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Light and Darkness in Kingdom Hearts

Pahrak Model ZX

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(Unmarked spoilers ahead, I’ll try to keep them…light.)

 

I read Mr. Thornberry’s blog entry and it got me thinking about Kingdom Hearts well more than usual.

 

The representation of light and darkness in Kingdom Hearts is…mixed, I guess. If you just take a cursory glance at the series, it’s the good guys keeping light safe from villains wielding the forces of darkness, and that’s not wrong. Heck, that’s literally the mission statement of the old Keyblade order as we find out in BBS. (Granted the game implies that order has some grave flaws, which might be why it ends up destroying itself…) But the series does try to say that darkness is not inherently evil, you just need to know how to use it.

 

In

, about 19:21, Xemnas asks Sora, Riku, and Mickey why they hate darkness, and Mickey and Riku say that darkness is a natural part of the world and there’s nothing wrong with that; the problem is that people just love to abuse it. (Sora just stands there trying to look menacing with his anime key, his major is in friendship not darkness.) The first game is pretty black and white on the subject, but since then they’ve tried to take a more neutral approach, primarily through Riku’s character arc: in the first game he fell to darkness and was possessed by Ansem, and ever since he’s been trying to make up for his mistakes and come to terms with the powerful darkness inside of his heart. This really comes to a head in Kingdom Hearts 3D, where he and Sora take the exam to become Keyblade Masters. Riku is using this as a chance to evaluate himself on a more personal level—is he really fit to wield the Keyblade when his heart was so weak in the past? (Of course if he wasn’t then it wouldn’t have still been with him, in-universe mechanics work like that, but he needs a little more than that, I totally don’t blame him.) The game answers with a very clear YES by having Riku succeed in becoming a Keyblade Master (the first new Master in about a decade) while Sora, due to having no experience with darkness, nearly gets dragged into a situation even worse than the one Riku found himself in during the first game. Riku, with his mastery of darkness, is essential in saving Sora, and the villain in this game (a new form of the villain who possessed him), outright says that Riku can now trap darkness in his heart and can no longer be manipulated. (I like to think that was a huge spirit-booster to him but I digress.) Riku made some mistakes with darkness, but he learned from it, and now he’s one of the best heroes we’ve got because of how good he is with darkness. So that’s a plus.

 

It’s not just Riku, though. The first Keyblade we see Mickey wielding is a Keyblade from the Realm of Darkness (so far the only one from that Realm we’ve seen, and he doesn’t always use it, but he still has it); the Gravity and Magnet magic players can use are said to be dark spells, and you’ve got Ventus using them even with his heart of pure light; and, again in 3D, the Dream Eaters in the Realm of Sleep are made of darkness, and while some of them are evil, there are at least as many friendly ones that join Sora and Riku as Pokémon-esque party members. (And they’re adorable.) There are plenty of instances proving that Dark is Not Evil in Kingdom Hearts…but, they’re not entirely unbiased.

 

For one thing, we haven’t really gotten to Light is Not Good at any point. The villain, Xehanort, likes to say this, but, I mean…he’s the villain. You could maybe cite Roxas, who controls Light and works for a villainous group for a time, and maybe Eraqus, who firmly believes Light is absolute and attacks his student (and adoptive son) Terra when the latter becomes soaked in darkness, but neither of them are really evil, and are almost always portrayed sympathetically. (I know Roxas is super-popular, and I can’t bring myself to hate Eraqus since he’s a Jedi Samurai Paladin who looks like Hironobu Sakaguchi and is voiced by Luke Skywalker.) Maybe you could even mention Sora’s Heartless from Re:coded, which is behind all the chaos going on in the datascape and, while it is made of darkness (being a Heartless), it does use some light attacks in its battle with Data-Sora. But it’s Re:coded, so who cares? :P

 

Plus, pretty much every villain in the series does use darkness to some extent. I mean, the very first villain is Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, and now they’re calling the new Organization the XIII Seekers of Darkness, and their plan is to unleash a flood of darkness upon the world, and the apocalypse in the origin myth was all about the birth of darkness, and then there’s Vanitas, and…yeah, there’s actually a lot.

 

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays into Kingdom Hearts X, the (currently Japan-only) browser game set at the time of the origin myth. The world is filled with light, but people are fighting over it, and while it hasn’t gotten too bad yet, the myth tells us it’s only a matter of time. The Foretellers, leaders of the various factions fighting over the light, all have a symbol associated with darkness on their Keyblades, so it seems like they may very well be villains in disguise. This could be a case of Light is Not Good villains…but, the game also says to watch out for “seekers of darkness disguised as guardians of the light”, so the reveal might be that they’ve been going for darkness this whole time instead. We’re gonna have to wait and see, I guess.

 

So basically, KH says and I think definitely believes and means that Light and Dark are not necessarily associated with any particular moral stances, but the archetypal associations you’d expect are still very, very much there. This might change after Kingdom Hearts III, which is supposed to be the end of Xehanort and his Seekers of Darkness, but for now our main example for stepping out of these associations is Master Riku. He does a heck of a job, though.

 

Related: while The World Ends With You doesn’t have thematic light and darkness like Kingdom Hearts does, a certain character who is up to no good does have powerful light-based abilities. He’s not evil, but he’s an antagonist, surely. Make of it what you will.

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