The Kingdom Hearts series is known for its notoriously complicated plot. Really, it’s no surprise that mashing two franchises with dozens of worlds together into one story will lead to a bit of a mess. I loved the two main games of the series growing up, so over the last few months I’ve made it my mission to play through the entire series from start to finish in order to finally understand the story since Kingdom Hearts III is likely coming out within the next decade. It’s been a rough ride as anyone who was unfortunate enough to having to listen to me rant about my love-hate relationship with the spinoff games can attest to, but I can finally say I’ve made it through it¹. I could probably write another post on the hit and miss mechanics of the side games², but as the terrible pun in the title implies I’m more interested in the narrative side of things today.
I just attempted to sum up the overarching story but struggled to do so in under 2000 words, so the gist of it is this (mild spoilers): the Disney worlds alongside other, Square Enixy worlds, are pockets in a reality that has been separated by a cataclysmic war enabled by several bootstrap time travel paradoxes that is somewhat implied to have been fought between children that have turned to the darkness and the successors of the people responsible are now tasked with avoiding the second season of world ending keyblade war using keyblades that were born out of a convenient pun before but also during the apocalypse and the majority of the games are about trying to stop various iterations of the same person tasked with avoiding the second season of world ending keyblade war from bringing on the second season of world ending keyblade war in order to become god through the power of bootstrap time travel paradoxes.³
I’m probably doing the narrative a disservice by trying to sum it up like this, but it might help prove my point, which is that the way the writers of the Kingdom Hearts games have gone about building their world from a one-off experiment into a long running franchise is absolutely fascinating to me. I like to think of it as a masterclass in retcon, since I doubt all of the narrative was planned at the time the first game was made but there are enough places in the first game for later ones to hook into and explore the story further, like the mysteriously unexplained brown hooded person showing up to signal the end of Sora’s world in Kingdom Hearts I and then going unmentioned until 6 games later when he is revealed to have been (spoiler, I guess) Xehanort all along, creating a jumping off point for the time travel/dream world narrative in Kingdom Hearts 3D (Dream Drop Distance).
All in all, this shows that when building a world, it’s incredibly useful to hint that there is more in some places when there really isn’t as it can be built out to ridiculous extents later on. If the brown robed character hadn’t been introduced in the first game in the series, the later games wouldn’t have had that convenient narrative hook to dive off from to explore the dream worlds further.⁴ So really, if you think there’s an avenue you can explore later in any story, be it game, novel or D&D campaign, don’t close that door by explaining all the things that you might not even know about yet. Insert a hook and leave it for later. It seemed to work out for Square Enix alright.
¹Almost, anyway. As I just found out Kingdom Hearts Χ: Unchained, the last cinematic based on the story of Kingdom Hearts Union Χ[cross] (in itself a re-release of the browser game Kingdom Hearts Χ) is actually the equivalent of a deleted scenes reel, so I’ll still have to play through Kingdom Hearts Union Χ[cross], but since that one has the shifty free-to-play mechanic of punishing players for playing too much per day unless they cough up cash, progress on that will be pretty slow.
²And maybe I will.
³For full effect, play this in the background
⁴That is, worlds that were destroyed by darkness but never entirely restored and as such are in a dreaming state because worlds have hearts and thus are able to dream. Simple stuff, really.