Previously On – Kingdom Hearts
Oh boy, here we go again on another KINGDOM HEARTS ride. Hold onto your seats, it’s going to be another big one. Hopefully I’ll manage to make this one a little shorter than the last but in foresight Chain of Memories seems as if it’s going to need a lot of work. Before that, though, let’s recap what we did the last time and where Sora is at on his journey.
Most of the changes made in the last narrative amendment can be contained within the first game, so if you want to see all of that then you should read that post. The altered factors that will impact this game are Sora’s status as a hero, Ventus having been in Sora’s Dive to the Heart and our less vague definition of ‘heart’. I based a lot of the KH1 amendment around Sora’s arc of becoming a ‘true hero’, going from a lost and kinda cocky kid to an accomplished warrior. He has rescued people, saved all worlds from darkness, at this point in the story he’s a huge deal! Not at all incompetent, it’d take a great enemy with good build-up to threaten him now. Wink.
I replaced the images of the princesses of heart in Sora’s Dive to the Heart, one of them becoming Ventus. As I said last time, I’m uncertain if Ventus actually existed at this point in the writers’ minds, but this story should add to that foreshadowing a bit. Given that, y’know, Ventus is sitting somewhere in the castle this game takes place in. Lastly, we actually defined what the ‘heart’ is in the last post. This could matter in the sense that we could use the solidified aspect of heart to do interesting things. Keeping important story aspects vague is a bad thing, folks! As a refresher, we determined that the heart is made of light and darkness. In the simplest terms, light is an abstract force that connects while darkness is a similarly abstract force that repels. The light in hearts can connect people and worlds while darkness keeps these things separated. This may or may not come into play but just keep these ideas in mind.
In terms of the normal plot, we left off after Sora defeated Ansem and saved the worlds that had their hearts taken by the Heartless. In doing so, the worlds that had been connected became separate once more. Sora and his allies Donald and Goofy were left stranded in an unknown world, bearing the goal of finding the latter two’s king. What awaits them in this world is unknown but fortune swiftly finds them as they spot Pluto, the king’s pet, bearing a letter with his insignia. That’s about the gist of it, strong boy and Disney friends stuck in unknown world looking for mouse.
What I Enjoyed
- Limiting Sora’s power through the card mechanic – Given the nature of chain of memories as a video game, it’s predictable that there would be some way to limit Sora’s endgame power from the last installment. In plenty of series’ this has been done in exceptionally lame ways, though I think the card mechanic is an interesting way of doing it. The cards make it so that it isn’t just a complete reset or ability null for Sora, he still has his power but it’s been contained in these cards. The cards resemble each aspect of his abilities and to win his fights in Castle Oblivion he will have to utilize them to their utmost potential. No wasted spells or movements, the cards are a limited resource so all of his moves matter. It’s easy to interpret this as a way of making Sora a more skilled and intelligent fighter, whereas before he could theoretically just defeat enemies through his potential as the Keyblade wielder. This also serves to make the Organization XIII members more threatening because they’ve already gotten used to having their abilities in the form of cards, having already been in the castle. It makes Sora feel disadvantaged while not necessarily feeling weaker, which is good for a plot-necessary nerf.
- Use of Replica Riku to manipulate Sora – We know going into this plot that the reason for Sora’s being at Castle Oblivion is to find and recover Riku. For this, he refused to return to Destiny Isles with Kairi when the worlds were cut off from each other. Sora faced the dark as it settled and ended up somewhere unknown on the chance it could give him a better shot at finding Riku. Clearly, his friend is exceptionally important to him, which is why it works when Replica Riku (henceforth Repliku) comes into the picture. Now, this is just in concept, I have a lot of problems with the actual conflict between Sora and Repliku. If the Organization’s goal is to manipulate Sora, then the absolute best way to do it is through Riku. That’s why I like Repliku in theory- but that’s about where it ends. Repliku fails in execution due to plot points that will be explored below.
- Riku’s character arc – Similar to Repliku, I have some problems with Riku’s arc in execution but the core idea behind it is good. The idea of his heart having rejected the light is fine, we can understand that, we know that hearts are comprised of light and darkness so his just doesn’t have light. The story of him finding our where to go from there, with a heart from which he already rejected light, captures the unique feel of Kingdom Hearts while not being super convoluted. He cannot reach the light, to fight the foes before him then he has no choice but to use darkness. This means that there was real consequence for his actions during the events of the first game and it makes for a unique and interesting arc. He doesn’t just redeem himself and find the light within him, he actually takes the darkness and controls it without falling to it.
