Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory with Kairi

Kairi has had an unfortunate role in the Kingdom Hearts series, and as attempts to put her in the spotlight, it falls short.

Square Enix recently made Kairi the main focus of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, a decision that pleased a number of fans who had been hoping to see more of this character. However, while Kairi shines while the player controls her, the story couldn’t seem to help but pull what was likely expected to be some last minute fan service to steal the victory from under her.

There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for the ending of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory going forward, especially pertaining to the ending cutscenes that take place after the rest of the game’s major recap. In a lot of ways, the ending is successful at both showing Kairi’s growth from previous games and setting up her for a new storyline that is sure to please fans in the future, but it’s far from perfect.

The issue is one that has built up over the course of multiple Kingdom Hearts titles, with Kairi becoming the butt of many jokes for fans as she has been sidelined throughout the series. While it’s hard to argue with the direction the series has taken with the relationship between Sora and Riku and their evolving frenemy dynamic, it has left Kairi as little more than a trophy to be won in the first game. So, before getting into Kairi’s role in Melody of Memory, it’s important to take a look at how Kingdom Hearts got the character to this point in the first place.

A Brief History of Kairi

So, to prime this argument, let’s take a look at how Kairi has been utilized previously throughout the series, from the original Kingdom Hearts and leading all the way through her shining moment in  Re:Mind. In her initial outing, Kairi was a character with a mystery surrounding her and one of the major motivations for Sora as he attempts to find her and eventually rescue her when Riku captures her. From there, she spends much of the series either waiting around for the other two to come home, or getting kidnapped to be used as a motivation for Sora to continue his journey.

This isn’t to say that she hasn’t had her own powerful moments within the series, such as when she saves Sora in Hollow Bastion or when she’s given a Keyblade in Kingdom Hearts 2. The issue is that there is more footage of Kairi either in captivity, unconscious, or caught in an upper arm grab than there is of her doing anything to help with the on-going struggle of the game. That’s when Kingdom Hearts 3 promised to make up for her years spent as a damsel in distress by having her join Sora as one of Kingdom Hearts‘ seven lights.

Kingdom Hearts 3 and Re:Mind VS. Its Own Female Characters

Unfortunately, the way Kingdom Hearts 3 treated Kairi was not exactly what many fans had hoped from a character that had been primed to become a new Keyblade Master. In fact, this is something that happens to both of the other major female characters in Kingdom Hearts 3, with Xion and Aqua needing to be repeatedly saved. This might be a bit overstated as far as Xion is concerned, with her eventually taking over fighting for Axel, but it still takes the revival of Roxas to actually free her from Organization XIII.

In Aqua’s case, she stars in one of the best fights in the game against Vanitas, prefaced with the line, “Sorry, but you’ve seen me too weak too often. Now it’s my turn to shine.” Of course, in true Kingdom Hearts fashion, this epic moment with one of the series’ few female characters is capped off by her losing the fight, sacrificing herself nobly, but still needing to be saved by Ventus in the end. It’s a trend that Square Enix almost seemed to understand needed to be done away with in Re:Mind, but as Melody of Memory relived much of the past, it also revived this trope.

Kairi Gets Saved Again

This is what finally leads to the ending of Melody of Memory, where in a moment that is meant to feel tense as Kairi struggles to fight off Xehanort, she is only able to fight him off by being saved by Sora. It’s fairly ambiguous if this really is meant to be Sora fighting or if it’s Kairi sort of borrowing some of his power, but the lead up to the fight didn’t need to include any other characters at all. The scene even uses a fan favorite moment from Kingdom Hearts 2, with Kairi making her trapped Keyblade disappear and recalling it quickly in order to regain the upper hand.

Taking all of these parts together, it sort of make’s thematic sense for Sora to appear in some way, but having him take over the fight for Kairi just wasn’t necessary. This was the moment for her to stand up for herself and she was performing perfectly, not necessarily winning outright but able to turn the tables when necessary to secure her victories. However, for every time that Kairi succeeds, the game just decides that the unnecessarily included Xehanort memory can grab her Keyblade out of the air and render her useless.

Future of Kingdom Hearts

Now, with everything that is wrong with Kairi having lost the fight, and choosing not to join Riku to find Sora because she hasn’t finished training, there is still potential moving forward. In a post credit’s scene, Melody of Memory sets up for Kingdom Hearts 4, or possibly another spinoff title, where Kairi will be training with Master Aqua. Of course, this is coming off the heels of Kingdom Hearts 3 having had Kairi train in a Dragon Ball-style Hyperbolic Time Forest, but a chance to see two of the most important ladies from the series interact is an exciting idea.

At this point, it’s easy to be pessimistic about whether or not Square Enix can manage to handle these characters in a way that will live up to the build up over the series. However, the Kingdom Hearts series has only lasted this long because players enjoy the wacky, nonsensical storyline and characters that Square Enix has developed over the last two decades. So, it’s more than likely that the developer has a plan in mind and will take fan responses to heart and deliver on Kairi in a way that the character deserves in her next outing.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is available now for PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.

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