Hey, adventurers, and welcome to the first question posed to me as part of the Charming and Open event! If you have no idea what that is, be sure to check out this post and, if you’re interested, to get involved in it. This question was posed to me by Kyle at the blog Geeks Play Games. Be sure to check out his work – I recently read his post on five franchises that need a fighting game and I agreed with many of his assertions!
The question he posed to me is in the title, but I’ll repeat it again here: “what is one video game character that you feel spiritually (or normally) connected to?” And my answer to that question is Riku, from the Kingdom Hearts series.
I’m the kind of guy who is a sucker for any character with a tragic backstory. I root for the underdog and I weirdly identify with people who have had horrible life experiences when I honestly have not. I’m not trying to say my life has been perfect by any means, but I grew up with a huge and loving family, had lots of amazing opportunities to grow as a person, and a support system that allowed me to go to the college of my choice and pursue whatever I wanted. So when I started thinking about what characters I identify with, and kept thinking of people who had these horrible things happening to them – well, it felt a little dishonest. I LIKE those characters, but I don’t necessarily connect with them on the level that Kyle was talking about.
Then I thought about Riku.
Riku is a kid who has everything going for him. He’s the smartest, toughest kid on his island. Everyone looks up to him. His spirit of adventure and natural leadership ability draws other kids to him, and it seems like he’s good at EVERYTHING. But he’s still dissatisfied. He wants to get off of the Destiny Islands and to be somewhere else. And when the opportunity arises, he embraces it – the problem is, he jumped at the wrong opportunity. Riku doesn’t take the right way off the island and the path he travels leads his soul to a dark place.
Under the training of Maleficent, Riku connected to the darkness within himself and became twisted. This darkness then became a tool for use by more powerful dark forces, not only Maleficent but also the evil Ansem – er, Xehanort’s Heartless, I guess. Ugh. Once Riku leaves that life (with the help of some Keyblade-wielding action from Sora), his journey becomes internal, focused on dealing with the darkness inside of him. Is it something he must shun – or can he embrace it to become something better than he was before? I love the story arc he experiences in Chain of Memories when he decides to accept his dark side rather than reject it, and states that his decision has placed him on the road to the dawn.
So why do I connect with this guy? Riku is a character who had everything but didn’t necessarily appreciate everything he had. His journey had to take him to somewhere dark and difficult before he really began to understand where he came from. And once he saw that there was darkness within him after all, he had to learn how to cope with it.
This post actually came about at a really convenient time because my moment to learn about the darkness within myself came this time five years ago. I studied theater in college, and at this time I was in a production called RED by John Logan. Fantastic play. Incredibly deep. Strongly philosophical and artistic. I loved being in it. But the character I played had a dark soul and his work was an expression of his inner torture. His real-life counterpart delved so deeply into darkness that his life ended in suicide. And I delved so deeply into that character that I adopted his jaded outlook on the world.
The production came at a time where I was already struggling with my worldview. Over the last year my five-year plan had been torn to pieces and I was pretty lost and directionless. I lived for applause back then, and the thunderous applause we received for RED felt pretty amazing – until it wasn’t there anymore. The show was over, life goes on, and I had to accept that I didn’t know my path anymore. Luckily, at that time I had a friend and mentor who made it her personal goal to help me find happiness again. Thanks to her efforts and those of the other friends I had made, I accepted that my path had changed and started forging a new one. This lesson would serve me well later when I realized that I had no intention of pursuing acting professionally. Again directionless, this time I was ready and now I’ve kind of embraced the freedom that comes with not knowing where you’re going.
So to summarize: I feel connected to this character because our journeys are, in a metaphorical sort of way, the same. Both full of potential but dissatisfied with what we had, it took experiencing the worst part of ourselves to put us on the right path. And much like me, Riku’s journey isn’t over yet – the last we saw of him this fellow was named a true Keyblade Master for passsing the trials in Dream Drop Distance. But there’s a whole ‘nother game on the horizon, and Riku’s whole story hasn’t yet been told. My hope is that his understanding of his own darkness allows him to guide Sora after the younger boy’s brush with evil and to help him achieve his fullest potential, too.
As for me? Well, I’m just hoping that my experiences can help me guide along a certain younger fella in my life as well – my son! If he ever feels like he’s on the wrong path, I’ll be able to help him see that your path is what you make of it. And who knows, maybe he’ll have his own video game character that can help him along the way too!
Ian, this is a truly moving and entertaining post. It is not often that I read a post on a game-focused blog that makes me both laugh and feel emotional at the same time. You have accomplished both here! Yesterday when I read the first commenter’s question to you and saw what it was, I was curious to see where you would take the answer. Seeing as I just started playing Kingdom Hearts (well, re-playing, but that’s another explanation for its own blog post), I also appreciated the timeliness of your choice. It is very tough to feel directionless in life, to feel that darkness even if we seemingly have everything we need. You wrote about those feelings – both yours and Riku’s – very eloquently here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!
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Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Honestly I had trouble with my answer at first just because I had a hard time thinking of a character that I really felt connected to. But once Riku came to mind I had it. I weirdly played Chain of Memories before the original Kingdom Hearts (I didn’t have a Playstation when the series was popular), and I loved how much that game focused on Riku’s side of the story. I missed him when playing 1 and 2!
Those were definitely tough days, but I learned from them and in a weird way I’ve kind of embraced being directionless now. Whatever’s next can be a surprise, which is fun in a way!
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I absolutely love this post!! 😀 Riku is easily my favorite character in the entire KH series because of his amazing growth and maturity throughout. I was a weird kid and started with Chain of Memories for Gameboy Advance, wandering aimlessly through Sora’s story and being really confused about Disney and Final Fantasy characters interacting. I didn’t hate it, it was something to pass the time, but I wasn’t fully invested.
However! Because my brother had beaten the game several years prior, I had access to Riku’s story as well, and after screwing up a quick save on Sora’s story, I decided to try out Riku’s. As soon as I started it, I was immediately hooked, completely intrigued by his power struggle and desire to repent for his past and leave behind his demons. The story was so beautifully crafted around his growth, and that was the moment that I came to adore Riku and the series. Playing KH1 was a bit of a surprise then, seeing him act rather jerkish, but I also appreciated it knowing that it wouldn’t last. Then Kingdom Hearts II happened and it was amazing.
I love how with each installment, Riku continues to grow and be the best, most interesting character. Dream Drop Distance was really his game, his time to shine, and it was so well done. I love this post, and I totally feel the same way about Riku. Thank you for sharing!! 🙂
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I also started with Chain of Memories! I think experiencing Riku’s story in that game before I saw him in 1 greatly increased my appreciation of his journey.