I am on the record as being a fan of the Kingdom Hearts series, despite my inability to explain anything that happens in it. The whole series thrives on giving us a plot that is pure chaos, barely constrained by logic or reason, but that isn’t what makes the series so enduring. Kingdom Hearts is loved despite the plot, certainly not because of it.
One of the things that makes this series so wonderful is the wild style clashes that result when you put a teenager with giant feet and spiky hair on a boat with a realistically rendered Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley. Seeing Donald Duck go toe-to-toe with a time-displaced and possessed Terranort, whipping out a spell so destructive it rewrites both Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy lore, is fun because it simply should not be.
Please don’t make Kingdom Hearts IV realistic
This sort of clash of styles is what has carried the Kingdom Hearts series through the past 20 years, giving us moments that capture our imaginations even if they make no damn sense. Which is why I had such a mixed reaction to the recent trailer for the newest game in the series.
Kingdom Hearts IV might still be in the early stages of development, and we’ve only had the smallest taste of what it has in store — but what we’ve seen is, admittedly, beautiful. Square Enix looks like they are taking everything they learned in Final Fantasy XV and pumping it straight into Sora, giving us a more grown-up, realistic-looking teenager rather than the punk kid with giant feet we’ve been playing as for twenty years.
Every moment of that trailer is beautiful and fun and looks inspired. The gameplay looks more fluid than ever, with a grappling hook shooting out of the Keyblade and Sora effortlessly scaling walls and buildings in downtown Tokyo.
And yet, I found myself disappointed by it. Not because it didn’t look good, but because it didn’t look like Kingdom Hearts.
I do not doubt that this game will go through a strenuous, difficult development cycle, possibly stretching into the next console generation if the series’ history is anything to go by. I would wager that we won’t even see anything like this footage in the final game, but what we have is a taste of how series director Tetsuya Nomura envisions the future of the series. That future seems to be taking a step away from the stylised characters that we’ve had up to this point.
Of course, I could be wrong. It has been known to happen from time to time. The fact that Donald and Goofy, when they briefly appear in the trailer, still look like themselves gives me a bit more hope. Still, Sora changing from one of the most instantly recognisable characters in JRPGs to someone who looks like a background character in Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn’t bode well for me.
Kingdom Hearts is such an unusual series, with almost limitless potential for where they take players in the future. There is already wild speculation surrounding the inclusion of both Marvel and Star Wars in this next entry in the series because this is a fandom that has been trained to overanalyse everything if they have any hope of understanding what is happening. If they do spend a significant amount of time in the live-action Disney universes, then it almost makes sense to give Sora an updated look.
Sora’s new look updates him for the new console generation we’ll be playing him on, but it also takes a bit of the charm that has helped carry the Kingdom Hearts series for years. Please just let my boy wear his giant, silly shoes, Nomura.
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