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Kingdom Hearts: A Search For Identity

This is a paper I wrote for my introduction to games design class.

MIchelle Pina, Blogger

November 22, 2016

12 Min Read


Sora holding a Keyblade

Text Box: Sora holding a KeybladeDescription: Michelle's Mac:private:var:folders:6h:yw1vzsm529x598b68g3m_w_m0000gr:T:TemporaryItems:Data-Sora_KHREC.pngImagine a universe where magic existed, Disney characters interacted with Final Fantasy characters, Disney worlds were abled to be explored, and the power of light has to combat darkness.  These are just a few reasons why Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts (KH) series is found to be so enthralling by fans.  The first game came out in 2002 on the PlayStation 2 as an action-roleplaying game and has since come out on a variety of platforms such as the PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, and Gameboy advanced, just to name a few of the platforms.  Recently, the series has been re-mastered for the PlayStation 3 and 4, so fans can replay the older games in HD to prepare for the newest game to come out sometime in 2018 (Square Enix).  The series focuses on a main protagonist, Sora, who is one of the chosen people to wield an ancient weapon known as the Keyblade, which has the ability to open up any lock in the universe, and the friends he makes along the way on a core mission to stop those filled with darkness from taking the beloved power Kingdom Hearts has to offer, a heart shaped moon in the sky with eternal power.  There are a total of eight different games in the series, each focusing on different aspects of storytelling, game mechanics, and sets of characters in the series.  The order of each game goes as follows: Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memoires, Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts: Coded, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 days, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, and Kingdom Hearts: X (Square Enix).  Square Enix is currently working on a ninth title which will end the current story arc the past eight games have created and focused on.  Each game has focused on different aspects of the story and gameplay elements, each explaining things about the complex and complicated story as well as bringing up new questions.  As there have been so many games over the course of 10+ years, the audience from the first game has grown up tremendously.  Though the series does not explore explicit themes and showcases Disney characters, making the game seem like it should appeal to children, its complex story and game mechanics easily make the game hard to play for a child.  Not only this, but also Kingdom Hearts’ exploration of identity and existential crisis within the characters showcases the fact that the series is meant for a mature audience.

The KH series showcases existential crises.   The beginning of existentialism is not really marked anywhere, but some people suspect it could have started either with Karl Jasper’s Eksistenzphilosophie in 1938 or a conversation he had with his friend Erich Frank about Kierkegaard in 1914, as these are the most concrete things historians have on the origin of this philosophy (Flynn).   “Existentialism in the broader sense is a 20th century philosophy that is centered upon the analysis of existence and of the way humans find themselves existing in the world,” (All About Philosophy).  These moments of questioning one self’s purpose and existence is what is known to be an existential crisis.  The search for identity can be caused by many different things such as examining free will, life choices, fighting for life, irrational behavior, personal responsibility, society being unnatural on its traditions with religion and rules are arbitrary, and worldly desire is unnecessary (All About Philosophy).  Evidently, a crisis can occur about most things in life, sometimes even little things such as the significance of candy to a child, or bigger things like how the only meaning life has that is concurrent through out every person’s life is that all humans die and death is inescapable, making life seem pretty insignificant.  Of course, existentialism is not always negative, as it opens people’s eyes on how to live their lives to the fullest by being kind to others, traveling the world, helping those in need, spending time with loved ones, etc.

