As I’ve touched on before, Kingdom Hearts is one of those things that I just love beyond reason. I think everyone probably has a couple of things like this: ridiculously intense passions that don’t quite make logical sense, but darned if you don’t just know that this stupid video game means the world to you for no good reason.
With the imminent advent of Kingdom Hearts III, the release of which will be one of the major important events of my entire life, and the recent release of 2.8, which contained (we’re assured) the last bits of original content to come out before III finally makes an appearance, this seems the perfect time to embark on a little rundown of Everything We Know About Kingdom Hearts So Far In Basically Loose Chronological Order. Or EWKAKHSFIBLCO for short. Pronounced ‘ew-cack-hush-fibble-co’, I think.
This might take a while. But let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). Strictly speaking, we can’t actually go back to the beginning, since we haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit the very earliest moments of the Kingdom Hearts universe. But we can go back to a time before the Keyblade War, an event so cataclysmic that it basically ended the world and started a new one.
Before all that, however, some notes on the ontology of the universe depicted in the KH series. There are a few fundamental truths to the way this universe works, like the laws of physics in our own reality.
Firstly, everyone has a heart. At least, every sentient being is born with a heart, as far as we can tell (it’s not totally clear whether everything has a heart, but certainly every human and humanoid person seems to have). The heart in the KH mythology is more like a soul or an essence, since it represents the most fundamental aspect of a person’s being. It is, however, also a thing that has some sort of physical existence.
It’s possible for a person to lose their heart, which can happen either because it’s taken from them by force or because they give it up. This has some odd side-effects, on which more when we get to them.
Within this universe there exist worlds, which are, at least superficially, little planets hovering in a void. Some people are capable of using passages or spacecraft to travel between worlds, but for the most part the inhabitants of each world will stay on the same world their whole lives. Indeed, those who travel between worlds do their best to ensure that each world’s populace never becomes aware that there exist worlds other than their own.
Most worlds contain parts of particular Disney films – for example, Wonderland in the first game is a world in which Alice, the Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat and so on all live within the scenes that first appeared in Alice in Wonderland. When the player visits these worlds, they usually play out a story with these characters which goes along similar lines to the story of each of their Disney films. A second visit, while those same characters will still be there, sometimes leads to a story that’s not much to do with the individual film and more to do with the overarching story. Some worlds are original, like Traverse Town. These worlds are more often populated with Square Enix characters, which basically means Final Fantasy peeps. In the original worlds, the story is usually more unique to Kingdom Hearts rather than deriving from the intellectual property the series is based on.
Actually, that’s another point I should bring up before it becomes a big deal. Although Kingdom Hearts appears to be basically just a weird mishmash of Final Fantasy and Disney, the characters who appear form part of a completely new story. There are lots of entirely original characters, and they’re usually the most important ones; don’t go thinking that it’s just weird crossover fanfic. In fact, there’s relatively little interaction between characters from different IPs: Donald Duck and Goofy follow series protagonist Sora to lots of different Disney worlds, but other than that there’s not an awful lot of cross-franchise meeting. The world based on Hercules is the main one I can think of in which there is some genuine crossover material, since Cloud from FFVII and Auron from FFX both appear as allies of Hades (though both defect to the good guys’ side pretty quickly).
Another thing about worlds is that they too have hearts. The heart of a world is a big deal, since its destruction (or ‘being lost to darkness’) results in the world itself and all its inhabitants just sort of… fading away. It’s not super clear whether the world continues to exist in the realm of darkness, or whether it’s just gone. Birth By Sleep 0.2 suggests that parts, at least, of destroyed worlds do subsist in the realm of darkness, but it doesn’t look as if the population survive the transition.
Which brings us to Kingdom Hearts itself. Within Kingdom Hearts, there is a thing called Kingdom Hearts, and it’s a giant heart-shaped moon. More to the point, it’s known as ‘the heart of all worlds’.
What Kingdom Hearts actually is seems to change a little bit from game to game. Or perhaps it’s that it’s different things to different people. To some, it’s the very essence of the universe itself; to others, it’s an enormous repository of hearts that can be harnessed for great power. I think maybe it’s one of those things that represents everyone’s greatest wish, no matter what that might be: a sort of universal MacGuffin that people just assume they can use to solve any and all problems. It’s almost like a deity.
The other underlying fact of the universe in the series is that there is light, and there is darkness. (Darkness is kind of a big deal, as evidenced by this ridiculously long montage of people saying ‘darkness’ or variants thereof.) Without wanting to over-simplify, most people seem to think of light as good and darkness as bad. In actuality, it seems as if the most well-adjusted people are those who accept that balance between the two is the best thing for everyone: certainly, there are overly zealous crusaders on both sides trying to claim that either light or darkness ought to be eliminated entirely. They’re usually presented as being a bit misguided, at best. Both light and darkness can be sources of great power, but the power gained through embracing the darkness seems to be much more tempting. It’s based on aggression and passion, a loss of self-discipline, which can result in a person easily falling further into the darkness.
One final thing before we start getting into the actual events of the story. There are these things called Keyblades. It’s still not totally clear exactly what they are, or where they come from. What we know about them is that they’re weapons which usually look like a sword-sized key of some description, that they’re unique to their individual owner and that they are really powerful. Being keys and all, they can open locked doors and chests, and even unlock paths between worlds (or lock them). There are a lot of Keyblade wielders in the series, but I think it’s clear that a Keyblade is actually a pretty rare thing. A lot of the characters we follow happen to have Keyblades, hence the reason they’re the main characters, but it’s certainly not something any regular Joe could just have.
A Keyblade seems to be an indication of an unusually strong heart. Everyone who’s able to use one is certainly particularly strong-willed in one way or another – and note that both good dudes and baddies are eligible for Keyblade wieldership, so they don’t distinguish on that front. In fact, there’s at least one Keyblade specifically for the dark realm.
All of which brings us to the first story told in this universe: Kingdom Hearts X, a browser-turned-mobile game, and X Back Cover, which is a cinematic running concurrently to the events of the game.
And, since it’s taken so long just to cover all the explanatory pre-amble, that’s where we’ll begin our story next time.