The treatment of women in this series



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MelodicEnigma

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Being a damsel in distress and such is an obvious feminine trait that gives a character a reason to be physically female. If a female character, or even a person, has exactly the same traits as males, then they could just genderbender into a male and nothing of value would be lost. And that's why feminism doesn't work. Don't strip characters away from femine traits in an attempt to achieve pointless equality. This defeats the entire purpose of having different genders.
Rather than being an inherent trait of femininity, being a "damsel in distress" is a part of the stereotype of female depiction in media. My point was that Kairi being in distress towards the end isn't devalued because the one who wants to save her is male. The role of "damsel in distress" is a lot more than a circumstance, but an overall portrayal of characterization and function within a story. What you're talking about however, in terms of a female needing to be a character defined by such a portrayal to reflect the purpose of identifying their gender, isn't accurate.

Oh thanks for clearing that up ^^ Though if it's a flawed test, then why use it? Can't we create a better one?
The point of the test is to reveal female presence in the story. It has the goal of seeing how this lines up against the involvement of said characters with males, but again, this quantification has its flaws pertaining context. The fact that it can still passed but hold sexism is important to note.
 

Onion Knight

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Rather than being an inherent trait of femininity, being a "damsel in distress" is a part of the stereotype of female depiction in media. My point was that Kairi being in distress towards the end isn't devalued because the one who wants to save her is male. The role of "damsel in distress" is a lot more than a circumstance, but an overall portrayal of characterization and function within a story. What you're talking about however, in terms of a female needing to be a character defined by such a portrayal to reflect the purpose of identifying their gender, isn't accurate.
I never said women are defined by being a damsel in distress. I actually meant to say that it's only one if the common obviously femine traits. But what WILL define females as a unique gender, though? Being involved in combat just as much as dudes? Because that's what VoidGear and the other are going for. If anything, it will only blur the line between genders, not define it.
 

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I could be wrong, but isn't there some really sexist movies out there that pass the Bechtel Test ?
That's the saddest part.
It's a test so simple that it should be IMPOSSIBLE for any decent form of media not to pass it, yet it still happens so frequently.

I'll be honest, I just can't completely agree with conceptualizing the value of a female character (or devaluing it) based on a check-list factor of her having a relation or motivation with men in her life. Making it about that is kind of petty and inaccurate to what the relationships hold in the context, and believing her ambitions for those she cares about would ultimately change her role simply by replacing one with a female isn't functioning on what Feminism aims to correct in media.
But never did I argue that females aren't allowed to have relationships with male characters. The problem isn't the male-female interaction, it's the absolute failure of delivering female-female interaction or, even worse, independent females who act on their own accord, without direct ties to anything that a male character does.
Of course not all problems would be solved by making a second character female. But I guarantee you, weren't female characters more often than not based on their ability of being partnered with a suiting male character or taken care of one/being taken care of by him, that would already change a lot.

Besides, the stereotypes that revolves around female/male interaction in media, at its core, typically involves tropes that emphasize how men see and treat the women, or, relying on romantic subplot to give them purpose in the medium without much else conviction. (this arguable for Kairi, not Aqua)
I'll be honest, I don't quite understand what you're trying to say here. Like, is that supposed to make it better? If anything, men seeing women this way makes it worse in my opinion, unless I am misunderstanding you, which is possible.

Not to mention, the basic Bechdel test is something Kingdom Hearts initially passes, considering the importance Aqua had in Kairi's life.
Kairi wasn't a main character in BBS, the game where their interaction happened and had most value, so I wouldn't say that this can be counted as passing the test. Besides, even if so, that would mark BBS down, okay. What about the other games? You could argue Kingdom Hearts 2, but I kinda feel like Naminé's role in comparison to other's is still way too small to count her as a main character, either. Which is besides the fact that almost all of Kairi's dialogue with any character in that game revolves around a guy (Sora), which also defeats the purpose of the test again.

That test is only meant to show the presence of women in fiction, and getting to the point where they talk about a male character (if not even that fits the stereotypes above), shouldn't conflict with this notion for this series, i.e. Xion and Namine's interaction or Larxene and Namine.
Again, I doubt that Naminé can be counted as a main character in most installments. Chain of Memories, okay, yeah, but then again I'm less convinced about Larxene here. Yeah, she's somehow part of the big evil, but definitely way less so than Marluxia.

It does present the other issue, which is the lack of female leads. I definitely wish there were more female leads for the sake of characterization in storytelling, but I can't agree with quantifying their value based on if their character involves a male presence.
Like I said above, it's not about the male presence - it's about the lack of anything other than the male presence.

