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Disclaimer: This article will discuss content from all of the Kingdom Hearts games. Reading it is not advised unless you’re up to date with the series.
Kingdom Hearts is one of my favorite game series. Not only does it contain one of the best action combat systems I have ever experienced, it also has an interesting – albeit complicated – story, filled with likable characters.
If someone were to state that the Kingdom Hearts story is convoluted, they wouldn’t be wrong. Still, the beloved cast of characters Tetsuya Nomura has introduced us to is the reason many of the fans love it to pieces and are thrilled to find out what happens next.
Personally, Kingdom Hearts 1 is far from being my favorite game in the series. Not only has the gameplay not aged well, the story only featured the Destiny Islands trio and a bunch of filler Disney characters. I’m not saying I dislike the Destiny trio. However, KH1 didn’t do much to make me fall in love with them just yet.
The moment I truly began crushing on Kingdom Hearts was during my Chain of Memories playthrough. Yes, the combat was god-awful, and I definitely haven’t replayed it in a long time. Nevertheless, it was in this game that the Nobodies showed up for the first time, and they came with a plot far more interesting than the looking for the damsel-in-distress trope that was prominent in the first Kingdom Hearts. Larxene was charismatic, Marluxia was fabulous, Zexion got cocky, Repliku broke our hearts, Naminé wasn’t annoying by the end, and Riku had matured in contrast to his KH1 self. Oh yeah, and the best boy showed up, murdered everyone and walked away with my heart. Fuck you, Axel.
My point is: Kingdom Hearts gradually took hold of my heart by throwing more interesting characters into the mix after every entry. Thus, instead of writing an essay discussing everything I love about each individual game, I’ve decided to share an in-depth look at my favorite characters.
Okay, I might end up writing that essay later anyway.
5. My Official Son (Didn’t We All Adopt Him?): Sora
I have to admit that Sora is a pick that might not fit the title of this article too well. Still, Kingdom Heart’s protagonist has got such a strong hold on my heart that I can’t lie to myself by leaving him out of my Top 5. Many of us played Kingdom Hearts for the first time when we were even younger than Sora. But as time went on, we grew up into adults while our tiny ball of fluff and happiness is still in his teens. I became really protective of him as I got older, okay?
Honestly, the most accurate adjective to describe Sora is naive. Although it’s true in some games he crossed the line between naivety and dumbness, he’s mostly been consistently naive. This trait of Sora’s is the target of mixed responses – it’s not uncommon for players to be turned off by how gullible he can be, and that’s perfectly fine. In spite of this, I believe that even if a smarter Sora would be great, his unconditional kindness and eagerness to make new friends remain as traits that set him apart, and they’re something I adore. He might not show much character development, yet he’s forever endearing. His positive and cheerful demeanor really helps to set the tone of the series. Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t be the same without him.
4. No Waifu No Laifu (I Married Her First): Aqua
Nomura certainly wasn’t kidding when he said he sucked at writing female characters, because he does. I guess, for some reason, he doesn’t understand that he can just write one of his usual male characters and then change their gender. I don’t get why writing female characters has to be any different than writing males, but okay.
Thankfully, although Kingdom Heart’s main female characters often leave a lot to be desired, Nomura got the formula right with Aqua. She is an extremely talented and hard-working Keyblade Wielder who cares for her friends and won’t hesitate to kick some ass to save them. In fact, she becomes a Keyblade Master, kicks Vanitas’ ass, saves Ventus and leaves him in the Chamber of Waking, kicks Terranort’s ass, saves Terra by sacrificing herself – hell, Aqua saves all of her friends and ends up wandering the Realm of Darkness on her own for over 12 years afterwards. She literally gave everything away to ensure Terra’s and Ventus’ safety. Aqua is no damsel-in-distress, she’s the knight in shining armor.
Aqua is THE Kingdom Hearts waifu: the fandom collectively screamed thanks to THAT E3 trailer. It’s understandable that she would be corrupted by the darkness after dealing with negative emotions and being isolated for so long. But what happened in A Fragmentary Passage gave off the impression that she would be alright. I just want her to be happy already, Nomura, god damn it.
3. Gay (For Sora): Riku
Literally the purest cinnamon roll to have ever graced Kingdom Hearts. I will give up my heart for him.
