Kingdom Hearts, the beloved Square Enix series and Tetsuya Nomura’s sandbox, doesn’t shy away from the occasional convoluted storyline or retcon. Time travel as a plot feature becomes a big deal starting from Dream Drop Distance, when Xehanort’s plan to recruit different versions of himself for the Real Organization XIII becomes clear.
At this point, it also becomes clear that side games aren’t really side games anymore and are inherently important because they explain vital plot points (in this case, Dream Drop basically explained the evil master plan for Kingdom Hearts III). If before this you skipped Re:Coded or, dare I say, 358/2 Days, you would probably still be able to make sense of the main timeline.
The introduction of time travel seems to be the thing that divides the fandom in the “omg this franchise is amazing and I love theorizing and trying to figure this out” and the “I have no idea what the hell is going on, this series stopped making sense two games ago” sides. Either you love it or you hate it. I won’t deny that it’s definitely complicated but I’m personally on the “love it” side, although I’m definitely critical about certain aspects (like, you guessed it, time travel).
The universe of Kingdom Hearts introduces three rules for time travel: you need to give up your body to be able to time travel, you can only travel to a place where a version of you exists, and once you arrive at your destination you can only move forward in time. There’s also the typical “things set in stone can’t be changed”-rule and when people go back to their original time, they lose all memories of time travelling.
So now that we’ve gone over the official rules of time travel in Kingdom Hearts, you can forget them all over again. The world of Kingdom Hearts sets them up in a very explicit way just to throw them out of the window again. It seems like only Xehanort’s evil master plan is bound to these rules—other than that, the games seem to be full of exceptions.
Some examples of Kingdom Hearts not following their rules for good measure: the doorway to Timeless River (genuinely no one has an explanation for this one, what was up with it?), Merlin and Yen Sid sending Sora and Riku back in time at the start of Dream Drop Distance, and finally, Sora himself literally altering the entire timeline in Kingdom Hearts III because of the power of friendship?
For me, them breaking their own rules—not once, but many times—doesn’t do them any good. It creates this feeling where something out of the blue happens and people just roll their eyes and go “of course this happens, sure, whatever.” Being an exception to the rules isn’t big or special anymore, in a way, it’s almost expected.
While Kingdom Hearts is one of my favourite game series of all time, I really hope they’ll leave time travel in the past (ha, time joke). With the new saga starting eventually, it’s a great time to breath some fresh air in the series and not make it convoluted and hard to follow from the get-go. If they still decide to use it as a plot feature, I hope they at least start following their own rules.