Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door

A common critique aimed at Kingdom Hearts 1 is that the villain, Ansem Seeker of Darkness, is revealed far too late in the story. For most of the game it seems Maleficent is the big baddie, only to be pushed aside for some random dude who loves darkness. Ansem can feel random for a number of reasons. While his name is introduced in the early game, his reports are not a requirement and thus people may not take the time to read them. Since he isn’t brought up most of the time, it is easy to forget about him. Though we meet him on Destiny Island, there is no way to know that the man in the potato sack will turn out to be Ansem so most players will not make the connection. I understand all of the reasons why Ansem feels like an out of nowhere villain. However, I’d argue that he isn’t as out of nowhere as you may think. I’d also argue that he is an incredibly interesting villain.

The immediate fix that I would put on this game is to make the Ansem reports required reading. Either have them on the screen after collecting them or have a voice actor read them. It would also help that reports aren’t hidden behind optional, secret bosses since they are so important to the story. By implementing these fixes, this makes Ansem far more crucial and present in the story. It also takes him from a somewhat vanilla character to something far more complex. That being said, forgetting the poor execution of his character, I still think he is a good character and only feels out of nowhere because the game doesn’t make him a priority when it clearly should.

Ansem is a scientist as well as a beloved ruler. His reports serve as tools to understanding hearts and the Heartless. But they also serve as a window into his character. Though the reports are fairly ambiguous, this only serves to heighten Ansem’s mystique. The mystery about him is what makes him so appealing. How did he drive himself so far into the darkness? What was he like when he ruled over Hollow Bastion? Even if these questions were answered in his reports, could we trust them? After all, Ansem comes across as an extremely unreliable narrator. His findings sometimes feel contradictory and since his stance is opposite to our protagonist’s, we aren’t necessarily quick to listen.

Ansem’s scientific research versus Sora’s trust in the heart presents a classic dichotomy, knowledge versus belief. I doubt the developers were going for this theme, nor do I think it is an exactly nuanced take on the discussion. Many fantasy stories play with this debate. In the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, a similar debate occurs between Lord Voldemort and Harry. Voldemort believes in pushing magic to gain ultimate power and guarding that power, while Harry believes in the power of love. It all sounds a bit silly when put in those words but it is a trope used quite often within the genre. Ansem also resembles Voldemort in his lust for power. It is also worth noting the emblem on Ansem’s chest, something that is left completely ambiguous in this game but carries a variety of implications. This is something I will return to at a later time.

One connection the game really wants the player to notice is between Riku and Ansem. These two characters are very similar. Both want to escape their land to see other worlds. Both turn to the darkness as a means to an end. Only their choices force their paths to divert. Riku eventually chooses to walk toward the light. Ansem is destroyed by it.

Ansem’s philosophy believes that darkness is the heart’s true essence, and that Kingdom Hearts holds an infinite source of darkness. He wishes to conquer the worlds and rule them in darkness. This philosophy isn’t random but builds from his research that is noted in his reports. Though we side with Sora, reading Ansem’s reports gives tangible evidence to his claims, especially when thinking in a real world context. Reading scientific evidence about climate change and then reading a rebuttal from an individual who says this winter was the coldest yet and therefore climate change is not real is enough to apply to the stories we consume and ask, maybe this guy has a point? Maybe Ansem should be given more credit than we allowed. Once again, this isn’t something the game explores at all and applies no nuance. I’m sure there is an interesting take away from it all but I may not be the one to dive that deep into things. What we can take away, however, is that Ansem has done a load of research and studies, only to be proven wrong. This is a very powerful sentiment.

Taking all of Ansem into account, he is indeed an interesting villain. Though his execution holds him back, taking what the game gives the audience as a collective portrait of the character is highly compelling. Even if he resembles a classic bad guy who’s only goal is to take over the world, he still has interesting motivations for said goal and his philosophy is believable enough to make him less black and white. Had the reports been more of a forefront in the game, I imagine Ansem could only reach an even higher level of potential than he already has, especially with that velvety voice courtesy of Billy Zane.


  1. Square Enix. Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Square Enix. PS2/PS3/PS4/XBox One/Windows/Nintendo Switch. 2002.