Category: Narrative Amendment

Narrative Amendment – Kingdom Hearts 1

Overview and Consensus

Kingdom Hearts is a series of mainly action RPGs that has managed to gain a significant following through its enjoyable gameplay and, more importantly, its nature as a crossover game. Extremely literally, it’s Final Fantasy meets Disney. Though, ‘meet’ isn’t really the right word, it would be better to say that the two co-exist. The game unapologetically contrasts the aesthetic and teen-appealing plot of a Final Fantasy game with the light-heartedness and morals of a piece of Disney media. Scenes of Disney characters scripted to mesh into the darker and more convoluted themes of these games have been seen and laughed at even by people who have never played them.

When it comes to the narrative of Kingdom Hearts, however, you enter a forbidden territory where only the most committed fans dare tread. Many enjoy Kingdom Hearts for its gameplay alone, which is completely understandable given how convoluted and, at times, poorly presented the plot is. Those who ‘get it’ will defend Kingdom Heart’s narrative viciously, because only people who are extremely dedicated to the series will ever attempt to reach that stage. Even when they do, it seems that a lot of them have come to different conclusions on some of the more abstract concepts presented by the series. This has resulted in confusion and ridicule by people outside of the fandom and, honestly, a lot of people within it.

Starting with the first installment of the series, Kingdom Hearts 1, I’m going to attempt to figure out a few things behind this enigmatic narrative. What makes it so hard to understand, is it all down to bad presentation or is the plot itself intrinsically flawed? Is it even worth it to put in the effort to figure everything out in your mind and, if not, what can be done to fix that? I’m going to dismantle this series and try and create a version of it that’s better, peer into an alternate reality and make Kingdom Hearts truly understandable.

Due to the nature of the game, I’ll be breaking the usual structure of these blogs. Yeah, I know, there’s only been one prior to this. Don’t worry about that. I’m going to summarize my feelings on a world-by-world basis, adding some extra details whenever necessary. For clarity, my analysis assumes the world order of Wonderland->Olympus->Deep Jungle->Agrabah->Monstro->Atlantica->Halloween Town->Neverland->Hollow Bastion. I also want to remind readers that these posts are to review only narrative, aspects such as gameplay and music won’t be considered unless they are somehow directly tied to the story experience. That out of the way, let’s get into it!

Review

Opening/Destiny Islands

The opening section of Kingdom Hearts 1 is awful. It’s slow, the imagery is weak and it really doesn’t do a whole lot to make us care for the characters. It’s a really drawn out ‘here are the three kids you’re about to hear the story of!’ opening. Taking it from the start, the game opens up in an instantly weird and abstract way. The opening cinematic leads into Sora, the main character, entering what’s called the Dive to the Heart. Within the dive, he lands on multiple circular platforms that’re called ‘stations’. These platforms depict various Disney princesses, which hints towards an aspect of the plot that will be explored later on. Dives to the Heart exist within dreams and help to guide the fates of those who go there.

You really don’t have to analyze the Dive to the Heart much more past that, it errs more towards just being a tutorial area rather than a major narrative aspect. However, foolish as I am I attempted to find deeper meaning in the Dive. The first station that Sora drops onto depicts Snow White, so I thought that it might carry the theme of rebirth in line with Snow coming back to life in her story. It seemed reasonable enough, to think that Sora was somehow being reborn from a regular kid into a would-be hero thanks to the Dive. After Snow White, he falls upon a station that depicts Cinderella. Cinderella is a story that carries a strong dream thematic, which I concluded might be a hint towards the dream-like nature of the Dive.

At this point I stopped analyzing the stations, because I didn’t really get the feeling that the writers of the game thought about it that much. The symbolism felt weak and I didn’t want to strain myself trying to pursue messages that weren’t there. My problem with this section is we don’t know Sora at all as a character here. Even if the symbolism exists that imply he’s having an awakening or undergoing some kind of change, we don’t have any perception of what he’s changing from. We get very little background on Sora at all, actually, which is a problem that also haunts his friend and rival Riku. Riku’s another kid from Destiny Islands, one who’s been Sora’s friend for a long time. He and Sora want to get off of Destiny Islands along with Kairi, a girl who came to Destiny Islands under mysterious circumstances. That’s just about the gist of it.

This minimalist backstory really just hurts the game’s opening section. We get the message that the Destiny Islands are small and that the three main characters want to sail out but we never get to see HOW small. The gameplay takes place on just one part of the Destiny Islands, we don’t get to see or explore all of it so we can’t empathize with the motives of the characters. The characters are clearly accustomed to living on the islands but what does that entail? Not knowing what life is like on the islands only adds to the issue of connecting with the characters here. It almost doesn’t even feel like this part of the narrative was worth telling, it would have been better if they just cut to the Islands being swallowed by darkness.

That’s interesting. That’s a hook. Everything before it is just half-assed premise. Though, before I move onto that there is one scene that I want to bring up. During the opening section, Sora goes to a hidden area in Destiny Islands where there’s a mysterious door that cannot be opened. This is interesting, when I see something like that it makes me wonder what’s behind it. The problem is that Sora, who has lived on the islands for a long time, knows about the door and doesn’t really react to it. Again, a disconnect between the character and player. Then, a mysterious hooded figure walks into the secret cave and starts spewing nonsense about how Sora, who is at this point just a random kid, doesn’t understand anything. Can you believe that? Just a rude old man that goes around telling kids how dumb they are. Terrible.

This scene annoyed me on several levels. The first of which is the hooded figure implied that he had knowledge of the door. This door, that has presumably been a big mystery for Sora and the other residents of the islands for a long time. Sora, disappointing as he is in this opening part, makes absolutely no attempt to ask the man what he knows. Sora is a character that feels trapped on the islands and he wants to go to new worlds and see what’s out there. That at least tells us he’s got some curiosity in him and that he wants to see and learn new things. I can think of no reason why Sora wouldn’t immediately jump at the prospect of finding out what’s behind this mystery door. No, instead of that we get a scene of Sora and Kairi carving their faces into a wall.

My other issue with that scene is, spoilers, the mysterious hooded man is Ansem, the main antagonist of the game. This is such a good set-up, you have the main character and the final boss stood in this stand-off and the players have no idea what’s going on. This would have been such a good time to make the character seem intimidating in ANY way, yet what happens instead is we get a crazy old man just shooting weird philosophy at a random kid who doesn’t care. It’s a horrendously scripted scene, if I were doing a full rewrite of the game this would be one that I’d go to town on.

Sora goes to his home on an unknown part of the islands, where we get to hear the voice of presumably his mother for the first and only time in the series. Yes, the only time we ever get to see anything of Sora’s family is his mother calling him to dinner in this opening part. See what I mean about lack of background? A storm kicks up and he gets worried about the raft that he, Riku and Kairi have been making to get them off the islands. Turns out, the storm is significantly more than just a storm, it’s actually the end of the world. Sora sees Riku but he acts super weird and gets taken away by darkness. We never actually get told this but we’re left to assume that Riku was possessed by Ansem so that he would open the mystery door mentioned earlier. When you’re actually playing the game it does just feel like ‘Suddenly! Riku is bad!!’ though. For reasons detailed later, the opening of the door causes dark beings known as the Heartless to be drawn to the world. Sora materializes the Keyblade for the first time and battles the Heartless, soon finding Kairi by the mystery door. Darkness suddenly pours out from the door and Kairi is pushed towards Sora, inexplicably phasing through him before Sora himself is flung out into a dark mass. Thus ends Destiny Islands.

