When Square Enix revealed Kingdom Hearts IV over the weekend, it looked…different. Hero Sora was looking realistically emo with nerfed kicks while hanging out in a Shibuya apartment that actually exists. But fans were quick to point out that there were likely lore reasons explaining the new graphical style, and now series creator Tetsuya Nomura has clarified what’s actually going on.
The Kingdom Hearts IV reveal trailer is set in a world called Quadratum, a place much like our own reality that functions like an afterlife for the series’ protagonist. “From Sora’s perspective, Quadratum is an underworld, a fictional world that is different from reality,” Nomura said in a new interview with Famitsu according to a translation by VGC. “But from the point of view of the inhabitants on the Quadratum side, the world of Quadratum is reality, and the world where Sora and the others were is the other side, the fictional world.”
The Kingdom Hearts director goes on to explain that Goofy and Donald are currently searching for Sora, and that the keyblade-wielding hero may appear like his old self again if he ever makes it back to his original reality. In other words, just like the character himself, Sora’s clown shoes might not be gone for good either. Kingdom Hearts IV marks the start of a brand new saga following the conclusion of the previous trilogy, however, so nothing’s off the table.
Fans began drilling down on some of the mysteries surrounding Quadratum as soon as the new trailer dropped. While its modern-day trappings came out of left field for spectators of the franchise, references to Quadratum have been peppered throughout recent entries, often characterizing it as an “unreality” that’s beyond light and dark. Kingdom Hearts III’s secret ending even directly takes players there, though things still didn’t look quite as realistic as they do in the latest trailer.
Kingdom Hearts III was originally teased for the PS4 back at E3 2013, the year the console came out, but didn’t release until 2018. In the interim, the development team switched from the Luminous engine to Unreal 4, and the delays and upheaval definitely showed in the final product. It was easy then to mistake Kingdom Hearts IV’s more realistic look as simply a result of new technology and hardware, but as fans surmised and Nomura has now made clear, it’s a design choice driven as much by lore as anything else.
Since the trailer came out, fans have been celebrating the Quadratum “glow-ups” of other Kingdom Hearts characters, as well as making their own. Some are serious, others are memes. But the biggest question of all is what Goofy and Donald will look like if they ever get there, and whether any of us will ever be able to unsee it.