Kingdom Hearts III: A Writer’s Take

The Prologue

Let me share with you a perfect summer memory, made all the sweeter by the fact that it was, in fact, not perfect.

It was the end of the school year, but not just the year. High school was over. My friends and I had tossed our hats into the air, and then we began closing books that had been our lives for years. Clubs, sports, volunteer positions. Bursting with pride, I watched my friend earn her Gold Award in Girl Scouts, the last ceremony before we were all finished. In the warm twilight of that fading day, my sister and I celebrated by heading to the nearest game shop and buying Kingdom Hearts II.

There seemed to be no better way to jump headfirst into summer. We retreated to the cool basement and clicked our used copy of the game into the PS2. The intro was thrilling. It promised excitement and story, not to mention beautiful graphics (even though the game had been out for a few years at that point). I was ready. Then, static on the screen took over the whole picture. We looked at each other, then back at the screen. A few long minutes passed. As we feared, it wasn’t artistic. It was frozen.

We tried cleaning the disc. Started the intro again, watching for several minutes until it hit the fateful mark. It froze again. Another cleaning didn’t help. By then, it was too late to take it back to the store. The next day, we made it our first order of business. I self-consciously brought the game to the store, handing over the brightly colored box that had both Mickey Mouse and the word “Hearts” as prominent features of the cover art. A silver-haired man leaned on the counter with heavily tattooed arms, a man who could have looked just as natural taking a Harley roaring down an open road. Behind him, posters for the latest shooters covered the wall. “Kingdom Hearts?” he asked. His dark features brightened. “Oh man, I love this game.”

The disk, now having been through both amateur and professional cleaning, returned home once more. It had been a bad idea to hold our breath. The cut-scene froze even sooner than it did before. There was nothing for it but to drive back across town and get a different copy. Four trips to the game store and many hours later, our adventure could begin.

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As I said, it’s not a perfect memory. But sometimes when I think about summer, it’s there with the taste of raspberry white tea and popsicles, the heat of the day glowing in black asphalt under bare feet, and deep breaths of fresh air. I found Kingdom Heartsfor the first time in the summer, too, which is probably why it’s always been such a bright spot. I share that memory so you could understand at least part of the anticipation that I had for Kingdom Hearts III.

 

The Beginning

Kingdom Heartsis a series that is known for being highly creative and highly confusing. Its greatest strength is also its weakness. It is a story that is entirely based on making abstract concepts concrete. Characters can be taken over, literally, by darkness. The main hero saves people with literal light. Everyone spends quite a substantial amount of time talking about hearts, friends, strength, and light. Because the action is following things that we usually can’t see (willpower giving someone the power to overcome evil, for example), and the plot itself indulges in time travel and unique world-building of its own, things can get a little confusing.

 

To begin with, I have to say that I’ve never minded Kingdom Hearts’abstract nature or its quite childlike appreciation of what is good and heroic. I use the word “childlike” intentionally over “childish.” The dialogue in these games is not known for being highly literary, but it does attempt to cover some fairly complicated feelings that are not only woven into the characters but into the worlds they live in. It’s not always memorable or graceful, but sometimes it’s profound. And I love that.

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Sora, the protagonist of Kingdom Hearts, is one of my all-time favorites in video games. His priority is helping others, no matter what bizarre situation he finds himself in, and he never struggles with the dark anti-hero storylines that are popular right now. His flaw is that he tries too hard. As a character, he has one foot planted firmly in the Square Enix universes and the other in the Disney worlds. He’s given a sword that looks like a key and he says, “Who can I help with this?” He is also the only character I know of who can get away with giving speeches about the importance of friends to villains and trying to talk them out of being evil. Most of the time this doesn’t work, of course, but he tries just the same. And I think that’s pretty heroic, too. He’s a central figure in the epic war between light and dark, and somehow there’s still time for ice cream, running on the beach, and keeping promises.

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On to the Review

As with everything, I have to start with the best parts. KH3 is beautiful. The intro, easily one of the best parts of each installment, was masterfully choreographed to Utada Hikaru’s latest song for the series to recap the highlights of the story so far and hint at the story ahead (and as a bonus, it didn’t freeze once on us). Those intros make me wish that it were possible to write novels the same way. Music and movement without words tell a story in a way that nothing else can! The worlds are well-designed and intricate compared to anything in the other games, and the sheer amount of outfits and formchanges that Sora accumulates over the course of the game was amazing. Even some of the features that I was skeptical about when I first heard about them ended up being nice additions. I found cooking with Remy from Ratatouille to be a charming mini-game, and while I really wasn’t sure about the necessity of the smartphone addition, we had some good laughs taking selfies in peculiar places (this is me after Riku lost his heart, etc.).