This scene is pretty cool, Sora has to go out against this unknown and terrifying force to make sure his friends are OK and manifests a power to battle against it. This is the literal collapse of the world and it’s infinitely cooler than everything that led up to it. My main issue with this section is Riku, since he’s possessed in this scene it really just confuses the image that people have of the character. Like I’ve said multiple times already, we get very little background and information about these characters going in, so we don’t know enough about Riku for this to be surprising or impactful. The rest of the scene is fine, Kairi phasing through Sora is weird but it provides another element of mystery during this chaotic moment. The world is falling apart and neither Sora nor the player know what’s happening. For the first time in the game, we can feel what the character is feeling.

The Introduction and Effect of Disney

I honestly love the effect that Disney has on this series. I said this in the overview but contrasting this over-arching plot of darkness consuming worlds with just the presence of Disney characters is one of the best things about Kingdom Hearts. Without the comedy and lightheartedness that Disney brings to the story, these games would really just be so bland. The first scene we see Disney characters in is Donald and Goofy in an area called Disney Castle, where Mickey is the king. It straight up feels like the premise for a cartoon episode and that’s fantastic, especially when we get to see it in the middle of that bad opening sequence.

One weird thing about this initial scene is the mention that Donald and Goofy aren’t meant to let on that they’re from another world. This is immediately contradicted with the fact that they are meant to meet with someone in another world who knows about them. We never really get to know why inter-world knowledge is taboo and, with how they look, it seems obvious that they would never be able to hide it in a lot of worlds. Destiny Islands, for example. Throughout the plot, there are multiple times where characters find out about other worlds and the fact that isn’t supposed to happen just isn’t mentioned. Seems like just a not well thought through and arbitrary plot point.

The only thing I can think is that this was meant to be a joke. It fits in with the idea that Disney Castle is the setting of a cartoon episode, just the concept of Donald and Goofy in a world populated by regular people and trying to hide the fact that they’re not meant to be there sounds hilarious.

Person: Hey, is that a giant, talking(?) duck with a zipper hat?!?!

Donald: *Donald noises*

I also like that an alliance of Disney villains is posed as being the main force behind the Heartless. It’s a super cool form of fanservice for Disney fans and it helps to make the Disney aspects feel important to the story in a way that isn’t just a joke. The initial cutscene we get of them doesn’t really tell us a whole lot of anything but I’ll put notes about the villain alliance and their plot as we go forward. Important to note; Maleficent is their leader.

Traverse Town

My problem with Traverse Town right off the bat is Sora’s reaction to everything. He doesn’t really show much of any emotion, whether he’s scared for the safety of his friends/family/world or  whether he’s excited to BE in another world (which was his goal in the first place). We just kinda get a couple of text boxes of Sora being like “huh. I must be in another world!” and then he moves on. My problems with the characterization of this boy continue to grow.

It’s here that we get to see the process of a Heartless being born. The cutscene is really weird, Sora sees a man run as if he’s trying to get away from something. The man falls over and cowers at some invisible force before an ethereal heart leaves his body, which subsequently disappears. The heart then becomes a Heartless, which then disappears. Now, I’m all for building the mystery of the Heartless and I don’t think this was a bad place to see something like this but how it’s portrayed is pretty awful. They couldn’t have had the man be attacked by a Heartless, at least? I know video games have hardware limitations but they should have been able to do at least that. I should bring attention to the ethereal heart though, because those hearts and the concepts surrounding them are very important to the plot past just the Heartless. From this point forward, when I refer to hearts I mean these mysterious ones, so pay attention to that.

We get a scene around this point of Riku waking up in Hollow Bastion and immediately showing concern for Sora and Kairi. Even just that much of a reaction is way better than what Sora got and it tells us that Riku is just as confused as to what’s going on. It doesn’t make his weakly implied possession earlier on any better but it’s nice to see a scene like this. I think Riku could have maybe woken up in a different area in Hollow Bastion for reasons I’ll disclose further down but overall I like his awakening better than Sora’s.

In this section of the game, Sora ends up fighting Leon (also known as Squall from Final Fantasy 8) and gets knocked out. When he awakens, he briefly hallucinates Kairi, which is a neat hint to what happened to her. This happens to Sora multiple times throughout the game, where he’ll hallucinate Kairi’s presence and eventually experiences one of her memories. This is because whenever Kairi phased through him during the collapse of Destiny Islands, her heart joined with his so as to protect itself from the darkness. Kairi is literally hiding within the safety of Sora’s heart and that plot point is actually handled really well. Sora only finds this out really late into the game but the hints towards it are there and I think this is a good point to bring up one of Kingdom Hearts’ stronger aspects. For a lot of aspects of the plot, the foreshadowing is actually great. For how convoluted it gets, there’s a lot that comes up that doesn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. Kairi’s heart soft-merging with Sora’s is the first example of this.

Donald and Goofy end up speaking with Aerith from Final Fantasy 7 (did I mention Disney being in this game is good) and she drops one particular line that I hate a lot. She talks about how the barriers between worlds have been broken, which is what is allowing the Heartless to spread to them. This is fine. She also says that the worlds have never been connected before. This line is straight up just not true and it’s inconsistent with what we already know from the story. From the Disney Castle cutscene, we can presume that travel between worlds has happened at least once before. I can understand Aerith as a character just not knowing that the worlds have been connected before but it’s just a confusing line that would only ever serve to make things harder to follow for people trying to understand the plot.

What I like a lot about the plot advancement in Traverse Town is how the Heartless are made to feel like such a genuinely intimidating and unknown force. All that’s revealed to Sora, Donald and Goofy is that they’re attracted to the darkness in people’s hearts. Where they come from and their goals are unclear, they could come from anywhere and attack anyone in any world. They’ve dragged Destiny Islands into destruction and taken over the world that the Final Fantasy characters originate from in this setting. As enemies, they feel like a powerful threat and that’s great for the stakes of the plot. One thing that’s brought up in the Traverse Town cutscenes are the Ansem reports, which are documents that withhold precious information about the Heartless but are scattered across the worlds. They’re never really implemented into the main plot past one scene but I wish they were. I love the idea of having to track down these documents to find out more about the Heartless and potentially find a way to stop them from their source to save all worlds. That said, having to go to the various worlds to try and stop the Heartless from dragging them to the dark like what happened to Destiny Islands is a decent enough motivation.

