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Frickin' Damsels

Ta-metru_defender

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Essays, Not Rants! 360: Frickin’ Damsels

 

The original Kingdom Hearts follows a pretty typical story structure. Boy is childhood friends with Girl and Rival. Home gets destroyed, everyone gets separated. Boy sets out to find Girl and Rival. Girl is captured by bad guys, Rival turns to dark side. Boy rescues Girl, helps redeem Rival.

 

In the third game, Kingdom Hearts II (don’t ask about the numbering), the Girl, Kairi, winds up being captured by the bad guys again and the Boy, Sora, sets out to rescue her again. There are turns and twists, more Disney worlds, and stuff.

 

There’s nothing really ~fancy~ inherent in the broad strokes of the games’ stories, most of the fun comes from its aesthetic of mixing Final Fantasy tropes with Disney characters and worlds. They draw a lot from the Disney canon and Saving The Princess is a big part of that whole thing. Plus, rescuing Kairi isn’t the big climax or resolution of the first game. Even after she’s rescued there’s still Stuff To Do. It’s not an excuse for damseling her, by no means, but it’s something. She also gives Sora the Oathkeeper Keybalde (which is objectively the best Keyblade).

 

The good news is that even though she does wind up something of a damsel in Kingdom Hearts II, by the end of it she’s using her own Keyblade and fighting bad guys. That’s right, after all this time having Sora and Riku save her, now she can fight her own battles.

 

Anyway, thirteen real-world years go by, a bunch of other Kingdom Hearts games come out and I play a couple of them. And finally, Kingdom Hearts III, the tenth game in the series (please don’t ask about the numbering) came out last month. Something teased by the prior games is that it’s been leading up to a bunch of heroes fighting a bunch of villains, one of those fighting heroes being a Keyblade wielding Kairi. Which, dope. Let’s have the Boy, Girl, and Rival fighting together against the bad guy in the kind of anime showdown I’ve been awaiting for the past thirteen odd years.

 

Alright, here there be spoilers for Kingdom Hearts III, as I’m gonna be getting into plot details. I haven’t finished the game yet, but I’m getting real close to that final boss.

 

 

Kairi gets sidelined for a good chunk of the game, off training with another character. Cool, fine, but we only see her in a couple cutscenes, which is a bit of a bummer, but, fine, it’s fundamentally Sora’s story after all. When everyone shows up at the Keyblade Graveyard it’s finally time to rock and roll, and everyone’s fighting. After an initial defeat, it’s Kairi who rescues Sora after he’s saved everyone else, which is a delightful twist to have him be saved by her for a change. Look at how this game has grown, man!

 

Big showdown happens again, with Sora going to his allies in turn to assist them in fighting one of the villains. It’s while helping Kairi that the fight is interrupted with a cutscene — and Kairi gets captured by Xemnas who overpowers her by twisting her hand over her head.

 

Okay.

 

So.

 

Kairi, Keyblade wielder, is overpowered that easily? And then she’s turned into a damsel again!? It’s frustrating how straight this is played, Kairi makes no attempt to fight back against Xemnas, instead struggling helplessly. Sora, of course, is mad and here we go again, a male character motivated by the endangerment of his sometimes love interest.

 

Great.

 

Oh, but wait, it gets better.

 

Sora defeats Xemnas and the other villains and is now staring down the Big Bad Xehanort. He taunts Sora, summoning an unconscious Kairi, and decides that Sora needs some motivation.

 

So he kills Kairi.

 

Explicitly to give Sora some motivation. The villain (and narrative) effectively fridges Kairi for the plot.

 

Look, I love Kingdom Hearts but it’s 2019, can we please stop treating female characters like this? We’ve done the damsel in distress over and over again, can we just, not? Can’t there be some other motivation for Sora to really wanna defeat Xehanort besides him offing Kairi? It’s lazy, and frustrating, especially when the story’s already made her a fighter. It seems like the game undercuts her growth at every turn, reducing her again and again to being just a plot point for Sora to be motivated by or to rescue. As other major games have been making great strides in how they handle female characters, it’s such a shame to see Kingdom Hearts regress to old habits. It’s just plain lazy.

