Magical Mondays: Kingdom Hearts and Worldbuilding

The very first post on Lady Geek Girl and Friends went up all the way back in June of 2011. Since then, we have had a collective total of nineteen writers, not including guest writers, and well over 3,000 posts. I bring this up because although nearly five years have passed since we launched this site, not a single one of those 3,000 entries has been dedicated to Kingdom Hearts. We’ve mentioned the games in passing a few times, but we’ve never actually explored the series in depth. I find this surprising—Kingdom Hearts is literally nothing more than an epic Disney/Final Fantasy crossover fanfiction, which means that it should be right up our alley.

Kingdom Hearts I logo picI’ve only recently gotten back into playing Kingdom Hearts—I kind of fell out of the fandom for a bit when the third game managed to spend the better part of the past ten years not being released—but if I had to pick a favorite video game series, Kingdom Hearts would be it. That seems a bit disingenuous of me to say, since I’ve only played KH1 and KH2 and skipped out on all the others in the series. It also feels weird to call them my favorite games because literally nothing about the story makes any kind of sense to me whatsoever. The very first game came out fourteen years ago, and in those fourteen years of playing and replaying it over and over again, I still don’t understand the mechanics of how anything works in this universe.

That’s not to say that Kingdom Hearts doesn’t have a lot of worldbuilding—it has tons. Its worldbuilding just happens to be a giant convoluted mess that makes the story more than a little difficult to follow at times. Surprisingly, though, despite all that, Kingdom Hearts’s premise and gameplay more than make up it.

In the universe of Kingdom Hearts, there are many different worlds, and even though the knowledge of other worlds is supposed to be a secret for some really unexplained reason, everyone knows there are other worlds with other people out there in existence anyway. Until recently, however, the pathways between the worlds have been closed off, and therefore they couldn’t interact. When King Mickey Mouse notices stars being blotted out one by one, he abandons his castle to learn what’s happening, leaving nothing more than a note behind for Donald and Goofy to find someone called a Keybearer.

It turns out that each star is a different world, and that they are being blocked out by darkness and evil fiends called Heartless. Donald and Goofy eventually find a boy named Sora, who is the Chosen One—he’s got a giant key sword thing that can kill Heartless—and the three of them then go on an adventure to save all the worlds. At the end of the game, they manage to open a door to Kingdom Hearts, which is more or less a giant door that contains light within it. The door releases all that light back into the universe or something before the characters immediately shut it again, because why not? This action restores all the worlds destroyed by darkness, and returns nearly everyone stolen by the Heartless back to their rightful world.

I can only assume Alice here doesn’t show up in the sequel because being sent back to Wonderland probably means she got her head cut off.

I can only assume Alice here doesn’t show up in the sequel because being sent back to Wonderland probably means she got her head cut off.

I have spent the past fourteen years attempting to wrap my head around how space works in this game, and I think I simply have to conclude “magic”, because nothing about their reality makes sense when you start to think about it. We first get a sense of other worlds and what they’re like when we are introduced to Sora and his friends Kairi and Riku. These three live at a place called Destiny Island, but Kairi is from another world entirely. She doesn’t remember her homeworld, but wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Her backstory gives the three of them the bright idea to build a raft so they can go to other worlds. At first I thought this was just a fun game they played, but no, they seriously try to build a raft to go to other worlds.

Not sail to other islands.

Go to other worlds.

Our three educated teenagers actually believe they can take a raft made of logs to other worlds entirely.

Best of luck on that adventure.

Best of luck with that.

So I thought that their universe is some endless flat land made of islands so distantly apart from each other that they’re like other worlds—but no, that’s not how it works. Other worlds are other planets, and each planet is literally the size of a town. We know they’re planets, because Sora, Donald, and Goofy use a spaceship, called a Gummi ship, to travel around. We can see that other worlds suspend floating in Gummi space. And even though suns and stars don’t exist in this universe, these worlds still have daylight and moons and whatnot.