Wonderland

My main problem with the Alice in Wonderland world is how the Queen is oddly safe from the Heartless. The premise is the Queen of Hearts accuses Alice of attempting to take her heart but she somehow has no knowledge of the Heartless at all. If I’m understanding this game right, the Queen’s heart should be the sort that’s full of darkness and so the Heartless should be all over her trying to get it. Other than that gripe the world is fine, it unveils the concept of worlds having keyholes and how the Keyblade interacts with it somehow. More mystery elements in the early game plot, normal story affair. Though, since the characters don’t know what the interaction between the Keyblade and a world’s keyhole does, it does make the world overall feel a bit unsatisfying. Alice gets taken, so they failed to save her, and to their knowledge the world still isn’t safe from the Heartless. This learning element does, however, keep us in-sync with Sora which is good.

Olympus Coliseum

Narrative-wise, Olympus is a good and important world. It’s the point in the story where Sora has the opportunity to prove that he’s not just a kid who was swept into this grand destiny, that he has the potential to be a hero who’s ready to do what he’s set out to do. If it weren’t for the limitations of Kingdom Hearts being a game, this would have been a good world to really show the Heartless’ ability to corrupt and multiply. A theoretical Olympus where the Heartless overwhelm the competitors participating in the games and bolster their forces using the hearts of heroes sounds rad. It would make for more unique and meaningful battles for Sora on his quest to prove his heroism, though I can’t blame the writers of the game for not going down such a complex route. Cloud participating in the games is really cool though, that character is in fact a hero and he’s a hype enemy to pit Sora against. That being said, the final cutscene of the world where Sora and Cloud talk is kinda hammy. It boils down to some in-your-face “DARKNESS IS BAD AFTER ALL” message, even though Cloud wasn’t exactly around long enough to have an arc. Cloud used the dark, sure, but we never really saw him struggle with it at all. Just makes it feel phoned in.

Post-Olympus, there is a cutscene where Hades and Maleficent briefly interact. It only really makes me wish that they work together more, though. The fact that they’re in an alliance still only concern themselves with their own worlds seems really short-sighted. It would add a lot if, say, Captain Hook personally came to Wonderland and was shown as the one kidnapping Alice. It would be cool for Hades to show up as a main plot boss in a later world instead of being relegated to an optional boss fight. Their goal is to gather the seven princesses of heart, who each bear hearts of pure light that collectively can unveil the ‘final keyhole’ and unlock the path to Kingdom Hearts. What is Kingdom Hearts, you ask? You’ll have to read on to get that info.

So the villains want these seven princesses, this is their utmost priority over everything else. Yet, they still bother with worlds where the princesses do not reside. A lot of it just feels a bit illogical, though I can understand it for the sake of game progression.

Deep Jungle

Not a whole lot to say about Tarzan world. Clayton being taken by and becoming a Heartless is basically what I wanted from the Queen of Hearts and it’s nice to see a villain being taken that way. Maybe Jane could have come into the possession of a page of the Ansem report?

Traverse Town II

The very important plot point of the Keyblade locking the keyholes of the worlds comes up in a text-based cutscene. At least it gets explained, turns out when the Heartless get into a world’s keyhole that’s when the world gets consumed by darkness. Locking the keyholes prevents this and thus protects the worlds from the Heartless.

In the return to Traverse Town we get a cool interaction between Sora and Riku. In the first trip to Traverse Town, there was a cutscene where Leon attempted to hold the Keyblade but when he did so it teleported back to Sora. When Riku took it, the Keyblade didn’t return on its own, Riku gave it back. This is foreshadowing to later on, when it’s revealed that Riku also has the capacity to wield the Keyblade. Another case when they did it well.

Maleficent attempting to convince Riku to turn against Sora is really weak though. Literally, she tells Riku that Sora has abandoned him for Donald and Goofy.

“Sora… That boy found other companions to help him survive after being tossed from his world and made to battle the Heartless. CLEARLY he has ABANDONED you.”

It’s ridiculous. She could have come up with something so much better, we just found out about the locking of the keyholes so she could make a spin on that instead. Tell Riku about how Sora is locking away the worlds that he tried to hard to reach. Tell him that if Sora continues, he will end up trapping them the same as they were trapped on that island. Sora’s actions go against freedom, it is the darkness that opens the borders and allows Riku to go where he wishes. That’s just one suggestion, there’s a lot of non-stupid ways Maleficent could have gone about this.

Agrabah

Agrabah is a good world, it feels like the standard that all of the worlds should be at. It directly progresses the princesses of heart plot and it reveals that the villains have knowledge of the keyholes and that they do actively seek to guide the heartless towards them. Jafar actually feels like he acts for the sake of the alliance’s plan, which is something that’s sorely missing for several of the others. The only thing I could think would improve this world is, again, something unrealistic within the boundaries of a video game. Agrabah is a big, populated settlement and it would be a great place to see how the Heartless terrorize the worlds they go to. Unfortunately, having hundreds of NPCs around just to have them be hunted down by Heartless is not viable in the slightest. Would be fun in a written narrative, though.

Post-Agrabah villain cutscene shows that Hades is still a part of the alliance after the events of Olympus. Even more reason why he should be a main plot boss, he’s really just there for no reason at this point since he never appears again in the main story. Other than that, this cutscene reveals that Riku’s real motive is to save Kairi. I think the implication can be drawn that Riku is jealous of the relationship Sora and Kairi have, which adds a layer to his antagonizing Sora as the game progresses. It’s an enjoyable detail that makes the rivalry feel realistic.

Monstro

The set-up for Monstro is pretty weird, in the prior villain cutscene Riku sets sail with Hook to go and track down Sora. Then Sora, Donald and Goofy get eaten by Monstro and Riku is just in there. I feel like there should have been some explicit build-up, though gameplay-wise it is cool for Monstro to just come out of nowhere. This is the world where Sora and Riku’s rivalry really escalates. He drops the fact that Kairi has lost her heart to Sora, which tells Sora that Riku knows where she is or at least has a better idea than he does. Riku believes that he’s the one going through the necessary lengths to save her and Sora, who isn’t doing the same, must not be trying hard enough. He must not care enough. That’s why Sora would fight for the sake of a puppet instead of joining him. The progression of this rivalry actually feels really good, I give props to the events of this world.

Atlantica

Surprisingly enough, Atlantica holds the potential to be a really important world in terms of Sora’s development. Though, I think it needs a lot of work to get to that point. What I wanted from this world is for Ariel to be targeted as one of the princesses of heart and for Sora to succeed in saving her. Really, it’s that simple. We know that the villain of this world, Ursula, is a part of the villain alliance but unlike Jafar she doesn’t really act like it. Since Ariel isn’t a princess of heart, Ursula’s only goal in the world is to lead the Heartless to the world’s keyhole. However, she never even comes close to finding the real keyhole, despite the Heartless having the ability to sense them out. She just takes King Triton’s trident and leaves. She feels really weakly tied to the overarching plot, especially when she was preceded by Jafar. Even giving the benefit of the doubt that Triton has prepared for the threat of the Heartless thanks to his prior knowledge of events surrounding the Keyblade, the fact that Ursula never hits that real threat level is a problem.

