(This piece has been split into three parts for readability due to its length. Click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.)
A Whole Lotta Soras
I may not know it’s you, and you may not know it’s me, but we’ll meet again.
Xion’s character arc does not conclude with her resolving to be free and to define herself. In the end, she decides that she isn’t, or doesn’t deserve to be, a person separate from Sora. He can’t awaken while she lives, since those precious memories that form his heart are tied into her existence; so, unable to do anything else, she forces Roxas to end her life. As she fades away, the memories that created her return to Sora – and, because her entire existence was only a shadow of a memory, and because of the way memories exist as real entities connecting hearts, Xion is forgotten. She ceases to exist in the world, her body and existence fading, and she ceases to exist in anyone’s memory as those threads are torn away and sent back to Sora. It’s incredibly tragic.
Roxas goes on to return to Sora himself, since he too is a part without which Sora can’t wake. His own journey of trying to be his own person resolves, similarly to Xion’s, with his acceptance that perhaps he really isn’t, and perhaps the best thing he can do is allow Sora to exist, and perhaps continue on himself in some small way as a part of that.
That’s not the end of the story, though.
Roxas still exists. Even Xion still exists, if only as a faint echo of a memory, but the bonds that she formed were real and the heart that she grew can’t just vanish. In fact, everything we know about KH3 suggests that a huge part of Sora’s journey is going to be precisely about trying to bring them back into full existence, to give them the chance they deserve to be people.
A Humanist Morality
A heart is so much more than any system. … All my research amounted to nothing, compared with that one boy’s heart.
Sora. Oh, Sora.
As I mentioned, a driving force in Sora’s quest in the very first Kingdom Hearts was his desire to save and protect others, and that’s never changed throughout the series. First it was Riku and Kairi, then it was… well, Riku and Kairi again, but over each of the games he’s always acted to save everyone he comes across, whether that’s his friends Donald, Goofy, and King Mickey, or a mermaid he’s just met, or just generally all of the worlds. Sora’s moral compass comes almost entirely from his belief that other people are (as Kant would say) ends in themselves, that people deserve to exist and to be well and free.
This belief isn’t lessened – it’s only strengthened, in fact – when he’s told that according to the laws that govern his universe, some people aren’t ‘proper people’ and don’t exist. If anything, it just makes him want to fight harder to get those people the true existence they deserve, and this fight might put him against authoritative or even deific powers.
In other words, Sora adheres to the following principles, which you might remember from the opening paragraphs (holy balls, we’re actually getting around to something resembling a point here):
- He makes his ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals;
- He believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same;
- He shows respect to man, irrespective of class, race, or creed. Among his fundamental moral principles, he counts those of freedom, justice, tolerance, and happiness;
- He places the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God.
Sora wants everyone to be free, no matter what. He loves meeting new people from different worlds, learning about their ways of life, and never judges but simply enjoys the happiness that justice and tolerance and freedom in each of those worlds brings to him.
I think that, while I’m fairly sure it’s not deliberate and will never be explicit, Sora’s motivations and moral compass are distinctly humanist in nature. His compassion is his strongest character trait, and it’s something that almost amounts to a flaw sometimes: he often proclaims that his friends are his power, and would sacrifice anything for a friend (or, I imagine, even someone he barely knows). When he briefly loses Donald and Goofy’s support towards the end of KH1 – and loses his powerful weapon, the Keyblade, to old friend Riku at the same time – he’s temporarily broken. In his mind, his friends are his power… so what is he without them? This continues on even up through Dream Drop Distance, the most recent release, in which Sora continues to express that he doesn’t feel able to fight on his own. He hasn’t yet realised that his compassion is his own strength, that all those bonds and connections make his own heart incredibly powerful.
The Journey Continues
Learn the truth, and remember you have a greater purpose!