Furthermore, I think the game’s core concept of going through memories works a lot better for Riku than it does Sora. The first reason why is because it’s a perspective we didn’t see all of in the first game and the second is because it gives Riku a chance to physically face off against his past mistakes. There are actually things that happened during the events of the first game that Riku would go back and change, so it’s worth seeing him in those places again. This is entirely not the case for Sora.
What Needs Changed
- The core memory wipe concept – Memory loss/amnesia plots are invariably just infuriating to sit through, especially when they end up coming to nothing. When the game opens up and the hooded Marluxia tells Sora that he will find something he needs but will have to lose something to obtain it, I thought maybe the narrative wouldn’t be as bad as I remembered. As an opening line I thought it was very strong and raised a lot of questions. Like, who is this figure and what do they know? If we are to trust them, what is it that Sora needs? Is it what Sora would need to get Mickey and Riku out of the realm of darkness? Is the figure a resident of the world, which otherwise seems vast yet empty? While he’s untrustworthy, there’s pretty much no choice but to trust him. It makes the figure seem threatening, even though what they say isn’t necessarily a threat.
Then, it turns out to be some godawful ‘you lose memories to gain’ plot. There are so many problems with this, not least of all the fact that the entire game revolves around replaying Sora’s memories of the worlds from the first game. It’s so counter-intuitive to have him experiencing memories while he’s meant to be losing them. Additionally, the idea of there being a ‘gain’ to this is really not made clear. Is the gain meant to be the cards that Sora obtains? Not much of a gain, considering those were his abilities and memories in the first place. I believe that the gain is meant to be the memories of Naminé that are implanted into Sora throughout the game but that just completely ruins the potentially cool premise we got in the opening line. It reads poorly since Goofy and Donald don’t receive any gain and it’s all around just disappointing for us. At the end of the game there’s no consequence to it either, at the point when most of Sora’s memories are gone Naminé is just like “oh nbd I can put them back”. Sora never actually gets anything important and there’s no take-away. This just makes the game a waste of time in terms of narrative. If they just skipped this one and made Organization XIII into Organization VII instead then no one would be missing anything.
- Naminé – This character is absolutely awful. The entirety of the plot revolves around her and it comes off as literally a teenage girl’s fanfiction. Admittedly, given Naminé is a teenage girl who is self-inserting herself into Sora’s memories, I can’t say this is unbelievable. That isn’t the problem, though, the problem is that it’s not an enjoyable narrative to sit through. I don’t want to see Sora and Repliku shout at each other over who likes Naminé more. To make matters even worse, she has absolutely no personality. None at all. We don’t even really get to see her do anything until the point in the plot where she admits that she’s putting fake memories into Sora’s head. If this girl is going to be so important to the plot, we should at least like or sympathize with her but we don’t. We’re never really given a reason to, why should I like a character who goes full manipulative bitch when Sora decides he wants his actual memories back. “Oh… I guess that’s what anyone would choose, huh…” Yeah! No need to sound so disappointed! If it isn’t clear, this is the reason why Repliku fails in practice in this game. Because his character revolves entirely around Naminé and Naminé sucks. She exists so explicitly just to make this exact plot happen and the result isn’t even enjoyable.
The Riku-side cutscenes make her a little better with the scene of her conflict over changing Repliku’s heart but it’s really too-little-too-late. This kinda stuff should have been in the main story, though it doesn’t fix the core problems with Naminé’s character.
- The core going through all of Sora’s memories of the last game concept – This one is pretty simple, there’s just no narrative value to us seeing all of Sora’s memories from the first game again. Nothing of importance happens in them, it’s all just rehashing. I don’t want to hear arguments that this was to make things easier on the game designers either, the game was originally made for the GBA and they had to sprite everything from scratch. They could definitely have put original and important things in the actual ‘worlds’ themselves but they copped out with unimportant ‘here’s Kingdom Hearts 1 again’ nonsense.