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Good job, little chef.

While combat has never been too difficult in KH installments, it stays interesting with different effects with the varying keyblades, team-up attacks with party members, upgrades in magic and combo abilities, and the summon attacks. It was bewildering at times how many ways you could fight enemies. You could destroy them with color-guard style with a flag or your water-Kraken (thePirates of the Caribbean keyblade), take them down with yo-yo tricks (the Monsters, Inc.keyblade), drive a chariot pulled by Pegasus through the hordes (Hercules keyblade), or blast them with a honey bazooka (Winnie the Pooh keyblade).

If those changes weren’t enough, you could even use magic called “attractions,” attacks based on Disneyland rides. While it seemed downright insulting to defeat Organization XIII members with a spinning carousel or a water ride (it’s more fun if you put your hands up!), some of these were entertaining. Somehow, taking down the stone titan on the mountainside by attacking it from a magical, glowing train was absolutely Kingdom Hearts.

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It was a treat to see the story played out with nicely done graphics (it’s still striking to see them have so many facial expressions), and the amount of thought that went into the design of each world, from NPC conversations to menu graphics, was incredible.

 

With all of that said, I found KH3 disappointing in terms of its story. I think that it is totally possible to have a game that is beautiful and well designed also be incomplete. Many reviews I’ve read seem to struggle with this—so much is done well but it doesn’t satisfy as the next installment of the story. The design and mechanics rate it high scores, but I found the storyline so unsatisfying that it overshadows the rest. This was amplified by how short the game is. In many ways, it felt like a rush to get to the end, an end that didn’t offer much closure other than a few expected moments such as reuniting Terra, Aqua, and Ventus.

 

 

Taking a Look at the Core Problem

If we’re approaching this game from a writer’s point of view, there are many aspects of the storyline that I could talk about, but I believe that most of the problems are a result of one fundamental choice. And it’s worth talking about from a writing craft perspective. KH3’s biggest weakness in terms of story is that Sora is not the central piece. I will focus on this and its ramifications as I talk more about the plot. I won’t spend much time recapping the plot or explaining all the plot points (that could take years), so hold on to your hats!

Despite being represented in the intro as a central piece in the game being played between Eraqus and Xehanort, Sora is no longer unique as a keyblade wielder, and in fact, he did not even become a keyblade master (a result of trying too hard in 3D: Dream Drop Distance), while Riku did. In this game, Maleficent, the usual understudy villain, doesn’t consider Sora worth her time at all, even though he has repeatedly foiled her plans in the past. Unfortunately, her opinion seems to be shared by most of the other characters on both sides of light and dark.

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Donald accuses Sora (rightly) of not knowing what he’s doing.

Because of the way he failed the Mark of Mastery exam, Sora has been stripped of most of his powers at the beginning of the game, which leads to a few conversations that left me wondering how many different ways they could say that Sora failed to do something or failed in some way. The one power that the others need from him is the Power of Waking, and he doesn’t know what it is or how to get it. Even Master Yen Sid chalks up Sora’s abilities to pure luck, saying something to the effect that perhaps his greatest strength is that magic happens when he most needs it. This, at least, is the excuse that he gives for sending Sora, Donald, and Goofy on a quest with no particular destination or practical method for discovering the Power of Waking. In essence, Sora has to be kept out of the way while the other characters go on with the plot.

 

 

KH3 Worlds: Missed Opportunities and Fake-outs

Twilight Town

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This feeling of being kept out of the way is only confirmed in every world that the trio visit. Sora uses the keyblade to open worlds for them to travel to, but this is random. He has no idea where they will end up or why they need to be there. They go to Twilight Town first to look for Roxas, a confusing move since he knows that Roxas doesn’t have a physical body, having been returned to Sora in KH2. And he already knows that Roxas’ heart is within his own. This confusion is quickly replaced with intrigue, however, in the cut-scene. There is a sudden focus on Sora, then the screen cuts to black with only the words “Do you seek our liege?” there. Reality snaps back, and it’s clear that Sora is the only one who heard the “voice.” I was immediately engaged. Don’t get too interested in this element, however. It is never brought up again. This promised to be a new storyline for Twilight Town, one that suggested that Sora was at the beginning of a quest that he was central to, as he was the only one who heard it. It raised lots of questions that the game had no intention of answering. Perhaps this will be important to remember for a later game, but in KH3 it was useless. It merely provided another place for his companions to make fun of him. He is also secondary in this world because he only has a connection to Hayner and the other kids because of Roxas. Their bond is explained as Roxas’ strong connection to his friends (albeit from the digital world).

