Kingdom Hearts is one of my great nerdy loves. Naturally, the wait for Kingdom Hearts 3 was painful. I knew coming back to the series after a decade away was going to be tough, that it could never measure up to the nostalgic hype that had built up in my heart. I didn’t expect it to make me angry.
Before I get into the moment that ruined Kingdom Hearts 3—and possibly the franchise—for me, I want you to understand just how painful this is. Kingdom Hearts was my Harry Potter. Many kids had Harry, Ron, and Hermoine; I had Sora, Riku, and Kairi. It was the franchise that helped me embrace my love of gaming, high-concept fantasy, and essentially everything nerdy. I don’t think I’d have this job if it wasn’t for Kingdom Hearts. I mean that.
Kingdom Hearts was never perfect. It’s a silly, silly thing. But it was my silly thing. I cared about these characters, their stupid key swords, and their giant shoes. Their struggles may have been weird, and at times their stories made no sense (why were those people in animal masks?), but that didn’t stop me from loving these characters and wanting them to be happy. When Sora and Riku made it back to the Destiny Islands at the end of Kingdom Hearts 2, and Kairi reached out her hand to tell Sora “you’re home,” I’m not going to lie, I cried.
I knew that Sora’s struggles hadn’t ended just because he and Riku were home. Otherwise, what would be the plot of Kingdom Hearts 3? But I did know that they were no longer alone. They had each other, and Kairi, who had embraced her destiny as a keyblade warrior. Even Axel was there! I also figured Sora wasn’t going to sail into his happy ending, sitting on the beach sharing a paopu fruit with Kairi—at least not easily. Saving the worlds and the people he cares about was going to take a great amount of sacrifice...
[Warning: I’m about to go into major spoilers for the ending of Kingdom Hearts 3.]
I just didn’t think the sacrifice would take the form of one of the most sexist tropes in the book.
A majority of the final battle in the game is spent at the Keyblade Graveyard, as Sora and his friends face down Xehanort and his army of Heartless, Nobodies, and Organization XIII members. Sora’s doing his thing, defeating enemies with the power of love and Toy Box swords, as Xehanort cackles in the background how it’s all part of his master plan. Which, to be fair, it is. Every major character Sora clashes with gets Xehanort closer to his x-blade, Kingdom Hearts, and reigniting the Keyblade War. There’s just one keyblade missing.
As Sora stands at the base of the cliff, ready to battle Xehanort for the future of all worlds, this happens.
That’s right: Xehanort fridges Kairi, to make Sora mad enough to fight him. Words cannot explain how infuriated this moment made me, but I’m sure as hell going to try. I was livid.
Now I need to preface this by saying “death” in Kingdom Hearts is a bit weird—characters tend to die and come back to life a lot. And in this particular story, it is implied Sora is going to try and bring Kairi back but this still might be one of the worst examples of fridging—or the act of torturing or killing a female character to further a man’s journey—since Gail Simone came up with the term back in 1999. Even if there’s a magic “undo” button, I won’t ever forget this story choice.
Kairi’s death did nothing and served no purpose, other than proving once again that female characters in Kingdom Hearts will always be secondary (don’t even get me started on how the latest game treated Aqua). The series had the audacity to kill off the franchise’s main female character, solely to motivate the male character to clash blades with Xehanort and create the x-blade. They didn’t even try to shy away from it, it’s right there on the screen: “You require motivation.”
On the surface, it’s not only regressive, it’s unnecessary. Granted, Sora was hesitant about dueling blades with Xenahort, because of what it would lead to, but Xehanort could’ve enticed him in any number of ways. Threaten his friends, steal Winnie the Pooh’s book, make a shitty soufflé that Sora would feel compelled to fix. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how nothing indicated Sora was giving up the fight. His entire journey had led to that moment. It was the only thing he could do to save the worlds from destruction. Plus, Sora would do anything for his friends and loved ones, even risk everything. As far as we know, killing Kairi didn’t do anything for Kingdom Hearts other than take her out of the story.
But even if killing Kairi had been the only way to motivate Sora to fight Xehanort, that wouldn’t make it okay. It’s still fridging, which is a weak plot device.
It’s especially insulting when you look at how much of the Kingdom Hearts series, at least in the latter half, was spent showing us how Kairi was more than a Princess of Heart. She started out as the damsel in distress, but the series kept promising things would be different in this latest installment. Kairi demonstrated how she was resourceful, clever, and brave. She brought Sora back from the Final World, showing she could finally be the one to rescue him. She became a goddamn Keyblade Wielder, who spent most of Kingdom Hearts 3 training to become a master—only to face down a few Heartless (mostly offscreen), get kidnapped, and then murdered. All so Sora could do the thing that he was probably going to do anyway. And now he’s going to have to save her too.
Kingdom Hearts was a beloved part of my life, but now I’m left with a sense of emptiness. I finished the game and I don’t really care. It didn’t matter that Sora is seemingly bringing Kairi back with the Power of Waking, only to find himself in a strange new land that hinted at future games or DLC. Her sacrifice was worthless. I was angry, and may always be angry, that my Hermoine—after all she (and I) had been through—ended up as, well, another Disney princess.
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