In a surprise announcement at Sony's Tokyo Game Show 2015 Press Conference, Square Enix showed off a trailer for Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. This collection includes Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD, Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover, and Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage-. What was not announced however, was when this title would be releasing, nor how it would impact on Kingdom Hearts 3.
With Kingdom Hearts Unchained X having just released in Japan, it’s safe to assume that Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 will release at some point in 2016. With games like Star Ocean 5 , Dragon Quest Builders, and Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna, Square-Enix's early 2016 line-up is quite filled already, so it would be reasonable to expect Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 to come sometime between mid to late 2016. Would that mean we can expect Kingdom Hearts 3 in 2017, as opposed to 2016?
However large the gap is between Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 and Kingdom Hearts 3, I wouldn't place Kingdom Hearts 3's release outside of 2017. Looking at Final Fantasy XV for comparison, the final game will likely come more than a year after Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae's initial March 2015 release, yet it is still confirmed for 2016. Also, considering that both Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 and Final Fantasy XV will be releasing towards the end of 2016, Kingdom Hearts 3 will probably be releasing towards the end of 2017 so that its sales do not compete with its own prologue and a numbered Final Fantasy title.
Not only is a 2017 release the most logical release year for Kingdom Hearts 3, it also has the most significance for the series. 2017 is the 15 year anniversary of the Kingdom Hearts series which started in 2002, and perhaps more shocking is that in 2017 the first Kingdom Hearts will be as old as the first Final Fantasy was when Kingdom Hearts first released. Barring any other surprise announcements, when you count every numbered titled, side game, final mix, and HD collection, the series will have 18 released titles by 2017. For a franchise that started with a chance meeting in an elevator, with a premise that still sounds insane, it is absolutely incredible that it has lasted this long and still shows no signs of slowing down.
With the final game in the Xehanort Saga on the horizon, it begs to question how Square Enix will continue Kingdom Hearts' impeccably consistent annual release cycle going further. What will Square do for Kingdom Hearts in 2018? How long will we have to wait for a proper numbered title? There was a 3 year gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, and due to Final Fantasy Versus XIII's development hell monopolizing the original Kingdom Hearts team's time there will be about an 11-12 year gap between Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts 3. I don't think we will ever have to wait that long for another numbered Kingdom Hearts title, but it begs to question what is a reasonable time frame going forward?
Kingdom Hearts 3 began development in earnest in 2013, so a 2017 release would put it at about 4 years of development. Even if development on Kingdom Hearts IV started immediately after the release of Kingdom Hearts 3, it wouldn't release until at least 2021 – we could be on a new console cycle by then. That's also assuming that the development time would not increase for the next numbered title. Will there be another trilogy of side games created to bridge the gap?
While fans of the series would probably expect that, how would the main stream gaming audience react? It’s something that requires some serious consideration and perhaps it could be a topic for a future article series. Either way, if they were ever going to reboot the series, the end of the Xehanort Saga would be the time to do it and that process will likely begin after 2017, when we expect to see Kingdom Hearts 3 released worldwide on PS4 and Xbox One.