 

Kingdom of Corona

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In Rapunzel’s world, Sora and the others are at the ultimate periphery of Tangled’s plot. It begins the pattern that is repeated in almost every world where the trio appear in the world, immediately find Heartless or Nobodies attacking someone, rush up to protect them, tell them “We’ve got this” and urge them to run to safety. There were some great moments at the beginning where Sora appeared to be trying to steal Rapunzel away from Flynn, like bringing down songbirds from a branch to sing for her, sending dandelion seeds into the air with an aero spell, and so on, but in the end, he’s just watching the movie. Except it’s a clunky version of the story because key moments are left out, such as the fact that Rapunzel’s hair is magical and can heal, how the crown ends up with her at the lantern festival when we last saw it with her mother back at the tower, how Flynn gets out of prison, and other important things like that. The writers relied heavily on the player’s knowledge of the movie to condense it for the sake of time, but doing so ruins Tangled’s story and doesn’t offer anything new for Kingdom Hearts.

This world is one of the most obvious in putting Sora out of the action. After escorting Rapunzel to the town to see the lights, Sora’s usefulness in the story ends. He and the others are simply not with Rapunzel anymore (ducked out when things got romantic, I guess) so the action of Tangled can play out as it should according to the movie. Marluxia appears and tells Sora to do exactly what he is doing—another sign that he is completely unnecessary here. To make things worse, even if Sora wanted to be a part of the story, Marluxia prevents any possibility of that happening by putting him to sleep. He wakes up the next day to fight the Heartless that Mother Gothel becomes and sit on the windowsill while Rapunzel brings Eugene back to life. This conclusion should have almost no weight at all for Sora, because according to the game, he has missed all of the plot, including the fact that Mother Gothel was evil, Rapunzel’s hair can heal, Flynn is really Eugene, and that he was practically killed for trying to help Rapunzel. The trio are almost not in the frame at all for the cinematic conclusion, clearly showing how important they were to the storyline.

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Nothing worse than realizing you couldn’t do anything in your own story.

Like Twilight Town, this world presented a few moments that I thought were going to be much more important. First, it seemed ominous that Organization XIII members would tell Sora to do what he was going to do anyway. Protect that person. Watch out for this. This introduced fascinating questions, since this happens more than once. What are they up to? Are they trying to make Sora doubt himself? Is it a trap somehow? This, however, was not intrigue in the end. The Organization members were up to their usual tricks, and Sora simply did the same as he always does. Second, I thought that Marluxia’s ability to put Sora instantly to sleep would be a serious problem. No Organization XIII member had an ability that could personally affect Sora before, and there didn’t seem to be a defense against it. It seemedbad, new and dangerous. It wasn’t, though. After a sloppy lick from Maximus, Sora is fine and Marluxia never attempts to use this power on him again, though it would really have come in handy later.

 

Arendelle

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In Frozen’s world, Sora is equally left out in the cold. In a frustratingly repetitive turn of events, Sora and his friends climb to the top of the mountain to get to Elsa, only to be blown off the mountain. This happens three times in total, effectively keeping them away from the plot. Upon smacking into the snowdrifts at the bottom for the third time, Sora retorts with a sarcastic comment, which made me laugh out loud. The writers had to realize how repetitive this plot device was to make a character lampshade it with a comment. Larxene, the resident Organization XIII member for this world, further wastes Sora’s time by putting him in an ice labyrinth during one of the treks up the mountain. She even admits to him that she wants to keep him out of the way while the Organization observes the action. While the labyrinth is beautiful, it separates him from the story even longer.

Ultimately, Sora does nothing to help or hinder the plot. He doesn’t even know who Hans is, so seeing him stalking down the mountain carrying off Elsa and trailing darkness would mean nothing to a player who hadn’t seen the movie. Sora can’t catch up with him (despite being able to ride the ice giant, run like the wind, and otherwise throw himself down the mountain), so Anna still turns to ice and Elsa’s love brings her back to life. Unlike Tangled’s world, Sora doesn’t watch most of the finale, however, since he’s pulled into another dimension (away from the plot again) to fight a Heartless formed from Hans’ darkness. At least, this was what I assumed we were fighting, since no explanation is given and it doesn’t really matter.

