Anyone familiar with these two company understands just how unlikely it must have been that their partnership would be a success. Likewise, those same people can (and probably will) tell you that it was a stroke of genius for both companies, a partnership that has been successful for upwards of 13 years, now. But what may be one of the largest things to complement about this series is both its treatment of established characters and the originals that were born from this series.
Being born of coincidence, Kingdom Hearts owes it beginnings to a chance encounter in a Japanese office building shared by both Disney and Square Enix executives. The creator of Kingdom Hearts, Shinji Hashimoto, had already begun planning the game, stating that he wanted it to be an open-world platformer like Super Mario 64. Initially, their problem was the realization that Super Mario 64 owed its success to Nintendo’s characters being already very recognizable and popular. However, Hashimoto felt that the only company that could rival Nintendo is popularity was Disney and as luck would have it, he would be fortunate enough to meet an executive during an elevator ride.
Development of Kingdom Hearts began in 2000 and was released in March 2002. It received very positive reviews. What drew many in were the nostalgic renderings of classic Disney worlds like The Hundred Acre Wood and Atlantica and how organically they interacted with the far grittier Final Fantasy characters. Of note, such interactions include Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck’s uncle, and Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie as shopkeeps in a world known as Hollow Bastion that acts as a home and base for Squall “Leon” Leonhart, Yuffie Kisaragi, Aerith, Cloud (occasionally), and Cid. Previously, Maleficent held control of the world by covering it in darkness before moving to Mickey and Minnie Mouses’ Disney Castle. And for as strangely as those two sentences may have read, it’s such a fine mix of childhood nostalgia and over-the-top cheese that it becomes endearing the more convoluted it becomes.
The most important of these characters, Sora, acts as the main protagonist for a fair amount of the series titles and he serves as the connector of them all, the pathway between hearts. His character serves as a meeting ground of sorts and villains (particularly Braig/Xigbar and Xehanort and at one point, Riku) enjoy reminding him that his strength is not his own and that he “is not special.”
What seems to be the largest draw for Sora’s character is that he’s somewhat relatable despite also being one of the more naive characters in the series. But this series is about the adventure and, perhaps, is a coming of age story that chronicles his growth as a boy and a hero. The only real problem is that he only has significant character development in Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories. After the events of the latter, he loses his memories of all that had happened in Castle Oblivion (where Chain of Memories takes place) and doesn’t seem to care about figuring out why. He and his pals kept a journal (managed by Jiminy Cricket) that recorded their journeys and after realizing that it had been completely erased, they quizzically wonder about it for all of maybe two minutes and then the story progresses.
Besides that, Sora is greatly positive, always willing to help his friends, is good-natured but naive, and not exactly the smartest person but is extremely quick to act when he feels he has something to defend. In this respect, he’s very respectable but this rashness is not without consequence. One particular example comes from Dream Drop Distance (3D), when he ignorantly walks into an enemy’s trap because he refuses to believe that an image he’d seen of his friends could ever be fake. Follow that with some mumbo jumbo about how he can feel them in his heart and after a while, you’ll probably find yourself squinting your eyes at how simple he can be. But as the series progresses, we see growth in Sora in some ways more than others. When he begins his journey, he’s still very immature and only wants to find his friends Riku and Kairi, while placing the importance of saving the many worlds in their universe as a lower priority. By the time Kingdom Hearts II ends, Sora’s come to a point in his character arc where he understands that he’ll only be able to find his friends if he does what he can to make sure the world(s) remain intact.
But that being said, does any of this make Sora a good character? That question can become very subjective very quickly but it seems an important one to ask, given how prevalent this series has become in terms of popularity. On the one hand, he’s not that unique and his enemies enjoy pointing it out in the hopes of weakening his confidence in himself, making him more susceptible to their schemes. On the other hand, the fact that he’s cognizant of these facts makes him a bit more complex. Sora states at several pivotal plot moments that his friends are his strength and that he doesn’t need his own. That feels a bit weak in some ways.
Because it didn’t take much time for Sora’s character to mature to the point where he understands his own weaknesses, would the only logical progression be for him to confront those weaknesses and, if so, how? If he isn’t already a good character, what would make him one? Because the series is on-going I think it’s important to be hopeful about where it will lead him in terms of development. As of now, my answer lies somewhere in between, where Sora is a good character for the series that he’s in but in a broader sense, he’s a bit lacking but has potential to grow in a number of ways.
Relevant articles: http://www.denofgeek.us/games/kingdom-hearts/188931/kingdom-hearts-a-history-of-one-of-the-most-beloved-but-unlikely-franchises-of-all-time