Back in the day, when Kingdom Hearts was just “Disney meets Final Fantasy“, it had a story we could all relate to on some level. Being content in ignorance; venturing out into the overwhelming unknown; loving someone in unassured but sincere fashion; and ultimately, discovering friends who would be with you, every step of the way. We were all younger at the time and more willing to let plot holes slide, embracing the symbolism more than the logic.
Of course, Kingdom Hearts back then was still a digestible tale of Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. Chain of Memories on the Game Boy Advance would follow and felt like more of a side-story…until it proved to be an integral link to Kingdom Hearts 2. The sequel is when things properly nose-dive into a tale of data towns, Nobodies, shadowy Organizations and info-dumps (which were still manageable but skirting the line).
Attempting to explain the entire story of the Kingdom Hearts series would take a good few hours. It’s just gotten that complex, turning into a saga of war and peace with several key battles (and battles involving keys), important figures and events, abstract concepts, and so on and so forth as to be overwhelming to even your average fan. Sure, the symbolism is still in place but the franchise has become so esoteric that predicting what’s next is often secondary to what’s come to pass, until what’s next eventually becomes the past and the cycle repeats.
Nevertheless, Kingdom Hearts 4 represents something special for both fans and newcomers – a new arc and a potentially fresh new start. But where could it possibly go next?
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Get a load of this guy, thinking this trainwreck has a direction.” And you wouldn’t be wrong. Kingdom Hearts 3 provided the conclusion to the so-called Dark Seeker Saga, traversing across the past, present and future with a villainous crew where most of the members were just different versions of Xehanort, cameos from the entire series and Donald firing a Zettaflare, of all things.
It does end with Xehanort defeated though and Sora uses the power of waking to restore Kairi. However, he finds himself trapped in a place called The Final World (which is where he previously traveled to turn back time and reverse a major loss that the heroes suffered). In the ReMind DLC, Yozora – a character from the Verum Rex video game showcased in the Toy Story world – appears to “rescue” him but the two subsequently fight. If Sora wins, then he’ll go back to the Final World; Yozora winning means he goes instead while Sora is trapped in crystal. Regardless, Yozora will awaken in a more modern realm, traveling by car in a scene not unlike that of the former Final Fantasy Versus 13.
Of course, with the reveal trailer of Kingdom Hearts 4, it’s confirmed that Sora is actually in Quadratum, the world of Verum Rex. It’s more realistic, which is reflected in Sora’s appearance, and even features real-world locations in Tokyo like Shibuya Hikarie. Described as an “afterworld”, Quadratum is very likely distinct from the Final World. The reasons are simple – the latter is shown to be a place where Sora could connect the fragments of his body, but he also used the power of waking to rewind events.
When Kairi’s body is destroyed, it’s likely that Sora used the power of waking to substitute himself into her place in the Final World, effectively stranding him. Whatever the effect Yozora may have had on Sora in their battle, it was enough for the latter to break free and end up in Quadratum. Which coincidentally is where Yozora resides.
It’s safe to assume that Yozora also has the power of waking but how he “rescued” Sora is unknown. One clue is when Strelitzia – a character from Kingdom Hearts Union χ who died long before the events of the main series – discovered Sora, who had been sleeping for seven days.
Perhaps the Final World is a purgatory that also intersects with the world of dreams. If we take the literal meaning of “waking” into consideration, then Yozora essentially woke Sora from his metaphysical dream and brought him into Quadratum. Again, this is all speculation but it does help explain why Sora ended up where he did. Of course, there’s also the question of how Riku managed to get to Quadratum.
In Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, he and Kairi meet The Nameless Star, who subsequently had her identity taken away. Existing in a formless state, she simply wishes to see Yozora again and thus opens a portal to Quadratum for Riku to travel. What is her power? Is it the power of waking or something else entirely thanks to having a strong connection with Yozora? In a way, it’s not unlike the connection that Kairi and Sora have, especially since the former helped to sustain Sora when he first reached the Final World in Kingdom Hearts 3.
By the way, it’s worth mentioning that when Final Fantasy Versus 13 was a thing, it had Stella instead of Lunafreya as a major character. In Latin, Stella means “star” while Noctis means “of night”. Yozora is derived from the Japanese words “night sky.” So The Nameless Star is literally Stella after she lost her name while Yozora is more or less Noctis.
You could interpret this as a continuation of Versus 13’s story or a meta commentary on how the characters from that version would end up in Quadratum (because, as we’ve seen, people from different Worlds can cross over into it). But that’s a theory for another day.
Back to Kingdom Hearts, there’s also the question of what the Master of Masters intends to do. The Master of Masters has been an enigmatic figure since the very beginning, training the Foretellers and giving the Black Box to Luxu to do his own thing. More than anything else, he desires to defeat the Darkness, with the implication being that he fought it before (and lost many of his loved ones in the process). Ending the Keyblade War and then the world itself before effectively recreating it was part of the plan, though it didn’t quite succeed since the Darkness is still prevalent.
Eventually, the Master of Masters discovers Quadratum, a place without Darkness or Light. In Kingdom Hearts 3’s Secret Movie, we see the Master making the shape of a heart with his hands over the Moon, mirroring Kingdom Hearts. It’s possible that he plans to bring it into this World and leverage its unique make-up, though in what way is unknown.
In the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer, the Master can be seen on a building, presumably with Luxu (though it’s not outright confirmed). The arrival of the Heartless could very well signal the Darkness itself finding a way through. But then, so has the Light with Sora.
Whatever role Quadratum may play in all of this, it’s already somewhat confirmed that the entire game won’t be set there. When Sora meets Donald and Goofy again, he’ll regain his more cartoonish aesthetic which implies that they’ll meet in the Disney universe again.. Just based on Pixar’s output over the past few years alone – not to mention older franchises like Cars, Brave, WALL-E, and The Incredibles – there are still plenty of unknown frontiers to explore.
However, this could mean that franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe fall on the realistic side of things, perhaps as part of their own universe separate from the Disney properties. While it’s too early to assume that either will be included, the AT-ST foot from the trailer, not to mention how much the forest resembles Endor from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, is fairly convincing.
With regards to Marvel, I wouldn’t put it past either Disney or Square Enix to use this as an opportunity to market the Avengers. Both Star Wars and Marvel properties are incredibly ripe when it comes to villains, conflicts between Good and Evil, and all of the nuances in between.
The overall theme of the sequel is to explore the contrast between the perspectives of Quadratum and Sora’s world. Quadratum’s perspective could be about the coexistence and how the world can thrive even with its shades of grey. Again, how that will contrast with the current perspective of Sora’s world where Darkness must be “defeated” time and time again remains to be seen.
Will we see the return of Tron? Could the realistic art-style mean a possible crossover with Final Fantasy 7 Remake where Cloud and Sephiroth will inevitably fight again? Could Yozora and The Nameless Star reunite, providing the long-awaited conclusion to whatever Versus 13 was supposed to be? Will the many terrible live-action adaptations of Disney animated films somehow be included? Again, it’s hard to say – this is Kingdom Hearts, after all. But this will undoubtedly be a ride unlike any other, whether you’re a fan or not.