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Are you kidding me?

Arendelle also had a few moments that indicated that something greater was afoot. Larxene also tells Sora to protect the new princesses of light but doesn’t explain why she would bother or why the Heartless are there if they don’t want the princesses harmed either. This leaves the player with the impression that the baddies are only there for Sora to have something to do while the movie plays in the background.

Like Twilight Town and Rapunzel’s world, there was an interesting moment that seemed to be introducing a new element as well as making an attempt to explain why Sora is the main character after all. After Sora helps Anna get to Elsa’s ice palace, he and the others stay outside because they aren’t involved in the plot. When Anna is hit by Elsa’s ice magic, Sora feels pain for a moment and knows that something bad has happened. They can’t help, though, because they’re already making their rapid descent to the bottom of the mountain thanks to Marshmallow. I thought that Sora’s ability to feel Anna’s pain would be important. In a game that has made such fuss about people’s connections to each other, I assumed that this was new, that it meant there was something about Sora that linked him to the action going on. I was wrong again. This was not important, nor was it ever mentioned again.

Frozen offered an almost too-easy connection to the Kingdom Hearts universe, since the plot already involves hearts in an obvious way. Anna is suffering from a frozen heart and then a broken heart after Hans betrays her, and Elsa’s heart is broken from having to hide herself from the world and the fear of being rejected. I thought that we might have Elsa taken over by darkness because of that, or that Sora himself might have to deal with ice in his heart. None of these things happened, though. Sora remained quite far from the storyline, quite safe from making much of an impact or having it impact him.

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Oh look. There goes the story.

 

 

         Sora’s Heart

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I could walk through each of the other worlds to talk about how similar moves happen in each place to either render Sora insignificant or unnecessary to the storyline, but from these two worlds alone, you can see where the story only progresses when Sora is not in it. This is a dangerous move to make for a main character. Other than his unfailing optimism, Sora doesn’t offer much to the story, and if anything, he is moved farther away from it at every opportunity. In the Pirates of the Caribbean, for instance, he travels around with a version of Jack Sparrow that isn’t the real Jack. In the Toy Story world, he is not even in the real Toy Story world, just a copy of it where Organization XIII is conducting experiments about heart. In the climax of that world, too, he is separated from the others when he’s knocked into a video game. Xemnas tells him to watch from behind the screen, a fate that the player is only beginning to understand at that point.

While Sora visits multiple worlds and comes no closer to discovering the Power of Waking, everyone else is in the action. Riku and King Mickey are in the realm of darkness looking for Aqua. Kairi and Axel are training to be keyblade wielders. Ienzo and some of the other scientists work on solving problems like finding bodies for Roxas and Naminé. We know, of course, that Sora must at some point come back to the story because he has a few people’s hearts within his own, if for no other reason.

While this part of the story could have been worked to be quite powerful, it is addressed like the worlds. Sora is not central, even when it’s his own heart involved. In KH1, Kairi’s heart ends up inside of Sora’s. To return her heart to her body, he has to release it. In a powerful and surprising climax to that arc, he uses the keyblade on himself. Kairi’s heart returns to her, but Sora is turned into a Heartless. It’s an action of love and self-sacrifice.

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With that in mind, I expected that Sora would be asked to do some hard things in this game in his determination to return the Roxas’ and Ventus’ hearts. Then it was revealed that he had three hearts inside of his, which prompted questions that seemed to promise interesting answers. I started imagining that Sora might have to shatter himself to free all of these hearts. It was hard to do one—but three? Goodness. That sounds serious.

Sadly, all of this made Sora seem more like a glorified storage container than the main character. Returning these hearts is not difficult at all. In fact, he doesn’t have to do anything at all. When Sora and Aqua return for Ventus, Vanitas shows up to cause some trouble. Aqua pushes Sora out of the action by putting up a barrier that forces him to simply watch. While the player can then control Aqua for the fight, making use of her elegant magic, it’s another moment that shows us how unimportant Sora is. When Aqua is in trouble, Ven is able to summon his heart back to his body so that he can leap into the fray. So, in this instance, Sora only had to show up. Compared to Kairi’s return, it was fairly anti-climactic.

