With Curtain Call, we asked our team what some of their most memorable and satisfactory finales were in the realm of gaming, and these entries are the result. Please note that they may include a bevy of spoilers concerning the endings in question and the plots they pertain to. You’ve been warned!
Kingdom Hearts: Dream, Drop, Distance gave players two things they had been asking for since Kingdom Hearts II: 1. Story advancement and 2. More Riku. Widely considered another strong entry in the series, it is Dream, Drop, Distance’s finale that separates it from the pack because it finally gives Riku a chance to shine brighter than Sora.
In this entry to the series, Riku and Sora embark on a quest to complete the Mark of Mastery Exam set up by Master Yen Sid. The two heroes enter separate dream worlds with the task of unlocking the Keyholes of Sleep located in the seven worlds that were restored at the end of Kingdom Hearts but remain trapped in a state of slumber. Unlocking each Keyhole of Sleep will return a world to the realm of light.
Almost immediately after the test begins, Riku feels that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. There are subtle clues scattered throughout the game, but gravity of the situation he and Sora are in isn’t revealed until the final act of the game.
Organization XIII has infiltrated the Mark of Mastery Exam in search of their thirteenth vessel, Sora. Of course, Sora wasn’t their first pick. As one of the Organization’s members so eloquently put it, Riku had developed a resistance to the darkness, so they simply followed the Keyblade’s example and moved down the list to the next available person. Poor Sora, always playing second fiddle. That’s probably why I don’t mind Sora taking center stage in the main games of the series.
Throughout the Kingdom Hearts franchise Sora has remained the static happy-go-lucky mythical hero. As our Master Editor, Mike, pointed out in a previous article, Sora’s saintly status makes it difficult for players to relate to him. Sure, Sora does occasionally make mistakes, feel the sting of defeat, and grieve, but he always manages to bounce back stronger than before. He has even come to terms with the fact that he was never meant to wield a Keyblade in the first place. It should have been Riku saving the seven princesses of heart alongside Donald and Goofy. Yet Riku succumbed to darkness, leaving Sora with some pretty big shoes to fill.
Ever the eternal optimist, Sora represents the epitome of good. He pushes other to rise above the challenges they face in order to become a hero in their own right. Besides, nothing spurs people into action faster than having your hero of light suddenly fall into the darkest abyss. Which is exactly what happens in Dream, Drop, Distance. Sora falls and falls hard.
The final act of the game finds Sora firmly in the grasp of Organization XIII. It is up to Riku to rescue Sora from a dark destiny. That’s right. At long last Riku has his moment in the spotlight and it is glorious.
Recognizing that Riku is a fan favorite, Square Enix didn’t just make him playable this time, they made Riku the true hero of the game. After Sora is sidelined by Organization XIII, Riku, portraying a flawed hero on the path of redemption, makes a stand. He faces several challenging bosses and avoids the temptation to join the dark side once again. Riku is able to move forward thanks in large part to his past mistakes. Allowing darkness into his heart, then fighting his way back to the light taught Riku that while there is tremendous power in darkness, there is even greater strength in achieving balance between light and dark.
When Sora is returned to the real world and does not wake up, Master Yen Sid pronounces that Sora’s heart is still sleeping. Someone must travel through the dark to wake him up. Mickey volunteers to go in order to protect Riku from the possibility of becoming trapped in the dream realm, however Riku knows that he needs to be the one to go. Riku returns to Sora’s dream within darkness to awaken his best friend, but also to prove that he deserves to wield a Keyblade.
Though he started off as an antagonist in Kingdom Hearts, Riku has earned the title of hero by taking the long arduous journey back to the light. In doing so, Riku passes the Mark of Mastery Exam with flying colors, and rightfully so. Dream, Drop, Distance gave Riku the time and space he needed to grow as a character and become the Keyblade Master he was always meant to be.
I haven’t even touched on the massive information dump that occurred at the end of the game. There is a ton of exposition that seeks to connect all of the previous games and set up the epic battle between light and dark that is rumored to take place in Kingdom Hearts III. We learn about Xehanort’s plan to kickstart the second Keyblade war in yet another attempt to create the X-blade, Sora’s unusual power to connect to people’s hearts, Axel’s return as Lea, Ansem the Wise’s appearance in Sora’s heart, Riku’s mastery of the Keyblade, and let us not forget the appearance of another Keyblade wielder. All of this new information on top of Riku’s well deserved fifteen minutes of fame create a very satisfying ending indeed.
Sora may be a hero of mythical proportions, but Riku is a hero worthy of legend. He has continued to develop into a complex hero that players love to see, and play, time and time again. Here’s to hoping that Riku’s role in Kingdom Hearts III will be more than a figure in the background.