– Master Xehanort
I think it’s safe to say that a huge part of Sora’s arc in KH3 is going to have to involve him learning how to bring Roxas and Xion (as well as Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, but let’s not go into that here!) back into existence so that they can be free to be their own people. He probably conceives of ‘resurrecting’ them as being something necessary to grant him more strength, since he still thinks that it’s only through others that he can be strong.
I imagine that Sora will have to learn how to put faith in himself, not just others, but that any self-belief he can develop will probably be founded in his very humanist-like belief that the welfare of humanity, of the people who exist, is the most important thing to cherish and protect. We don’t really know whether there’s an afterlife or a ‘God’ in the KH universe, but we do know that humans can die, or fall to darkness, and that there are realms of light and of dark and that there are super-powerful entities which are vaguely god-like. In the face of all that, Sora’s motivation has always been to help people be the best they can be. He’ll never try to make them be anything they aren’t, just free them from the things threatening their existence so that they can continue being who they are, and he’ll always love them for just that.
We know, too, that KH3‘s plot will involve Master Xehanort trying to restore the world to balance by summoning (another) Kingdom Hearts. His methodology is almost religious in its approach, revering the state of the world as he believes it ought to be and appealing to the higher power and purpose that is the mysterious Kingdom Hearts. To Sora, this godlike thing isn’t sufficient; reason and compassion outweigh whatever claims might be made about how things ‘ought’ to be or should be ordained to be. It doesn’t really matter if Kingdom Hearts is a literal god (which I don’t think it is): if it puts human welfare at risk, then Sora will stand against it.
So, yeah, Sora’s a humanist. I’m tired now (6000+ words, ladies and gentlemen), so let’s wrap up.
That’s all, folks.
So you have come this far, and still you understand nothing.
– Ansem, Seeker of Darkness
In conclusion, I’m super burned out on this now and I’m not convinced I made any particular sense or good points, but I feel good for having said it all anyway. I think there’s much more I could say, many more things I could tie together to make more of an argument, but I didn’t really want to make too much of an argument here, just point out some stuff I find interesting.
If nothing else, perhaps this will prompt you to think about Kingdom Hearts in a different way, or about the humanist lifestyle – or, miracle of miracles, both at once! I would love to discuss this at length with people who can put together more cohesive and on-subject points than myself, and I’m sure there’s plenty more to talk about and to uncover, so I will absolutely welcome any and all comments or questions. If you’ve stuck through reading this entire thing, thank you, and I hope that if nothing else it was at least mildly interesting!
(So, uh, writing this was kind of intense! I enjoyed it, but you can probably tell from the sheer length of it that it was sort of exhausting and required a lot of hot beverages to keep me going. If you’ve ever come across any of my content and thought ‘wow, I’d love to buy that man a cup of tea’… well, now you can! Just click on this text to be taken to something called a ‘Ko-Fi’ page, which is apparently something people do and which I thought I’d just have a pop at. No obligation whatsoever, but I would be eternally grateful.)
Your munny always has a place in my pocket, kupo!
– Mysterious Organisation XIII Merchant Moogle
That was a fascinating read. I love hearing what others got out of their experience with KH.
I grew up in Islam and am now what is called a “Rational Monotheist”, one who’s faith in God is based in reasoning.
KH is the defining game of not just me but my Mother and all of my siblings,8 of us in total.
From a very early age, I could see the contradictions and corruption to be found in the religion I was following. I made salat, went to the masjid, observed Ramadan, etc. But amidst all that, I witnessed and heard stories of physical abuse normalized in Islamic culture, various false sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), basically, much that is in direct conflict with what Islam is supposed to stand for.
I too was physically abused in my childhood and besides my family, was withdrawn from most people.
Kingdom Hearts taught me a lot more about life than all the years of being entrenched in Islam, I still think deeply about the game at the age of 22. Unlike a video game, religion is susceptible to pathological forces to where it becomes a pathological caricature of itself. The essence of a religion is then lost and cannot be adequately imparted on converters, and especially children. Storytellers can learn from history and distill that essence into a story that can be appreciated by people from many walks of life, KH fulfilled that for me.