- THIS is how you decide to introduce Organization XIII – For the group that’s meant to be Sora’s main opposition in both this game and in Kingdom Hearts 2, you’d think they would have done their best to make the Organization seem threatening or consequential or… like… anything! Other than having Sora meet Axel (which is made worthless as Sora forgets the events of the game at the end anyways), their place in this game is pointless for all purposes other than shaving down the number 13. We don’t learn about the Organization’s actual plans or why they’re at Castle Oblivion in the first place or even what they are. In a secret Ansem report in the final mix version of Kingdom Hearts 1, Nobodies are hinted at in a way that should have been expressed here. Let me ask you, in what world does it seem like a good idea to have a villain group’s first appearance revolve around their in-fighting? Maybe in a world where that group is meant to be comedic but that is far from the case here. We’re meant to take the Organization seriously as this powerful, mysterious and manipulative group but apparently it can’t even handle its own members. More like Disorganization XIII am I right? No, all this does is give us a bad impression of the Organization, especially going into the next ‘main’ game in the series. Like I said at the start, Sora is an accomplished character by this point in the story and a group like this that doesn’t have its stuff together just has no impact in the face of that.
So, the entire betrayal plot on the Organization’s side is bad. They want to manipulate Sora and use him as a puppet to take over the rest of the organization but from our perspective those are not stakes. Why would they want to take over the organization? What even is the aim of the organization? What is the main organization group doing wrong that would make this group want to betray them? With all these questions still in the air, is our reaction meant to be ‘oh no! They’re going to use Sora to take over the organization! If that happens then-… Then!…” nothing. The answer is nothing. Even the fight with Marluxia doesn’t feel like a final boss encounter, it feels like a boss fight that just so happens to come at the end of the game. He doesn’t symbolize anything or represent the culmination of what Sora has achieved throughout the castle, because those achievements amount to zero.
Things don’t really get any better on Riku’s side. The organization isn’t Riku’s main conflict here and anything they do add to his struggle is overshadowed by the manifestation of Ansem. The last boss of the previous game taking precedence over the organization is super bad. It makes it seem like, going forward, that the stakes of the conflict have gone down. Why should we care about the threat the organization poses if Ansem was just better than them? Zexion and Lexaeus just exist to die in this plot, they’re complete throwaways. The only positive point I can think to put here is that it’s interesting when the organization senses Ansem’s influence on Riku and feel that it’s similar to Xemnas.
- DiZ – This character is introduced in this game and he sucks and is awful. He exists solely as a plot element and yet doesn’t present anything clearly. He isn’t likable and all-in-all he isn’t even really all that important. The most notable thing he does is give Riku and Mickey their Organization XIII cloaks, which he claims can hide their presence from the organization. This is stupid and confusing because why would they make cloaks that make them undetectable to themselves? Thankfully, he goes on to give a better reason for the cloaks in the fact that they protect the wearers from darkness. Dampeners of sorts, they allow the wearers to use powers of darkness without being consumed by it. Other than that, he exists as a character whose dialogue you skip because it’s better to figure things out through context clues.
Well, given that basically all of the core elements of this plot are badly executed and/or pointless, I’m basically going to have to write my own Kingdom Hearts fanfiction to fix this one. Hand me that sketch book, Naminé, I’m taking the wheel. Anything from here onward will be my own interpretation unless otherwise stated.
First of all, we need to actually clear up some things about Castle Oblivion. It takes the abilities of those who enter and turns those abilities into cards. It also constructs its inner walls based on the memories of those within it and is theoretically impossible to traverse without going through said memories. We can assume that the castle favors memories of times of conflict, which is why in the current version it would center its focus on Sora’s memories of the first game. These memory spaces can vary in size to an unknown amount.
The next thing I want to clarify about Castle Oblivion is the world it exists in. My theory about this world is that, naturally, it is the world that exists closest to the door to darkness. Close to the realm of darkness but not within it. Its proximity to the realm of darkness is why there are no people there, despite the world’s apparent vastness. My proof of this theory is as follows;
- It was the world that Sora, Donald and Goofy ended up in after the worlds were restored at the end of the last game. They did not catch a ride on any of the freed worlds from what we see, they remained close to the door and ended up in Castle Oblivion’s world.
- The darkness that surrounds the castle suggests that there is some kind of great dark power affecting the world, despite the fact that the door to darkness was closed.
- When Riku escaped from the realm of darkness, he ended up in Castle Oblivion.
- A card from Castle Oblivion was able to guide Mickey out of the realm of darkness.
This is important because it means this world is the most closely connected to the door to and realm of darkness. Thus, if there really was any way to get Mickey and Riku out of the realm of darkness from the outside, it would be from this world. In the rewritten narrative this information would likely be used by the organization as a means to manipulate Sora’s movements, promising that the castle can indeed save those lost in the darkness.
