Sleeping Realm Theory

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Title: Sleeping Realm Theory
Creator: @nikustuneart, @cquaer, @soriwikus and other contributors
Date(s): February 28, 2019
Medium: online
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
Topic: Kingdom Hearts III
External Links: Theory Document
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

The Sleeping Realm Theory is a long meta posted following the January 2019 release of Kingdom Hearts III . The theory argues that the entire plot of the game prior to its climax is taking place on a time loop, and that what the audience sees on screen is not the first time that the characters are living through the events of the game.

The theory is presented as a Google Document that the authors and contributors have shared across various social media platforms. The document is 487 pages long (the majority of which is taken up by screenshots and GIFs) and is divided into nine sections.

Following the introduction is an explanation of the core theory itself. Then the next three sections cover Riku and Kairi’s roles in the creation and maintaining of the loop, and the evidence for those roles. Next is a section detailing evidence for the main theory, followed by one that outlines how the themes present in the game’s Disney worlds connect with Sora’s using the Power of Waking to save everyone and break the loop. The penultimate section was added in a year later and covers further evidence introduced by the game’s Re:Mind DLC. The final section details additional oddities and other details that point to the idea that something suspicious is happening in Kingdom Hearts III that aren’t directly connected to the core theory.

Two years after the theory’s publication, co-author Niku partnered with Twitch streamer AuroraPeachy to do a series of livestreams in which they read through the document, explaining the details of the theory in full and discussing behind the scenes details of how the theory was conceived and developed, as well as the ways in which it's been updated since its initial posting.

Detractors insist that the theory was Jossed by the game’s Re:Mind DLC [1], and other fans believe it to have been disproven. However, the theory’s authors and supporters have argued that nothing presented in the new content contradicts the core ideas of the theory.

Topics Discussed

  • How Kingdom Hearts III misdirects the audience’s attention in order to challenge players to look beyond their first impressions and test their knowledge of the series thus far.
  • The mechanics of how the time loop would work within the scope of currently known Kingdom Hearts lore.
  • The precedent that plot points in previous titles have established for the theory's main ideas.
  • The details of how Kairi and the Seven Princesses of Heart holding Sora’s body together as stated in the game was accomplished.
  • The Disney worlds' emphasis on self sacrifice as an act of True Love (both romantic and platonic) serving as foreshadowing for how Sora regains the Power of Waking, which he later uses to save the Guardians of Light.


So, safe to say KH3 was met with very mixed reception. The ending feels rushed and confusing, riddled with seemingly out of character decisions at the last minute while the main girth of the game can feel bloated with what seems like irrelevant disney bloviating. While some may call that standard fare ‘round these parts, what if we suggested that KH3 is a mischievous and intriguing mistress. One with a lot going on, quietly in the background while letting you assume what you want, slyly slipping clues right under your nose.

If you don’t believe us, this really is nothing new and you can take the word of the director himself;

“I believe that KINGDOM HEARTS III is truly completed when two thoughts - whatever you feel from playing the game, and my thoughts that I’ve secretly placed in the game - match up together. I hope that everyone playing the game will complete the game for us.”

-Tetsuya Nomura, Deluxe edition art book
To put it simply;

Kingdom Hearts 3 is on its second timeline.

An entire first timeline of events has happened, and what we play is the second go around. This second timeline (up to a point) takes place within the Sleeping Realm, or what’s known as the still relatively unexplained “Unchained State”. In other words, some form of Dream.

We are NOT claiming “it was all a dream” which would imply that it didn’t happen or matter. Physically visiting dreams and sleep, even data are pre existing concepts established in the series prior, consider it like multiple forms/tiers of reality. What we’re saying is that this functions more akin to an alternate timeline.

It mattered AND happened.
This is what happens between Kingdom Hearts X (KHX) and Kingdom Hearts Union Cross (KHUX), albeit a bit less train metaphor-y.