            Existentialism and sense of identity are often broken down into four identity statuses that have high and low positions on two of the identity dimensions.  The first dimension is commitment and the second dimension is exploration.  When people have a high position on commitment, they are confident about decisions they make and have a strong sense of who they are as people.  This means that when faced with tricky life decisions, they can assess the situation accordingly and act how they see fit.  Those with a low position on commitment are uncertain on who they are and seek to figure it out, causing existential thoughts.  With a high position on exploration, people are questioning their sense of self and are trying to find ways to reach answers (Whitbourne).  People with a low position on exploration have never really seriously asked themselves about who they are, which leaves someone with an unsatisfied grasp on life.  “People high on the commitment and exploration dimension are the traditional "identity achieved," (Whitbourne).  With being “identity achieved”, people have found their identities and are happy in their lives with who they are.  On the opposite end of the spectrum with both low commitment and low exploration, people are “identity diffused” meaning they have an uncertain sense of self and do not want to take the time to figure themselves out, causing unhappiness and a poor judgment upon making decisions.  People high in exploration but low in commitment have held off on making important decisions in their lives.  People high on commitment but low on exploration are confident in decisions they make but these decisions could be the wrong ones as these people did not take the time to explore themselves, thus figuring out what is best for them in the situation (Whitbourne). 

            Many different characters within the KH series undergo searches for their identities.  One support character, Roxas, has one of the saddest and relatable stories of finding himself.  But, to understand who Roxas is, an explanation of events must occur.  Roxas is Sora’s Nobody, meaning he is the “body” of Sora.  Roxas is created in the first Kingdom Hearts game when Sora, for a brief moment, is turned into a Heartless, meaning he was overtaken by darkness and his heart became shrouded in darkness.  He came back to be his Sora self because of his friend, Kairi, and her pure light heart.  So, Roxas and Sora exist simultaneously.  When Roxas was first created, he was like a husk; he did not speak, acknowledge others, or had thoughts.  He was simply given a name, the number thirteen, and was housed and taken care of by Organization XIII, a group of Nobodies. 

In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days released on the Nintendo DS, Roxas is a playable protagonist and the story of the game revolves around the time he was first created to the time he was kidnapped right before Kingdom Hearts II.  In the beginning of the game, Roxas is a hollow shell, not saying anything to anyone until a week into being alive, when he starts questioning things such as what heartless were.  Marluxia, one of the members of the organization, tells Roxas of his purpose, that he is the only one with the ability to kill heartless and have their hearts escape to Kingdom Hearts with his Keyblade, as he can wield the Keyblade because of Sora’s influence.  Roxas did not question his purpose, making him have a low exploration as he searched for his identity, ultimately causing his unhappiness.  As Roxas grew into himself, he became friends with two other members, Axel and Xion.  With these friendships, he started to discuss the organization’s intentions, which was the only thing that gave him purpose.  He ultimately realized the organization was just using him and everyone else in it to help take the power of Kingdom Hearts, and confronts members about it.  His friend, Xion, fights with him over this, even though she was reluctant to.  After the battle, he finds out that Xion was meant to be a clone of Roxas in the sense that she also had Sora’s memories and could wield a Keyblade, as a means of having a dark Keyblade wielder if Roxas did not want to take a part in the organization.  As Xion dies in his arms and is absorbed into him, Roxas is depressed and angry, wondering why he was put in this position, wanting to know answers from Sora and Xemnes, the organization’s leader.  At the end of this game, Roxas is not able to confront Xemnes, as Riku, Sora’s best friend, captures him.  In Kingdom Hearts II, Roxas is in a virtual world with all his memories swiped, living in a fake world with fake friends, thinking this to be his life.  He eventually finds out that it is all a simulation and angrily has to return to be a part of Sora.  At first, he is angry with this, but accepts this fate and becomes identity achieved, finding his place in the world and making Sora stronger.

Riku, Sora’s best friend in the series, also goes through identity crises during the series.  In Kingdom Hearts I, Riku is a bit bratty and is always trying to one up Sora.  Because of this crave for power, Riku gives into the darkness and becomes one of the antagonists of the game.  By the end of the game, Sora beats him, causing Riku to question if he really wants darkness.  He chooses to sacrifice himself to save Description: Michelle's Mac:private:var:folders:6h:yw1vzsm529x598b68g3m_w_m0000gr:T:TemporaryItems:Riku_Replica.pngSora and Kairi, causing him to be locked inside of Kingdom Hearts.  In the beginning of this game, Riku is identity diffused, as he cannot make good decisions and will not question his identity, he just sought after power.  In Kingdom Hearts II, Riku is keen on protecting Sora by making sure Roxas does his part and returns to Sora.  Before KHII in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Riku was in the realm of darkness, aka Kingdom Hearts, battling the