During the long series of final battles, Sora finds himself fighting alongside Axel. At some point, he’s knocked out of the fight (separated again). It’s not clear what happens to Sora at that point, because the action shifts completely to Axel and the girl that we already know is Xion. Roxas’ heart leaves Sora and finds a replica body so that he can return. At some point, not really included in the story, the third heart is also released, probably during this fight. This is presumably Xion (though I had thought it might be Eraqus—someone else had him). Again, Sora only has to be physically present. Other than that, the plot does not really need him.

 

 

Why Bother Analyzing this Video Game?

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So why does this matter? From a storytelling perspective, KH3 held a lot of potential to masterfully combine several storylines, something that should be an epic storytelling event and also a grand example for writers hoping to expand their own worlds in sequels and parallel stories. After all, it’s a story that has been told for almost fifteen years, and more and more, audiences want their favorites to have more seasons, more sequels, more spin-offs. How do writers approach such a daunting task? However, KH3 is not successful from a story perspective. Why? Because it lacks a central focus. It’s possible to weave any number of storylines together in a satisfying, if complex, way if a story has a center. In Kingdom Hearts’ case, the center works best if it is a person where the storylines meet each other. That character becomes the common ground, as well as the touchstone for how we understand the conflicts in each storyline. This is because that character should be experiencing a version of the conflict that we see in the other storylines, while still dealing with the most important conflict above all of the others.

Example: A Smaller Story to Echo the Bigger Story

I’ll demonstrate this by talking briefly about what this could have looked like in KH3. Each world has a storyline of its own, but these can be easily understood and justified as necessary if the main character relates to them personally. In Rapunzel’s world, Sora should be able to relate to her struggle of being both thrilled and terrified of the world beyond her tower. Before the Destiny Islands were destroyed, he dreamed of going to other worlds. He knows better than most how there are marvelous and dangerous things out there. They should have a natural rapport, too, because they both find wonder in the world and believe the best about people. Like Rapunzel being totally controlled by Mother Gothel for her own ends, Sora should have been manipulated by Organization XIII here, being made to believe certain things so that he would react in ways that ultimately would serve their purposes.

If Sora had to be put to sleep, I would have made this a part of Rapunzel’s struggle—he isn’t there to save her from Heartless (like Flynn left her at the boat), and he would feel like he failed again—or I would have diverted from the main storyline completely so that she could have used her magic to wake him. This would have tied back to their overarching quest for Sora to learn the Power of Waking, so even though he still doesn’t have it, he would start to understand it better. This would make the player feel as though they’ve accomplished something by being in this world, and that there was a purpose for Sora to be in that place at that time, which is vitally important for a player, or a reader, to know. That’s just one example of how Sora could have been the grounding focus for the story. It helps the player understand where and how all of these plotlines fit together, and it also pushes Sora’s story forward at the same time.

 

The Bigger Story and the Ending

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KH3 attempts to have Sora deal with the greatest conflict over all of the smaller plotlines, but it is almost entirely hidden. Truly a case of burying the lead—all puns intended, especially when Sora dies twice. After he visits Winnie the Pooh, Sora is visibly worried. He tells Merlin that something must be happening to him that made Pooh forget him. As with other times when Sora is concerned about something, the others tell him to just shake it off (see also “you’re just hearing voices” in Twilight Town, “snowmen don’t walk around, don’t be silly, Sora” in Arendelle, and “you’ll get over it” in Olympus). During the string of boss fights near the end, he is told a few times that he’ll have to pay a high price for what he’s done. At that point, I was still thinking that there would be an ultimate reckoning for Sora at the end of this story, either a hard choice he had to make himself, such as using the keyblade on himself in KH1, or a choice that’s made for him, such as being trapped in a nightmare in the deepest part of the Sleeping Worlds in 3D: Dream Drop Distance(probably the series’ greatest moment of reckoning that everything Sora has done to fight darkness has left darkness in him).

However, the cost that is hinted at is not related to the climax of the story at all. At one point, Sora dies (sort of), but even this doesn’t really faze him. There is a fairly straightforward solution to getting back to the real world, so this doesn’t really count as a consequence or true difficulty. In fact, all of the other heroes there go through almost the exactly same thing, so its impact is nullified.

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The biggest emotional moment comes too early in the finale.