Kingdom Hearts X [chi] (the browser game) was the story of your player character going through life in the age of fairytales leading up to the keyblade war and then dying.

Kingdom Hearts Union X [cross] (the mobile phone game) is actually a sequel where your player character unknowingly lives this same life again but within a dreamy (literally) new worldline where the Keyblade War doesn’t happen. They hold vague memories of the terrible things they went through the first time around that get written off as nightmares or forgotten about entirely.

In KHX Ava’s mission, her whole running plotline tasked to her by The Master of Masters (MoM), was to prepare the Dandelions for the new realm they would be travelling to.

We now know that what Ava’s describing when she outlines this plan to Ephemer, is the process of worldline hopping.

Ava also explains to the Dandelions later that they’ll be entering a world like that of a dream.

So the idea here is that you live out the timeline up to the point of disaster in a dreamlike world with no memory of said disaster to then connect to a new worldline where it never happened.

It is after this cutscene that she sends Ephemer off to what she refers to as an unchained state on another plane. A displaced state outside of the worldlines seated somewhere in sleep/dreams.

Ava tells us Ephemer is within a dream, and that this connection through dreams will allow the player to be pulled into this other plane. And finally, that the Dandelions will need to go into a world like a dream to relive their lives up to the keyblade war.
Clear back in KH1, one of Ansem’s reports speaks of Kairi, and how he sent her off to locate the keybearer and observe. Meaning that in any capacity, he’s tracking the situation.

Then, in Dream Drop Distance, as Young Master Xehanort is explaining how they pulled this off, we get a very missable hint.

YMX says nothing but “simple” before there’s a loud noise as the door swings open to the heart of the world.

All we get as an answer is Sora yelling Kairi’s name before she phases through him and he falls deeper into the nightmare.

We’re not saying ANY of this is malicious. In fact, we think she’s entirely unaware of whatever plot she’s apart of.

Kairi is an unfortunate piece caught in a cruel game.
Kairi’s Death

Is absolutely toe to tip suspicious.

For starters, her heart is entirely missing.

True death is the heart and body perishing at once, but our one other example for actual death within the series (Strelitzia) does in fact show us her heart flying out the door and disappearing. She was also similarly struck in the back with a keyblade while defenseless.

Even then, it doesn’t quite line up, as it’s much more in line with a traditional “death”, complete with ✧light sparkles✧ and everything.

Kairi, unlike anything or anyone we’ve ever seen so far, turns into this transparent, watery substance before shattering like glass.

In fact, Kairi’s bizarre transformation resembles Xion’s death more than anything else.

Both their bodies change to what seems to be that same watery substance, something like ice. Something that crystallizes and shatters with a glowing bright light. Why would Kairi’s body, as a regular person, behave the same as a replica’s in death?

All of the focus on replicas, on puppets and vessels throughout the game, but there’s this one quote by YMX early on. This quote is talking about toys in Toy Story—beings that should have their own hearts in that world, and yet they can still be taken over by another. And that exact thing happens to Buzz, too.

We know that after her death, Xion’s heart goes back to Sora. But where does Kairi’s heart go?

Where is Kairi’s heart in the first place?

We never find it in the dive at the Keyblade Graveyard and we don’t see it even when she dies.

The dive in KG shows us we’re unable to save Kairi’s heart—it assumingly doesn’t turn into any Heartless we’ve ever seen before since she has no darkness, and because she has no darkness, she can’t create a Nobody by herself either. We don’t see it being led by the Lich, we don’t see it when she dies, it’s missing—lost, before Xehanort ever struck her down.

But don’t worry, she’s busy playing a really big part, which we’ll get to very shortly.
True love (romantic, familial, platonic, whatever you want) and the power gained through it, sacrifice in the name of love, and revival.

These worlds focus on stories that often have a character first chasing what they think they want until they find what they truly want in the end—often presented with a choice between their newly understood love and a world without it.

