Will Kingdom Hearts 4 Feature a More Realistic Art Style?

Sora looks downright photorealistic in the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire game will look like that.

Kingdom Hearts 4
Photo: Square Enix

Square Enix put its best foot forward with the new trailer for Kingdom Hearts 4. Not only does the recent preview suggest that the game will look absolutely beautiful, but it even gives audiences a glimpse at a new world that is quite unlike anything we’ve seen before in the series. However, that trailer also left some fans worried about how different the next Kingdom Hearts game looks.

The majority of the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer seemingly takes place in the new world of Quadratum, which is almost certainly the most contemporary setting in Kingdom Hearts history. Quadratum looks similar to present-day Tokyo and is full of photorealistic buildings, people, cars, and cellphones. A much more modern-looking Sora even wakes up on a modern-looking sofa in a modern-looking apartment. He no longer has cartoonish proportions, and his signature giant shoes have been replaced with reasonably-sized loafers. All in all, Sora seems to fit in with the residents of Quadratum and looks like he belongs in Final Fantasy XV instead of the Kingdom Hearts games as we know them. Since the majority of the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer features that artstyle, the implication seems to be that the sequel will utilize more photorealistic graphics. At least that’s what a lot of people assumed was the case before the trailer’s “after-credits scene” started to play.

During the video’s final 30 seconds, audiences see Donald Duck and Goofy looking for Sora. Donald and Goofy look completely different from the rest of the trailer (which is to say they look exactly the same as they did in Kingdom Hearts 3). Granted, their models have been improved, but otherwise, the characters’ designs are as cartoonish as ever. What gives? Why would Sora sport realistic proportions and textures but not Donald and Goofy? Probably because they aren’t in Quadratum with him.

Throughout the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Sora and the gang occasionally undergo costume changes to fit in. For instance, in Kingdom Hearts 3, Sora, Donald, and Goofy swap their normal clothes for pirate attire when they travel the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. Sure, the character models maintain their normal proportions, but the textures are more complicated. They even showcase dirt and wrinkles that match that world’s live-action aesthetic.

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Moreover, Quadratum isn’t the first world we’ve seen in Kingdom Hearts that makes the game’s characters look more realistic. When players first enter Kingdom Hearts 3‘s Toy Story level, they are treated to a fake commercial for the in-universe video game Verum Rex (which is an obvious homage to Final Fantasy XV). Even though Verum Rex is a fictional game within a fictional world, players still somehow can fight its main character (Yozora) in a 100% canon secret boss fight. Just another day in the ever-confusing continuity of Kingdom Hearts.

It’s likely that the photorealistic Quadratum section of the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer is meant to tease players with a level that will leverage the power of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 (and maybe even a possible rematch with Yozora). Since Donald and Goofy don’t sport the same art style, Sora will probably only look realistic in Quadratum and should return to his cartoonish self for the rest of the game. Still, the fact that Kingdom Hearts 4 likely won’t be released until later into the current console hardware cycle strongly suggests that Square Enix will want to take advantage of that hardware as much as possible. That being the case, we’ll just have to wait and see just how “realistic” Kingdom Hearts 4‘s graphics actually end up looking.