It’s time to dive into the heart yet again, as the Kingdom Hearts 4 reveal trailer offered a surprisingly deep look at the next numbered sequel in Square Enix and Disney’s long-running franchise. Though it begins a new arc in Kingdom Hearts’ overarching narrative, it’s a sequel clearly ingrained in the series’ fundamentals and lore from all corners of the Kingdom Hearts and Disney universes.
So, whether you’re a Kingdom Hearts expert who knows the series from Ansem to Zexion, or you’ve just occasionally dabbled in the universe and are wondering how Sora ended up in what looks like Tokyo, let’s examine the biggest burning questions the Kingdom Hearts 4 reveal trailer left us with, and some potential answers for them.
Before we get going, a couple of qualifiers – while we’re going to be touching on some deep Kingdom Hearts lore, this is by no means a comprehensive primer on any and everything Kingdom Hearts. There is, quite frankly, so much to get into even with these topics, particularly related to the backstory of the series prior to the events of Kingdom Hearts 1. Nonetheless, there will be some spoilers for the Kingdom Hearts series to date, including Kingdom Hearts 3 – consider this your spoiler warning!
Who is the Lost Master?
The Kingdom Hearts 4 reveal opens with an additional title card, “The Lost Master Arc.” That’s likely not a subtitle for the new game, but is instead signaling that Kingdom Hearts 4 is the beginning of a new story within the series. Though it is fair to include some events from Kingdom Hearts III’s Re:Mind DLC, as well as the music spinoff Melody of Memory as core to this new arc, Square Enix’s official announcement said that KH4 “sets Sora and his friends Donald and Goofy on a brand-new adventure, titled the ‘Lost Master Arc.’”
This follows up on the story told across the various preceding Kingdom Hearts games, collectively called the Dark Seeker Saga, which was primarily centered around antagonist Xehanort. The Lost Master Arc, meanwhile, could have a couple of meanings, with the most likely being a reference to a character named the Master of Masters, who has become increasingly important in the overall lore of Kingdom Hearts, even if he may not be a recognizable name from every adventure Sora has gone on.
Kingdom Hearts 4 – Announcement Trailer Images
The Master of Masters deserves their own lengthy breakdown, but, essentially, they’ve been around since the earlier days of the in-game Kingdom Hearts timeline. Their identity remains mysterious, they act in unexpected and even sometimes seemingly cavalier ways, yet they hold some clearly immense power. The Master of Masters stands against the overarching evil of the franchise represented by the force of Darkness, and in the era of Kingdom Hearts prequel games and movies trained a group known as the Foretellers to become Keyblade Masters, and ultimately fight against Darkness. He also created a Book of Prophecies using the Gazing Eye, which essentially gives the Master the ability to see whatever the Eye sees in the future. There’s a lot more to say about The Master, but in the interests of brevity, he ultimately disappears and leaves so little trace behind his followers can’t find him. The Master of Masters ultimately made his way to the city present in the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer, and we’ve seen him there before in Kingdom Hearts 3’s secret ending atop one of this city’s skyscrapers.
Where is Sora?
One of the biggest surprises in the Kingdom Hearts 4 reveal trailer might be the realistic world Sora wakes up in. While it looks a lot like Shibuya, this city is known as Quadratum, a name we actually learned from a character known as the Nameless Star in the rhythm gaming spinoff Melody of Memory. But if you played Kingdom Hearts 3, you’ve been to Quadratum before, via the in-universe video game Verum Rex found in the Toy Story Toy Box world, as well as the game’s secret ending. Kingdom Hearts 3’s Re:Mind DLC also saw you visit Quadratum, where a battle with Yozora, another mysterious new figure in the franchise, took place. The Nameless Star and Yozora actually know each other, and Yozora’s presence in the city and prominence in Kingdom Hearts 3’s secret ending and DLC should make him a key figure in Kingdom Hearts 4 and beyond.
Quadratum does seem to be very real to the people living in it, as the girl who greets Sora (more on her soon), describes it as a “world full of life.” But it is decidedly not the world, or reality, that Sora and she originate from. She describes it as a sort of “afterworld,” which lines up with the fate she met in Kingdom Hearts’ mobile games and, again, major spoilers for Kingdom Hearts 3, Sora’s arc in the last game. Sora used what’s called the power of waking so much in Kingdom Hearts 3 and its DLC that he essentially vanishes from existence and enters into another world. “Afterworld” is worth noting as different from “afterlife,” and while they could just be interchangeable worlds, it does speak to the idea that Sora and this girl, as well as other characters who pop up later in the trailer, clearly exist in this reality, though it’s a reality that some existing characters, in their limited discussions of it so far, have deemed fiction, or even unreality. And getting back to Sora’s home reality may be difficult, as the voiceover in the trailer says “if you do leave this world behind, don’t expect to return to the one from which you came.”
