Road to a Hero

Road to a Hero

In Joseph Campell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell coins the trope popularized in epic stories as “the hero’s journey.” It is very common and appears in several games, including the Legend of Zelda series, Journey, Final Fantasy VII, the Uncharted series, Gone Home, and of course Kingdom Hearts 1.

The hero’s journey resonates with audiences collectively and it is a great map to use when directing a character. At its heart, the hero’s journey is a tale of transformation. A character must go through trials and tribulations to come out a new person on the other side. Kingdom Hearts 1 tells of Sora’s transformation from innocent and silly boy to one who has the maturity to do the right thing in order to not only rescue his friends, but save the worlds. This isn’t a new story but one that has been retold in a variety of different ways over time.

As discussed in the Banjo-Kazooie issue, the hero’s journey is split into three acts. Act 1 begins with our hero in their ordinary world. Sora is on Destiny Island with his friends, dreaming of adventures but living a relatively safe and quiet life. Then there is a call to adventure. When the Destiny Islands are swallowed into darkness, Sora gains the keyblade and is transported to Traverse Town. Sora must venture to find his friends and return home.

Next, our hero may refuse the call to action. When Yuffie and Leon explain that the keyblade chooses its wielder and Sora doesn’t have a choice but to bear the responsibility that comes with that, Sora argues that he didn’t choose this and just wants to find his friends. A mentor then comes along in the form of Donald and Goofy. There is an argument that this mentor is Leon but he doesn’t so much as mentor Sora as feed him information about the plot. While Donald and Goofy aren’t exactly wise or on par with someone like Merlin the Wizard or Dumbledore, they guide Sora throughout his journey and act as surrogate parents. Finally, our hero crosses the threshold. Sora crosses from Traverse Town into various other worlds.

Enter Act 2 where forces of darkness are encountered. Sora battles many Heartless, as well as the Disney villains, and even his best friend Riku. These enemies test him and Sora grows from his experiences. The hero then approaches the inmost cave, Hollow Bastion. Here Sora experiences his weakest moment, when the keyblade is returned to Riku and Sora is left with nothing but a wooden sword. On top of that, Sora’s friends desert him.

What follows is the ordeal. Sora clashes with Riku and Maleficent. Though Sora wins back the keyblade, he is tasked with another difficult undertaking. After learning Kairi’s heart rests within his own, he stabs himself with the keyblade made of the princess’ hearts to set Kairi’s heart free. This sacrifice marks a point of growth in the hero. Sora is now emotionally mature enough to set aside his own desires for the greater good. Our hero is then given a reward. Sora is returned to his body after living briefly as a Heartless, and returns to Traverse Town with Kairi. She gives him the Oathkeeper keychain to represent their connection with each other.

We now enter the final Act. The hero must take the road back to face the final confrontation. Sora returns to Hollow Bastion to confront Ansem in order to save the worlds. He then visits the End of the World, where fragments of what is left of the fractured worlds exists. Sora must battle through to face Ansem. This is the point of resurrection. Though Sora has already experienced resurrection, this resurrection is in reference to the hero’s ideals. While Ansem says Kingdom Hearts is the supreme darkness, it is proven that Kingdom Hearts is light. Once it is over, the hero returns home with the “elixir,” or reward. Although Sora does not return home, he returns the worlds to their original state and closes the door to Kingdom Hearts with the help of Riku and King Mickey.

Sora’s journey is a classic that many audiences will find familiar, exciting, and rewarding. What is interesting about Sora’s journey versus most others is that he is not the original chosen one. He is no Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins. Riku is the chosen one. Riku is the one the keyblade was meant for. Sora just happened to be there when Riku chose to leave Destiny Island through a dark portal. Sensing his light, the keyblade fell to Sora. One has to question the entire logic of this but I digress.

Kingdom Hearts 1 uses the Disney worlds as a tool to explore the hero’s journey narrative a bit deeper. Throughout his journey, Sora is constantly tested. The most obvious example of this is when Sora visits Olympus Coliseum. There is an explicit storyline where Sora, Donald, and Goofy enter the Coliseum tournaments to prove themselves as heroes. The world does not take the time to fully explore this idea in a meaningful way, so naturally it doesn’t feel all that important to the plot. In fact, players can skip Olympus Coliseum all together if they wish.

Merlin the Wizard is a character in Kingdom Hearts 1, though he bears little resemblance to film or book counterpart. Only in name and said magical ability does he offer us something barely recognizable. Merlin comes from Arthurian legend, a classic hero’s journey. Believe it or not, Merlin is not the only Arthurian icon in this game. One reference that is easy to miss comes at the beginning of the game when Sora wishes to name the raft “Excalibur.” Excalibur is the name of Arthur’s sword. It is fitting that Sora should reference Excalibur since the keyblade is an abstract stand in for the sword. Just as Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, so does Sora by winning back the keyblade from Riku.

The hero’s journey formula is one of simplicity that provides rich and effective storytelling. Not only does Sora’s journey follow these beats but there are plenty of references littered throughout the narrative that call back to past hero’s journeys. Sora’s transformation comes from a long line of hero’s before him, yet it manages to feel unique and fresh.


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