While I did talk about how much I liked the first line, I would actually change the opening cutscene of the game fairly dramatically. One of the most major issues with Marluxia as the main antagonist is that he doesn’t feel at all special. He doesn’t explicitly do anything to make Sora want to defeat him or present any kind of high stakes battle for the world-type scenario. He’s just a guy that happens to be the strongest enemy in the castle and there isn’t any more to it. To flesh out his character, I’d actually have him appear before Sora uncloaked in the beginning of the game. He would pretend to be a nice guy and talk about the world and how its closeness to the darkness meant that so many hearts were lost. Sora is a heavily empathetic character so such a story would easily get through to him.
Then, have Marluxia mention that there is a castle that can supposedly bring back those who were lost to darkness. Many have tried to go through it and retrieve loved ones but all have failed the castle’s trials. Sora connects the dots and realizes ‘Hey! I have friends lost in the darkness! I’m strong and have no other leads, I’ll do it!’. During the course of this scene, Marluxia would both point Sora towards the castle while subtly using his magic to read through Sora’s memories. Marluxia’s true nature in mind, a scene like this would make him seem like a much more competent manipulator and it would introduce some personal stakes to the eventual battle with him. Not much but at least something. In a novel version of the story, I would even consider having this ‘nice’ Marluxia tag along with the group into the castle with some fabricated story of someone that he, too, wants to save from the dark.
Sora, Donald and Goofy come to the castle and, instead of meeting the hooded Marluxia on the first floor, something else happens entirely. They start feeling something odd, like something in their minds is being opened up. Maybe the characters can mistake that for the feeling that they’ll find what they need to see their friends, whatever. They progress further nonetheless but just find a blocked-off doorway with an odd symbol on it. As Sora touches the symbol, that odd feeling intensifies as the room before them becomes a deep well of darkness. Sora, Donald and Goofy fall into the newly created space and there they see the battle freshest in their minds; their fight against Ansem. Confused, they ready themselves for battle but find themselves unable to call upon all of their abilities.
Without their full power at their disposal, the manifestation of Ansem that has been constructed before them threatens to bring about their end. When, suddenly, flames erupt from the vision’s body. Axel appears and explains that there should be cards somewhere on their persons, which the group quickly find. He tells the group that those cards are their abilities, limited now that they’ve stepped into the castle. With Axel’s help, the four defeat the memory of Ansem and move on to the next white room. Axel explains to Sora that he and his group are looking for something in the castle as well and if Sora gets in the way with more troublesome memories then their next meeting might not be so friendly. Dumb child Sora asks what he means and Axel explains that the castle builds itself from the memories of those who enter, particularly emulating the harshest battles within those memories. Axel is definitely the best organization member to come before Sora’s group frequently throughout the castle as it does form a connection between the two characters. This is important both to develop Axel as a character and to set-up for their dynamic in later installments of the series.
A scene like this does a lot of things. It’s sudden and unexpected, thrown into what was the last game’s final boss fight without any abilities puts both the characters and the players into states of confusion. Introducing Axel in this way makes him more trustworthy and immediately likable, opening the way for more scenes where his relationship with Roxas is reflected later on. More importantly, though, it immediately makes the organization feel extremely powerful. Axel faces off against the memory of Ansem without even breaking a sweat, so we know that whatever group he’s a part of must be crazy strong. Because of this, when they turn out to be antagonists later on, they feel way more threatening. This first fight also opens the way for an organization cutscene where they talk about Ansem, likely Axel sarcastically commenting on how bad he felt doing that do someone who looks like the boss.
One might ask; ‘why make Organization XIII act so friendly towards Sora like this?’ The answer really boils down to why wouldn’t they. What the Organization wants is for the Keyblade wielder to defeat Heartless so they can draw in those Heartless’ hearts and grow their own artificial Kingdom Hearts. In this case, what sense would it make for them to purposely antagonize Sora? He’s literally the cornerstone of their plan, their first thought should be to try and get him on their side. What better way to do that than craft a situation in which they can rescue Sora from the trials of Castle Oblivion?
Just as a quick summary, here are the roles I believe each of the organization members should play;
- Marluxia – Appears as a friendly resident of Castle Oblivion’s world. Is actually the assigned leader of the Organization XIII members in Castle Oblivion and orders them behind the scenes. A true crafty manipulator.
