E3 2018 unveiled a flood of upcoming games for those of us who were lucky enough to be there or watching the proceedings on Twitch and YouTube. Personally, I think the week’s biggest highlights were Devolver’s hilariously entertaining conference full of blood, sarcasm, and Mahria Zook’s incredible acting; the beautiful same-sex kiss shown in the The Last of Us Part II trailer; and the three trailers for Kingdom Hearts IIIdue out January 29th, 2019that Square Enix generously graced us with.

A bust shot of Rapunzel, taken from a frame of Kingdom Hearts III. The rendering is on par with the movie. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

We’ve come far enough that this nearly looks better than the original Tangled film. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

And as thrilled as I am for Ellie and Dina sharing a kiss in front of thousands of viewers, I couldn’t help but get excited over a few things that immediately jumped out at me in the Kingdom Hearts III trailers shown during the Microsoft, Square Enix, and Sony PlayStation conferences.

Here are the five things that surprised me most in the new Kingdom Hearts III trailers. But first—catch up on the pre-E3 speculation, and watch the trailers yourself below!

1) New Worlds: Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean

Along with fresh looks at old characters, the three trailers released during E3 also included looks at the newest worlds in the game and the characters within them: Arendelle and The Caribbean. For Frozen’s segments, we’re treated to the sight of poor Sora dealing with the blistering cold as an islander, before going to investigate the strange girl dashing across the ice and snow, whom we recognize as Elsa mid-panic after she accidentally reveals her powers during her coronation. What we see of the world is lovingly rendered, and the cast of characters for the world includes Kristoff, Anna, and Olaf so far.

A frame from a cutscene of a conversation between Elsa and the trinity. Elsa looks away while Sora and Goofy watch. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Frozen wasn’t the only world introduced, however. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see make a second appearance within the franchise after their first foray into a dissonant and creepy Uncanny Valley in Kingdom Hearts II, but there it is, in all its hyper-realistic glory! Sora’s design in this world leans more towards realism in an effort to mitigate the jarring juxtaposition of cartoonish elements with realistic backdrops and characters. He looks almost like a real boy!

Sora's Caribbean design from Kingdom Hearts III, complete with nautical-themed keyblade. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018

The story for the world seems to take place after the second film but before the fourth, judging by the designs of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, which is smart given I doubt anyone’s watched the series past At World’s End. I didn’t think the POTC world was received well enough in Kingdom Hearts II to merit a return, but then again Atlantica wasn’t a very popular world the first time around and yet it continued to make appearances in other games. Go figure.

A frame from a cutscene in The Caribbean world. The cast of Pirates of the Caribbean (Gibbs, Elizabeth, Barbosa, and Will) look on. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

The rendering for live-action worlds like Pirates of the Caribbean looks much better this time. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

2) The Riku Double

One of the reveals came as a surprise to a great many fans, and that was the image of Riku in his current Kingdom Hearts III design lounging on the beach of Destiny Islands with a younger-looking Riku with a design from the original Kingdom Hearts. This could easily be explained as a dream sequence, but those of us who played Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (all, what, three of us?) may have a slightly different theory: the younger Riku could be the Riku Replica that Riku defeated at the end of his route within the game.

Riku (Kingdom Hearts III design) turns to look at the Riku Replica from Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

I’ve spent a cool ten years mourning the loss of this character. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

One of the themes of Kingdom Hearts III has something to do with saving all the hearts that have been lost throughout Sora’s, including Roxas’. The game finally buckling down and discussing whether the Riku Replica was a “real” person in spite of having been created from Riku’s own heart stands to be a very interesting subplot, if they decide to pursue it. Will I survive it? Only time will tell.

The Riku Replica lives for drama. The caption reads "What happens when a fake dies—one like me? Where will my heart go?" Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain of Memories, Square Enix, 2008

Pictured: Riku Replica breaking my 15-year-old heart. Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain of Memories, Square Enix, 2008

3) Axel (Lea) and Kairi Hanging Out

One of the most surprising turns the trailers took was in showing us Axel—Lea, now that he’s reintegrated into his old self—and Kairi, with a fresh new haircut, hanging out in a scenic location at sunset. Surprising, because back in Kingdom Hearts II, Axel, in his desperation to get his friend Roxas back, attempted to kidnap Kairi to use her as leverage against Sora. It failed and she got away, and later Axel was shown having remorse for his actions. However, as of their reunion in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Kairi was still wary towards him. This seems to have changed significantly based on their interactions in the trailer, and it’ll be interesting to see what their dynamic is moving forward now that they’ve reconciled.

