Some people never learn from their mistakes. Sometimes those people are Japanese video game development studios called Square Enix, sometimes what they haven’t learned is to not leak critical plot information onto several handheld games that most of their audience isn’t going to play, and sometimes those mistakes combine to form yet another game used to fill the void of fan demand waiting for the big number III instead of sticking to your guns and clamping down in silence until the final product is finished.
That game is known as Kingdom Hearts Union X, the most recent entry in the JRPG crossover franchise that began by mixing Disney and Final Fantasy. A mobile MMO game set in the ancient past of the series, Square Enix released its original form of Kingdom Hearts X[chi] back in 2013 as Japanese-exclusive browser game. It featured a new cast of characters and a story centered around the Foretellers, five Keyblade Masters who formed competing Unions made up of other Keyblade wielders, whose rivalry would eventually lead to the events of the Keyblade War detailed in earlier games. It originally contained little to no connection to present-day events of the series and could be enjoyed by anyone. Recently though, several characters from present-day have appeared in the game’s story, making it relevant to Kingdom Hearts III.
First, some background.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance was released the year before in 2012, functioning as an interlude between Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts III, tying together the three handheld games released since 2005 and setting the stage for the conclusion of the Seeker of Darkness saga. While the events were convoluted, the conclusion was simple: 13 seekers of darkness led by the series villain Xehanort are going to clash with 7 heroes of light led by the protagonists to unlock Kingdom Hearts, a limitless source of knowledge and power.
In short: the good guys and the bad guys are gonna go around to different worlds in Kingdom Hearts III to fill their rosters and in the final battle they’re all gonna fight until the big thing happens that ends the game. Simple in theory.
Now, take a deep breath, because here comes the kicker.
A couple weeks ago, Kingdom Hearts Union X, known as its full title Kingdom Hearts Union X[Cross] which launched in April of this year, a continuation and rebranding of the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Unchained X which debuted in the US in April 2016, originally known as the Japanese-exclusive online browser game Kingdom Hearts X[chi] from 2013, also related to Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue for the PS4 as the mini-movie Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover, featuring a different perspective of and new plot connected to the game’s events, released a story update containing some major revelations for the future of the series.
Whew. You’re doing amazing, sweetie. Read it again if you must; I already had to crosscheck it a few times.
In this story update of the game, we learned that Lauriam, formerly known to fans as the Nobody named Marluxia, a member of Organization XIII from Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories released on the Gameboy Advance in 2004 between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, is originally from the very distant past of Union X.
Ventus from Birth By Sleep was revealed to be one of the Union leaders in an update before this one, but his origins had never been explained. Pete and Maleficent also showed up looking for the Book of Prophecies, in line with their last scene in Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded (a scene not in the original Nintendo DS game but was added in the HD remaster).
Despite their involvement in the game and whatever questions it raises, they were already going to be active players Kingdom Hearts III. That was frustrating enough. Lauriam, or Marluxia, is an entirely different matter.
Marluxia was the antagonist of Chain of Memories, who sought to brainwash Sora so he could use his powers over the Keyblade to overthrow the leaders of the Organization. This revelation casts all that in new light, as it turns out Marluxia had the power to wield a Keyblade in his human form, creating a lot of questions as to what role, if any, he will have in the events of Kingdom Hearts III, and how he (and Ventus) ended up in the present-day era of the other games.
Some fans have theorized he will return in the next game, possibly being a co-villain as one of the 13 seekers of darkness in the final showdown, while others think it won’t be relevant until whatever comes after for the series.
Okay, but here’s the thing: there’s only so much I can take.
I thought we were past this, Square. For seven years you made games for handheld devices, only to put them all in one place earlier this year on the PS4 anyway. What was the point in doing that if you were just going to include all of this new information in a mobile game no one is going to finish?
Not only is all this critical information on the mobile game, but other plot points, like those in the mini-movie Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover that was included in the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 collection, don’t make any sense without it. Back Cover reveals the other half of the story from the perspective of the five Foretellers, including their mentor the Master of Masters and his secret sixth apprentice only alluded to in the game. Series director Tetsuya Nomura explained that the stories are complementary.
