The premise is simple: every episode, Kingdom Hearts fangirl Shannon has thirty minutes to explain the story of the franchise to Jake, who has managed to know absolutely nothing about it until the podcast began. Alongside recapping the plot Shannon also gives asides on her favourite characters, gameplay elements, and fandom notes. Of course Jake also intervenes with reactions, thoughts, and theories about what he's being told, and occasionally crying.
The delivery is as straightforward as the story of the franchise.
The show runs through the games of the series in order of release. As of December 2020 they have covered the following games, with bonus episodes between series for them to catch their breath and answer audience questions:
- Kingdom Hearts—Chapters 001-014
- Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories—Chapters 015-031
- Kingdom Hearts II—Chapters 032-076
- Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days—Chapters 077-099
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep—Chapters 100-123
- Kingdom Hearts coded—Chapters 124-130
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance—Chapters 131-???
Keeping Jake spoiler-free is Serious Business, since his learning too much too early would defeat the whole purpose of the show. Because of this, when fans on Twitter discuss events Jake hasn't gotten to yet they use the hashtag #KHFree, which Jake keeps muted so he won't see anything. Shannon also screens emails and the like to make sure they're "Safe For Jake".
Kingdom Smarts contains examples of:
- Accent On The Wrong Syllable: Occasionally crops up when a character's name isn't said out loud until several games after they're introduced, but the duo aren't worried because they're made-up names anyway.
- One notable example: The "a" in Braig is pronounced like "day" in later games, but Jake and Shannon usually pronounce it like "die" as a form of petty vengeance against him.
- At Least I Admit It: Everyone in Organization XIII during 358/2 Days is lazy and offloads their work onto Roxas by pretending it's a "special mission", except for Demyx. He cheerfully admits he's lazy when he asks Roxas to do his work for him in exchange for rewards.
- Audience Participation: Between games Jake and Shannon do bonus episodes which consist in part of reading and responding to listener emails and tweets. Listeners also take an active part in keeping Jake spoiler free while discussing the show by using the #KHFree hashtag.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Jake casually asks who made the Keyblades in episode 105. Shannon's amused reply of "maybe we'll find out?" immediately makes him nervous to hear the answer when they get there.
- Berserk Button: Berserk may be too strong a word since the two are rather cordial about it, but there are some things that they simply no longer tolerate for the sake of the show and their sanity.
- The fact that Jake must be kept in the dark about everything is the most important part of the show, and even joking about spoilers for Kingdom Hearts games will get a person blocked on social media.
- Shannon is fine with people correcting her on name pronunciations or misspoken facts she says on the podcast. The problem is that she often gets loads of comments like this and most are unnecessarily critical, which also earns them a blocking.
- Blatant Lies: By the time they get to Birth by Sleep, Shannon often responds to worried questions from Jake with a variation of its fine. Typically this means the exact opposite.
- Catchphrase: By the end of the Kingdom Hearts II recap, Shannon's became "Stay Tuned!" whenever Jake asked a question that she couldn't answer.
- Couch Gag: In lieu of a regular sign-off phrase, episodes end with Shannon saying "we still haven't ____ yet", with the blank spot foreshadowing what they'll get to next week."We still haven't gotten to the part where a villain legit calls you a 'chicken-wuss'."
- Crossover: They had one with Got It Memorized?, another Kingdom Hearts recap podcast that started around the same time, for their Chain of Memories quiz.
- Crossplayer: Played with. Shannon is usually dressed as a male character in the title cards, but that's not too surprising because the franchise has a surplus of those in principal roles. It moreso comes into play with the Days and K-Pop Smarts cards with Jake wearing outfits for women. Really it has more to do with Shannon's favourite characters in media often being men and Jake's often being women. The topic was discussed near the start of Birth by Sleep when Shannon recounted how she didn't initially know who to draw them as since Jake wasn't familiar with anyone and Shannon wasn't interested in putting herself in Aqua's outfit...but she did want to put on Xehanort's.
