February Character Studies - Sora

February is one day longer, which means I have time to squeeze in one final character study. Today, I'm going to explore an alternate take on the chosen one trope via Sora from Kingdom Hearts. My post on chosen ones inspired me ;)

This post is a tiny sample of a much bigger story, so if you want great examination of the incredibly complex plot of Kingdom Hearts, I recommend Game Trailer's Timeline episodes. They even have one on Sora! Just beware of all the spoilers.

Before I get to the main point of this study, there's one other aspect to Sora I want to point out. He reminds us no-longer-teenaged YA writers how happy and naive fourteen and fifteen-year-olds can be, and how that innocence could be harnessed for good. It's something we forget. A character like Sora is proof that your YA characters don't have to be dark and gritty, or sarcastic and snarky to be engaging. They can be cheerful, hyperactive and excited by life. A main character this bouncy would be a breath of fresh air in the frequently angsty YA world.

Alas, you can also take a character like Sora and show how youthful innocence will be worn down by time and circumstances. The Sora we encounter at the end of Dream Drop Distance (3D from here on out) is not the upbeat kid we left at the end of the original game. It's not a massively radical change, but I'll get back to that.

In a nutshell, Sora is incredibly kind and generally lacking in blatantly negative faults... although his naivete and over-eagerness definitely cause problems. He does get angry and upset, but he possesses such an optimistic nature it doesn't hold him back for long. He cares deeply about people and makes friends incredibly easily. He's always ready to look out for them. His inherent niceness means he sometimes does incredibly wonderful things without really realising the repercussions of what he's doing. This massively spoilery scene shows just how inherently caring he is.

When I say Sora isn't a chosen one, I mean he wasn't chosen by the Keyblade to be a wielder. Sora's best friend Riku is chosen. The only reason Sora gets a Keyblade is because Riku falls short of the mark at a critical moment and the Keyblade had no choice but to go with Sora. But don't worry about Riku - he's a chosen one. He'll be fine (eventually).

(For the record, I am well aware that Sora is frequently told he is the "one who will open the door", buuuuuuuuuuuut until Kingdom Hearts III comes out, I can't reflect on what that means).

Despite his 'unchosen' status, Sora does what a chosen Keyblade wielder is meant to do - fight the Heartless and protect the worlds from annihilation. Sora chooses himself because he's just too damned nice not to. I like that with Sora what you see is what you get. It's why he's always been my favourite, even when I first played the games as a teenager. Yeah, this franchise is old enough that I was in my teens when it started and now I am thirty O_O From an adult's perspective, I can see how easy it is to manipulate him. That's definitely a plot point in Kingdom Hearts II. Sora is swept up in all the craziness because of his sweet nature. Sure, he's a formidable warrior (I know, that's a gameplay rather than a narrative point), but he can hardly be described as ruthless. I mean LOOK AT HIM!!!!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw! He shouldn't be fighting the Heartless. He should be tucked up at home with a hot chocolate.

In the original game, everyone naturally assumes Sora's the Keyblade's chosen one, so he travels across the worlds, saving them from the Heartless. We learn the Keyblade isn't his when the actual chosen one, Riku, reclaims it. Only when Sora proves his strength does the Keyblade finally choose him. Sora goes from being unchosen to self chosen, but that doesn't mean he gets the benefits of being a traditional chosen one. And that's the difference I'm going to pull apart here.

SPOILER WARNING! I am about to destroy the end of 3D. It's one of my favourites in the series, and yet at the same time, it underpins one of my biggest problems with the whole 'chosen one' trope - that it's so harsh to do what a chosen one is meant to do when you aren't the chosen one. I don't consider the use of this trope in Kingdom Hearts to be a bad thing. I need to be clear on that. But... but... FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELS!

Huh. Maybe there's something to be said for giving your readers an emotional response by showing how the unchosen one loses out to the chosen one...

In 3D, Sora and Riku have to take a test to earn the title of Keyblade Master. Sora fails spectacularly. It's so sad because his side of the game basically consists of watching his naivete kick him in the face repeatedly. He cannot win. At all. He was doomed from the beginning because his test was hijacked by his worst enemy. Sora just doesn't realise it. I didn't realise it, which is why I like the twist in this game so much. Sora continuously throws himself headlong into danger, nearly destroying himself in the process. He doesn't even stop at the point of no return, even when his best friend is begging him to. For the first time in the entire series, Sora's strength of heart doesn't protect him, it leads him into mortal danger. In a total reversal of all we've ever seen, Sora's sweet and caring nature is shown to be a deadly weakness. He does not win at the end of this game. It's a huge departure from all his other successes. The test is a bust, but despite everything he's already done in the past, Sora's not good enough to become a real Keyblade Master. Meanwhile, his best friend Riku, who has certainly been on a very intense journey of his own, albeit one of redemption, does pass the test... Even though it is not explicitly stated that Riku passes because he's a chosen Keyblade wielder, the fact that Sora has done way more than him despite failing this test strikes me as wildly unfair. More unfair than the last person who failed the test.

Sora spends Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II doing what Keyblade wielders are supposed to do - stopping the Heartless, saving worlds, and protecting innocent people. He even sacrificed his own heart at one point to do this, making the plot of this series EVEN CRAZIER. Sora throws himself into danger for the sake of others without question, and does he earn the title of Keyblade Master when he's done more to keep worlds safe than any other Keyblade wielder we've met?



Riku's the one who earns the title. And yes, his journey has been pretty amazing. He reclaimed himself from darkness and looked out for his best friend at great personal cost. He's chosen by the Keyblade, even though he has to fight to reclaim what he lost. He definitely deserves his Keyblade Master status, but so does Sora. The fact that Sora doesn't achieve this is, to my mind, partly down to the fact that he hasn't been chosen to do so.

And it's what makes Sora a more normal character. And it's certainly what makes him more interesting. He goes through all of that and he doesn't get the reward a chosen one would receive, the way Riku does. And it's heavily implied in this game that Sora's achievements rely on how normal he is. Sora's outcome by the end of 3D is so true to life, isn't it? We do things in life that are good and wonderful and helpful to others, but we don't tend to reap massive rewards. We just do it and carry on. Chosen ones earn massive rewards, unlike us normal folks.

Sora, being Sora, is ecstatic for his friend. However, it's clear he's genuinely disappointed, even though he does his best to hide it. Anyone who's played through these games knows that in this scene, Sora is not himself. 

Subdued is not in Sora's nature. The fact that he keeps his back to the others is very telling. Actually, the fact that he's leaving on his own is a huge sign that something's wrong.

Sora fails one time, and that's it for him. He can't be a Keyblade Master. None of what he did before counted. And this is why I love how Kingdom Hearts deals with the chosen one trope - despite how it makes me RAAAAAAAAAAAGE on Sora's behalf. There are a lot of chosen ones in this series, and yet Sora shows that with hard work and kindness, he can do his bit. He struggles with failure, but by the end of the 3D, he's coming to terms with it. Sora shows us you don't have to be chosen to fight the big, hard battles. Sometimes, we get swept up in things and have to survive. We might think we deserve accolades and praise for doing something hard, but actually, all of us are doing the same thing day in day out - living. Some seem to have it easy, others have it harder than seems possible. For me, Sora's decision to help and his subsequent failure makes him a better character. He's more interesting than all of the chosen ones because he's aware that he's not like them, but helps anyway because he's a genuinely nice person. And, for writers, isn't there more to explore with characters like Sora who choose themselves, rather than those who have it handed to them?

So, there we have it. The end of my February character studies. I really hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them. Something tells me I'll be willing to do more of these...


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