Nomura: Kingdom Hearts χ[chi] and Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ[chi] are both still running games, and they’ve still got a lot left to cover. For that reason, our intention is actually not to show the story as it is right now. In χ[chi] and Unchained χ[chi], from the players’ perspective, the story is continuing onward, but in Kingdom Hearts χ[chi]: Back Cover, the story is told from the character of the players’ affiliated unions, the Foretellers.
Because of this dual nature, Back Cover is an unfinished patchwork of plot points, character motivations and lore that can’t be deciphered unless you play through hundreds of mobile game quests or read the plot summaries of the other half of the story online. This choice is mind-boggling considering some of the scenes already overlap anyway.
In one update of Unchained X, a young Keyblade wielder named Ephemer refers to a “friend” that he made earlier that day, that being the Player character gamers can customize to their own liking. Back Cover echoes this scene from the perspective of the foreteller Ava.
But the Player character doesn’t exist in canon; they’re merely a vessel for people to make their own avatar and experience the story. So what was the purpose of mentioning them here?
If someone hasn’t gotten the 400 quests into the game required to access this scene, or even played it at all, how are they going to know this? Why not merge the two stories of the wielders and the foretellers into one narrative so people don’t have to play the game period, much less understand what in the world anyone is talking about in this scene?
Critical events in the story of Unchained X/Union X are missing: the foretellers are missing motivations, their antagonistic relationships aren’t entirely explained, and several plot points from Back Cover aren’t there at all.
Critical events in the story of Back Cover are missing: The union members have no presence in the story, there’s no climax to the Keyblade War, the five Union leaders storyline including Ventus and Lauriam isn’t there at all, and everything just concludes without a real ending, raising more questions than answers.
In addition to this, the demo Kingdom Hearts 0.2 A Fragmentary Passage opens with a cutscene completely tied into the storyline of KHUX. Luxu, the sixth apprentice of the Master of Masters, is seen carrying out his Master’s orders with his inherited Keyblade, which you’ll only understand if you’ve watched Back Cover first.
By its nature, Back Cover couldn’t have captured everything; even if it covered the wielder storyline, it might not have gotten to the material with Ventus and Lauriam; the story is still being filled in and updated as we speak. But that’s a testament to why the game shouldn’t exist as it is in the first place.
Nomura stated that some of the story developments of KHUX will be touched upon in some way, shape or form in Kingdom Hearts III, but that others will be saved for future titles, leaving fans scratching their heads as they await the rest of KHUX’s story running up to to III’s release next year to see what they have to prepare for.
He also said that story elements that would have gone at the beginning of III have instead been split between Dream Drop Distance, 0.2 A Fragmentary Passage, Back Cover and Union X (one, two, three, four different entries) so that the game could open without a long explanation. But what about the vast amount of players who are going to need that explanation early on?
What started as a cutesy MMO for fans to play without worrying about any story connections it might have to future games has become completely inseparable from the next numbered title, further evident in what is confirmed to be the opening cutscene of the game.
If someone doesn’t play Union X, the phrase “The Lost Masters” isn’t going to make much sense, and if someone don’t watch Back Cover, the significance of this particular Keyblade isn’t going to either.
Back in 2005 Square Enix created a similar problem for players. When Kingdom Hearts II was released, most people didn’t play the interlude game Chain of Memories, leaving people confused about the start of the game and why so many things seemed to have happened off screen.
It’s sadly fitting, then, that Marluxia has been featured in two games that few people will have played prior to his likely major inclusion the next widely anticipated title. Not only will most players have missed his first appearance as an antagonist in KHCOM, even more people will have missed his secret origin story in a game set so distant in the past it’s referred to as the age of fairytales.
Nomura said that he intends to tell the story of Kingdom Hearts III as both accessible to long-time fans and new audiences. I personally suspect that KHUX will show up in a major role, possibly as some kind of sleeping world, but it’s a matter of tying together a hundred different plot threads into just one enormously scaled game.
We ultimately don’t know what’s going to be in Kingdom Hearts III. I can’t tell you. No one can tell you. It’s possible most of this, though not all, is heresy, and that the game will turn out fine, all things considering.
But with another next year or so until the game is released, there’s no telling just how much more story is going to leak into a game that only frustrated fans are paying attention to.