Where’s Sora?

For an entire decade, Kingdom Hearts has managed to circle around one person: Sora. And let’s be honest, WE LOVE SORA! Sora’s awesome! Sora is brave! Sora is determined! Sora is funny! Sora is the hero! We watched Sora hop in his gummi ship with Donald and Goofy and fly around to different worlds and fight off Heartless and Nobodies all to save and reunite with his friends Riku and Kairi. Then one day, we found out that Sora wouldn’t be our hero in a new adventure. And then later we found out that we had three new heroes, none of which included Sora! A little surprising, and annoying, because Roxas, Ventus, Aqua, or Terra are nothing like Sora. They all had tragic endings. What kind of hero is that? A potential good one, maybe? Let’s analyze the lack of Sora within Birth by Sleep and 358/2 Days, and how it has affected the entire series and people’s potential perspective with the games.

Losing Momentum in the Timeline

A large part of 358/2 Days felt very predictable to fans. We knew Roxas gathered hearts for the Organization, that he left the Organization, and that Axel had a special friendship with him, even if not the exact details.

Let’s start with 358/2 Days. I love this game, but it did nothing for the overall storyline–Sora’s storyline! As we played with Roxas, you can clearly see that absolutely nothing pertaining to his individual backstory had much to do with the overall plot in Kingdom Hearts. Although the events that took place in 358/2 Days did shape the events of Kingdom Hearts 2, nothing was truly significant enough for us to be shocked about. The game was very straight forward with no twist or turns. I would say only on two separate occasions do you see something take place within the game to make you think, the first being when Xemnas takes note that Roxas has fallen asleep again even though it was only his first time, and when Xigbar sees Ventus when he is about to attack Xion. Other those tidbits, you don’t get much out of 358/2 Days’ story that is critical information.

I know I’ve read on several occasions people’s distaste for the game and how they considered it pointless. The lack of acceptance and success with KH fans I would blame on the timing of the game’s release (Days should have been released BEFORE Kingdom Hearts 2 if they wanted a winner). I think we as fans would have at least been able to appreciate the game had it been released within its proper timeline. At this point, we can only view it as a side game. I’ve also read that people found Roxas within the Organization annoying at times since from a thinking aspect, he seems helpless. That is not a good view to have of your hero. At the end of the day, the only thing that could have saved this game was it being released in its proper order as opposed to being put out so long after we had defeated the Organization. That definitely is not a good way to look at the first KH game without Sora because it gives people the feeling that if the game is not about Sora, then it is not that important.

Flashbacks Aren’t Always Satisfying

Could the fact that 358/2 Days and Birth by Sleep were story regressions have given players the impression that, if Sora isn’t present, nothing that important happens?

In playing Kingdom Hearts we follow the story of Sora to see him save his friends, the worlds, and restore balance to the world. This has been the situation for four Kingdom Hearts games, and we have seen Sora grow, mature, and get stronger in every way. In 358/2 Days, the main story was about Roxas’ time in Organization XIII. Here we saw his day to day routine as well as his interactions with his fellow Organization members. Roxas may have been the star of this game but it seemed more like the people and events around him were far more significant. In other words, Roxas proved to be more useful as the link to us seeing the actions, behaviors, and personalities of the Organization members. With Roxas himself, there was nothing to see. He followed orders and killed Heartless. Compared to Sora, Roxas is a dud. There was no need for Sora in this game, but, then again, there was no need for this game at all considering it was a regression rather than a step forward in the storyline.

When we play these Kingdom Hearts games we play to see how the story progresses. Without Sora anywhere in this game, the story failed to progress. Birth by Sleep runs along this same retrospective regression. They took us back to a time that we didn’t know about and, honestly, didn’t care about, especially since we already knew the outcome. By the time this game came out, we were so far ahead that no one really wanted to look back. We wanted to know what was in that letter King Mickey wrote Sora, who are these 3 people in armor in what appears to be a graveyard, and why does this boy look like Roxas? With so many new questions being asked about what the future had in store for Sora, seeing Roxas run and complain only made us complain too: what does this do for Kingdom Hearts and Sora?

There is a distinction to be made between the way people feel about Sora not being in 358/2 Days compared with him not being in Birth by Sleep. For in Birth by Sleep, we see that Sora’s story goes far and beyond what we originally thought it was. However, with 358/2 Days, we see nothing but filler to fend us off as Tetsuya works on other projects. As perpetuated by Nomura in Famitsu interviews, the story of Kingdom Hearts follows the adventure of Sora and not all these other characters, who otherwise work to support our understanding of the precursor to Sora’s adventure. Because of that, if we don’t see Sora’s adventure being moved along then we don’t see the point in the game.