 

I haven’t finished the game yet, and maybe, just maybe I’m judging the game prematurely; maybe just maybe they’ll find a way to redeem Kairi’s character. But somehow, I doubt it; at the end of it all, Kairi’s just another damsel. Again.

 

And to top it all off, I didn’t even get Oathkeeper out of it.

 

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Between the whole Strelitzia incident, ruining the entire point of Aqua as a trailer stunt, and this, I've become pretty convinced that Tetsuya Nomura just hates women.

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(I will spoiler tag this since its a response to what you spoiler tagged, but someone else can judge if it needs them.)

 

 

The 'Damsel in Distress' trope is an obvious problem but I'm glad you brought up the other version of that as well. I can kind of understand its use in stories featuring the reluctant hero, but even then there are more sensible ways to set the stakes that don't involve killing a character for what often feels more like shock value. Pacific Rim: Uprising did this, and while they tried to make that death plot relevant, the whole thing reeked of contrived writing to give the audience a shocker and Boyega's character some motivation. You'd think major conflict, obvious evil people, and end of the world would be enough motivation in these scenarios.... but apparently not.

 

 

...And then there's Indiana Jones, who when he finds his "damsel" in distress leaves her there to go pursue riches! Always found that a rather amusing subversion of the trope.

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Yeah, I wasn't a big fan of this plot point.when I was playing the game. I definitely wish they had did more with Kairi and wish she could stuck with you post-boss fight meet up rather than just be grab like that.

 

I mean come on, they gave us ability to have five party members in the game now. It seem really weird in the endgame that they decided let's only give you two party members per Boss Rush (Which they could balanced by adding additional enemies to fight such as Heartless, etc), nor any specials to even do with your allies. *shrugs*

 

Another thing I wasn't a fan of is that foreboding "Light will see defeat and expire, while darkness prevails evermore" was pretty much copped out with time travel thing. Don't get me wrong though, seeing Lingering Will show up and Keyblade Wielders of Past were awesome moments. But really I think we could still had those moments later without the weird confusing loop thing. *shrugs*

 

Honestly I think the endgame in general need more time in the oven. That being said, I do like the end result of everything and it was still a decent endgame even with its faults, so I find it hard to hold too much against it personally. Ultimately, I still enjoy the game and I am looking forward to the future of the series. I can only hope they can do better with Kairi in the future (One can hope maybe she could even get her own game as a Keyblade Wielder as well).

 

Now with all said, I do get at least a narrative reason for use of that trope here (By no means am I saying I am happy with decision to use the trope here) as if you recall in that battle there, Axel (Lea) was also easily disarmed and made "helpless" (Trust me, I have plenty to nitpick with that scene, even though I am happy with the results), which at least to me suggest that Merlin's training of two really wasn't that efficient or great.

 

Another story point is the reason that our heroes were unwilling to fight Big Bad Xehanort at the end is because if they did, they would literally give him what he wanted. He wanted them to clash with him, so he could get the final key to form x-Blade.

 

By refusing to fight, they were trying keep him away from his goal, so naturally grabbing Kairi like he did is because he knew that taking her out would give him that key. Not purely because her friends would clash with him to save her, but because she is one of Guardians of Light and possibly still a Princess of Heart, therefore "slaying" would give him what he wants no matter what Sora and company decide to do. This literally would been what he would done with New Princesses of Heart had our heroes outright refused to play his game in the first place (Which is why other members were scouting them out during Disney plots).

 

Additionally, grabbing one of New Princesses of Heart (from one of Disney Worlds) to serve that role would likely had not been nearly as much of player punch, which was probably a factor in the decision.

 

So yeah, I can at least understand why they went with that trope here, even though I dislike that they used it again.*shrugs*

 

But anyway, that's my two cents on it. Sorry for ramble.

 

 

- JMJ 2019

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