The Pop Culture Magic System of Kingdom Hearts


I’m currently playing Kingdom Hearts 3, which just came out, and when I play this series I always end up learning more about the pop culture and it gets me thinking about how it can be adapted to a pop culture magic system. What fascinates me about Kingdom Hearts is that it’s an amalgamation of Disney mythology, classical mythology, and the mythology of Kingdom Hearts itself. The series manages to make all of this work together and ends up creating an interesting cosmos that can be worked with. In my previous post, I shared a bit about why I might work with it, but in this post I want to break Kingdom Hearts down and explore the overall system in terms of what can be done with it.

Let’s focus first on the characters and treat them as potential pop culture spirits we might work in this system. We have Disney characters such as Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Malificent, and Pete, as well as disneyfied versions of classic mythology such as Hades, Hercules, Rapunzel, the evil queen, etc., and all of these characters can be worked with, though as an important caveat its worth noting that the Disney versions of classic mythology are just that: versions. We also have the characters unique to Kingdom Hearts: Kairi, Riku, and Sora among others.

When we look at the characters we can categorize and build correspondences around them, both elementally and otherwise. Sora represents the element of the light, happy, go free, and always finding a way to turn a situation in his favor. Riku represents the element of redemption, because he has to come to terms with his darkness and make peace with it. Kairi represents the element of love, because of the connection she brings to the other characters.

Then there’s the Heartless, which are also embodiments of Darkness. What’s fascinating is that the darkness, in some ways, is portrayed as the raw chaos and unformed potential, while the light represents the structure of manifestation, the realization of form. With Kingdom Hearts the dark is set against the light and so we see the representations of darkness, the Heartless and Nobodies are treated as enemies of the heroes. It’s worth recognizing that’s the status quo of the pop culture, because if you hold a more nuanced perspective, Kingdom Hearts may not work for you. At the same time, its worth considering that the raw, primal aspects of the heartless are useful to work in terms of appreciating potential and form, and how one becomes the other and back again.

The other aspect of Kingdom Hearts is the keyblade, or rather key blades. The key blade enables a person to unlock or lock the heart of a world or a person. It connects and severs the dark and light. In one sense, you could work with the keyblade, in and of itself, separate from the rest of the mythology, using it as a magical tool of opening and closing the way. I’ve actually done just that and found it helpful for unlocking the darker emotions of one’s hearts. I’ve also used the keyblade as a means of opening opportunities that seem to be closed.

With any pop culture that you want to work with, you need to examine the rules of that pop culture and how those rules will effect the magic system you want to develop around it. At the same time, it is useful to also look at how you can separate elements of that pop culture out so that you can work with them singularly, as I’ve done with the keyblade. What makes pop culture magic work is the magician’s ability to critically determine what they will work with, the universe and mythology, or the practical aspects, or both.