Who are those two guys on the skyscraper?
If you’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts for some time, people in black cloaks are as sure a thing as death and taxes (in real life, that is. I don’t think Sora has to file tax forms). Without getting too into the weeds, our best guess for the one holding his hands behind his back is the Master of Masters, who clearly has a major role to play both in this game, as well as this arc.
The other hooded figure is yet another mystery – the Master of Masters had many apprentices, among them a character named Luxu, but we learned that character’s true identity in Kingdom Hearts III. It’s possible the Master has taken on new apprentices, or it may be one of the members of Organization XIII whose backstory we still don’t fully know, or it’s simply another character that Square Enix didn’t want to spoil a surprise reveal of.
Who is that girl?
Even if you’ve played every Kingdom Hearts console game, if you haven’t dipped into the world of its mobile games, you likely have no idea who that girl who greets Sora is. And even if you do know her, it was probably still surprising to see her.
This girl is Strelitzia, who was chosen way back in the KH timeline during the events of Kingdom Hearts Union Cross to be part of a group of leaders succeeding the Foretellers, however she was killed before getting to play a larger role. She also was the brother of Lauriam, the human form of Organization XIII member Marluxia, a major villain in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.
Of course, given that Strelitzia died, and is now existing in Quadratum, the setup for KH4 further establishes the themes of the afterlife, crossing over, and the very nature of these characters’ existence in one reality versus another.
What’s that forest location?
We don’t know for sure where this forest is set, though its more realistic look aligns with the grounded cityscape and designs found in Quadratum, indicating there might be more attempts at a realistic setting and worlds in Kingdom Hearts 4. After all, Square Enix is set to develop the sequel in Unreal Engine 5, and the series has dipped more and more toes into live-action Disney properties, with Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean among them. Kingdom Hearts 3’s Pirates world in particular, eschewed the cartooniness of every other world for a more natural look that better suits the source material.
So with that in mind, we’re probably looking at a more realistic Disney property being adapted, and thanks to one short clip of what’s shown, there’s a leading candidate for this world: Star Wars. Thanks to the brief shot below, there seems to be what looks like the foot of an AT-ST resting on the forest floor in the top-right corner. It’s not much to go on, sure, but that iconic design is our biggest clue, along with the redwood-like trees that of course could be found on the forest moon of Endor. Or, y’know, in California that stood in for Endor.
Star Wars, and Marvel as well, have been some of the most-requested Disney franchises from Kingdom Hearts fans since the company acquired Lucasfilm and Marvel. But as we learned shortly after Kingdom Hearts 3’s release, the lack of those franchises came down to mundane business reasons. Director Tetsuya Nomura explained that, quote “In order to change those [properties] into a game, contracts must be made with each company separately, and there are cases where other game companies already have contracts, so although the Disney Group has indeed added those [properties], incorporating them into Kingdom Hearts isn’t so simple.”
Perhaps some of those complexities have been ironed out – KH3, after all, marked the first time Pixar worlds appeared in a Kingdom Hearts game, so it’s certainly possible the next entry could further expand into Disney’s owned franchises and finally give us the lightsaber keyblade we’ve all been asking for.
Where are Donald and Goofy?
Despite the more real-life look of Quadratum and the hopeful-Star Wars world, Donald and Goofy pop up at the end of the trailer still looking properly cartoonish, and more in line with their appearances throughout Kingdom Hearts 3. The two are walking through a darkened area searching for “someone” before an off-screen voice addresses the duo. The voice is accompanied by a blue glow that turns red and scares the Disney stalwarts before the trailer ends.
The most likely person this voice belongs to is Hercules villain Hades. Hercules, and Hades himself, have appeared in all three numbered Kingdom Hearts games, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see it return again here. Though it’s an essay for another time, Kingdom Hearts 4’s reveal trailer seems to show the sequel will really be grappling with ideas and themes of the afterlife – and the nature of existing in one world to the next – so the Greek god of the underworld certainly seems like a fitting character to return, especially if Donald and Goofy are in fact searching one of the only afterlife places they know for their buddy Sora.
It’s also a scene that should indicate that, even if Kingdom Hearts 4 is dipping into more live-action Disney properties, as well as a more realistic world in Quadratum, there’s still room for the cartoonier side of Disney to come along for the ride, including potentially new Disney franchises that have become popular in the last few years. I mean, if Kingdom Hearts 3 could make time for the entirety of “Let It Go,” it wouldn’t be shocking if “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” got its own moment to shine, too.
Those are some of the biggest questions, and some hypothesized and reasoned answers, from the Kingdom Hearts 4 reveal trailer. Of course, we still know very little about where the next numbered entry may go, nor when we can expect to see more of Kingdom Hearts 4.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior Features Editor, PlayStation Lead, and host of Podcast Beyond! He’s the proud dog father of a BOY named Loki. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.