Worlds like Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, The Lion King, and so many others all take place on Earth. Yet in Kingdom Hearts, they’re all on their own planet. So then I thought that the different worlds are just alternate realities that Gummi ships can travel to by going through stars—but that still doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially when you consider that some of the Disney worlds are supposed to be in the same universe already. It gets even weirder when we throw Final Fantasy characters into the mix. Squall from FFVIII is an adult, while Seifer and Selphie are both small children, despite being the same age in their original game. And the characters from FFX are potentially the distant ancestors to the ones in FFVII. Yet despite being dead for at least three millennia, they all exist at the same time.

On top of all that, Gummi space itself is super weird. It’s filled with floating rings, asteroid belts, waterfalls, islands, oceans, tunnels that go through… space continents or something, and the characters even adopt physical attributes of the worlds they visit. Sora becomes a merman in Ariel’s homeworld and a lion in Simba’s. The mechanics of how everything works and ties together get even stranger when I remember that Star Wars is now owned by Disney and therefore space travel, as well as Gummi travel, is also a thing. I can only conclude that the different worlds don’t exist in space as we know it, but they also are not alternate realities.

I'm also not entirely sure what a Gummi even is...

I’m also not entirely sure what a Gummi even is…

Kingdom Hearts’s biggest problem is that its rules are never really explained all that well, which makes the story itself also incredibly confusing. The different rules that we do learn about seem arbitrary at best and completely lacking in any kind of logic at worst. Since most of the worldbuilding makes little to no sense, the same thing can be said of the actual plot. To this day I’m still not sure I even understand what Kingdom Hearts actually is—and none of this is even getting into the fact that every world has a giant keyhole that Sora needs to lock for some reason, even though locking the worlds literally affects nothing.

If it were any other story, this would piss me off to no end, but because Kingdom Hearts is just a giant crossover fanfiction of everything I love, I actually don’t care. Because in a story where I get to run around to a bunch of Disney planets and beat shit up with a giant key, the mechanics somehow stop seeming important. The game is just so much fun that while playing I actually forget that nothing makes sense and I have no idea what’s going on. I’m certain Kingdom Hearts III will be just as confusing as its predecessors when it comes out, and I’m also certain that I won’t care. I’ll just be too enthralled by killing Death-Star-shaped Heartless with a lightsaber key.

I’ll be disappointed if Darth Jar Jar isn’t the main villain. (via Kotaku)

I’ll be disappointed if Darth Jar Jar isn’t the main villain though. (via Kotaku)

Kingdom Hearts fascinates me not only as a game, but also as a story. Understanding how the universe works at large is an integral part of any story, and yet Kingdom Hearts manages to be both thrilling and compelling despite this setback. The game, being a crossover fanfiction, contains just as much logic as I normally expect to find in a crossover fanfiction, which is little to none, and while I assume that the story makes perfect sense to the people who made the game, that doesn’t change the fact that they could and should have spent more time explaining the way things work in this universe. I imagine that for any other story, Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t be nearly as fun, but this game’s greatest strength is that it taps into an audience’s nostalgia by using well-known and well-loved stories to keep all of us invested, as well as inventing unique and compelling original characters in Sora, Kairi, and Riku. Some of the inconsistencies in the worldbuilding also allow for this—I never knew I wanted to see tiny Seifer and imagine how a potential reunion between him and his adult rival Squall would go until playing this game, and even spending hours upon hours trying to figure out Gummi space and the different worlds is also a lot fun.

The worldbuilding might not make a lot of sense, but that doesn’t change the enjoyable gameplay or characterization. It’s not easy to create a compelling story this way, yet Kingdom Hearts still managed to do it.

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About MadameAce

I draw, I write, I paint, and I read. I used to be really into anime and manga until college, where I fell out of a lot of my fandoms to pursue my studies. College was also the time I discovered my asexuality, and I have been fascinated by different sexualities ever since. I grew up in various parts of the world, and I've met my fair share of experiences and cultures along the way. Sure, I'm a bit socially awkward and not the easiest person to get along with, but I do hold great passion for my interests, and I can only hope that the things I have to talk about interest you as well.

2 thoughts on “Magical Mondays: Kingdom Hearts and Worldbuilding

  1. Pingback: Magical Mondays: Sephiroth is an Aeon | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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