- Axel – Sarcastic ‘friend’ who acts to help Sora through the castle without being openly trustworthy. For one reason or another, challenges Sora multiple times throughout the castle. Given reason could be testing how good Sora has gotten at using the cards.
- Vexen – Expert on the inner workings of the castle, was the one who figured out the castle’s rules when the organization initially went there. In charge of finding out if there are alternate ways to change the castle’s structure. Uses data he collects from Sora’s fights to create a clone capable of wielding the Keyblade should the original meet an unfortunate end.
- Larxene – Complete bitch and faux-leader of the group before Marluxia’s reveal. Maintains a mightier-than-thou image and thinks that Sora isn’t worth the trouble if they find what they’re looking for in the castle. Is also in charge of eliminating anyone who is unwelcome in the castle.
I don’t believe Zexion and Lexaus really have any need to be here, so we’re going to say that they’re still at the organization’s base. They just don’t add enough to Riku’s story to be worth it and in the rewrite even less so.
Now I want to go over why the organization is at Castle Oblivion in the first place. In-game it’s never really touched upon, the best reason we get is that suspicious members were sent there because the organization’s leader knew about the planned betrayal. It was literally just a set-up for Axel to weed out and eliminate the traitors. I’ve gone into why that sucks, so instead we’re going to say that the organization found out about Ventus. Ventus is a Keyblade wielder who is asleep and protected by Castle Oblivion and he’s also the reason why Sora was able to become a Keyblade wielder. For now, that’s all you need to know about him.
We’ve determined that the organization needs Keyblade wielders to carry out their plan, so it makes sense that they would attempt to get their hands on Ventus if they found out about him. Best of all, Ventus is a shell, so if they did manage to get to him then they would be able to use him how they pleased. Given how much the organization have to gain from this, this explains why so many of its members are present. They first attempted to get to Ventus by traversing the castle with their own memories but came to dead ends. Since then, Vexen has been tasked with trying to mold the memory paths in a way that will lead them to the boy they seek.
Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that I will be taking a note from the manga and say that the organization members definitely have emotions in this version. It’s so contradictory to say that they don’t given what we see in the games, it’s much better to just say that they’re plagued with feelings of emptiness. They’re incomplete beings who want to be whole, that’s enough of a motive for them to have.
So, in terms of Sora’s story, where do we go from here? Well, that depends on one major factor. Whether or not we keep Naminé in the story. If she were to remain in the story, the memories that Sora goes through could be manipulated to not just be replays of the first game. Maybe it’s not just Naminé herself that Sora is made to believe he’s friends with but all of the organization members. Each world could be how he met each member and the battles could be ones they fought together. This is all fabricated, of course, but since we know exactly what happens in Kingdom Hearts 1 it would be interesting to see just how far off course the story is taken with these memory edits.
Eventually, the presence of the organization members replaces Donald and Goofy in Sora’s memories. The organization has decided that they have no use for the Disney duo, so they intend to separate the two of them from Sora and eliminate them. They only need the Keyblade wielder, after all. Vexen has completed Repliku by this point and intends to present him to Sora, ready to claim that the organization used the castle’s power to bring him back. His intention is to have Sora leave the castle, having found ‘Riku’, so that the Keyblade wielder can return to slaying Heartless for the sake of the organization. Naminé decides she can’t go through with this plan and finds an opening to warn Sora of what’s happening. This is what leads to the conflict between Sora and the organization, which results in the defeat of Vexen, Larxene and Marluxia. In the end, Sora goes into sleep so that Naminé can restore his memories to normal like in the current version of the game. Just, without the arbitrary choice of him forgetting the events of Castle Oblivion.
This makes the narrative stronger because Sora would actually connect with the game’s characters through the altered memories. We’d get to see more of Naminé, actually have scenes where she’s there on Destiny Isles. We’d get to see Sora kinda unnaturally and creepily become friends with the organization members and be truly conflicted when he has to fight them. Even though his memories of their friendship are fake, because of Sora’s character he would feel betrayed and sad to have to fight them. I would even flirt with the idea of him hesitating and that allowing the organization members he fights to live, thus allowing Kingdom Hearts 2 to begin with all thirteen intact.