- Entertainingly Wrong: A lot of the fun of the podcast comes from Jake trying to understand the story he's being told and formulating theories based on knowledge that often won't be fully expanded on until later games. An early example from the first episodes has Jake hear how Riku is swallowed by the darkness, followed immediately by Sora's pulling the Keyblade from the darkness, and posits the question "Is Riku the Keyblade?" This is proven wrong when Riku becomes a major character in the story not too long after. Even when these guesses are wrong, Shannon often concedes that the ideas Jake suggests are the kinds of things Kingdom Hearts probably would do.Shannon: *as Jake theorizes about Ventus, Roxas, and Sora* You have some of the right words in there, just all the wrong sentences.
- By the end of Re:coded, Jake's theories began to reach the point where Shannon legitimately couldn't play coy as not even the threads he was pulling on had been addressed in the franchise.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Xaldin referring to Xion as "she" rather than "it" and his insistence that she be dealt with like any other traitor to the Organization is taken as proof that he thinks of her as her own person rather than a puppet like Xemnas does is framed as this by Shannon. Jake appreciates him wanting to treat her equally, even if that means she should be killed for her betrayal.
- Evolving Credits: The cover art started with Jake and Shannon dressed as Goofy and Donald respectively. Once the series reached 358/2 Days it changed to them dressed as Larxene and Xigbar. For Birth by Sleep it changed to Eraqus and Xehanort. For Re:coded, it put them in TRON-style outfits.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Shannon actually has one live during recording in episode 147 while discussing time travel in the series.
- Full-Name Ultimatum: In episode 56, Jake is so thrown by Mickey revealing that Ansem the Wise and Ansem Seeker of Darkness are two different people that he sternly shouts "Michael!" at the mouse in exasperation.
- Heroic BSoD: Jake had one on being described (and later watching) the secret ending of II, because there's just so much going on that he cannot comprehend. He has a small one whenever he so much as remembers that said video exists.
- Hypocrisy Nod: Shannon describes part of the Chain of Memories fight with Marluxia as "a mech wearing a cape", which results in Jake mocking the mental image and the general overdramatics of Organization XIII. However, Jake later acknowledges that if a Megazord were to drop in wearing a cape, he, as a Power Rangers fan, would be all-in on that.
- Insistent Terminology: During episodes taking place in the Land of Dragons, the Mulan stage of Kingdom Hearts II, Shannon refers to Li Shang exclusively as "Bisexual Icon Li Shang". The one time she doesn't, she backtracks to say it properly.
- Mood Whiplash: Birth By Sleep usually has Jake suffer scenes of high emotional stress, deep confusion or outright tragedy—followed up by bright and cheerful Disney World!
- The Nicknamer: The show frequently has Shannon having to discuss characters that have appeared, but have not yet been formally named or introduced. As a result, nicknames are often devised based on personalities or other traits the characters have.
- Ansem Seeker of Darkness is referred to as "Lumpy Coat", "Billy Zane", or "Lumpy Billy Zane".
- Demyx of Organization XIII gets "White Trash Prince" due to his mullet hairdo.
- Xigbar's antics get him dubbed "Keanu Reeves".
- Luxord's various magic and card themes see him referred to by the name of a different famous stage magician every time he appears (except for the time he was dubbed A.J. McLean).
- Saïx is named "Mean Jong-up" because he has a bad personality but the looks of "a magical elf prince".
- Ventus was dubbed "Baby" after Jake saw him in the secret ending of II because Jake couldn't know who it was, didn't understand why he looked like Roxas, but already knew he'd be adopting that boy too.
- Other Birth by Sleep names include Big Boy (Terra), Armour Lady (Aqua), Creepy Oldman (Xehanort), and Samurai Dad (Eraqus).
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Shannon sometimes has to invoke this in Kingdom Smarts such as when villains turn into vehicles or someone being called "chicken-wuss".
- Papa Wolf: So far every protagonist and their friends have been jokingly "adopted" by Jake as he tries in vain to protect them from the events of the games, and Jake usually refers to them as his sons and daughters.