What these worlds also do is serve to lay the groundwork for the mechanics of “True Love’s Sacrifice”. To sacrifice yourself without hesitation, wanting nothing else but to protect someone you care about.
With Hercules, Eugene, and Anna, the strength to protect the one you cherish is a vital theme and a lesson. One Sora’s heart is actively trying to teach him. One that allowed them all to overcome the impossible—death.
Sora regains the ability to use the Power of Waking by realising, specifically, it’s summoned by wanting to protect someone with all his heart.

With this, a callback to what Herc said, Sora starts being able to use the power of waking on command.

Again and again it all goes back to that first Herc parallel, in the first world right before Riku’s first cutscene, they had already introduced us to the secret of the power of waking.

And it falls in line with what we know from DDD. How easy it was for Riku to use the power of waking from the start. How intuitively he managed to dive into Sora’s heart at the very end of the game. If it’s connected to the strength to protect, of course he’d be adept at it.

So it makes sense then, that in the KH3 we play, the first time we see Sora use the power of waking?

Is to save Riku.
Kairi is still in Sora’s heart during the course of Re:mind. But like, future Sora, specifically.

He’s like Onions, they have layers. We have a couple very blatant examples showcasing this, too. First off; Remember when Xehanort “struck” Kairi down, heart nowhere to be seen? Sora, from the future, is watching on from within his own body. But he ain’t the only one.

We get a very pointed shot of the camera as it zooms away from his face and in on his chest, accompanied by an overtly loud heartbeat. We’ve been shown this before, almost exactly, as evidence of somebody else romping around in that big heart of his. Specifically, it was Ventus reacting from within Sora and even managing to speak through him.

In a similar example, the loud heartbeat also happens here, directly correlating to Ventus awakening within Sora.

While Ventus was reacting to the danger of a friend, Kairi reacting to seeing her own body double something or other being slain really isn’t out of the question.

The point of the shot is to show not Sora, who is looking on, but something within him reacting too.

Fandom Response

The theory has received a variety of mixed responses ever since it was posted [2], with multiple different opinions on the validity of the theory’s claims and its potential accuracy.

Many fans who support the theory do so regardless of whether their first reactions to Kingdom Hearts III were positive or negative: Fans who were satisfied with Kingdom Hearts III have said that the Sleeping Realm Theory enhanced their enjoyment of the game [3], while those who were initially disappointed by the game expressed that the theory gave them a new perspective on the creative team’s choices [4]. Others have also talked about how the theory helped give them a deeper appreciation of previous games by encouraging them to look more closely at how information is presented in past titles [5].

Kairi’s limited role in the on-screen plot of Kingdom Hearts III was widely criticized for not following through with the potential for her to become a more active Keyblade Wielder as had been teased in the Secret Ending of ‘’Dream Drop Distance’’. Her most prominent scenes in the game involved her being captured by Xehanort for the second time in the series and fridged shortly afterwards. Many supporters of the Sleeping Realm Theory have praised the theory’s outline of Kairi’s role in the time loop for adding substance [6] and meaning to her limited screen time [7] .

Some fans who don’t necessarily agree with the theory as a whole still feel that certain elements of it hold up and may have some truth to them [8], and many who are not wholly for or against the theory have expressed that many of the ideas presented make sense [9].

The theory has been criticized by fans of various positions for its emphasis on so many tiny details [10], to which supporters have responded by pointing out that the series has a history of using seemingly inconsequential details to foreshadow later reveals, citing the fact that the symbols on Sora and Riku’s new outfits in ‘’Dream Drop Distance’’ turned out to be a major part of the plot and had not been added solely for the sake of aesthetics.

Fans both for and against the theory have at sometimes posted what they feel to be alternate explanations for certain details that they disagree are evidence of the theory [11]. Others fans, whether they agree with the theory or not, have expressed that the time, effort, and passion that the theory’s contributors put into the project is something commendable regardless of whether or not the arguments are ultimately correct [12][13].