Then, there’s the version of the story that just axes Naminé altogether. In this version of the story there would be no memory alterations, so we would have to find other ways of making Sora’s progression through the castle interesting. While this would somewhat conflict with the idea of the castle drawing from memories of battle, I would absolutely love for there to be memory rooms based on Sora’s childhood on Destiny Isles. The life he had before the events of the first game that were just sorely missing, everything that would make him feel like he existed beforehand and that his home is a real place. In a game based on memories, this would be the absolute most perfect time to go into that. To assure that there are still conflicts, we could just say that the castle doesn’t necessarily always draw from memories of conflict but will corrupt the memories it takes to make conflict. Or we could mix the two ideas together and say that a battle from one memory could make its way into the location of a different memory. This concept of memories mixing in itself could create interesting areas for Sora to go through.
A perhaps even more interesting idea would be Sora coming across memory rooms that were already constructed by the organization. In this version, they’re trying to reach Ventus but it’s impossible to go through the castle without using memories. I’m not excluding the organization from that rule, they have to do it as well. Whether they’re just the memories the organization members have after becoming Nobodies or even if the castle awakens memories from their original bodies. Maybe one of the organization members, let’s say Larxene, becomes dead-set on finding memories of her old self through the castle’s manifestations. It would make sense for any of the organization members to do so if they thought that they could escape their emptiness by going back to times when they were whole.
I love this idea because there are so many possibilities. We could see the moment when each of the castle’s members were given their Nobody names. Their memory worlds could contain their associated fodder Nobodies for Sora to fight. We could actually learn about what Nobodies are and, by extension, what the organization is. We could learn more about each of the organization members backgrounds and personalities. The battles they went through, the regrets they have; they could all be three-dimensional characters. In this narrative where Sora doesn’t know where Marluxia is an organization member, he could come across mysterious memory rooms that he doesn’t know belong to the pink-haired man he met at the start. It would be great foreshadowing for his reveal as an antagonist.
This idea could also lead Sora to a memory where he learns about Organization XIII’s plan. They want to draw out the hearts of Heartless and abduct them into their own artificial Kingdom Hearts. Sora would be appalled by this idea since they’re essentially enslaving people’s hearts into this mass. Even if the hearts came from Heartless, he would think it’s not right to just trap them like that. Meanwhile, Vexen would have completed his fake Sora and Larxene would be on her last straw regarding how useful she thinks Sora will be. They would fight Sora and be defeated, leaving Marluxia with no choice but to reveal himself. With Vexen dead the expedition to Castle Oblivion is a failure, though there is one Keyblade wielder that could yet be brought back. Sora refuses to go with him, which results in Marluxia turning to brute force. He, too is defeated.
In his dying moments, Marluxia tells Sora that there truly is a way for him to save those trapped in the realm of darkness. He reveals that Castle Oblivion is capable of creating gateways between itself and the realm of darkness. It need only be visualized through a memory of the door to darkness. It would allow Riku and Mickey to return and the castle would contain the Heartless but it would be dangerous. All of the Heartless would flood into the memory and they would need to fight if they wanted to save their friends. Sora, fearless, claims that it will be a piece of cake before he and the Disney duo return to the memory where they fought Ansem at the beginning. There is the door to darkness, which the three open through the power in their hearts. Inside they see the Heartless that will come between them and the friends they seek. Thus ends Sora’s side of the story.
Now, for Riku. Theoretically his story would be an easy fix, just remove Zexion and Lexaeus and we’re golden. A little less interesting with two less unique boss fights but what’re you gonna do. That’s not what I’m going to do, though. While I did make the claim that Castle Oblivion’s memory mechanic worked better for Riku than Sora, I’m not convinced his story should take place in the castle. Gameplay-wise this is impossible since he wouldn’t use the card system if he were anywhere else but I just don’t think it’s the best scenario in terms of writing. What I want to see is something else, the story of how Riku actually got out of the realm of darkness.
This should be a huge deal. Getting out of the realm of darkness isn’t easy, Aqua’s been stuck there since way before Riku was cast off by Ansem. Yet, Riku just kinda gets out off-screen and the only explanation we get is ‘oh the darkness let you do that’. I’m not into that, I’d much prefer to see the story of Riku and Mickey inside the realm of darkness. Not dissimilar to what we got in A Fragmentary Passage, honestly. The idea of Riku’s arc should be the same, him struggling with his inner darkness and eventually learning to control it in a way that no one has managed to do before him. The image of that would be made much more powerful in the fact that the very realm around him is darkness, constantly trying to consume him. He has reason to fear this darkness, he has to constantly fight it to survive, but it’s a fight he’s slowly losing. Even with Mickey at his side, his power just isn’t enough as he’s continually worn down by more and more powerful Heartless. The last thing he wants to do is give in to the darkness in his heart, even though it would give him power it would give the entire realm an opening. I feel like this is way better than just Ansem’s ghost popping up.