Not only would assuming Ariel to be a princess of heart make this world more important to the overall plot, it could tell us how the villains actually determine who the princesses are. In a later cutscene, Hook complains about the seemingly arbitrary nature in deciding who the princesses are when he’s told that Wendy isn’t one of the seven. This would have been a good world to clarify that, though that isn’t where the potential for this world ends. Ariel has a wish to see other worlds, which is exactly in line with Sora and Riku’s original motivation. Literally, on the nose, a reminder of how all of the game’s events started. The wish that he shared with his friends, if it were addressed at all it could be a great motivator for Sora moving forward. In this theoretical world where Ariel is thought to be a princess of heart, it could be this that pushes Sora to save her when he failed to save Jasmine in Agrabah.

One thing I like about this world as it is, Triton’s prior knowledge of the Keyblade wielder. He has this perception that the Keyblade bearer somehow brings ruin, which is an interesting viewpoint considering what we know of our world-saving main character. It hints that something has happened in the past, something terrible involving a Keyblade wielder, that has led Triton to thinking this way. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this tidbit is ever followed up on in further games but it’s good for speculation. Who was that ruin-wreathing Keyblade wielder and what did they do that even the King of Atlantica would know about it?

The final cutscene in the world I think could have afforded to be longer. Ariel asks Sora what his world is like, to which Sora doesn’t really give much of an answer. I had a lot of complaints about how we didn’t know enough about Destiny Islands and that would have been a great time to drop some information. Show a flashback, have Sora say directly how he felt living on the island, how he remembers it now that it’s gone; ANYTHING. It could have been an important moment of reflection for our still immature protagonist but instead, nothing really comes of it. I guess game pacing came first but honestly, here, it’s really disappointing.

Halloween Town

Halloween Town is another world that I reckon has a lot of story potential. In this case, regarding knowledge of the Heartless. Things like where Heartless originally come from, what their level of intelligence is and what their purpose is (if they even have one) are important questions that are yet unexplored. The narrative of this world has Jack Skellington and Dr. Finkelstein trying to figure out the inner workings of the Heartless so as to manipulate how they act. To do this, they try and artificially create a heart, which up until this point has been left a super vague concept. This would have been the perfect time to implement the Ansem reports into the main story. Within them he talks about researching to create hearts and how he artificially created Heartless in search of that knowledge. He talks about how they instinctively seek out hearts and that they do have some level of intelligence. Heck, within the reports he even notes that the Heartless don’t react to the dead, which is why they are passive towards the Halloween Town residents. Though, the report with that last piece of information would be best handed to Sora at the world’s end. In researching and trying to create a heart, Jack and Finkelstein cause the Heartless go wild as they sense the presence of one in the world. At least, that’s how I interpret it.

Oogie almost feels like a worse villain than Ursula, which is real disappointing. He’s a part of the villain alliance and yet he’s the only one who doesn’t have the capacity to control the Heartless, likely due to his unliving nature. His motive in the world is taking Jack’s artificially constructed heart so as to use it to control the Heartless. Like, his main motive as the world’s villain is to gain an ability that multiple other villains before him have just had. It makes him feel so weak in comparison and I don’t see why Maleficent would recruit him to the alliance in the first place. If he can’t control the Heartless then he can’t guide them towards the world’s keyhole, which makes him practically worthless. This world doesn’t even further the princesses of heart plot, so he isn’t important to that either.

My overall thoughts on this world is that it would have been better way earlier on in the story. Make the Ansem reports more plot important, give Oogie a stronger goal and play out this world sooner.

Neverland

On Hook’s ship, Riku takes another step towards fully antagonizing Sora. He physically shows Kairi to his captured friend as a means of proving how ahead he is, how he’s the one on the right path. The fact that he bothers to bring Kairi’s body makes me feel like he still wants to convince Sora to come to his side. Obviously, he wants to prove his superiority but he hasn’t fallen to darkness yet. He genuinely thinks that Sora’s path is wrong and selfish and brings Kairi in hopes of proving that to him. Riku sees himself as the one who found their friend, who’s trying to save her, so how could he possibly be wrong? My only small gripe with the opening scene of Neverland is how Riku summons a shadow Sora from seemingly nowhere. He’s like “check out this neat ability!” and then a shadow Sora just kinda pops up. Like, is that spawned from the darkness in Sora’s heart? Is it just a strong Heartless that was somehow molded into the shape of Sora? Is it actually just his shadow and therefore not REALLY a heartless (but it kinda is)? It’s weird!

It’s in this world that Hook complains about the preciseness of who the seven princesses are and that is something I do appreciate. The idea that the villain alliance isn’t certain of the identities of all the princesses would be a good idea to raise the stakes of that plotline- if it were ever brought up outside of this scene. This is late into the game, so it doesn’t really effect how we view that plot arc at all, it’s kind of a waste really.

After defeating Hook, there’s a cutscene where Peter Pan, Donald and Goofy try to approach Sora after Kairi was taken away by Riku. They think he’d be sad about it, that he got so close only for her to be taken away again. Yet, he smiles and talks about how cool it was that he could fly and how he wants to tell her about it. It shows confidence that he has the strength to get her back, which makes sense for him at this point in the story.

One thing I did home in on when taking notes for this world is how finicky the idea of meddling in other worlds is. Aladdin is told that he can’t come with the party because that would be meddling, yet Sora and co. are willing to take Genie. In Neverland, they don’t seem to have any issue with taking Tinkerbell either. Do magical beings like them just get a pass? Seems like something that could be justified with even just a throwaway line.

Traverse Town III

When Sora, Donald and Goofy return to Traverse Town this time, Sora is inexplicably now filled with worry and doubt. I’m not a fan of this, if he was actually feeling uncertain about his abilities then why hide it in Neverland only to show it in a scene immediately after? It could help if Sora would project what it is he’s actually upset about. The most obvious reason is the party not having a path to Hollow Bastion, so he can’t go and save Kairi immediately. Still, doesn’t make a lot of sense for Sora to just hard mood shift like that.

After his brief moment of doubt, Sora suddenly sees one of Kairi’s memories. Now, this cutscene is where the game starts trying really hard to lose you, so I’ll try and keep it simple. It turns out that Kairi originally comes from Hollow Bastion and, while there, she was told an important story by her Grandma. This fact is not stated, which can be confusing for people who are playing through the game. It’s easy to get confused and think that maybe this is Kairi being told a story by one of the Destiny Islands residents we never saw but that is not the case. The only immediate hint that this isn’t on Destiny Islands is Sora asking “where am I?”, which is something he could likely answer if it were an place on the islands.

The Grandma story is as follows; once there was a great light and everyone under this light lived in great happiness and prosperity. However, eventually, people got greedy for the light and tried to take it for themselves. As a result, darkness formed in their hearts and this darkness grew until it swallowed the world completely. Yet, within children there were fragments of light that still remained. These children attempted to rebuild the world, though it, too, could only be restored in broken pieces. The true light is still in slumber in the dark, yet some day the door to darkness will open and the true light will be free once more.

As you might be able to figure, this is basically the origin story for the whole setting. Originally, all of the worlds were one, big, happy world of light. People suck, things blacked out and the universe of separated worlds that exists today is the result. Though, fate predicts that the light will be free once more, which I presume means that all of the worlds will come together as one again.