Riku is undeniably the one with the most character development in the series. In Kingdom Hearts 1, he gave into the darkness and let his jealousy of Sora’s new friends get the best of him. His jealousy also made him feel a need to demonstrate that he was superior to Sora. By the end of the game, he cast his darkness aside and refused to feed it any further. In Chain of Memories, he embraced both light and darkness, realizing that both were sides of himself.
358/2 Days was where his extreme loyalty to Sora started showing, which is one of Riku’s most notable traits later in the series. In 358/2 Days, Riku felt remorseful over how badly he treated Sora throughout Kingdom Hearts 1. He hadn’t got the chance to get closure for everything after the events of the game since Sora had fallen into a deep slumber while Naminé tried to restore his memories. As the plot progressed, you could tell how much Riku cares about Sora, thanks to his never-ending efforts to wake him up. The competitive and mean Riku from Kingdom Hearts 1 didn’t allow the player to see how close he and Sora were, yet in 358/2 Days it was clear that Riku would do anything for his best friend. He basically threw away his life to focus on finding a way to save Sora.
In Kingdom Hearts 2, it was revealed that he was stuck in Ansem’s body as a consequence of using all of his darkness to fight Roxas. Even then, he kept looking after Sora from the shadows while hiding his real identity. Near the end of the game, when he and Sora were trapped in the Realm of Darkness, they discussed the jealousy that tainted their friendship before and came to terms with how important they were to each other. This scene further demonstrated that Riku had left behind any negative feelings he might have harbored towards Sora.
358/2 Days and Kingdom Hearts 2 showed that no matter how deep Riku fell, he made sure to get back up to help Sora whenever he needed it. Post-Kingdom Hearts 1, he was as selfless as possible, even neglecting his own well-being in favor of ensuring his best friend’s safety.
Throughout Dream Drop Distance, Riku continued showing his own personal growth. He was comfortable in his own skin, obtained absolute control over the dark and light side of himself, and overcame the guilt that remained for his actions in Kingdom Hearts 1. He also continuously spoke of everything Sora did for him and recognized that it helped him change.
Riku is a character who has exhibited growth in every single game he’s been in, and seeing him go from being possessed and manipulated in Kingdom Hearts 1 to becoming a Keyblade Master in Dream Drop Distance was a hell of a satisfying journey. Riku was a flawed character who progressively worked to improve while taking care of his best friend. Following his changes for years was beautiful and incredibly satisfying.
2. If Sora Was Emo (Insert MCR Playlist Here): Roxas
Honestly, we all know Roxas is the one true best boy. You know, I know, we all know, but I only have like one brain cell left after Dream Drop Distance so I’ll use that as my excuse to not have him as my Top 1. Fuck you, Axel.
Roxas is just too adorable for his own good. If anyone reading this only watched the 358/2 Days movie and didn’t play the original DS game, I strongly encourage you to play the Nintendo DS entry, because the extra dialogue is great.
Roxas is an extremely likable character, for the reason that you get to see every side of him. You see him having fun with his best friends, figuring out the concept of friendship, wrestling with the question of whether he has feelings or not, struggling to keep it together while everyone around him puts one of his best friend’s well-being in jeopardy… 358/2 Days makes you fall for Roxas, hard. It’s really endearing how he just wants to preserve the moments eating ice cream while watching the sunset with his closest friends. Around the end when everything is falling apart, Roxas finds out that he and Xion were just used as tools and his existence might not be what he thought it was. As everyone around him refuses to give him the answers he seeks, he leaves the Organization to look for the truth on his own. Unfortunately, he gets captured and we’re thrown into yet another rollercoaster of feelings in Kingdom Hearts 2.
Kingdom Hearts 2 makes sure to keep making Roxas suffer, hence making the player suffer in turn. Roxas is led to believe that he lives an ordinary life in Twilight Town, where he befriends Hayner, Pence, and Olette. After Roxas’ happiness around his new best friends is shown, things start going awry with the appearance of Nobodies and Roxas’ recurring memories of Sora. Roxas learns that both Twilight Town and his friends are just data, and he’s meant to merge with his human self, Sora.
Roxas tries to deny that he’s just a part of Sora until the very end: he continuously states that he’s his own self, and it’s heartbreaking and frustrating to see everyone trying to manipulate him because of his connection to Sora. In the end, he’s practically forced to go back to Sora, and he disappears following one of the saddest lines in the series. Later in the game, you’re thrown into a fight against Roxas, and I distinctly recall bawling my eyes out while the combat cutscene (and afterwards, the clock tower scene with Axel) played out.