Your humanist perspective on the game aligns with much that I got out of it. Building connections and treating others as ends in themselves, the nature and diversity of worlds in their many forms and identity of self within them, etc.
Kingdom Hearts is quite possibly the one thing I’ve thought about the most in my entire life, it’s amazing it even exists. When such a game inspires a conversation between an abusive stepdad and his 9-year-old son concerning the nature of light and darkness, that is a very powerful thing. It is a game that sowed the seeds of philosophical inquiry that would dominate my later years.
I’m happy that you got what you saw out of KH, it taught you a lot of lessons as it did for me. It is a franchise that’ll continue to come into contact with more and more people who were in a similar predicament as us.
In closing, as an adult my greatest desire is to see an evolution of KH in the form of a new story, one that expands its themes for a more mature audience, those of us that are now adults who are looking for answers to many of our problems on a spiritual, societal, and personal level.
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This is perhaps the most in-depth, thoughtful, and engaging comment I’ve ever received, so thank you very much!
There’s a lot to really love about all you’ve said there, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I do have one question, and it feels like a peculiarly marrow question given how wide the themes of your comment are, but I’m curious to know whether you are still Muslim or whether your rational monotheism is about a different deity, or maybe even an unspecified one! I don’t think there’s anything in the definition of the words ‘rational’ or ‘monotheist’ which would really point to a specifically Islamic or non-Islamic theism. You obviously mention the issues you’ve had with Islam, and I gotta say it really touched me to hear your story of how a game helped you to think about those things and even to share with your family, but I guess I’m just curious as to which direction your theism has taken since then!
Thanks again – and don’t feel you have to answer that question by any means, I’m just terrifically interested.
Hello again Chris and it’s no problem. The God I believe in is simply The One that created all things, in The Qur’an He is referred to as “The Lord of All Worlds.”
Like many, His identity remains a mystery, but I believe we can learn about who He is through studying His creation and ourselves, hence the universe. I believe that finding evidence of an Ultimate Creator is no less scientific, than finding evidence of a creature in a forest based off of a footprint. If we are to believe in an Ultimate Creator, then there must be evidence of him, otherwise religion is nothing more than science fiction.
I find polytheism or worship of anything other than God to be insufficient because that which someone might worship was also created and cannot take credit for all the innumerable factors that make one’s existence possible. I can understand why someone would worship the sun for it makes life possible on Earth, but that sun was also created and its life finite.
Like a video game, things such as the sun, life, death, water, oxygen, temperature, gravity, all work within a system that makes our creation possible, and our universe is finite as well. And when the universe takes its last breath, what’s next? I believe that there’s another life beyond death, but those are things we must find the answers to.
So who or what is God? He’d be someone that is All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Omnipresent. In the Qur’an, every Surah (Chapter) begins with “In The Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”, meaning that He’s a Creator that has given us the space to fail and correct our lives for the better, like a video game.
I don’t follow anything such as Hadith, Sunnah, or Sharia Law for those are manmade inventions that have only obscured and corrupted the essence of what Islam is, and that’s critical thinking, peace, and caring for the welfare of people and the Earth.
Even if God didn’t exist or Islam turned out to be false, the reality is that man has free will, the capacity to make our own choices. We are surrounded by others that also have free will, and the sharing of that is freedom. The opposite of freedom is theft, such as murder, rape, usury, violence, censorship, etc.
Like Kingdom Hearts, if there are other worlds (which I believe there are), then they had to be created as well.
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Thanks very much for your response 🙂
I don’t want to actually get into a debate (unless that’s what you want!) but I am curious to give you a chance to tell me about your evidence, if you’d like to. I think it’s important that I try to allow as many ideas as possible to present their best cases so that I can be informed in working out what I believe.