Grandma goes on to mention a light inside of Kairi, vaguely implying that she is one of the princesses. All in all it’s a pretty weak foreshadow, though mostly because the wording of the actual scene is pretty horrendous. Along with the first encounter with Ansem, this is a scene that I would re-script hard. If you do manage to figure out that this means Kairi is one of the seven princesses, though, you get to figure out that Maleficent is totally just manipulating Riku! Whew, I’m glad we managed to figure out that twist.

During my note-taking, I had a few questions that came about after this scene pertaining to the princesses. Logically, the seven princesses that exist now aren’t the same as the children that re-built the worlds. Just, in terms of the lack of knowledge that exists throughout the worlds, it doesn’t make any sense for them to be even if time flows differently between worlds. I don’t understand why the seven lights have to still only be seven and if there’s just a limited amount of light while the true light is still in slumber? Is there a process by which new lights are decided or is it just present in random kids? This is even assuming that the original children and the princesses of light are connected at all, which could just not be the case. With these questions unanswered, the arbitrary nature of it just becomes a bit too obvious.

Hollow Bastion

This world quickly kicks off with Riku usurping control of the Keyblade in a twist that, as mentioned earlier, was foreshadowed and is something I think is handled quite well. We know that Riku isn’t a weak person, he’s strong and fearless enough to tough out the darkness for the sake of Kairi. While the path he’s on may not be the right one, he has to have a strong heart to not be consumed.

It’s at this point in the game where the concept of ‘heart’ becomes really important. However, the game does a pretty bad job of explaining it and instead hits you up with a sweet Disney moral:tm:. Initially, I thought that the ‘heart’ represent the bonds between people as Sora claims it does. However, it gets a bit more convoluted than that. See, what the game never states clearly is that hearts are at least mostly comprised of light and darkness. Going back to the story told by Kairi’s Grandma, we’re given the image that light unifies and darkness separates. Under light, the world was one big whole where everyone was unified. When darkness took hold, everything was separated into multiple worlds. If one has a heart of light, they will be able to connect with other hearts of light and become a stronger, unified whole, as Sora states. If one has a heart of darkness, like Riku who gave himself to the dark to save Kairi, then their heart will remain isolated.

But then there’s also the curveball concept of the strength of hearts. Sora accepts that his heart is weak, though by what metric we have no idea. Does he just have less heart juice or something? We can never know. Either way, how I interpret the scene where Sora takes back control of the Keyblade from Riku is as follows. He lost the Keyblade to Riku because he believed it to be HIS weapon, an individual strength that only he could wield. HE was the Keyblade wielder, HE was the one with the strength. While he still had this chosen one mentality, he could only draw out the power of his own heart. Once he realized and accepted the true nature of heart, his weak heart was given the strength it needed to draw back the Keyblade’s favor. Riku’s individual heart was stronger because of his willingness to take risks and dive into the danger, to even go into the darkness to save Kairi. His will to go to other worlds was stronger than that of Sora’s. His heart was the strongest individually but lost to Sora’s collective. Also, the reason why Beast was able to come to Hollow Bastion even though his world was taken by the darkness is because his heart of light was connected with Belle’s. That light, the same light that brought fragments of the world back from the darkness, protected him.

Honestly, I absolutely despise this concept of heart. Just looking over it and reading what I typed, the concept of heart laid out in a simplified way that I understand, it’s infuriating to me. There are so many elements to it; light, bonds, darkness, isolation, strength, weakness, all so that Sora can say “my friends are my power!!!”. The concepts aren’t made clear and you pretty much have to figure it all out at once. It’s just awful storytelling and I’m certain there’s a way that this concept of heart could be made to work and I will find it.

Moving on! After Sora defeats Riku and proves himself as the most worthy wielder of the Keyblade, Riku’s heart is left at its weakest. His will wanes, he doubts himself and his path for the first time. In that moment, Ansem appears before him and tempts him with the power of darkness. I like this scene a lot, way better than the first scene Ansem shows up in.

It’s revealed that Maleficent’s goal is to rule all worlds. This is extremely confusing as the goal of the Heartless and what she’s been guiding them to do is consume the worlds and have them disappear. She literally wants to rule what isn’t there any more. Unless she believes that she’s capable of controlling and shaping the darkness into a world of her own making but that doesn’t really seem the same as ruling all worlds. Doesn’t really feel like the Heartless’ objective at all, though I guess we are kinda meant to feel like Maleficent was manipulated by the Heartless at this point. She’s been overshadowed as the main antagonist by Ansem/Riku, so all that’s left for her is to get walloped by Sora.

After being possessed by Ansem, Riku manifests his own Keyblade separately from Sora. This has cool lore implications and does make sense, if Riku has already been proven to be a wielder then it makes sense that he’d also be able to summon one. This also definitively proves that the Keyblade is a neutral force, it isn’t necessarily aligned with light or darkness. Suddenly, that Keyblade wielder who brought ruin that we thought about earlier makes more sense. In terms of build-up and payoff, I think the battle with possessed Riku is the best fight in the game.

After defeating the possessed Riku, Sora prioritizes checking on the world’s keyhole over checking on Kairi’s heartless body. He’s been looking for Kairi all this time and when he finally has a chance to see her and make sure she’s OK he practically ignores her completely. I guess you could say it’s mature to put his mission over his personal feelings but it just doesn’t seem right. Let Sora go to his friend, it makes more sense and it quickens the pace of the scene a bit. Admittedly, Sora giving up his own heart to free Kairi’s is a really cool moment though. For the entire second half of the game, he’s been building up to this point. This is what it means to be a hero, giving up himself for the sake of another. Kairi’s heart is restored and the final keyhole is revealed, triggering a darkness unlike any other.

The strength of Riku’s heart comes into play once more as he holds Ansem back from doing anything to Donald, Goofy and Kairi. I’d say this is another good moment, Kairi was revived thanks to Sora’s actions, his path was the one that led him to saving her. Definitive proof that he was the one in the right, thus allowing Riku to break from the illusion of his own strength. Riku’s heart accepts that his own path was wrong and he finally fights the darkness that has taken him over in the form of Ansem. Another cool touch to this segment is Sora becoming a shadow bug, literally the weakest type of Heartless. Sora admits that his heart is weak on its own and that’s exactly how it manifests as a Heartless. Small, weak, unable to do much of anything. I’m uncertain the writers actually thought of that but it’s a nice consistency nonetheless. He’s restored by Kairi’s light and all is dandy.

The darkness that emanates from the final keyhole is powerful and its effects are causing Heartless throughout all the worlds to go wild. The end of everything beckons and- the final keyhole is artificial?

Yeah, getting into the endgame section there’s a lot of things that are going to make less sense and be more confusing. So, as I thought about the final keyhole I had a few questions regarding both it and Hollow Bastion. First of all, at the beginning of the game the Final Fantasy characters say that their world was taken by the darkness. Their world was Hollow Bastion. Second, in the Ansem reports he notes that a Heartless unveils the door of the world. I have trouble believing that anyone would look at the final keyhole and call it a door of any kind. Lastly, there’s really no reason why the last keyhole should be so special. It’s literally just the heart of Hollow Bastion, what makes the heart of that world in particular more important than others?