That’s not to say that Ansem couldn’t appear, maybe a piece of him slipped into the door to darkness after he was defeated by Sora. I just don’t really like that a part of him still remained inside of Riku. Riku’s conflict with Ansem throughout the current version of the story really just feels like that, Riku fighting against Ansem. It’s less a fight against the darkness itself and more just an arm wrestle with this one guy. Maybe others are into the interactions between the two characters but I don’t think it’s really all that valuable. Anyways, those interactions could still happen if a burnt-by-the-light Ansem made his way into the door to darkness before it closed and intends to recover his power and return. Regardless, in the end, Riku overcomes some great force by taking the dark and using it as his own weapon. With mastery over the darkness, he is able to leave the realm of darkness as a Heartless would, though he is unable to take Mickey with him. This is way better justification than ‘he just did it’ and it lets us see how much one has to struggle to survive in the realm of darkness.
Once outside of the realm, Riku ends up in the same world as Sora, Donald and Riku. Open, empty, but he knows he has to find a way to get Mickey out as well. He follows the same path to Castle Oblivion where he quickly comes across Sora’s memory of the door to darkness. He sees Sora, Donald and Goofy fighting and lends them a hand, using his power over darkness to guide Mickey to the opened door from the outside. The king returns and the group celebrates a happy reunion. End Riku’s story.
Now we have a problem. There is no need for Sora to go to sleep because his memories have not been altered. This means that Roxas cannot be returned to Sora’s body, at least not in the same way. So what’s the solution to this? It wouldn’t make much sense for Roxas to show up at the castle since Roxas has only existed for 22-49 days at this point. Not nearly enough for the events of 358/2 days to take place, even if we removed all of the skipped days. We need an excuse for Sora, Donald and Goofy to be incapacitated for a stretch of time- but how?
Well, much as he sucks in his current iteration, this is where plot element DiZ would come in handy. In a completely straight-forward way, he could explain that Sora is not whole. A piece of him is amiss, his own body, in fact. DiZ would reveal that Sora’s current body is akin to a Heartless and that his twice-exposure to the door to darkness has put him at risk. The powerful light in his body protected him from this fate but it can only bare so much. During his fights, darkness has wormed its way into his heart and threatens to return him to the shadow bug state he suffered back in Hollow Bastion. The only way for him to be safe would be to send him into a state of sleep until his body is returned to him. Having found Riku, Sora is happy to entrust this task to his friend and goes into rest. Thus, Riku’s journey to find Sora’s body begins.
The original plot to this game is awful. It really doesn’t go further than that, a majority of the events of Chain of Memories are just pointless and that’s what’s truly infuriating about it. As great as it would be, there are a couple of plot points just major enough that this game can’t be skipped. In particular, Riku getting out of the realm of darkness and Sora going into sleep. The latter is only important because it’s in this time that Roxas is returned to him. Everything else in the game, including the first appearance of Organization XIII, is completely worthless. Not even the deaths of the organization members in this game matter, they add nothing to any character’s arc nor are there consequences to them dying. They exist just to fall over and the image the organization gains from it is weak, weak, weak. They do nothing at all to hype the player for the organization’s role in the next game.
To make matters even worse, the characters that are plot important exist just to BE plot important. Naminé and DiZ are dull and awful characters who are only there to move the plot along. They aren’t likable or fleshed out or really anything. The former’s powers are used in the worst way possible to make an unengaging bad fanfiction plot which is unbearable to anyone who hasn’t also written the same type of fanfic. The latter is literally a convoluted word mass in the shape of a man who might as well not exist because you’d rather skip his dialogue. Bad, bad, all bad.
It’s so disappointing too, because the idea of a game about delving into memories can be super interesting. The core concept of someone going into your mind and changing what you think is truth is unnerving, it was just done in the worst way possible. At no point did we ever get to actually see the effects of the mind alterations, instead we got the worlds from the first game pretty much as we remember them. Going into this, if you told me that the Kingdom Hearts game based on a castle that builds itself with memories was the lamest one, I wouldn’t want to believe you. Yet, here it is. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, one you’d really rather forget.