In a recent interview, Nomura mentioned that Roxas is the utmost secret for Kingdom Hearts 3. That had better imply that Roxas will finally get to be happy because otherwise, my tears will never stop.
1. Red and Chaotic Disaster (I Love This Asshole): Axel
I absolutely hate how much I love Axel. I also absolutely hate how many tears I’ve shed for him. Fuck you, Axel.
When Axel was first introduced, he was an entertaining, murderous and manipulative antagonist. His motives and objectives didn’t line up with those of the other Organization members in Castle Oblivion; he seemed to be part of a greater evil. And that he was, for he was sent to kill all of the Organization traitors. While setting the stage for Marluxia’s and Larxene’s deaths, he also disposes of Vexen and Zexion, thus basically causing the death of a third of the Organization. At this point in the plot, Axel’s main motivation was to take over the Organization with Saïx, who had been his best friend when they were human.
Axel begins changing as he spends more and more time with Roxas. Before his mission in Castle Oblivion, it had already been demonstrated that he was kinder around Roxas. Following his murderous spree, he also starts hanging out with Xion, and the three of them develop a close friendship. As implied in Dream Drop Distance, this friendship led Axel to grow a heart, although this was unbeknownst to him.
Axel’s motivations begin changing, thanks to spending more time with his two best friends. He had already been aware that Saïx was very different in comparison to his human self, but he still went along with his plans because of their previous friendship. As Axel starts caring more for Roxas and Xion, he sets aside his old friendship with Isa and focuses on taking care of his best friends. Still, because of Roxas’ and Xion’s condition, he’s torn between the two of them. He wants to keep them both safe, but Xion’s existence was a threat to Roxas’. Despite the state they were in, Axel tried to maintain a middle ground between the two, until Xion made her own choice and sacrificed herself to prevent Roxas’ disappearance.
Although Axel technically followed the orders given to him by the Organization, he only did so when they benefited Roxas, Xion, or himself. As an example, his battle with Xion showed that his underlying motives were to prevent her from sacrificing herself. Xion knew that Axel cared for her, too, as shown by the line before their confrontation (“Please don’t hold back, Axel. Promise!”). Axel also often twisted the missions given to him and meddled in official Organization plans, like when the Organization tried to trick Roxas and Xion into fighting each other until Axel appeared to stop them, even if this went against the Organization’s agenda.
No matter what, the motives behind all of his actions in 358/2 Days were mainly Xion and Roxas. Of course, despite the fact that his actions were intended to protect Roxas, Roxas feels betrayed upon learning that Axel knew the Organization’s secrets about Xion and Roxas, and kept them to himself.
After Xion’s disappearance, Axel keeps looking for Roxas, who got fed up with all the secrets kept from him and ran away. Throughout Kingdom Hearts 2, Axel’s main motivation is once again his best friend: everything he does in the game is to get Roxas back.
In Kingdom Hearts 2, the antagonistic nature of his actions becomes apparent. While in 358/2 Days, it seemed like Axel was going against the Organization’s evil intentions to defend his friends, thus giving off a heroic vibe of sorts, in KH2 you can see that his radical approaches aren’t limited to dealing with the evil guys. It becomes clear that Axel is willing to do everything for his friends, no matter if it’s at the expense of morally correct characters like Sora and Kairi. So yeah, Axel might technically be a bit of a piece of shit; nonetheless, his characterization is amazing. Axel’s unyielding protectiveness of his friends is constant, and it’s honestly admirable. His intentions are good, yet inherently selfish. Axel is a flawed character, and you can’t help but root for him.
If you consider it, it’s actually sad – no matter how hard he tries, Axel keeps losing all of his friends. First, he lost Isa, and then he lost Roxas and Xion. Axel is a character that fiercely cares about his friends, but he keeps losing all of them.
Axel’s morally gray behavior seems to have been toned down after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2. He has reflected upon his actions and is now on his way to become a Keyblade Wielder, willing to work with Sora and Kairi (two characters he had previously wronged) to get Isa and Roxas back. Hopefully, this change of heart will bring his friends back to him. I definitely want to see Axel, Roxas, and Xion eating ice cream together on the clock tower again.
Anyway, those are my Top 5 Kingdom Hearts characters! Feel free to leave your thoughts below and to share any other character you would have put in the list yourself. January 29st can’t come soon enough! My biased self is definitely looking forward to seeing Axel wielding his rad Keyblade.