- Xaldin is interpreted as being one to Roxas, being highly concerned for his safety after the "deaths" of several Nobodies in Castle Oblivion.
- One Steve Limit:
Jake (on twitter): I want everyone to respect my privacy in this trying time where a different motherfucker than the one we learned about in KH2 is named Xehanort and it's driving me up a goddamn wall.
- Jake gets rather flustered upon finding out that the Ansem who was the villain in the first game is not the Ansem in the second game, though once he wraps his head around why this is (Xehanort stealing Ansem's name for his studies on Darkness) he gets better.
- The reaction to two Ansems is nothing compared to him finding out that Creepy Oldman is Xehanort.
- Running Gag:
Jake: Who's this old-man-jaundice eyes? Who is Baby?
- Jake and Shannon regularly refer to Kingdom Hearts II as the third game in the franchise. While correct, since Chain of Memories came in between, they make a specific point of phrasing it as "the third game in the series, Kingdom Hearts II."
- DiZ sucks and tried to download the moon.
- Ansem sitting in his castle thinking of new Heartless types for his graphic design class.
- Jake remembering the events of the secret ending from II out of nowhere and having a small breakdown.
- Referring to 358/2 Days as 179 Days and telling Nomura to simplify his fractions.
- Serious Business:
- Keeping Jake as spoiler-free as possible is taken very seriously, since the show's whole premise collapses if he learns too much too early. One episode during their Kingdom Hearts II episodes opens with Jake explaining that he literally yelled at a co-worker at his day job to not say anything about Kingdom Hearts III to avoid getting spoiled about the game.
- As the podcast's fan community has grown, keeping Jake in the dark has reached the point that the show's fans on Twitter use a specific hashtag which Jake keeps muted, "#KHFree", when discussing events the show has not yet reached. Later episodes also regularly end with a warning not to use KHFree in conjunction with other hashtags nor when sending tweets directly to the Kingdom Smarts Twitter, as doing so negates Jake's muting.
- Sequel Escalation: One can see how Kingdom Hearts II was this for the series simply by looking at how long it took them to get through it—namely, longer than the first two games combined.
- Shipper on Deck:
- Jake and Shannon decide that Xaldin is spending the plot of Days trying to seduce Beast, and was probably trying to instigate a three-way during II. They also feel like he would've been nicer to deal with if he'd succeeded.
- The two also start shipping Terra and Cinderella ("Cindy") due to their friendship while he protects her, her prince's non-personality, and the fact that she'd probably keep Terra from making bad decisions.
- Special Edition Title: Usually on the twitter rather than the podcast, but there have been special cover arts done up for Halloween, Christmas, and K-Pop Smarts.
- Special Person, Normal Name: Jake loses his mind when he finds out that the original name of Xaldin from Kingdom Hearts is Dilan, and refers to him as that almost exclusively from then on.
- This Is Gonna Suck:
- After the past games' Downer and Bittersweet endings, Jake's response to watching Birth By Sleep's opening cinematic and seeing the protagonists each have charms in the shape of the destiny-linking paopu fruit is "Ah, fuck."
- The entire lead-up to coded was Shannon dreading having to go through her least favourite game, to the point where she declared that they were technically going through re:coded instead and therefore could leave it until after Birth By Sleep.
- Wham Line: One hits Jake like this at the end of episode 100, just as they start Birth By Sleep.Jake: And that's been Kingdom Hearts.
Shannon: We still haven't met Xehanort yet.
Shannon: We still haven't met the true Organization XIII yet.
- She manages to top it in the last episode for coded.
*ending music plays*
Jake: What? Shannon, what does that mean? Don't look away from me!
Shannon: I'm not feeling great, I have to leave. *ends call*
- What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: Kingdom Hearts's place in this trope is lampshaded by Jake with increasing frequency as a game series where you visit Disney worlds and go on adventures with Disney characters becomes increasingly dark and involves multiple existential crises. By the end of the episodes focused on 358/2 Days, where events spiral into a Downer Ending, Jake declares that these are games marketed for children and shouldn't be so sad.