Many detractors who are actively opposed to the theory claim that it argues the plot of Kingdom Hearts III was all a dream and the events of the game didn’t really happen, based on the role that the Realm of Sleep plays in the mechanics of the proposed time loop [14].

Much of the discourse surrounding the theory stems from the fact that most (if not all) of the contributors and many of the theory’s most vocal supporters ship Sora with Riku. The theory emphasizes Sora and Riku’s connection as a key component of how the time loop was achieved, and specifically uses the word “love” to refer to that bond.

Some fans, both those who agree with the theory and those who don’t, feel that the theory document spends more time focusing on Sora and Riku’s connection than its central premise [15]. Other fans have said that the Sleeping Realm Theory presented interesting ideas independent of any shipping implications [16], or expressed they still agree with many of the theory’s ideas despite its perceived emphasis on shipping [17].

Fans who support the theory, whether involved in shipping SoRiku or not, have pointed out that theory does not make any explicit claim that the love between Sora and Riku is romantic [18].

However, the theory, it’s authors, and supporters still receive repeated flames based on the assumption that the theory is an attempt to prove that SoRiku will be canon [19]. These detractors accuse the authors and supporters of tinhatting, with a few going as far as to compare the theory to The Johnlock Conspiracy [20][21].

Others accuse the theory of being disrespectful of the story and the creative team’s work [22], arguing that the theory is trying to Retcon Sora and Kairi’s relationship, or that it’s saying Sora is weak [23].

Several haters accuse the theory and its supporters of being misogynist for apparently minimizing Kairi’s already limited role in the game’s plot [24], or for allegedly claiming that she’s “secretly evil” [25].

Detractors who criticize the theory based on shipping have been accused of homphobia for rejecting the theory because of its use the word “love” to refer to Sora and Riku [26] or because it was written by SoRiku shippers [27]. They also argue that this type of widespread criticism hardly ever occurs with theories written by fans of Sora/Kairi or those that treat Sora/Kairi as endgame.

Many detractors, whether motivated by shipping or not, have accused contributors and supporters of harassing anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Fans supporting the theory and those not openly involved in the shipping debate argue that these accusations are being made without proof, or that screenshots detractors have presented as proof do not depict what the detractors claim they do [28][29]. Others have argued that even if fans of the theory are harassing anyone who disagrees, the authors are not at fault for how people who enjoy their work behave [30].

Regardless of their motivations, many fans who disagree with the theory have actively attempted to discredit the document in its entirety, with many actively wishing for future installments to harshly and definitively prove it wrong [31].

Several critical responses have been written with the aim of disproving the theory, outlining details in the series that detractors say contradict the evidence it presents and declaring the theory debunked by their responses [32]. Supporters of the theory argue that these responses are nitpicking over details and do nothing to challenge the core concepts of the theory, [33]. Other supporters point out that core parts of the theory still make sense even when accounting for details that are believed to have been proven wrong [34].

In response to critics declaring that interviews with series creator Tetsuya Nomura have debunked the theory, supporters have argued that nothing in the interview contradicts any of the core ideas [35].

Because of the accusations of being a shipping based theory and the view that the theory is claiming the events of the game never happened, supporters of the theory accuse bashers of attacking a preconceived idea of what it is rather than the content of the theory itself [36].

Many detractors not openly motivated by shipping, particularly those in gamer communities, insist that the game simply isn’t that deep [37], and that the connections made by the theory don’t mean anything [38]. These fans see the theory as a refusal to accept the view that series creator Tetsuya Nomura doesn’t know what he’s doing [39], or as a means of finding closure with disappointment after Kingdom Hearts III failed to live up to its hype [40].

This mentality has been criticized by fans of the theory [41], with people pointing out that Nomura specifically said that he had hidden clues throughout Kingdom Hearts III, thereby encouraging fans to look through the game for signs of a deeper mystery [42].

