An examination of non-linearity in fiction and one director’s grand vision coming to fruition.
*WARNING*, spoilers for Final Fantasy 7 Remake abound.
Final Fantasy VII Remake. Kingdom Hearts 3. The World Ends with You. What do these three titles have in common, aside from the protagonist’s liberal use of hair gel that could stimulate the economy of a small country? They’re each overseen by director Tetsuya Nomura of Square Enix fame. Aside from The World Ends with You, these series are well established with multiple entries and an incredible degree of popularity. Similarly, FF7R and KH3 both experienced a long development cycle that saw the projects be given their due diligence. There is a more insidious factor that links these series, however, and it doesn’t lie in the amount of belt buckles the characters use in their outfits. All three explore the messy, wonderful world of alternate realities.
It is worth mentioning prior that all three of these games hold a very eastern ideology and approach to storytelling. Whereas western fiction usually values their couplings consistently clear cut (Lord of the Rings holds clear intentions with its prose), Novels such as Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore are abstract, ambitious, and decidedly difficult to approach without an open and blunt mindset. Sure, in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper one could argue the wallpaper itself is an analogy for the narrator’s crippling descent into madness, or just a poor choice of interior design. Or in Kafka by the Shore, the figment of Colonel Sanders omnipresent in the story would be straight up confirmed to be the protagonist Kafka’s budding sexuality (yes, these are real plot points. Again, keep an open mind). Bearing this in mind, let’s examine the red thread that binds these seemingly unrelated titles that have been the subject of reviled criticism of their confusing, unresolved strands (as of yet).
Let’s get started.
Have you broken in your government issued tin foil hat yet? No? then this would be an opportunity to do so. So, The World Ends With You (or TWEWY as the fans came to know it as) already houses an ideology of multiple realities, an underside to the seen world, the balance of life and death. Indeed, the very story involves protagonist and local brooding youth Neku Sakuraba as he takes a visit past the land of the living, seemingly without recollecting anything of how he got there and only with his aversion to social contact to act as companionship (A lesson we could all learn from in this current day). He is given the rundown about the ‘reapers game’, a game driven by the overseers of the underworld that allow a recently deceased to fight tooth and nail back within a time limit and, eventually, earn their right back to living to give life a second chance. Initially, Neku being the gloomy downtrodden being he is (He is 15, after all) sees no point in even engaging in a life that was somehow taken from him. Eventually, with the help of his fellow Spencers clad friends, he realizes that life is not some sort of gelatinous whole, but rather the whole world begins (and ends) with his personal view. The important fact to gather for this piece is the establishment of alternate realities that do not differ far from our own, but rather seem to coexist literally in the moment. Neku’s game actually occurs right in real world Shibuya in Japan, parallel to our daily lives though obscured unless one were to look close enough.
Kingdom Hearts. The subject of infamy for its Disney aspect, its curiously campy and trope laden dialogue, and that oh-so knotted story. However, it would not be the series I adore so much without these quirks, spoken with absolute sincerity. Seeing Donald Duck cast what is canonically one of the most powerful spells among the company’s properties and Mickey Mouse asking about “The Door to Darkness” looking like he just raided a Hot Topic at gunpoint will always make me happy at a primitive level. KH3’s is a joyous romp, featuring worlds like Monsters Inc. or Toy Story to wander through (With some of Square Enix’s own original designs in the story, such as the clearly Final Fantasy inspired Yozora being a well-known figure in Toy Story, oddly). With this in mind, I would like to bring up the secret ending to Kingdom Hearts 3. Sora, after defeating looming threat Master Xehanort and rescuing that one girl Kairi, appeared to have disintegrated and died in the games conclusive cutscene (how can this be? Death has no concept here!). In the secret ending, Sora awakens in a metropolitan area that bears resemblance to…Shibuya Crossing, the area from TWEWY. He is then overseen by an established throwaway character Yozora, a character that looks remarkably similar to a Final Fantasy protagonist from the cancelled game Final Fantasy XIII Versus. This will be summarized in the end as to what this means, but this marks the beginning of Nomura’s master plan that we know of so far.
I wasn’t kidding.
Finally, we have the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Though it is a remake in name, it hosts a number of deviations that almost create a new beast of its own. For one, there is a new ever-present theme of fate and deviating from one’s own oedipal demise. For example, Zack Fair’s death is well known as the origin story of Cloud Strife’s Buster Blade and his indomitable will to carry on past his murky origins. However, something strange happened at the end of the remake. Zack was seen alive in a moment that was clearly when his death would have taken place, and not only that, there was evidence of a separate timeline altogether. The remake also establishes these beings called Whispers that act as the arbiters of the timelines, to ensure the timeline does not go awry like the Grecian fates would. It seems almost as though this timeline is running parallel to the original story, almost like a “what-if scenario” that some fans may find thoroughly confusing in regards to the original game.
It’s spawned a wonderful little subculture of memes as well.
This leads to the cultivation of three games themes of fate, death, and a potential destiny each protagonist holds. Prepare the detective magnifying glass! Sora, in the end, awakens in Shibuya with Yozora and appears to be adhering to the same rules as the reapers game. TWEWY ended on an ambiguous note on what became of the reapers and the extent of their omniscience nature. FF7R indicates this master plan of converging timelines and death averted as they were written. Could this be the beginning of the “Nomura Cinematic Universe”? It appears to be leading into this master plan that binds the themes together with a zip tie made of time travel, parallel worlds, and a foretold destiny. Y’know, all the tropes written in a pile that here span multiple genres and have little correlation? As to what becomes of the FF7R remake remains to be seen. There is a pivotal point where Aerith, who infamously died in the original release, can now be saved. We simply don’t know what will happen at this point with any of these three series. Like Kafka on the Shore, sometimes you can’t even trust the linearity of storytelling and rather need to take the backseat and enjoy the ride. Just remember, there’s going to be plot holes and logic jumps on this roller coaster, so buckle up.