| February 26, 2018 | 0 Comments

There’s a moment at the end of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep in which all the lost characters from across the series look to the sky and whisper ‘Sora.’

Sora: the name of the player character, of You, who was lost in worlds far and wide and had to fight tooth and nail to save the ones he loved. Sora, who had returned home at last after a long and painful journey – but must now leave once more to face off against a reawakened old evil and save those it tore apart.

If it sounds incredibly cheesy, that’s because it is – few other adverbly adjectives sum up my favorite video game series as succinctly. But cheesy in this scenario is the farthest thing from ridiculous; it’s an incredibly poignant scene that serves not only as a tribute to the series’ protagonist, but also to you for having stuck by these characters for so long.

But how could I not have? Fictional characters have always inspired something in me that reality never quite touched, and that was why I always wished I could be a part of their adventures. Today, I do so through my writing; eighteen years ago, I did so by daydreaming that I could save Mufasa, train with Hercules under Phil, and hang out in 100 Acre Wood. I never thought I would be able to do those things until I found Kingdom Hearts – until I found Sora.

photo credit: Square-Enix and Disney's Kingdom Hearts 3D, screenshot legally taken by Aaraf Afzal via PS4 Share System

Photo credit: Square-Enix and Disney’s Kingdom Hearts 3D, screenshot legally taken by Aaraf Afzal via PS4 Share System

Kingdom Hearts is a video game series that, at its simplest, is about a boy who gets lost in and must save the Disney universe. Little did I know, he would go on to transcend my childhood fantasies of fighting Jafar and saving Kerchak. Sora went on to represent the sides of myself I valued most; even today, he speaks to the idealist in me who desperately wants to trust people, who wants to be there for his friends no matter what.

And it’s that “no matter what” that remains so, so empowering to see, because those conditions became so extremely difficult to overcome when I was surrounded by so many bullies abusing their power, more concerned with popularity than they were with their own friends. In fact, me being a Kingdom Hearts fan was enough for me to get bullied and singled out. But Sora took on all those around him with a warmth and ingenuity that made him outshine whatever darknesses loomed over him. Sora didn’t just always see the best in people – he pushed them to see it themselves.

The people around Sora question again and again how he could be the Chosen One with a Keyblade everyone believes him to be. And in response, Sora does everything in his power to earn that title – with the help of two of the least competent warriors this side of the Disney universe. Sora doesn’t get Mickey Mouse; he gets Donald Duck and Goofy, and the three lumber helplessly around until they make things right. And the game’s big twist? Sora wasn’t chosen. The fabled Keyblade had only come to him so he could bring it to his best friend and rival Riku. Sora loses the Keyblade, and storms a castle full of Disney villains armed with only a wooden sword until he changes destiny’s mind and earns back his power.

There’s a moment in Kingdom Hearts when Donald and Goofy first meet Sora, and Donald tells him “No frowning, no sad face, okay? This boat runs on happy faces.”

And Sora flashes the biggest, most exaggerated smile possible.

But Sora is no Jesus figure. I learnt quickly, if not by the end of the first game then certainly by its follow-up Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, that Sora was flawed and human. He had been an underdog his entire life – and the moment he was offered a fake reality in which he had had as much admiration as Riku, he wanted it. His anger almost got the best of him, and had it not been for Donald, Goofy, and Jiminy Cricket, he would have given in. In his own words, Sora’s friends are his power, and he is theirs.

And even as I gushed and put in hours of my life into this “children’s game,” my bullies and detractors did not stop me from finding my own circles in high school. I met six close friends who went on to essentially become family, who gave me strength, pushed me to become better, and trusted me to do the same for them. They listened to me – and nine years later, one of them even surprised me with a Keyblade she had made by herself. And as she handed it to me to the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, she told me I had earned it too. They kept me smiling – though, not necessarily the “healthy” kind of smiling.

My terrible custom filter. Photo credit: Square-Enix and Disney's Kingdom Hearts, artwork by Tetsuya Nomura

My terrible custom filter.
Artwork credit: Square-Enix and Disney’s Kingdom Hearts, artwork by Tetsuya Nomura

There’s a moment at the end of Kingdom Hearts II when Sora and Riku finally reunite, reconciled. And Sora finally learns that Riku had envied him too, envied how he lived his life just following his heart. And Sora finally makes peace with his insecurities.

Sora’s smile is unyielding, one he wields better than any weapon. It persists in the face of tragedy and adversity – and learning to smile like that became essential the more I grew up. Not only did it help me cope with many a difficult situation, it also helped me accept my reality and limitations, from high school to a difficult gap year to finally college and beyond. I was inspired to forgive, to believe, and to love unapologetically ­– even when my family was met with unexpected tragedies and when civil war almost broke out in my home town, I would look to Kingdom Hearts and Sora for inspiration. At the end of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance – the franchise’s most recent entry – Sora’s naiveté finally gets the best of him and he fails his Mark of Mastery exam, while Riku surpasses him once more. But this time, he does not let his failure get the best of him. Rather, Sora smiles; he’s happy for his friend and determined to do better when Kingdom Hearts III comes around.

Square-Enix and Disney have promised us an older, more mature Sora in the long-anticipated sequel – the finale to a saga almost two decades in the making. Sora will have changed, and I myself have changed since I last joined him. And for that, I can thank my friends and my family over and over again – but I owe my thanks to him too. Disney may be too embarrassed to advertise its games as overtly as it does its movies, but Sora is my childhood hero and icon; he is an unwavering source of courage, love, and friendship, and I cannot wait to see how far he has come in the long years since we last spoke.

Photo credit: Square-Enix and Disney's Kingdom Hearts 3D, screenshot legally taken by Aaraf Afzal via PS4 Share System

Photo credit: Square-Enix and Disney’s Kingdom Hearts 3D, screenshot legally taken by Aaraf Afzal via PS4 Share System

Featured photo credit: Square-Enix and Disney’s Kingdom Hearts, screenshot legally taken by Aaraf Afzal via PS4 Share System.

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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Reflections, Science and Technology, TV and Movies

Aaraf Afzal

About the Author ()

Aaraf Afzal is many things, but he's not particularly good at being any of them. He continues to work towards this goal, among others, studying Film & TV and Economics at Boston University. An avid subscriber to the belief that all forms of media have their own sense of artistic beauty, he is particularly invested in writing fiction and recently released his first novel "Re: Revolution" in Bangladesh. Alongside his pursuits at Culture Shock, he's currently at work writing an online series called "The Chosen Zeroes." Fandoms and inspirations include Neil Gaiman, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Marvel Comics, and Culture Shock. Giggity.

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