Kingdom Hearts III takes a long road to release

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Kingdom Hearts III takes a long road to release

Square Enix

Square Enix

Square Enix

Nicholas Capra, North Campus Staff

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Kingdom Hearts III has finally been released in late January 2019, six years after it was first announced and seventeen years since its predecessor.

Kingdom Hearts is a game series developed by Square-Enix. The franchise features prominent Disney IPs fighting side-by-side with Final Fantasy characters, another franchise developed by Square-Enix. This mixture of characters bridged the gap into gaming for many Disney fans and the franchise gained an extensive following in North America unusual for Japanese RPGs at the time. When Kingdom Hearts II launched in 2002 fans thought a third title was sure to be in the works. However, it would take Square-Enix seventeen years to release this long awaited third installment.

The story behind this gap started with the merger of two companies. In 2003, Square Soft and Enix Corporation merged together in an attempt to compete with foreign markets, Enix Corporation establishing itself as the surviving member. The newly formed Square-Enix immediately attempted to establish a connection to the two previous companies, choosing to focus on flagship IPs rather than risk a hasty venture into pet projects. This left Kingdom Hearts to fall off on the wayside.

During this period Kingdom Hearts had to survive on various spin off games, such as Chain of Memories for the Gameboy Advanced and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 days for the Nintendo DS. These projects were smaller in scale to the main entries and attempted to continue the story between games without adding too many substantial information. Though later titles focused on important lore and plot devices, these early games proved to be mostly extraneous.

It wasn’t until E3 2013 that the world would hear of a third main entry to the series. During Sony’s conference, Square-Enix showed off cut-scenes and a twenty-second demonstration of gameplay for the new installment. The demonstration was promising to fans, however it held a detail that foretold the seemingly endless production delays that would plague this project. The footage released had a style and graphic design similar to the previous two games hinting at Square-Enix using the Luminous Studio engine, their in-house engine of choice.

Nomura, the head of the development team responsible for Kingdom Hearts, released a statement directly after E3 2013 claiming the announcement for Kingdom Hearts III came too soon, as he was working on Final Fantasy XV at the same time. His reasoning was that the two games would require extensive effort and would see releases a considerable time apart.

The news given to the general public hinted at Kingdom Hearts III releasing in a few years, but the production proved longer than even Nomura had anticipated.

In 2014, Nomura had been moved away from the development of Final Fantasy XV to work full time on the production of Kingdom Hearts III following the company’s decision to change the game’s engine to Unreal Engine 4. This meant that all of the work already done on Kingdom Hearts III had to be scrapped and moved to the new engine. Further, this was the first project the team had ever done in Unreal Engine 4, meaning the crew had to learn everything about the new engine while they developed the game.

In the years following this switch, Nomura made statements about the game’s development, mentioning internal conflict further delaying its release. This internal conflict could be seen with the development of Final Fantasy XV, another game stuck in limbo for several years. It wasn’t until 2018 that Kingdom Hearts III would get an official release date.

Kingdom Hearts III finally released on Jan. 25, 2019, six years after its announcement. Despite every complication since its conception, the response had been overwhelmingly positive with the game topping January sales predictions. A trial from start to finish, Kingdom Hearts III exceeded expectations and proved that good things take time, just perhaps more time than originally thought.