Regardless of their positions on the document itself, many fans have criticized the people bashing the theory and its supporters for spending so being so bitter and angry about a theory [43], with some saying that it is hypocritical that the fans getting angry over the theory are the ones complaining about there being too much negativity in the fandom [44].

Additional Resources


  1. ^ a fan celebrating the "death" of the theory
  2. ^ sleeping realm theory tag on tumblr
  3. ^ Twitter thread detailing a fan's thoughts on the theory
  4. ^ A fan talks about how the Sleeping Realm Theory made them understand the game's choice of Disney worlds
  5. ^ Twitter thread discussing how the Sleeping Realm Theory helped a fan better understand Dream Drop Distance
  6. ^ Tweet talking about how some fans only started to like Kairi because of the Sleeping Realm Theory
  7. ^ A Twitter thread about how the Sleeping Realm Theory adds to Kairi's arc
  8. ^ A tweet expressing that elements of the theory still hold water
  9. ^ A twitter thread where a fan states that they don't usually like elaborate fan theories but the Sleeping Realm Theory's arguments make sense
  10. ^ Tweet criticizing the theory for emphasizing small details too much
  11. ^ an alternate explanation of certain details highlighted in the theory
  12. ^ Tweets admiring the passion of the theory contributors
  13. ^ Tweet recommending the theory as an interesting read even if they don't agree with it
  14. ^ posts tagged #liz debunks the sr theory on a fan's tumblr
  15. ^ tweet criticizing how of the document is spent talking about Sora & Riku
  16. ^ a twitter thread by spinaccc detailing their thoughts on the theory
  17. ^ tweet saying that the theory makes sense despite shipping-related criticism
  18. ^ tweet saying that the theory never specifically states that Sora and Riku love each other romantically
  19. ^ tweet claiming the theory argues SoRiku is canon
  20. ^ A tumblr post comparing the Sleeping Realm Theory to The Johnlock Conspiracy
  21. ^ a twitter thread comparing the Sleeping Realm Theory to The Johnlock Conspiracy
  22. ^ twitter replies calling the theory disrespectful to the developers
  23. ^ twitter thread with a link to a post the user feels summarizes their problems with the Sleeping Realm Theory followed by further commentary
  24. ^ tweets saying that the theory writes Kairi's role to be even more minimal than it is in the game
  25. ^ tweet claiming that the Sleeping Realm Theory argues that Kairi is secretly evil
  26. ^ tweet complaining that heterosexual KH fans will accept any theory right up until the point where love is mentioned
  27. ^ Twitter thread complaining about people writing off the theory because it was made by SoRiku shippers
  28. ^ tweet offering screenshots as evidence of harassment
  29. ^ replies saying that the images do not show evidence of the behavior described
  30. ^ tweet defending the theory authors
  31. ^ Tweet wishing for the violent death of the Sleeping Realm Theory
  32. ^ Tweet declaring the theory debunked
  33. ^ tweet by @wombat_KH
  34. ^ Twitter thread discussing an aspect of the theory that was apparently proven incorrect
  35. ^ Tweet regarding claims the theory was debunked by the KH3 Ultimania
  36. ^ Tweet complaining that arguments against the theory aren't talking about the theory itself
  37. ^ Twitter thready saying it's not that deep
  38. ^ Tweet saying that a lot of evidence put forward by the theory was interesting but not concrete
  39. ^ Tweet criticizing the theory's attempts to find a hidden meaning in the game's story choices
  40. ^ Twitter thread comparing the Sleeping Realm Theory to Mass Effect 3's Indoctrination Theory
  41. ^ a thread complaining about fans saying supporters of the theory are over-analyzing the game
  42. ^ Twitter thread criticizing fans comparing the Sleeping Realm Theory to Mass Effect 3's Indoctrination Theory
  43. ^ Tweet criticizing people for being angry at a theory
  44. ^ Twitter thread talking about the hate the theory receives