A bust shot of Kairi and Axel. Kairi's hair is shoulder length and she's in her Kingdom Hearts III outfit. Axel no longer has his face tattoos, and his eyes are light green. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

4) More Potentially Norted Characters

Right, so as it turns out, Axel’s not alone in his reintegration, as you might know if you’ve played Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (can you feel my exhaustion yet?). Former Nobodies Luxord and Larxene, now freshly minted Somebodies again, also appear to be undergoing some changes of their own, sporting golden eyes in the newest trailers. In previous trailers that re-introduced Marluxia, former head of the Castle Oblivion bunch, the character was also shown with gold eyes he definitely didn’t have in previous games. The golden eyes strongly imply that they’re undergoing the process of “Norting.”

A split shot of Larxene and Luxord. Both have amber eyes. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

For those of you who haven’t obsessively played the nine games, “Norting” is what happens when a character within the game is more or less possessed by the current Big Bad, Xehanort (first properly introduced in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep). When a character is “Norted,” their eyes change to bright gold, and their hair becomes white, similar to villains like Xemnas and Ansem (who are presumably the Nobody and Heartless of Xehanort, respectively).

The process is a little like Voldemort’s Horcruxes, with the difference being that there are physical changes in the people affected. Characters who have undergone this process in the past include Terra, also from Birth By Sleep, and Saix, Lea’s (Axel) former friend and current Organization XIII flunky.

A torso shot of Ansem and Xehanort in Twilight Town. Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

What the golden eyes mean for Larxene and Luxord won’t be crystal clear until Kingdom Hearts III releases, but I feel confident that Xehanort has something to do with it.

Luxord and Larxene aren’t the only ones, though! Aqua’s maybe possibly been Norted, and judging by the Twitter reactions, none of us were ready for that possibility. As a character who throughout her various appearances has been shown to have strong principles and unwavering loyalty to the light, seeing her possibly taken over by the emissary of darkness has shaken us all. However! There’s the distinct possibility that that’s not at all what’s happening, given that previous Xehanort victims have shown signs of eye and ear transformations first (such as Xigbar and Saix), whereas Aqua seems to be pretty far along in her transformation, and yet her ears remain rounded.

5) Riku’s Sudden Eye-Color Change

We’ve been seeing renders and trailers that include Riku for months now, but this is the first good look we get at his face, and something was immediately clear to me: his eye color has changed.

Four images of Riku from Kingdom Hearts I, Kingdom Hearts II, Dream Drop Distance, and Kingdom Hearts III. In the first three, Riku's eyes are a vibrant turquoise; in the fourth, they are distinctly green. Kingdom Hearts Series, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Kingdom Hearts Series, Square Enix, 2018, Editing by Sammantha Sanchez

Throughout the series, Riku has turquoise eyes that don’t vary much in hue from game to game. They’ve been good about keeping that pretty consistentright up until his appearance in Kingdom Hearts III. Now, they’re suddenly green. It could simply be an error in rendering, but the marketing materials have all shown him with explicitly green eyes, and even accounting for lighting, the shade is distinctly different from the turquoise color previously shown. I have no real theory as to why this change would be happening now, in the final installment of this arc, but I did remember a fundamental kindergarten painting fact as I was falling asleep still thinking about it: to get green, you have to mix blue and yellow together. Riku’s journey has had much to do with his struggle with the darkness inside him, maybe it’s possible that his eye color reflects his final assimilation of it.

What do you think is going on with Riku and Aqua? What surprised you most about the new trailers? Leave us a comment below!

Kingdom Hearts III will release on January 29th, 2019, published by Square Enix.

Azha Reyes spends entirely too much time playing video games, and even more time rambling about them. They’ve been known to cry about character development on occasion. They rarely shut up at @writethenoise on Twitter, if that’s your kind of thing.

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