Of all the scenes in the first Kingdom Hearts game, one of the ones that always stuck with me happened near the very end. Standing on a corroded shore, Riku stared out at a sea of darkness all around the island. Except it wasn’t Riku.
Xehanort’s Heartless stood on the destroyed shores of his own homeworld in Riku’s image as he proceeded to single handedly explain Riku’s entire character effortlessly to the boy who cared about Riku the most, but wasn’t able to save him from himself. The words hauntingly spoken by the enemy held a double meaning for he wasn’t speaking of just Riku, but of himself. Within these words we’re shown how both he and Riku fell from where they were, and, if Riku continued down that road, the place that he would eventually end up.
“Take a look at this tiny place. To the heart seeking freedom this island was a prison surrounded by water. And so this boy sought out to escape from his prison. He sought a way to cross over into other worlds and he opened his heart to darkness.”
The problem, however, is that Xehanort mistook what he saw in Riku as the exact same thing as what he saw in himself. They both had turned to darkness as a way to gain power, but their reasons why were completely different. Xehanort accepted the darkness to gain power and knowledge for the sake of having it. Riku turned to darkness because he was desperate for freedom—but for a freedom that would lead to him gaining the power to protect the things that matter to him: his friends. And this one distinction is why Riku would never become Xehanort, no matter how much darkness entered his heart. Riku’s darkness was his own—it wasn’t Xehanort’s.
Ever since Riku was little his heart craved freedom from the world he was born into. He wanted to leave the small islands for the big adventures that rested just beyond the horizon. But, more than anything, he didn’t want to do this alone. He wanted to go on adventures with his best friend to become strong so he’d be able to protect him. And then, one day, someone promised him all of those things and more.
When Terra showed up on the islands he did more than simply pass on the ability to wield the Keyblade. In that one meeting was the set-up for what would inevitably set Riku on the path to darkness. In that meeting came a promise: a promise that there was more to the world than just their islands. That there was so much more out there waiting for Riku once the sea stopped caging him. It was a promise that, one day, Terra and Riku would be together and Terra would teach him everything. That Terra could show Riku the world that he had always dreamed about and help get him the strength and freedom he craved in order to champion the ones he loved. It was, however, the beginning of Riku’s true desperation.
Once Terra had left, Riku was alone with a secret. Over time he probably wondered if it had ever happened at all, meeting this stranger who promised him all these things. Perhaps over time, he convinced himself he had made it all up. After all, it wasn’t like he could talk about it to anyone. And the more time passed the more it seemed that Terra was never coming back.
But then, within the same day, Riku received two separate confirmations that there was something to believe in. One night, nine years before the events of Kingdom Hearts, Xehanort sent Kairi out in the hopes that she would lead him to the Keyblade Bearer. An act of fate brought her to Destiny Islands, and to Riku. The man that had promised Riku that there was something more out there had unknowingly sent him proof. Kairi landed on Destiny Islands and Riku was reminded that there was another world out there beyond his own. And the next day, for the very first time, he saw the keyhole.
And while his friendship with Kairi blossomed over the years, there was still no sign of Terra himself. But Riku had new hope now. Every day he had confirmation that there was something beyond the prison walls and slowly that fact grew into an even deeper desperation to break free. Darkness grew within his heart from his obsession with freedom, and the hope that a promise would be fulfilled.
And then, in the most twisted of ways, it was.
Xehanort’s Heartless arrives at Destiny Islands because of Terra’s promise to Riku. We can only surmise what he must have told Riku that night that Destiny Islands disappeared, but, based on Riku’s conversation to Sora and his scene with XH as shown in Re:Coded, I think we can make a safe bet as to what went down. XH showed up and instantly Riku must have thought that his promise was being fulfilled, that XH had returned to show him the world beyond. It’s because of their promise and Riku’s desperation for it to have been real that Riku trusts XH when he tells him to open the door. He tells Riku to let Destiny Islands to succumb to darkness, and for Riku to accept the darkness in his heart. Only then would he get his freedom. By opening his heart to darkness, XH would tell him, he could finally be free of his prison.
