Tetsuya Nomura, director of the Kingdom Hearts series and the current director of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, is known for longer than normal development cycles. Before work on Kingdom Hearts III began, Nomura was the director of another project at Square Enix, the long delayed Final Fantasy Versus XIII which began development for the PlayStation 3 platform in 2005 and was officially unveiled as part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series of games in 2006. Despite its troubled and protracted development, fans flocked to the games darker and more mature aesthetic, as well as its Shakespeare inspired premise. However, the game that fans had waited for was ultimately never to see the light of day. Instead, Nomura was forcibly removed from the project, then rebranded as Final Fantasy XV, in 2014 as Square felt he was singularly qualified to direct Final Fantasy VII Remake as well as Kingdom Hearts III, whereas they believed Final Fantasy XV could be made by anybody. As a result, the game underwent significant rewrites and was condensed from multiple games into a single title.
Nomura’s dream game was ultimately not to be, but as one scene in Kingdom Hearts III reveals, Nomura hasn’t forgotten about the passion project he was forced to abandon.
(Slight spoilers for Kingdom Hearts III ahead.)
Approximately four hours into Kingdom Hearts III, you will likely have entered the Toy Box world. It is here that at some point you will see an ad for an in-universe video game titled Verum Rex. The parallels aren’t immediately obvious, but pay enough attention and you begin to see it. You can watch the “trailer” below.
As commenter Fotm Hero points out, the name “Verum Rex” translates to True King(It translated to “but King” for me, but that’s Google Translate). While not much on its own, it does pair with the protagonists name. His name is Yozora which in Japanese translates to “Night Sky.” Noctis Caelum, the name of the protagonist of Final Fantasy XV and originally Versus XIII, is Latin for “Night Sky.” Once that’s out in the open, it becomes a bit more obvious that Yozora’s two companions are alternate takes on Gladiolus and Ignis(Combined with Prompto.). The other character in the trailer, a woman, is most likely an analogue for Stella who would become Lunafreya in Final Fantasy XV. And all of this takes place against a nighttime cityscape, a common background in the early Versus XIII trailers.
So what does this mean exactly? Potentially nothing at all. It’s a neat little easter egg for fans of the original Versus XIII concept, but obviously Nomura could no longer use the characters he and Kazushige Nojima originally created or the setting that went with it. Of course, it could also be more than it appears. Ubisoft slipped a teaser for one of its upcoming projects, Pioneer, into Watch Dogs 2 for players to find. Nomura, and by extension Square Enix, could have done the same here. While there’s definitely no team under Nomura that could have been working on this title, it could very well be a project that they’ve been tossing around for the Kingdom Hearts team to take up now that the game has released. Seeing the Versus XIII concept reborn would certainly make a lot of fans happy, even if it isn’t quite the same. And for Nomura himself, it’d be an opportunity to revisit his passion project, albeit in an altered form.
So, for the past couple of days I’ve been trying my best to avoid Kingdom Hearts III spoilers because I want to play through the game and actually be surprised, but when I googled “Verum Rex” simply looking for discussion threads on other websites, a video came up. It was the secret ending video for KHIII. I finally decided to cave out of curiosity, and because if it has unlock conditions I probably won’t see it anyway, but it sees Sora and Riku waking up in the middle of what appears to be Tokyo, with the protagonist of the Verum Rex in-universe game, Yozora, watching them from the top of a building, all while a new rendition of what is clearly Yoko Shimomura’s Somnus, Versus XIII’s theme, plays in the background.
Basically what this means is that the next Kingdom Hearts game will take place in this world alongside these new characters that were introduced in what appeared to be an innocuous easter egg. It seems a bit odd considering Kingdom Hearts is pretty much all about the Disney and Pixar worlds, but here we have an actual real life location, with characters who clearly use actual swords rather than keyblades. Some fans are speculating that it’s actually the world of The World Ends With You, and that either in DLC or a sequel, we’ll be visiting Square Enix worlds rather than Disney worlds. Would certainly be interesting if Nomura decided to tell Versus XIII’s story as a part of Kingdom Hearts.