After researching a bit, it seems that people have come to the conclusion that the original Hollow Bastion was taken by the darkness. The new Hollow Bastion is a reconstruction built by Maleficent under the control of Ansem. This would make the story of the Final Fantasy characters consistent but it makes no sense at all. If the final keyhole is artificial then why did they make it so that it requires the seven princesses to open? We’re never even told that it’s artificial, we just have to assume based on plot hints, so how could we ever tell what the purpose of locking it behind that seal was? It’s impossible! If it were just an artificial heart of the world created by Ansem with the purpose of generating darkness, since darkness grows in hearts, then I could accept that! But it’s locked behind this impossible gate for no apparent reason! Why was the entire plot of the game to open a fake door in a fake version of a world?!

After all that mess, we get a cutscene of Riku in the world of darkness, the place that the Heartless come from that is never talked about. You now have to process this concept that strong enough hearts can be taken by the darkness and NOT become Heartless, somehow! Instead, they get taken to the realm of the Heartless where they are left to wander. Though, it could just be very particularly in Riku’s case, we just don’t know. Honestly, hard as it is I do like the idea that being swallowed by the darkness isn’t an instant game over. That’s about all I can say about it, within Kingdom Hearts 1’s material I just cannot think of how to extrapolate further.

Sora goes back to the final keyhole to seal it. I have a problem, after the princesses were released from being captive they collective decided among themselves that a) they knew what was going on and b) what they could do to stop it. Oh yeah, we were just used to open up a gateway of darkness that’s trying to swallow all that still remains, we’re perfectly lucid and ready to tackle this issue. Beast comes back to the start of the world for actually no reason instead of going to Belle and the princesses. It would have made infinitely more sense if the Beast went there to protect them and told them about the strength of heart he learned from Sora. Using that knowledge, the princesses are spurred to use the lights they now know are within their hearts instead of it just being spontaneous. The only other explanation is that one of the princesses that was captured off-screen had the knowledge but that just feels too disconnected.

End of the World/Ending

The end of the world is another real confusing area. Again, it’s horrendously explained what it is in-game so I’m going to do a better job for you. When a world is swallowed by the darkness, there often remains one tiny fragment of that world. That fragment flies through the void of space until it eventually meets and merges with the end of the world. These are fragments of the worlds that have lost their hearts, so symbolism-wise the end of the world could be considered a Heartless of worlds.

The end of the game is so awfully tedious to figure out. I was confident in how I would make this post until I watched the very last part of this game. First of all, we get the concept of the door to darkness. The door to darkness is a door that separates the worlds of light and darkness, as one might expect from its name. The door to darkness at the end of the game is connected to Kingdom Hearts but again, not the real Kingdom Hearts, much more likely just an artificial one (this is never made clear). When the door to darkness is opened it leads to the realm of darkness but it also triggers this artificial Kingdom Hearts. Despite having created this Kingdom Hearts using the hearts of destroyed worlds, Ansem believes that the nature of it is darkness when actually it is light. So, by opening the door to darkness, he somehow triggers the fake Kingdom Hearts into emitting a burst of light that annihilates him. The heroes try to close the door to darkness but it can only be locked if there are Keyblade wielders on both sides to do so. Fortunately, Riku and King Mickey are in the realm of darkness and are able to perform the inner locking.

And that’s it. Defeating Ansem and locking the door to darkness stops the flow of Heartless from coming through, thus the worlds are given respite and allowed to return to how they once were. At peace and separated by the barriers between them. Sora, Donald and Goofy go to search for a way to recover Mickey and Riku from the realm of darkness and they see Pluto with a letter from the former. Goddamn, this is gonna take a lot of work.

Ansem Reports Summarized

Ansem, prior to becoming a heartless comes upon the concepts of hearts and darkness. He believes that darkness culminates in all hearts and sets out to find an origin of the mysterious force. He performs experiments to manipulate the darkness within hearts and discovers that those who have had their hearts overwhelmed by darkness become Heartless. He ponders the nature of the Heartless and finds that they, while emotionless, do possess a level of intelligence and are capable of self-multiplication. They do not respond to the dead, thus proving that hearts can only be drawn from the living. Using some kind of extrasensory perception, the Heartless are capable of tracking down and unveiling the ‘doors’ of worlds. A ‘door’ is the manifestation of its world’s barrier, which both protects the heart of the world and prevents the world from connecting with others. When a world’s door is opened the world’s keyhole is revealed, the barrier shatters and its pieces fall down in the form of meteors. These pieces are the materials used to craft gummi ships.

Ansem concludes that the Heartless’ ulterior motive is to take the heart of the world, though for what reason he is uncertain. To find out more about their motives and to learn more about the nature of hearts, Ansem builds a device that creates artificial Heartless. He marks these artificial heartless with the symbol of a crossed out heart and hopes that the research will lead him to becoming able to create hearts themselves. He is visited by King Mickey and learns the nature of gummi blocks, though more importantly he is told of the Keyblade. He begins to think of the concepts of ‘heart’ and ‘darkness’ as the same and concludes that Heartless must wish to go to the world’s heart to join a greater darkness.

Somewhere along the way, he finds out about the seven princesses of heart and aims to seek them out as well as the wielder of the Keyblade. Yet, his body is old, thus he casts it away and turns himself into a Heartless. He chooses a girl (Kairi), who he believes to potentially hold the powers of a princess of heart, and casts her out of the world. He hopes that fate will act and that Kairi will lead him to the Keyblade wielder. Somehow, he attains the knowledge that the Keyblade wielder has the ability to lock the doors of each world and restore the barriers that protect them. Having concluded that the will of the worlds is to return to darkness, he aims to stop the Keyblade wielder before the worlds can be sealed once more.

Later, he observes a heart that loses its body and yet does not become a Heartless. He comes to no conclusion from this other than to observe further. He mentions the existence of the realm of darkness and that, to go there, one must pass through Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts is where the hearts of all worlds and realms connect; including both the realms of light and darkness. Basically, it’s the heart of everything.

… And yes, that’s the short version.

The Rewrite

How I would begin the rewrite depends on one factor. Whether I would be rewriting this as, say, a novel, or if I continue to respect the boundaries of a video game. In novel form, there would be a LOT more worldbuilding and slice of life Destiny Islands content so as to properly build up and define the characters before everything goes to heck. In game form, I would heavily consider just starting the game during the Heartless storm that swallows Destiny Islands. This would require a lot more retrospective from Sora throughout the game but I think that could help to make him a more fleshed out character overall. How things stand, it’s pretty much as if Destiny Islands never existed. Sora never talks about his life there, his family there; we get pretty much nothing. By cutting out the current half-assed Destiny Islands and having Sora reflect on what it was like, it can serve to make him a stronger character while telling us things about his world that we didn’t know.