Loving Two Sides of the Same Coin

In personality and relevance, Sora and Roxas are almost polar opposites. Sora’s outgoing, Roxas is withdrawn; Roxas follows orders, Sora does whatever he feels; and so on. That isn’t always a bad thing--maybe just a refreshing change?

With all that being said, I loved the introduction of Roxas as a hero. What I loved even more was that Roxas was nothing like Sora. It would have been a waste of time to see a hypothetical ‘Sora Nobody’ running around walking, talking, and acting just like Sora. Roxas definitely had his own personality and his own agenda. He had his own set of friends, his own way of thinking, basically his own life; It was great to see that. Despite our love for Sora, we would eventually get bored with him being in every game (especially since for whatever reason all of these side games put him in the red jumpsuit, which makes us feel even more like we are taking steps backwards). It made me nervous at first to hear that we would be following Sora’s Nobody because I thought we were going to get a Sora replica in some way. But it wasn’t like that at all, and I genuinely commend Tetsuya Nomura on a job well done when it came to separating the two in their personalities. There is a very clear indication of who Sora is and who Roxas is–and never confusion.

Roxas is a very likeable character, and it’s to Nomura’s credit that we can, in a way, have “two Soras for the price of one real one.” However, Nomura didn’t stop at that–he presented Roxas to us in a way that stressed how temporary the arrangement was, which carried a deeper effect than any of us would realize.

Sora Doesn’t Have to be Everywhere

We’ve now had two KH side-games that don’t feature Sora as the main protagonist. However, in both these games, Sora’s importance is heavily emphasized even though he is mostly offscreen. Can’t new characters hold the spotlight for a little while?

I believe it’s a problem that Sora appeared to be thrown into both 358/2 Days and Birth by Sleep in flashbacks or cameos in an attempt to show how he is connected to everyone. As much as I love Sora, if the game is about Roxas, then let the game circle around Roxas. I felt like Sora was such a strong character in 358/2 Days that you couldn’t help but remember that Roxas was just temporary. He was brought up habitually throughout the story and it was his character—or, rather, the face of his character,  since Xion had absorbed most of his memories to the point where she took on his entire being–that we faced in the last battle. Constantly bringing up Sora only reminded us of how irrelevant Roxas was and why he was not the hero of the series. It’s hard to appreciate him if we know that at the end of the day, he is not the focus. Sora was purposely allowed to linger throughout a story meant to be about Roxas. I don’t think that was a wise decision; it was like Sora was stealing Roxas’s spotlight.

In games where Sora is not the focus, I am almost annoyed to see and hear from him so often  because it takes away from the people who are meant to be heroes at the time. Maybe that is why I see Roxas, Ventus, Terra, and Aqua as being both anti-Soras and not really heroes. Comparing them to Sora, you see how they lack in the hero aspect in general. Roxas was a player on the bad guys’ team and Ven, Terra, and Aqua were trapped in their own individual torments–failing to save each other and themselves. However, looking at them as individuals, you see how great they are and how Sora is cramping their style. I think that can really hurt players’ overall acceptance of them as characters in a positive way because Sora was always being thrown into their personal stories to keep him in our heads when we wanted to forget about him and focus on who we were dealing with.

Three New Protagonists Means More to Love

Unlike 358/2 Days, Birth by Sleep tells a story that is both a regression into the past and yet an important step forward for the overall storyline. It gets us hyped for future installments rather than lingering on what we’ve already played. That must be why it’s been so well-received by KH fans.

After 358/2 Days and Coded (mobile), the next game to exclude Sora is Birth by Sleep. Raise your hand if you love this game!!! It is by far the best Kingdom Hearts game put out on a hand held. It really coincided with the storyline we’ve known and cleared up a lot of questions some fans had–as well as created a whole new set of questions for us. And our heroes, Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, are all heroes we can fall in love with. They are good friends and care for each other’s well being, and they go to great lengths to help one another, their master, and the worlds. Each of them is so different from Sora, but they all have the same thing in common with him, which is their value of their friendship (the same goes for Roxas, Axel, and Xion).

In this game we follow the tragic stories of Ventus, Terra, and Aqua, learn about origins of Xehanort, and find out details about the Keyblade and its purpose. Although there is once again no Sora, this story was important to know. This story made us aware of what we must do next in the next Kingdom Hearts: Defeat Master Xehanort for good and rescue the three friends. It also explained why Roxas does not resemble Sora but Ventus (Roxas had Ven’s heart inside him, according to Nomura’s interview). To sum it all up, Birth by Sleep showed us why everything that happened in Kingdom Hearts happened the way it did as well as what needs to happen in the future–Sora’s future. It was a creative way to show us what needs to happen next without showing us exactly what‘s going to happen to next.

Following the Paths of the Masters

Kingdom Hearts 3D looks to focus on the mark of mastery exam of Sora and Riku. However, Sora and Riku have defeated so many strong enemies without passing this test--how could it be important at this point?

