By Corey Patterson
Right before the start of E3 this year, we were granted with the release date of the much-anticipated Square Enix game Kingdom Hearts 3: January 29, 2019. The franchise has received a massive influx of fans with the multiple installments throughout the years, and it’s showing no sign of coming down.
I began playing the initial installment, Kingdom Hearts, back in 2004. Aside from the adventurous protagonist Sora and the massive number of Disney-themed characters in the game, I was immediately drawn to the mythology of the story. Beings called ‘heartless’ (those who have lost their hearts to darkness) ravaged the world, and the only hope of survival was a young boy who was granted a weapon fueled by the power of light.
This premise might seem typical of epic tales: The world is taken over by dark forces and one hero must use the power of light to take it back. And while the Kingdom Heartsfranchise does borrow from this archetype, it adds a new twist that flips the classic dichotomy of “dark/light” on its head. The darkness, rather than being a sinister force in and of itself, is a proper part of the world.
In each installment of Kingdom Hearts, we learn a little bit more about the main villain, a heartless who gained strength by consuming hearts. We eventually learn that his true name is Xehanort and discover his motivations for using the darkness. But along the way we learn about the nature of darkness itself.
In beautiful irony, the game gives our favorite happy-go-lucky mouse the role of explaining the darkness.
In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, the second installment in the series, Mickey discusses the darkness that lies within Riku, Sora’s best friend and former rival:
“Until now, I thought darkness was nothing but bad. But my time with you made me change my mind. You’ve chosen a road I never thought of. Light and dark, back to back. With you, they mingle in a way no one’s ever seen before. I want to see where that road leads.” (Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories)
Mickey, rather than condemning Riku for using “the dark,” applauds the boy’s ability to enter the mysterious and frightening aspects of the world, a.k.a. the darkness.
We see this discussion of darkness and light take place again in Kingdom Hearts 2 when Mickey and the keyblade warriors engage with Xemnas (an alternate version of Xehanort). The concept of “fear of the dark” is discussed:
“Aw, we don’t hate it. It’s just kinda…scary. But the world’s made of light AND darkness. You can’t have one without the other, ’cause darkness is half of everything. Sorta makes ya wonder why we are scared of the dark.” (Kingdom Hearts 2)
This nuanced understanding of darkness and our fear of it is explored in detail by Christian theologian Barbara Brown Taylor. Her most recent book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, is a spiritual memoir exploring traditional understandings of darkness.
Throughout the work Taylor expresses reservations about how our language often associates the “good” with light and the “bad” with darkness. She claims shunning everything that relates to darkness might cause us to miss out on important things that could never be found in the light:
“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.” (Taylor, p. 5)
The darkness is frightening and mysterious to most people, but we need it nonetheless. Our souls crave mystery as much as we crave certainty, and sometimes we need to live in the uncertainty of the dark to appreciate the beauty of the light.
Our world is made up of both light and dark, and goodness can be found within both. When we deny darkness, we are claiming that this goodness, or God, cannot work through it. But embracing the darkness allows us to enter the mysteriousness of the world and truly walk by faith.
Corey Patterson is a writer and webmaster. He is passionate about the synthesis of theology and geek/pop culture stories. His interests lie primarily in superhero and fantasy genres. Check out his blog here.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Game Boy Advance, 2004.
Kingdom Hearts 2. PlayStation 2, 2006.
Taylor, Barbara B. Learning to Walk in the Dark. HarperOne. 2014