The only issue with this approach is that we would be cutting out the meeting scene between Sora and Ansem. Of the entire opening, I think that scene has the most potential to be impactful. Ansem wants the door of Destiny Islands to be opened so the Heartless can invade, so why would he not attempt to possess Sora right then and there? Why not have this be the point where he enters the Dive to the Heart to fight against Ansem’s influence? If Ansem can’t control him, why not have him say something about it like “I see your heart has already chosen its path. How Unfortunate.” or something similar. Legit, anything that makes him even vaguely threatening and seem important to the plot.

Speaking of the Dive to the Heart, I don’t understand at all why in Sora’s mind there would be the images of the princesses of heart. I guess the guiding hand of fate or whatever, but I feel like it would be stronger to have images that are directly important to Sora himself. Especially so early on when we have no knowledge of him. What are we meant to parse playing the game for the first time, that Sora decorates his room like an eight-year-old girl? I’m not certain if Ventus even existed in the minds of the writers at this point of the story but I feel like having his image on one of the stations would have been way better. It hints towards another mysterious Keyblade wielder that is somehow important to Sora in some way. A point of speculation that keeps the player guessing even after the game is done.

Traverse Town I can be fixed with just some minor tweaks. Make Sora a bit more emotive to having come to another world initially, make him either really oddly excited about it or just deeply sad about the loss of his world. Give some kind of intense, childish emotion. The strongest aspect of Sora as a character throughout the game is his growth, so do things with his personality that will make the change to his character clearer in the later stages of the game. Early on he’s just so nonplussed by a lot of things and that does nothing but make him really bland.

From there, make the scene of the man becoming a Heartless more dynamic. Sora literally sees a man turn into one of the creatures that took his world before his eyes. This should be a shocking scene, or at least better than heart randomly popping out of passerby’s body. After that is removing Aerith’s dumb, misleading line about the worlds having never been connected before. Maybe one of the single worst lines in the entire script.

Before going into the other worlds, I do want to present how I would redo the ‘canon’ order to fit better into the narrative I have in mind. I’d say the order should be Wonderland->Deep Jungle->Olympus->Halloween Town->Agrabah->Monstro->Atlantica->Neverland->Hollow Bastion. I’m swapping Olympus and Deep Jungle because I feel like Clayton works well as the natural progression after the Queen of Hearts in terms of antagonists. It makes more sense for Sora to go through a couple of worlds before being able to consider himself heroic at all and frankly Deep Jungle is just too low stakes to be anything past number two. I touched on why I wanted Halloween Town earlier in the progression but to re-iterate, it’s because Oogie feels like the weakest of the villains in the alliance by far. If he’s still going to be part of the alliance at all, he should definitely be the first to go.

The changes to Wonderland I’d make are minor. Have the Queen be aware of Heartless but still outlandishly blame Alice for their appearance. Just as ridiculous and baseless while also making more sense considering the Heartless’ presence. When she’s stolen away, make it so that a villain from the alliance is the one to do it. My personal thought is Hook should be the one, have him play an active role since he’s only actually fought so late on.

The Tarzan world would be where I start implementing the Ansem reports more deeply within the main plot. On its own this world isn’t very interesting at all past Clayton falling to the darkness, so adding the extra layer of Jane having discovered one of the reports would be interesting. She studies wildlife so it thematically matches if she were to come across reports that study the Heartless. Ansem Report 4 would be a good one to show up here as it talks about how Heartless multiply, how they take people’s hearts and turn them into Heartless and how they’re emotionless yet have intelligence. Mostly information that the player would have assumed by now but with the added line of them having intelligence could serve to make them seem just that little bit creepier.

My biggest realistic change to Olympus would be changing Cloud’s dialogue at the end of the world. I would prefer if Cloud remained stubborn about finding the one he’s looking for (which is Sephiroth) no matter the means. If Clouds believes that the darkness will draw him close, then I want him to have no qualms with using it again. Don’t just have him get beat once and then be suddenly friendshipped. My unrealistic change to Olympus would be the heroes becoming Heartless plot that I described. It would serve to make the Heartless seem even more terrifying and create powerful foes in Sora’s quest to prove that he’s a hero. A win-win, if it could be pulled off.

Returning to Traverse Town, my big change would be upping Maleficent’s corruption game a hundred fold. Her current method of convincing Riku is the weakest thing ever. I think the angle of Sora committing himself to closing off the worlds that Riku wanted to travel to is a good one, maybe adding in the spice that Sora’s doing that instead of searching for Kairi.

After thinking about it, I’ve decided that Halloween Town should be when the concepts of the heart are actually explained. Like, it’s really annoying that what the heart is remains so vague for the entire game. After the failed attempts to create a heart, why not have Finkelstein pull out an Ansem report and be like “feh! I thought it was nonsense but maybe this man was onto something.” and then have the report include the fact that the heart is composed of light and darkness. If you aren’t going to explain it outright, at least give some sort of information that puts the player on the right track. It’s not fun to speculate when you have nothing to go off of, it’s just infuriating.

Other than that, the main fix point in Halloween Town would be making Oogie a better villain in the plot somehow. My idea is to have there be a villain cutscene of Maleficent appearing before Oogie and commenting something along the lines of “interesting… So the Heartless are docile among the dead? Though, that makes you quite worthless, if you do not possess the means to control them.” From this, Oogie takes great offense and aims to swipe control of the Heartless right out from under Maleficent’s nose. When word gets to him that Jack and Finkelstein have created a heart, it’s the perfect thing. Spiteful Oogie trying to overthrow Maleficent and become the king of terror feels way better than what currently is.

Agrabah is pretty much perfect as is. Bar the unrealistic addition of adding the Heartless terrorizing the city, it hits pretty much every beat I’d want it to. The only thing I can think to change would be making Sora more emotional about not being able to help Jasmine. Maybe have him think, what if he finds Kairi but lets her get taken away the very same? Sora still has a lot of room to grow at this point, seeing some weakness would honestly be welcome. Oh, one thing to note would be fixing the little inconsistency of Genie being taken from the world not counting as meddling. Just have him say something like “A magical being like me can keep a low profile, no problem.” and that immediately solves the problem.

Leading up to Monstro, I’d personally hint towards the whole get both Sora and Riku inside of the whale plan in the villain cutscene beforehand. Even if it’s just something simple like Hook saying “they’re entering dangerous waters. The most terrifying creature there be swims in the space beyond where they’re going. If you want to see him, ye’ll have to go into the belly of the beast yerself.”

Inside Monstro is good stuff in my book. I like how the growing rivalry between Sora and Riku plays out and I wouldn’t really change it at all. Though, this would be a good place to have an Ansem report that talks about the realm of darkness. Such an Ansem report doesn’t exist in the game but boy would it be useful! Just, some confirmation that the Heartless emerge from their own realm of darkness and that they’re capable of going to and from this realm as they please.

Post-Monstro, I’d likely add at least a text cutscene of Sora resolving to save Kairi. This is the point in the story where Riku has challenged Sora’s will to rescue his friend and this happens just shortly after he fails to help Jasmine. At this point, I think it would be a good character moment for Sora to question IF he’s trying hard enough and if he’d even be strong enough to save her. Of course, this is assuming such a scene doesn’t happen in Agrabah. Positive boy that he is, and having the help of Donald and Goofy, he would quickly main character it up and resolve to save not just Kairi, but everyone from the darkness. Or some anime junk like that.

