Note: At the time of this writing, Kingdom Hearts III is an unreleased game. However, this article discusses content found in trailers and interviews with the game’s director. Fans avoiding these may wish to skip this article.
One of the most anticipated video game releases of the new year, Kingdom Hearts III, will return fans to the imaginative universe conceived by Square Enix’s Tetsuya Nomura, which juxtaposes characters of Nomura’s own design with those of other Square Enix games and of Disney motion pictures. As I’m sure is true for other fans, I’ll admit to having had reservations when the original Kingdom Hearts came out of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII sharing a game with Dumbo, but once I swallowed the weirdness of this concept I was drawn deeply into the game’s mythology, a mythology which would expand and develop as later games were released in the series. Nomura has commented on the existence of playable characters in Kingdom Hearts III apart from series protagonist Sora, and one such character has been confirmed to be Riku, but I believe in my heart that Sora and Riku’s friend Kairi should—and will—be a third playable character.
One of the coolest moments in the Kingdom Hearts series for me was the scene in the final act of Kingdom Hearts II, where Kairi is first shown brandishing a Keyblade alongside her friends. While Kairi has never been playable before, the timing would be perfect for changing this, as Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, the game that immediately precedes Kingdom Hearts III chronologically, concludes with Kairi just beginning her training as a Keyblade wielder. Previous games have jumped through hoops to explain why hardened Keyblade veteran Sora must begin anew, building his stats from scratch with each sequential game, and Kingdom Hearts II partially resolved this plot quirk by having Roxas, not Sora, serve as the player’s avatar during the tutorial sequence. Kingdom Hearts III could do the same with Kairi, teaching the game’s mechanics to new and familiar players alike through the eyes of someone fresh to the scene.
Followers of the series will recall 2010’s prequel title, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, as the game that redefined the overall tone of the series, from an upbeat romp through the worlds of Disney, to a more somber, even tragic, exploration of hope, the loss thereof, and a belief in doing the right thing even at great personal cost. This set the stage for the games that would soon follow. Birth by Sleep‘s design was unique in that, to understand the story fully, it required the player to perform multiple playthroughs using the game’s three playable characters: childhood friends Ventus, Terra, and Aqua, whose very names echo those of Sora, Riku, and Kairi respectively, denoting a thematic link between the two trios. As revealed at last year’s E3 to many fans’ shock and dismay, Aqua’s time spent trapped within the Realm of Darkness has corrupted her, and one can assume she will feature prominently in Kingdom Hearts III as an antagonist. How fitting, then, for the story to come full circle with Kairi, Aqua’s counterpart among the classic trio, stepping up as a new playable heroine to help confront the once-playable heroine who has since become a villainess? As one of the series’ seven Princesses of Heart, perhaps Kairi is one of the few who can manage to free Aqua’s heart from darkness.
Female representation would greatly benefit this game, as Kingdom Hearts is popular among gamers of all genders, and gamers of all genders want the option of playing as female characters. This is evidenced by Aqua’s popularity among fans, as well as that of Xion, another playable female in the series, who showed up in 2009’s Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. And although far from the strong characterization exhibited in these two, with prior chapters in the series having largely used Kairi as a damsel in distress, she is now a warrior joining the battle between light and darkness, every bit as capable of defending hearts and saving worlds as Sora and Riku—and let’s not forget in the original game it was Kairi who, after being saved when Sora frees her heart from his body, immediately returns the favor by restoring Sora from his Heartless form. Now that all three friends are Keyblade wielders, failing to offer them all as playable characters would make this conclusion to the saga feel incorrect and incomplete.
That’s why I am confident we will finally have the chance to play as Kairi, as well as Sora and Riku, in Kingdom Hearts III, which releases January 29, 2019, for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.