While cute and shippable, the Sora and Kairi pairing gives Kairi a lesser role in the action, and she deserves better than that.
Listen, I’m not knocking Sora and Kairi (SoKai) shippers. I get it, there’s context out the wazoo for their canon confirmation. That being said, full Kingdom Hearts 3 spoilers will follow.
While I would have been a lot happier to see Disney and Square make a brave move in making Sora and Riku a canon couple, Kingdom Hearts 3 instead decided to pull a Cursed Child and bring in a heterosexual relationship at the last minute, even though a homosexual one would have contextually made a lot more sense.
But I digress. We’re not here to discuss ships; let us instead discuss Kairi’s shelving in the Kingdom Hearts series so she could advance the plot of her love interest, Sora.
‘This time, I’ll fight’
But she didn’t. Kairi is still using the same keyblade that Riku conjured out of thin air for her at the end of Kingdom Hearts 2. The thing is, she probably killed more Heartless back then than she did in the entirety of Kingdom Hearts 3.
In KH2, we’re meant to see her stepping up to take a more active role, with her standing up to Axel a bit, and fighting to protect Sora after he was nearly taken over by the Heartless. There was progress here, and it always felt like it was in the direction of protecting those that she loved.
This progress is halted in Kingdom Hearts 3. Our opening sequence of Kairi starts off a lot like it did in Kingdom Hearts 2, with her writing out a letter to Sora detailing how much she wishes she could be with him. It was sweet, but also telling of how the Xehanort saga’s finale was going to treat her.
‘Taking Kairi’s heart’
Kairi has apparently been training, but it’s not as if we see any of those results, seeing as the only time she actively fights, she lightly strikes at a couple of Heartless. Why bother having her train to become a Keyblade wielder if she wasn’t going to actually do much in the final battles?
The answer is simple: Sora needed someone that he cared about that was both susceptible enough to get taken by the enemy and had not proven themselves in combat enough to escape the grasps of Xehanort.
Hey, I get it. Xehanort’s a strong guy. But for Kairi to not even put up the slightest struggle? That was abhorrent.
Instead, we see Kairi floating in front of Xehanort as he slashes into her lifeless body, pushing Sora and co. to break through the Darkness’ forces.
Did we really need that though? Why Kairi? Why Kairi again? She already played this role in Kingdom Hearts 1, and to some effect, in Kingdom Hearts 2. Wouldn’t you think there would be another means to move the plot along by now rather than the “damsel in distress” trope?
When it comes to Kingdom Hearts 3, the writers apparently thought it was appropriate.
A Paopu fruit promise
We skip a bit of the context as to how Kairi gets her heart back by the end of the game, but it can be assumed that Sora had to sacrifice some part of himself to save her. Why couldn’t it have been the other way around this time?
Instead, we once again have Kairi being sent back safely to Destiny Islands to be shelved while her OTP goes off to fight the good fight. While the secret movie ending already confirms that Sora will be in another Kingdom Hearts, we can only assume he will fit into a similar arc in whatever the next Kingdom Hearts title is called: fighting to protect his home and love interest.
It’s gotten old, and Kingdom Hearts 3 should have given Kairi a better chance to stand up for herself. Princess or not, Kairi should not be defined by the person she loves or the role he has in her life. Sora and Kairi shippers are still so very valid, because SoKai do have their moment during the last scene before the credits. At that, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves if the way we got to the endgame ship was worth it?
Update February 12, 2020: Now that the (lackluster) KH3 Re Mind DLC has released, we have more information on how Sora and Kairi’s story unfolds in the third title. Full spoilers for the DLC are below.
Playing as Kairi in the ‘KH3’ DLC
In the KH3 Re Mind DLC, we see Sora on a journey to save Kairi’s heart. Time-traveling once more, Sora flies back into the rip in the fabric of reality that he creates the first time he changes the story’s events.
Unfortunately, through the game’s tedious re-telling of the endgame cutscenes, we’re reminded of the moment where Kairi is taken hostage by Xemnas. Thankfully, we’re able to see the other side of those events, as we are able to play as Kairi for the first time in the series.
For a newly trained Keyblade Warrior, Kairi does have some decent skills. Kairi zips around the battlefield in a shiny spectacle, repeatedly shouting “Please work!” while slashing away with her Keyblade. It’s all pretty standard, as not much of her playstyle felt unique or interesting. It was as if the creators wanted to hand fans this Kairi battle without giving her any distinct fighting powers, other than her combined Sora attacks.
Donning the wings of an angel, SoKai attack in unison to bring light to the darkness. And… it’s all very underwhelming. I don’t know what I expected, but Kairi’s one battle feels like a non-event and nearly insignificant.
Allowing us to play as Kairi is a major win in the give-the-princess-her-own-volition department. At the same time, her only power comes in the form of her attacks with Sora, making her feel unnecessary to the battle. Playing as Kairi in this sequence is a bit of a struggle, as your endgame Sora stats are through the roof. Kairi is still playing at a mid-level skill because she wasn’t even given a chance to catch up to the big leagues.
Being tossed into the fray against all of the hardest bosses in the Kingdom Hearts games (save for Tarzan‘s Clayton… *shudders*), Kairi does prove that she is able to hold her own, but it feels a little too late. If she was fighting all on her own, and we saw her training at lower level fights, then maybe this big fight would feel like more of a significant event.
All in all, we’re getting there. Kairi is only playable for a very short sequence, but it broke the ice on the often iced Princess, and that means a lot.
Princess in waiting
And then the post-game had to go and muck everything up.
Speaking with Chirithy, Sora asks the tiny fuzzy creature if he’ll follow them to the land of the living. Chirithy is concerned that he won’t be able to reunite with his missing loved ones, to which Sora responds with the following line.
It’s almost as if the development team is trying to pull the rug out from underneath us. No, it’s not best to do nothing as you wait for your loved one to come back. Kairi did a full year of that in between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, and as we learn in the Limitcut sequences, she is once again waiting around for Sora for over a year.
Except this time, it’s even worse. As opposed to waiting on the shores of Destiny Islands, Kairi has been unconscious while her heart is picked apart by the Radiant Garden scientists. Riku explains this by saying “she believes her heart might hold a clue about Sora.” Not exactly a good look, Square.
Doing exactly as Sora had prescribed, she is indeed waiting; literally doing nothing while she waits for Sora to come back. She could be training in battle, or reconnecting with all of the new and old friends hanging out on Destiny Islands.
Instead, she’s on ice, and will be for the foreseeable future. And no, being put in a coma while men rifle through your heart does not count as “doing something.”
If someone really needed to be asleep so their heart could be searched for clues about Sora, then why couldn’t it have been Riku? As the Fairy Godmother relates, Riku’s heart is connected to Sora’s, as Riku has already leaped into Sora’s dreams. And yet, Riku’s the one out and about, while Kairi is knocked out cold.
If there was any chance that Kairi was going to have her own game, let alone some playtime in Kingdom Hearts 4, that’s now all out the window. Because princesses slumber while they wait for their True Loves Kiss™ to awaken them, right?
Sleeping maidens and valiant masculine warriors are Disney’s specialty, after all.