 

Sora is able to defeat Xehanort enough for Eraqus to return and reconcile their friendship—a finale that has no payoff for Sora or the player. Were we hoping that these two would be friends again? Xehanort admits almost breezily that he was wrong and hands over the Χ-blade like a toy that he should have been sharing. The cast of characters is able to stop the impending doom together (kind of an afterthought after the old friends make up with each other), and besides Kairi being gone, Sora has paid no personal price to accomplish any of it. While all of the other characters present have a stake in defeating Xehanort, too, Sora is where all of their stories merge. As the center of the story, Sora’s price should have been the reason that they’re able to defeat Xehanort.

 

Instead, Sora has to sacrifice himself to bring Kairi back, an act that he has not only done before, but one that we don’t even get to see. The ending plays out with all the good guys enjoying time on the beach together, a scene that feels too familiar. Like the rest of the game, everyone goes on without Sora just fine. Only Kairi seems upset. If she and Sora had spent more time together in this game, finally filling in some of the details about their bond with each other, this would have more impact. But again, Sora is always so separated from the story that they didn’t have a chance. They have one nice moment when they find each other again that echoes the theme of the other games, but since Sora has not really been in this story very much, it isn’t as powerful as it could be.

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Moments before he leaves the story again.

 

A few reviewers have analyzed the ending, reading the scene after the battle as Sora knowing that he is dying (the cost for getting everyone’s hearts back from the lich). This is why he chooses to go alone to get Kairi back. In this reading, the end has a lot more weight—Sora feels that his journey is ending, he steps up for his friends rather than them protecting him, and he refuses to accept that Kairi isn’t there and will do whatever it takes to bring her back. And this time, it will be so much harder. I think that this interpretation works, that it is definitely there. However, most of the impact of this ending comes from analysis, not what’s presented in the game itself. We have no indication (body-language, narration, etc.) that Sora is dying, which is piece that we needed to feel the impact of his choice, especially since we don’t believe that he will ultimately stay dead. Like the Power of Waking, if this thread had been woven into the story as a whole, it would have resounded at the end. Each of those odd moments already present (Marluxia being able to put him to sleep, Pooh forgetting him, feeling Anna’s pain) could have foreshadowed that Sora’s heart was weakening, and one last journey through the worlds to get Kairi back would shatter him.

 

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This is where the emotional climax should have been.

 

Concluding Well: The Take-away for Writers

For a series to satisfy, there must be smaller plotlines that can be relatively easily resolved (like the individual worlds) and an overarching plotline that moves the main character to a new place. There can be a temptation for a writer to fulfill this by simply putting the main character somewhere he hasn’t been before. New place, new problems. For plot-driven stories, this is a tried and true approach. However, a writer must acknowledge the core of their story. If it’s character-based, this move will not satisfy a reader or player. Kingdom Hearts is clearly trying to be both plot and character driven, a combination that is difficult to balance in video games, since it usually ends up swinging from one to the other rather than maintaining equal parts. There will be too much fighting for the people who want character development and too much talking for those who enjoy the battles.

So what is the answer? The answer is the return to the story’s theme. At the end of your story, your main character must be in a new place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean somewhere they’ve never been before. The return is what makes the reader or player feel like they have been on a worthwhile journey. They have not come back the same. Compare KH3’s ending with KH2, when Riku and Sora return home together after the final battle and a brief stint in the realm of darkness. They’re finally reunited with each other. They’re also reunited with Kairi, Donald, Goofy, and Mickey. Even Roxas and Naminé are reunited in a way. It’s one of my favorite scenes of all time in video games.

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ただいま。

It’s a powerful conclusion because Sora’s journey has always been about finding his friends and mending connections. KH3, while it explicitly discusses the hearts that are connected to Sora’s more than any other game, contradicts themes of connection by physically and thematically separating him from the storyline. His choice to bring Kairi home at the price of not being able to return himself could have been extremely powerful, but it wasn’t developed throughout the story enough. For a satisfying conclusion, make sure that the theme of your story, no matter how many plotlines you want to weave in and out, remains clear and is more deeply understood by the time the end credits roll. If your character is no longer the same as when you began, then there is satisfaction in the journey.

 

 

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Secret Ending

Every writer has stories that are closer to their hearts, because of events going on in life at the time when they found them or other circumstances. Kingdom Hearts is one of mine, as much as I’ve critiqued it here. I have no doubt that it has shaped how I write stories, and I’m thankful for its influence, for the better and for the worse. It is both sometimes childlike and sometimes profound. There’s nothing really like it out there, and I appreciate that oddness. I also love that a story that is so unapologetically in favor of light, goodness, friendship, and trying hard continues to be loved over all of these years. It’s definitely not perfect, but it is sweet.

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