And Riku believes him. He trusts him, because when he sees XH, whether subconscious or not, he sees Terra. He sees the promise. He sees the hope that he had. He sees confirmation once again that it was possible to break out of the cage he was in. And then when XH’s word proves true—when the world and Riku begin to fall to darkness, yet bestowing freedom upon him at the same time—Riku truly trusts XH. Imagine, “if you let the darkness in, you’ll get the freedom you’ve been wanting.”
And then he does. And forever since that point, Riku directly associates darkness with freedom. The darkness was his freedom from his prison. It was the freedom he would need to be able to protect those that mattered, but in the process of his desperation he lost sight of why he was desperate to begin with. His obsession with freedom that had led to darkness being born in his heart had taken a new form where he directly correlated freedom to darkness. And this tragedy becomes his story in Kingdom Hearts.
But all the freedom in the world didn’t matter if he didn’t have someone to spend it with. In his mind, I’m sure Riku believed he was doing this for the good of everyone—that this is what they all wanted, no matter how it happened. He craved the freedom from the islands so much, how could Kairi and Sora not be craving the exact same thing? He made sure that they would be with him on the other side, and while he didn’t anticipate being separated, he knew that he would find them again.
Unfortunately for him, Xehanort’s Heartless had different intentions. He knowingly sent Riku to Hollow Bastion to fall under Maleficent’s scheme and push Riku’s desperation onto a steady path that would eventually cause the darkness within him to grow exponentially. It was there that Maleficent whispered malice in Riku’s ear, telling him of the Keyblade and Sora’s new friends that had replaced him. While Riku had put everything on the line for Sora and Kairi, Sora was gallivanting, going on the adventures that they were supposed to go on together. But Riku didn’t believe it at first. He didn’t think Sora would do that to him, so Maleficent took him to Sora directly. And it was in that meeting that Riku grew desperate for a new kind of freedom.
While Riku had toiled away trying to find Sora, Sora had been off having adventures with brand new companions. When Riku finally found Sora again his entire being was shaken for so many reasons. The moment they find each other again is a happy one, but it becomes clear to Riku quickly that things have changed. While Riku is talking about Sora not having to worry now that they were together and that they’d find Kairi, Sora quickly destroys a Heartless that had been creeping up to them. He says to Riku, “Take care of who?” While to Sora this is just meant as a boyish rivalry “I can do it just as well as you can” kind of statement, to Riku this is perhaps one of his worst nightmares. Everything he had done to get them off the island, for their freedom, suddenly felt void. Riku wanted to leave the islands so he could grow stronger to protect Sora, and yet here Sora was, off the islands, free, without him, with new friends, and strong enough to take care of himself. To Riku, this simple moment was validation of everything Maleficent had been whispering into his ear: Sora didn’t need him as a friend; Sora didn’t need him as protection; Sora just simply didn’t need him at all.
His friendship had been replaced. His protection had been replaced. And at the root of all of that was the one thing that he had been promised all those years ago, the thing that had caused the desperation and the darkness to grow in his heart—the Keyblade. For some reason Sora had been granted what Riku had waited ten years for, and, because of it, Riku was expendable to Sora. It was a cruel twist of fate that the thing that Riku believed would make him strong enough to protect his friends, was the one thing that was now driving them apart. And so, the Keyblade became to Riku a symbol of everything that had gone wrong. It was a symbol of him being replaced, of him no longer being needed, of his heart’s new found worthlessness.
Everything that Riku had done in the hopes of becoming stronger to protect Sora and Kairi had been seemingly undone in a single moment. It left him feeling useless, with no role to play. All he wanted was to be strong for them, but it began to seem like Sora no longer needed his strength at all.
Because of this, Riku turned to the only freedom he had: darkness. He agreed to work with Maleficent, to use the darkness, to let it grow in his heart and channel it in order to escape the new sense of worthlessness that was entrapping him. Darkness was still the freedom he sought, but now it was freedom from a new threat—from the pain that the Keyblade symbolized, the pain of no longer being needed. The only way he knew how to escape from the pain was to turn his focus onto his other friend, onto his friend that did still need him and his protection. Kairi still needed him. He could still protect her, and with or without Sora, Riku knew he had to save his friend. And as the desperation grew for him to rescue Kairi, to grow strong enough to protect the ones he cared about, the darkness in his heart continued to grow—all the while believing that this was what freedom looked like.
