The “Kingdom Hearts” series both inspires us with child-like hope and captures the seriousness of our human drama.
Two points before we get started.
1). The following article contains SPOILERS. If you have not beat Kingdom Hearts III, I advise you to read this article later.
2). Here is a link of Kingdom Hearts music via YouTube. I think the article could be better enjoyed while listening to the beautiful music from the series. But I warn you…prepare yourself for a trip down nostalgia avenue…
Well, after seventeen years and twelve games, the final chapter of the Kingdom Hearts “Dark Seeker Saga” has finally arrived. This is a bittersweet moment for those of us who have watched the battle between Sora and Xehanort unfold for the past decade. Kingdom Hearts is truly one of the most powerful series in the history of gaming. It depicts the struggle between light and dark, love and hate, selfishness and selflessness, friendship and despair in a way that few video games have. A brilliant cooperative effort on the part of Disney and Square Enix has left us with a video game that both inspires us with child-like hope in the goodness of the world as well as captures the seriousness of our human drama, illustrating the fear, anxiety, violence, and sorrow each of us must face in our lives. To be honest, there is far too much in this series to commentate in a single article. What is more, the Kingdom Hearts storyline is notoriously complex. However, let us be content for the time being to highlight several of the key themes that define the series overall and how they have been resolved in Kingdom Hearts III.
In order to appreciate the following observations, a little background is necessary. There are three components to a being in the Kingdom Hearts universe: the heart, the body, and the soul. The most important of these three (as the game’s name implies) is the heart—not the heart in a biological sense but in an anthropological sense. A “heart” in this game is akin to the freedom of the person; it is where the will resides. It is what informs an individual’s personality as well as defines how they exist. When a person loses their heart by surrendering it to darkness (evil), their heart is severed from their bodies and takes the form of another being called a “heartless.” The person’s body, which has now become an empty shell, becomes a creature named a “nobody.” “Heartless” and “Nobodies” are the two main categories of enemies you have to defeat in the various worlds of Kingdom Hearts.
In the end, the whole game depends upon the heart. Villains are constantly trying to pervert the hearts of others, tempting them with false promises of power, freedom from loneliness, escape from pain, and endless life. The more hearts the villains can defile, the more control they gain over the worlds. However, one of the most fascinating and indeed Catholic aspects of the game’s premise is that no heart is essentially evil or corruptible. Sora (the protagonist) says it best when he is speaking with the villain Ansem: “The heart may be weak, and sometimes it may even give in…But I learned that deep down there’s a light that never goes out.” It is this non-extinguishable light that Sora seeks to protect and awaken in the many characters he encounters throughout the series. Some of the cut-scenes are especially moving—and I would dare say theological—as Sora bursts into soliloquy in the face of numerous enemies who attempt to sully his confidence in the fundamental goodness of creation. The young hero never tires of boldly defending the innate purity of people’s hearts. No matter how far one seems to wander from the light, they are never out of salvation’s reach. Sora chases after them, diving into the deepest pits of darkness to remind each person that they are worth saving. This is true even when his best friend, Riku, willingly succumbs to evil, only to be later redeemed by Sora’s dauntless faith and sacrificial love.
The same can be said of Xenahort (the main villain). After being defeated in a final epic battle, the villain reveals his intentions for attempting to aggregate the power of hearts: he wants to open Kingdom Hearts, using its power to make a new beginning in the universe. (For clarification, Kingdom Hearts is a mass of energy which constitutes the origin of creation. One can open a door to this source of love, power, and wisdom by amassing hearts, ergo the villains’ attempt to gather hearts from beings in different worlds.)
Xenahort is disgusted by how corrupt the original light of Kingdom Hearts has become due to the evil choices, countless wars, and meaningless conflicts of the worlds. Xenahort asserts that the darkness of people’s hearts “has spread across the world like a plague” and the light of Kingdom Hearts “has been consumed by shadow…leaving nothing but ruin…an utter failure.” Xenahort has lost all hope for the recovery of the worlds. The villain wants to start over with a clean slate. Using the power of Kingdom Hearts, Xenahort will become the “leader” of this new universe in which he will personally ensure the freedom and peace of its citizens by controlling destiny. Once again, our hero Sora responds with an enlightening exhortation: “A real leader knows that destiny is beyond his control and accepts that.” In the face of Xenahort’s will to power, Sora upholds the virtue of obedience. Our duty is not to bend reality to our will, no matter how affronting it may be to our personal wants or opinions. Rather, the mature response to the brokenness of the world is a tireless striving to save it, nourished by a resolute hope in its ultimate goodness. The world is a beautiful place in the end, despite the many issues that seem to contradict that fact.
At first, Xenahort is bewildered by Sora’s faith. He cannot understand why this foolish boy is blind to the evil of the worlds. The two characters stand face-to-face, looking into each other’s eyes with an intense gaze. Then, like the dying frosts before the spring’s rising sun, Xenahort’s embittered facial expression melts away. Something in Sora’s eyes has convinced him…how can he contend with such resolution? The villain meekly says, “You make me think of an old friend.” At that moment, all of the main characters from the series (minus Kairi sadly…) appear in beams of light, including Xenahort’s best friend whom he had abandoned years before. Sora had reawakened hope in his heart. Even though he could not believe in the worlds, he could believe in the courage and devotion of this young boy. In a moment of surrender, Xenahort hands over the legendary “X-Blade” weapon to Sora, the symbol of his power and desire for conquest. Sora then uses the X-Blade to seal Kingdom Hearts, leaving the worlds to their original goodness.
There is much we can learn from the Kingdom Hearts saga. Christianity is built upon the presupposition that God made everything and “that it was good” (Gen. 1:31). Oftentimes, we are tempted to forget this truth. We allow our hearts to be overcome with despair in the face of evil, becoming jaded and callous, sarcastic and pessimistic. Perhaps we can take a cue from Sora and his friends. Maybe it is time to gaze into the eyes of society with a newfound conviction in the goodness of a world which God so loved that he sent his only begotten Son, not to condemn but to save (John 3:16). And I firmly believe this gaze of stalwart faith will make society abandon its desperate grasps for power in a trusting obedience to God who is love; a God whose Kingdom truly is a Kingdom Hearts.