re talking about Disney worlds, put Treasure Planet in there already, Nomura. I’ve waited long enough.
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