If he could prove to himself that he was still the one in control, that he was the one who would “take care of everything” as their friends back on the islands would always say, then he could be free from the pain of no longer being needed. He could be the protector again, be the one to make things right, be the one that Sora looked up to. Above all though, he wanted to remind Sora of himself and of Kairi. Remind Sora that leaving the islands was meant to be about them as a group, about their freedom. But as Riku grew more and more desperate to save Kairi, the darkness took more and more of a hold on him. He had turned to using the darkness as a form of freedom from Kairi’s torment of losing her heart. If he used the darkness enough, he convinced himself he could save her, free her from losing her heart. But the darkness began to cloud his judgements and his conscience. He began to lose sight of why he had used the darkness in the first place—as a way to be able to protect his friends. Now his pain had caused him to use the darkness against Sora, as if that would somehow free him from his new prison.
When Riku finally found Kairi’s lifeless body—a symbol of the casualties caused by his desperation; by his failure to protect the things that mattered—everything came to a head. Sora and his new friends found their way onto the same vessel that Riku had been using to take Kairi back to Hollow Bastion in the hopes of freeing her and himself. Riku accused Sora of not caring about Kairi like he should of, that he didn’t do what Riku had done. While Riku had directed Sora’s attention to Kairi, his anger was really towards Sora for forgetting about both of his real friends, and this shows significantly when Sora finally catches up to Riku again. Riku conjures up a shadow made of his own darkness, but the form it takes is a significant one. Instead of creating a monster that would represent Sora’s biggest fear, Riku created a monster that represented his—Sora himself. Riku’s fear of being replaced, of no longer being needed was symbolized by Sora having the Keyblade, and so it is fitting that when Riku conjures up an enemy, he really conjures up the enemy of himself—Sora with his Keyblade.
He left Sora with the shadow of his own fears and heads to the clock tower. He can feel the darkness taking over his heart, that he’s losing control of it, and while he will deny it to anyone who says so, he knows inside the truth. Kairi still wasn’t saved, he still hadn’t protected her, he still hadn’t set things right, and with that in mind, he knew he couldn’t give up. He had to keep trying. He had to keep fighting. The darkness was the only way he knew how, it was both the cage and the key.
When he returned to Hollow Bastion, Maleficent is quick to tell him that he has even more power resting within him—his dark powers. And that, if he were to unleash their full potential, no one would be a match for him. Once again Riku falls into the trap of darkness, the idea that it is a freedom from his problems, and he opens his heart further.
It is at this point that Maleficent plays even deeper into his insecurities. She tells him how the Keyblade was meant for him—it was never meant for Sora in the first place. If he were to just his the strength of his heart, of the darkness within it, the Keyblade would return to where it belonged. He would be free of his pain and jealousy as the cause of all of it would be back in his hands. He would have what he wanted all these years, though he had lost sight of why he wanted it.
He confronts Sora and the Keyblade transfers back to him. But when the power of Sora’s bond with his new friends causes the Keyblade to return back to him, Riku loses it. Sora gained back the power Riku had sought for because of the people he had been replaced with, because Sora didn’t need him, because, even with just a toy sword (a representation of their relationship before KH1 began) Sora could still protect himself. And so Riku’s desperation climaxed, it was beyond his control, beyond his reasoning, he was feeling more and more closed in by his failures: his failure to free himself of jealousy, to free Kairi of her torment, to free himself of being useless. He was at his most vulnerable when Xehanort’s Heartless approached him again. The man he had grown to trust for granting him the freedom from the islands so long ago was back at his side, whispering lies into his ears that if he were to simply open his heart even more to the darkness—to the idea of freedom—would he finally receive it. And in his desperation, Riku obliged.
But the darkness that had been filling his heart wasn’t the freedom he thought it was, it was the arc that Xehanort’s Heartless had been cultivating in order to sustain him, and when Riku accepted XH into his heart, XH used the darkness to take control, trapping Riku against his will in his own body.
As Sora fought Xehanort’s Heartless on the outside, Riku struggled to gain control on the inside. When Sora freed Kairi’s heart, and thus completing the final keyhole, XH sprang into action. He changed Riku’s appearance to match his own, and when he was about to harm Kairi Riku’s heart reacted, stalling him enough to finally protect her. As she ran away to safety, XH rejected Riku’s heart, sending it straight into the Realm of Darkness.
