If you had to settle what the core theme is from Kingdom Hearts 1, the answer would be friendship. When Sora loses the keyblade to Riku, he pronounces that, “I don’t need a weapon…My friends are my power!” Ignoring the fact that Donald and Goofy had abandoned him and aren’t doing much good in the friendship department, the sentiment has weight. Sora has made many new friends along his journey that have taught him different lessons. He also still carries the friendship between he, Riku, and Kairi. These friendships make him strong. They are Sora’s central motivation throughout the game.
Kingdom Hearts 1 presents friendship in a variety of different ways. At their core, these friendships have stakes and consequences. Sora’s friendships are presented in a way that understands why friendship is so important in the first place. To maintain a friendship, one must put in the work to do so. Sora does not simply find Riku turning to the darkness and say, wow, looks like Riku has gone bad and I have to do away with him. In fact, Sora never once lays that blame on Riku. Instead, Sora fights for Riku, encouraging him to consider the consequences of his actions and then knowing that Riku is no longer himself but being possessed by Ansem. This game has no time for petty arguments between characters (we can forget about the Sora and Donald conflict that takes place in Deep Jungle). It knows that friendship is important and shows us why.
The central friendship in the game is between Sora, Riku, and Kairi. Riku and Kairi are almost like a brother and sister to Sora. They mess with each other, they argue with each other, and at the end of the day they love each other through and through. As already mentioned, when Riku chooses the darkness, Sora never gives up on his friend. He fights for him. Though the two have a boyhood rivalry, at the end of the day they are there for each other when it counts the most. At the end of the game we see Riku help Sora shut the door to Kingdom Hearts, trapping himself inside the Realm of Darkness. When it comes to Kairi, Sora literally stabs himself so that her heart can be returned to her body. Her friendship means so much to him that he would make that decision. He and Riku spend the entire game looking for her, and both share the sole concern for her safety.
Another important friendship Sora makes is between Donald and Goofy. Though their desertion at the beginning of Hollow Bastion doesn’t put them in so good a light, for most of the game these three characters form a friendship based on the phrase, “all for one and one for all!” They are there to support one another. Sora literally needs to them to proceed through certain sections of the game, specifically when it comes to the trinity marks. In addition, Donald and Goofy play the important role of surrogate parents to Sora. Donald is strict and wild tempered, while Goofy is calm and encouraging. They balance each other nicely, aiding Sora when he needs to be reminded of why their mission is so important.
Finally, Sora forms many friendships with the Disney and Final Fantasy characters throughout the game. When Sora meets new people, his bond with them is almost instant. He never questions their loyalties or asks anything or them. All he can do is do right by them. This results in people being naturally drawn to Sora, helping him in his times of need without even second guessing themselves.
All of this speaks to the idea of chosen family. It is now an internet meme that the Kingdom Hearts series does not care about these characters’ parents. Sora’s mother only appears once off screen, yelling up to her son that dinner is ready and receiving no response. Riku talks of them never seeing their parents again, but this sentiment is never revisited in any way. The most we get from future titles is a flashback with Sora mentioning his father. It would make sense that the relationships Sora forms and already maintains would constitute as family. Since he never so much as sheds a tear for his poor mother waiting for her son to come to dinner, it can be implied that his true family lies in his friendships. It isn’t a radical idea to say that friendships come and go. Friends enter and leave our lives. That is normal. But Kingdom Hearts 1 weighs friendship much heavier on the scale. Sora does not make a friend that he doesn’t consider important. His relationship to Riku and Kairi resembles that of siblings. Donald and Goofy are the inserted parents, guiding Sora as he comes of age. These friendships are important thematically but also within the rules of the heart. Sora’s heart is strong because of his friends, not because of his ability to wield the keyblade.
- Square Enix. Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Square Enix. PS2/PS3/PS4/XBox One/Windows/Nintendo Switch. 2002.