Riku after giving into darkness

Text Box: Riku after giving into darknessdarkness with King Mickey, another Keyblade wielder that sacrificed himself for his friends.  Riku wakes up in Castle Oblivion where Organization XIII is planning to corrupt Sora and Riku.  Riku actively fights against his darkness, struggling with it, but ultimately winning to save Sora.  By the end of KHII, Riku is high in commitment but low in exploration, not really wanting to question his identity for fear that he will turn to the darkness again, but he makes good decisions regarding his friends.  In Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Riku and Sora are tested for their mark of mastery with the Keyblade, as Riku can also wield one.  Riku uses this test to prove that he will never give into the darkness, as dark forces enter in the test for both Sora and Riku to try to convert them to darkness.  Riku’s resilience is really tested when he has to go and rescue Sora from being turned to darkness, facing the darkness head on.  Proving he is strong enough, Riku passes the test, confirming his role as a guardian of light, granting him to be identity achieved and complete.

Through Roxas’ influence, Axel, Roxas’ best friend, questions his identity and purpose throughout the series.  In KH 385/2 Days and Chain of Memories, Axel thinks he knows who he is and does what he is told by the organization and ultimately does not Description: Michelle's Mac:private:var:folders:6h:yw1vzsm529x598b68g3m_w_m0000gr:T:TemporaryItems:axel__s_death_by_blueberry_bride.jpgbring up questions regarding the organization’s intentions until Roxas does, because he values Roxas as his friend.  At this point, Axel is high commitment but low with exploration, barely questioning the organization and making the decision to act on their part.  In Kingdom Hearts II, Axel struggles with orders from the organization to fight Sora, since he knows Roxas is a part of Sora and he does not want to hurt Roxas.  By the end of the game, Axel betrays the organization and chooses to actively save Sora, sacrificing himself and becoming identity achieved, as he explored and now knows his role as Roxas’ friend and actively makes a decision to save Sora/Roxas. 

The magical world of Kingdom Hearts wholeheartedly explores identity of characters, which a child cannot easily grasp or question.  Roxas starts off asking, “what is my purpose?”  And ultimately fights this purpose and redefines his identity, and chooses to be a part of Sora.  Axel never questions his role in the organization until Roxas comes into his life, then he realizes how horrible they are as he sacrifices himself to save his friend, after finding out fully his identity and coming to grips that he is actually a good person.  Riku has a similar identity transition to Axel, starting off wanting power and darkness, then realizing that is not the way to go about life and sacrifices himself for his friends.  Riku finds his purpose as a guardian of the light and a Keyblade wielder, achieving his identity.  Evidently, the Kingdom Hearts series lends itself to being for mature audiences through its exploration of character identity.


Works Cited

Picture of Sora. Digital image. Kingdom Hearts Wikia. Wikia, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

Axel, Roxas, Xion. Digital image. Kingdom Hearts Wikia. Wikia, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

Roxas' summer vacation is over. Digital image. Blogspot, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

Dark Riku. Digital image. Kingdom Hearts Wikia. Wikia, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

Axel's sacrifice. Digital image. Deviant Art, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

"Existentialism." AllAboutPhilosophy.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Kingdom Hearts. Square Enix.  2002-2017. Video game.

Flynn, Thomas R. "Existencialism." The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 26.2 (2012): 247-67. Jstor. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Krauss Whitbourne, Susan, PhD. "Are You Having an Identity Crisis?" Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

"Na.square-enix.com." Na.square-enix.com - Final Fantasy, The Black Mages, Nobuo Uematsu Si Inca 4 Interogările De Căutare - Polskasites.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

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