From this point onwards, I would begin Sora’s true growth into becoming a competent and heroic character. I’ve been calling for shows of weakness up until now but from Atlantica onwards it’s time for him to prove himself. First off, make Ursula a stronger villain by wanting to capture Ariel to see if she’s a princess of heart. This opens the way for the plot to actually describe what makes a princess of heart and what it is about them that makes them special. How can one tell who has inherited the light that keeps the darkness away from the worlds that are left? Choice time to develop this vague plot point.

Second, have Sora be more responsive to Ariel and her dream of going to other worlds. That surely must be a subjects that hits on his feelings, like I said it’s literally a reminder of how all this started. This could be a great time to see Sora think back before steeling himself for the rest of the journey going forward. He won’t fail Ariel like he failed Jasmine, he will prove his progression as a character by succeeding here when he failed there. Third, have Sora respond to the “what’s your world like?” question. Regardless of the version of the story, Sora’s feelings towards his life before are important. That they’re just looked over in the game makes me think the writers didn’t consider it at all. That Sora, to them, was just a moral in a bottle being shaken around until he could say the one line he’s meant to say. Give him a past! Make him feel real! I want to see the memories he has, I want this character to be deep and interesting! Please!

Hook’s ship is strong, though explaining shadow Sora at all would be great. Have it more clearly come out of his shadow, have it be drawn from the darkness in Sora’s heart (if he has any), just add a bit of clarity.

As for Sora’s sudden worry when he returns to Traverse Town, I’ve concocted a reason for it. Have him talk about how he’s been able to feel some kind of light or warmth from the friends he’s met so far but he hasn’t been able to get that feeling from Riku. The acceptance that they’re no longer friends, that Riku is antagonizing him, is grounds to be a big deal for Sora. He doesn’t really tackle it in the real game, he just puts it into the back of his mind and believes that Riku will be able to come back. It’s a good conflict and it hints towards the light and darkness in people’s hearts in a more explicit way than the actual game ever gives.

The issue with the Kairi flashback isn’t so much the content as it is the wording. That definitely needs some redrafting.

Before leaving Traverse Town this time though, I would highly appreciate another cutscene with the Final Fantasy characters. Have them find out that Sora, Donald and Goofy are going to Hollow Bastion and have them reveal that’s the world they came from. They thought that world was lost to darkness, so have them hype it up by saying that Sora’s going into dark and dangerous territory.

Getting it out of the way, going into Hollow Bastion the first thing I want to tackle is the concept of heart. In this version, we already established in Halloween Town that the heart is made of light and darkness. That’s in our heads, so it makes it a lot easier to swallow if Sora says something along the lines of “the light in my heart connects with the light in others! It’s that light that shines the way, that shows me the way forward! My friends show me that I’m on the right path, Riku… The darkness in your heart is why you’ll lose!” Boiling the heart down to its components of light and darkness make consuming the concepts so much easier. The light connects and the dark separates, it’s that easy. Sora’s facing down Riku without the Keyblade and acceptance that he’s not the chosen one is also a good beat in Sora’s hero-growth arc.

I feel like Maleficent’s role should be changed to something like “I will draw the wisdom from Kingdom Hearts and with that knowledge I will control both all light and all darkness!” instead of just ruling all worlds. I’ve made my point as to why the whole ruling all worlds thing is flawed, so I won’t go over it again. Otherwise, everything leading up to post-possessed Riku fight is good. After that fight, I would say that Sora should go to Kairi instead of the keyhole so as to speed up that scene. It would feel more natural, especially since Sora cares enough about her to selflessly sacrifice himself for her.

Now comes the hard part of the rewrite. I’ve made it clearer that this is some kind of rebuilt or corrupted Hollow Bastion but I just cannot concoct a reason why the final keyhole that Ansem created would require the seven princesses. My best suggestion is to have Ansem speak to Donald, Goofy and Kairi before they run from him and reveal that the final keyhole was a test. That behind it is a world heart of darkness of his own creation that has done nothing but create and store artificial Heartless for years. Now, they are all released at once to bring the rest of the worlds to ruin. This would make some sense, we know from his reports that Ansem is the experimental type and he likely believes that he could easily gather the seven princesses once more to break the seal of the true last keyhole. Yet, before that, he has one final experiment to perform.

When Sora returns to Hollow Bastion, make it so that the Beast has protected the princesses from the rampaging Heartless and was the one who goaded them into using the lights within themselves.

How Riku gets cast into the realm of darkness is not explained, though I believe Ansem chose to cast his heart into there so that he would not interfere again. This is something that should be made clear as the idea of going to and from the realm of the Heartless is a pretty major plot point.

The End of the World, surprisingly, I think is conceptually fine. The debris of dead worlds collecting together in a dark void is a neat concept. I have no issue with that.

I have a solution for the extremely problematic endgame. First of all, I would definitively make it so that the Heartless have been pouring out of the already opened door to darkness. Though, he has only been able to open the door a tiny bit, it is but a sliver of space that has allowed the Heartless to terrorize the worlds as they have. Opening and closing the door to darkness requires a great amount of energy, so to supplement that Ansem created his own Kingdom Hearts. He collected the hearts of the dead worlds that drifted to the end of the world as debris and collected them together, this culmination resulting in a Kingdom Hearts. These are worlds that have returned to darkness, as they rightfully must do, thus he believes his Kingdom Hearts to bear the same darkness. It is with that dark energy that he intends to pull the door to darkness wide open and allow the Heartless to completely flood through and take over everything. When he is pushed to desperation by Sora, he calls upon Kingdom Hearts to empower him. Despite all of his experimentation, Ansem failed to realize that darkness cannot converge together into a Kingdom Hearts. It is light that unifies, darkness only rejects. The collective heart that he made with his own hands releases the slumbering lights of the thought dead worlds and Ansem is annihilated by his own mistake. The main characters are then successful in sealing the door to darkness and the rest of the ending plays out as normal.

Reflection

Surprisingly, a good part of the middle section of this game actually wasn’t in all that bad of shape. The idea for an arc for Sora was there and each world had the potential to introduce something new to his journey. The rivalry with Riku escalated nicely and was really enjoyable and some of the foreshadowing was really well done. The main issues were with the introduction, which did not put in enough effort to explore what it should have, and the endgame, which attempted to introduce far too much. In my rewrite, I attempted to simplify the complex themes and stagger them out throughout the game so as to make them easier to consume. What it all comes down to are the concepts of ‘heart’, ‘light’ and ‘darkness’, three ideas that are intrinsically tied but never quite properly explained. Their relation to each other and how these forces act are so important and yet when they come into play we are ill prepared to receive them. Once these complex concepts are simplified down to ‘light unifies, dark rejects’ then things become a lot simpler. Bad wording and hiding information in reports that the average player won’t bother to read is a combination that has likely chased a lot of people away from trying to engage with the lore of this series. With just what the game gives you, it’s a real headache to put everything together in a way that feels right. I aimed to create a theoretical version of this plot that makes it more consumable, now it’s up to you guys to decide whether or not I succeeded.