Inside the Realm of Darkness, Riku pleaded for Sora and Kairi. He apologized for the mistakes he made as he stumbled through the darkness. When he collapses to the ground, the darkness threatening to take over his heart, his strength finally shines through it all: he’s not ready to leave this world, not until he sees Sora and Kairi one last time. The darkness backs off. Within the darkness he hears the voice of Mickey, who tells him that he has been trying to speak to his heart all this time but the darkness hindered his voice. He tells Riku that his heart has overcome the darkness, but that couldn’t win back his body so only his heart was left behind, in the place where stolen hearts gathered.
Riku asks him what he should do, and Mickey tells him simply that soon the Door to Darkness would appear, and that, in order to close it, two keys and two hearts are needed. Mickey believes that it’s fate that Riku has come to the Realm of Darkness—that Riku’s heart and Sora’s heart are what will close the door for good. Riku asks if Mickey knows if Sora and Kairi are safe. Mickey tells him that he should be able to feel their hearts, that how you perceive your friends is dependent on your own heart. Riku imagines Sora running to him, and smiles.
All this time his heart had been deceiving him into believing that Sora no longer needed him, that he no longer cared. It had caused the jealousy to grow and consume him as he was tricked into believe the illusions Maleficent and XH had played on him. But once his heart had overcome his darkness, and he could listen to it alone, he saw the truth. He could feel his friends’ hearts. Sora was running towards him, not away from him as he had believed. And in that moment, he had finally become free of the jealousy that had chained him. Sora and Kairi were safe for now, and so, Riku stepped forward to realize what he had to do next.
Riku’s journey through KH is far more complex than many people stop to realize. On the surface level, it is a story about a boy who turned to darkness and started siding with the wrong side. But when you take the time to look closer, to truly understand Riku as a character, it becomes evident just how heart breaking his story really is. Everything that happened in KH stemmed from Riku just wanting to go on adventures with his best friend, to grow strong to always protect him and be there for him. Something so innocent had become harmful to his very existent because of the desperation that took control of him. He felt caged where he was, locked in a tiny prison, but still able to see through the cracks at the possibility that rested beyond the walls. Riku never wanted power for power’s sake. He wanted it for the most noble of reasons, but the cracks in the prison wall deluded him from this. He began focusing more on the what instead of the why. He craved freedom, he was desperate for it to the point that he was willing to risk anything to get it for him and his friends and he put his trust in all the wrong places.
He associated darkness with freedom—freedom from the problems that were caging him in. He embraced the darkness not for its power, but for the idea that with it he could achieve what he had dreamed of. That he could protect the people he cared about. But it slowly ensnared his heart to the point that it deluded what he thought was real—that Sora had replaced him, that Sora would leave him, that Sora didn’t care about him and Kairi. It was only when his freedom was stripped away from him did the association between darkness and freedom finally disappear. It was only then that his heart overcame the darkness that taken control of him. It was only then that he saw clearly—Sora had always been running towards him and Kairi even if he hadn’t realized it at the time.
He was stuck in the Realm of Darkness against his will, but he was thankful for he was finally able to see through everything that had clouded his mind. He could finally hear the voice that had been talking to him all along. The voice that told him things would be alright. The voice that told him that he still had a role to play. The voice that told him that he still mattered, exponentially so.
Riku had been ingrained with the idea that he was the person that was supposed to protect everyone. He was the one that would take care of everything. He was the one that everyone looked up to. It pained him to see that he wasn’t needed as much anymore, that Sora could take care of himself now. That caused a weakness to grow within his heart, but above all else, at the end of the road, he understood what was truly important. His story in KH1 was all about accepting that it wasn’t always going to rest on his shoulders. That sometimes, the person who looks out for everyone else needs someone to look out for them. So he passed along his role as the protector to Sora, telling him that it was up to him to take care of Kairi.
And in the ultimate symbol of his character—in order to protect the things that mattered most to him—he willingly locked himself away in a new prison, sacrificing the one thing that he had cherished above all else for the people that he loved:
(via avale-reves)Source: avale-reves