The “epic new storyline” of Kingdom Hearts 4 should be a simple one

Kingdom Hearts 4 was announced last week, promising the return of Sora and an “epic new storyline” called the Lost Master Arc. Yes, Kingdom Hearts 4 is coming, and with it the opportunity for Square Enix to finally tell a streamlined Sora story. With 13 games in the franchise that weave together worlds from Disney films and JRPGs, Kingdom Hearts has become famously dense. Kingdom Hearts 4 has a chance to take players on a journey that doesn’t require extensive reference materials and the completion of 13 other games to understand it.

While we don’t know any details about the Lost Master Arc, Square Enix has confirmed that Sora, Donald, and Goofy will return for a new adventure, so the core cast of characters will remain the same. And the promise of a new storyline brings with it the hope that this game could be unshackled from confusing lore. With a new story saga, Kingdom Hearts 4 could (and should) be more approachable to new players and a welcome respite for lapsed adventurers.

Lost the plot 

Kingdom Hearts PS2 screenshot

(Image credit: Square Enix)


Kingdom Hearts PS2 screenshot

(Image credit: Square Enix)

How to play the Kingdom Hearts games in order before Kingdom Hearts 4

If you’re looking for the source of all the Kingdom Hearts confusion, look no further than the Dark Seeker Saga. The Dark Seeker Saga features all the games that take place between Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 3 – it is, in essence, the story of Kingdom Hearts. But that story features so many twists and turns, time jumps and possessions that many players fell off the narrative ride midway through. A brief attempt at a summary of the Dark Seeker Saga may help you understand just how much heavy lifting is required to understand these games (which were originally meant for children, by the way).

The Dark Seeker Saga tells the story of the battle between Sora and Xehanort, who is basically this universe’s version of a Sith Lord. Xehanort is the titular Dark Seeker, a man born on the same island as Sora who yearns to see other worlds, but whose travels and studies lead him to believe that these worlds should be remade in darkness’ image. Consumed by the desire to open Kingdom Hearts (a heart-shaped moon that is the source of all light in the world), Xehanort and others bring in the Heartless – dark creatures that invade worlds until they consume them entirely. Sora, Donald, and Goofy are tasked with stopping the Heartless from consuming Disney worlds; that task is given to them by Final Fantasy characters whose worlds were destroyed by the Heartless.

While this seems straightforward-ish, there are dozens of examples of cloning, possessions, time-travel, heart sharing, and doubling in Kingdom Hearts. This, naturally, makes the plot very difficult to follow, and makes characters’ motivations inherently unclear. Throughout the Dark Seeker Saga, a variety of Xehanort variants/versions crop up, including Xemnas, Ansem, Master Xehanort, and Terra-Xehanort. Master Xehanort has an apprentice named Ventus, whose heart resides in Sora but who looks a helluva lot like Roxas, a character introduced in Kingdom Hearts 2 that is Sora’s Nobody. 

What’s a Nobody, you ask? A Nobody is the husk of a person that remains after a heart has been consumed by darkness, and there’s a whole dang organization of Nobodies running around desperate to regain their hearts. They’re the main bad guys of Kingdom Hearts 2, but you later learn that they’re having their strings pulled by none other than Xehanort, who goes by Ansem at this point in the story. It only gets more confusing from there, and all the narrative twisting and turning culminates in a very confusing Kingdom Hearts 3. 

The Master of Masters 

Kingdom Hearts 3 secret ending

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Kingdom Hearts’ plot eludes even the most dedicated players. Hell, I needed to watch several YouTube videos and read dozens of Wikis just to get even a superficial understanding of what’s going on here – and I played Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 multiple times over. But if we strip away all of the excessive plot twists and character doubling and possessions, Kingdom Hearts’ core themes are beautifully simple. These are games about the power of friendship and love, the strength that comes from within, and the eternal battle between light and dark.

The Lost Master Arc can and should leverage those themes to tell a concise story, but the threat of a convoluted tale looms overhead. Kingdom Hearts 3 references the Lost Masters in its opening scene, with Xehanort saying they are “the ones who started the Keyblade War.” That war, which took place long before the events in Kingdom Hearts, was waged between those who wanted the x-blade, a keyblade that can control and open Kingdom Hearts. The Lost Masters were trained by the Master of Masters, who tasked them with watching over the world and preventing it from falling into darkness – which they failed to do, with all but one of them succumbing to rage and taking part in the war for power.

Kingdom Hearts fans believe the Lost Master Arc refers to the Master of Masters (or maybe the Foretellers, but we’ll spare you that here), whose identity is still unknown. The bulk of the Master of Masters’ story takes place long before the events of the Dark Seeker Saga, so Kingdom Hearts 4 could bounce back and forth between time periods. This won’t help keep the story condensed, especially with Sora currently stuck in a world called Quadratum, that’s technically a world within the Toy Story universe that’s technically the afterlife. I know, right?

But if Kingdom Hearts 4 remains laser-focused on the story of the Lost Masters and the Master of Masters, it can gloss over all of the confusing stuff that’s happened in the other games. We don’t need to know which version of Xehanort possessed one of his enemy’s apprentices or how Sora came to have another person’s heart inside of him – we just need to see what happens when people tasked with preserving peace fail because of their own weaknesses. Kingdom Hearts 4 can excise the more confusing aspects of the series and give us a story steeped in its strong core themes. If it does this, old and new fans alike will embrace it, with the former grateful for a respite from convoluted stories, and the latter drawn in by the promise of a more accessible tale. 

There’s nothing quite like Kingdom Hearts, but the best JRPGs take us to similarly fantastical worlds.  

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