Despite the fact that Birth by Sleep has been so positively received even without Sora and that the story clears up and creates a lot of questions, I do feel like the game sets up a strong desire to compare the old Keyblade wielders to Sora–which could hurt Sora’s popularity and the future of the series. I am eager for Kingdom Hearts 3D to come out because both Sora and Riku will return as our heroes to take the Mark of Mastery exam. However, I feel like Birth by Sleep already showed us how irrelevant such an exam would be. How many years have Terra, Ventus, and Aqua been wielding their Keyblades and yet they were incapable of defeating Master Xehanort and saving each other. Aqua herself I feel shows the lack of necessity for the exam since she is the only master of the three and she still could not defeat Terra/Xehanort–it was only when Terra manages to take control of his body and lock his heart which saves Aqua from being destroyed.

Here comes Sora, who is inexperienced and lacks much knowledge of Keyblades, the Keyblade war, light, darkness, and Kingdom Hearts, and yet manages to do it all twice on pure instinct. Riku manages to do the same thing, with even less knowledge, considering he didn’t always have companions around him as a resource. With all that being true, then, what is so hot about being a master? I hope 3D makes clear why the exam is necessary, because Birth by Sleep only showed me how “mastery” is nothing more than a title rather than a proof of one’s power–something neither Sora or Riku need. An entire game circling around it makes me nervous.

Untied Ends of Ven and Vanitas

Could there possibly be a thing as too much Sora? Maybe we’re just fatigued with the same character, so it’s smart for the series to occasionally draw on other characters to keep us interested. It helps to keep the series alive and fans from getting all Sora’d out.

Birth by Sleep also truly made me wonder just why exactly it was Sora whose heart Ven’s heart chose to rest within at the end of the game, and why Sora’s heart reached out to Ven’s heart at the beginning of the game to help him when his heart became fractured. It appears to be more of a random coincidence than anything else. It was almost as if Nomura was forcing the connection between them to justify Birth by Sleep‘s existence. I also think it was a bad idea to give Vanitas the face of Sora, because now it makes us look at Sora as a bad guy and causes Vanitas to lose his identity as a separate character. What will happen when Ventus wakes up? If I were him I would be swinging my Keyblade at Sora. Vanitas should have been given his own look–or just kept the mask on. Him having Sora’s face was just so random and ridiculous that it showed a lack of creativity. This proved that if you do not have a strong and useful reason to place Sora within a game where he is not the primary player, then leave him out of it. Things like that get confusing and annoying. Nobody wants to see Sora like that.

With that being said, I feel like the lack of Sora in Birth by Sleep did not have that much of a negative effect because we had three different characters to play around with and their stories all took place 10 years prior to anything happening with Sora. So it was really Sora in the end who was irrelevant to this game. You saw no need for him. I think that the minimum amount of Sora within Birth by Sleep was not missed and on the few occasions we did see him, it was short, but powerful and had an effect on the story of the overall series (like when Sora calls out to Ven’s heart). That Terra, Aqua, and Ven’s stories have such an impact on the overall storyline, you can’t help but to have a positive perception of the game because it had been so long since a game with strong significance within the series came out. The game also allowed us to see how we have managed to get to this point because of Sora to begin with. Unlike 358/2 Days, lacking Sora in this game was a good thing.

Feeling a Deeper Appreciation for All

Having thoroughly thought of the impacts of losing Sora, I still love that there are games without Sora. Could you imagine all these games being only about Sora? I think we would be more than annoyed seeing him all the time, especially with all these side games barely contributing to the overall storyline as it is. I love the introduction of new heroes even if they aren’t necessarily heroic or successful as others. It beats forever running around in tiny red shorts with Sora. And it brings a new interest to a lingering and drawn out story. I really think that the new heroes have brought new life into this decade-long series, which doesn’t have a conclusion in sight. When Kingdom Hearts 3 does finally come out, I think we will have an even deeper appreciation for Sora as well as a special love for Roxas, Ventus, Aqua, and Terra.

The lack of Sora had a positive impact on Birth By Sleep, which cannot be said was the same for 358/2 Days. In its design, Days turned out into a game that did not fit into the storyline and gave many fans mixed feelings. Nevertheless, Roxas is, and will always be, a welcome reflection of Sora. How has the disappearance of Sora in recent games impacted your feelings for him? Do you miss him or are you content with exploring supporting characters?

A normal resident on the KHU forums, Cloudy is a big fan of Final Fantasy 7 and its related games. Incidentally, she and her identical twin sister are both authors of this article and spend quite a bit of time discussing the intricacies of Kingdom Hearts (perhaps being twins help them relate to Roxas and Ventus a little deeper…). Together, they penned the popular Organization XIII series, which you can find by heading to KHU News Categories link on the side of the website, under KHU Guest Blogs.