Then Kairi. Yeesh. Again, the part that I find devaluing isn't factored in by the male presence, but rather, how her role was handled directly.
But then, wasn't it handled the way it was because of the male presence? Had she been a princess of heart without being a damsel in distress and a potential love interest and a conflict point for Sora and Riku, wouldn't that have made her importance and relevance change immediately? Had she been a friend to them in the same way that they were friends, without them competing over her and pushing her into the "weak, must be saved, girly" role, her whole story could've gone differently, but since she was, from the beginning, planned to be Sora's motivation throughout the entire series, none of this was ever explored in the way it could have been.

Just to make it clear, though, I never meant to say that the Bechdel test is some sort of gold standard - on the contrary! What I meant to say is merely that a franchise that would hardly pass this test definitely can and needs to be criticised for the writing of their female characters. That doesn't mean that the females or their impact would be perfect if every entry in the series passed the test; I simply find it sad that it doesn't even manage to do that, which should be a given considering the insane amount of characters and installments the series has.
 

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Feminists will never admit defeat, MelodicEnigma, no matter how many times they trip over their own arguments. Just let it rest.
 

MelodicEnigma

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But never did I argue that females aren't allowed to have relationships with male characters. The problem isn't the male-female interaction, it's the absolute failure of delivering female-female interaction or, even worse, independent females who act on their own accord, without direct ties to anything that a male character does.
Of course not all problems would be solved by making a second character female. But I guarantee you, weren't female characters more often than not based on their ability of being partnered with a suiting male character or taken care of one/being taken care of by him, that would already change a lot.
You state it isn't your problem, yet you're still valuing the female motivation based on if it involves a male character. You very much so aren't mentioning how this would be something of different equivalence if her conviction was for a female instead. Aqua's role in the story doesn't fit the bill of her value being placed on being paired with another character or taken care of by them. Yes, her conviction to save her friends, who happen to be male, is within the context of the story, but this isn't something I would count as a failure. You're not applying this accurately to the context of her character.

I'll be honest, I don't quite understand what you're trying to say here. Like, is that supposed to make it better? If anything, men seeing women this way makes it worse in my opinion, unless I am misunderstanding you, which is possible.
I was saying that Kingdom Hearts doesn't have a narrative that supplies to that treatment. In which, the only arguable one is Kairi, but KH3 allowed her to have a role that would become more than the part of her characterization that relates to her romantic implications with Sora. Whether it was a good execution, well, that's another side of the argument.

Kairi wasn't a main character in BBS, the game where their interaction happened and had most value, so I wouldn't say that this can be counted as passing the test. Besides, even if so, that would mark BBS down, okay. What about the other games? You could argue Kingdom Hearts 2, but I kinda feel like Naminé's role in comparison to other's is still way too small to count her as a main character, either. Which is besides the fact that almost all of Kairi's dialogue with any character in that game revolves around a guy (Sora), which also defeats the purpose of the test again.

Again, I doubt that Naminé can be counted as a main character in most installments. Chain of Memories, okay, yeah, but then again I'm less convinced about Larxene here. Yeah, she's somehow part of the big evil, but definitely way less so than Marluxia.

Just to make it clear, though, I never meant to say that the Bechdel test is some sort of gold standard - on the contrary! What I meant to say is merely that a franchise that would hardly pass this test definitely can and needs to be criticised for the writing of their female characters. That doesn't mean that the females or their impact would be perfect if every entry in the series passed the test; I simply find it sad that it doesn't even manage to do that, which should be a given considering the insane amount of characters and installments the series has.
When I speak of the central characters of the game, it's by the overall narrative of the series as a whole. Aka, Kairi, Namine, Aqua, etc are a main, central character of the KH series. You already know how I feel about the merit of said test, so I have nothing more to say there. -shrug-

Also, the test itself doesn't just cover main characters. The fact that one of the criteria's of the female is simply for them to be named reflects this. If we're going to talk about the narrative and characterization of KH's characters, we don't need to be limited to a specific game, considering how the narrative of the overall story is too intertwined to begin with.

Like I said above, it's not about the male presence - it's about the lack of anything other than the male presence.

But then, wasn't it handled the way it was because of the male presence? Had she been a princess of heart without being a damsel in distress and a potential love interest and a conflict point for Sora and Riku, wouldn't that have made her importance and relevance change immediately? Had she been a friend to them in the same way that they were friends, without them competing over her and pushing her into the "weak, must be saved, girly" role, her whole story could've gone differently, but since she was, from the beginning, planned to be Sora's motivation throughout the entire series, none of this was ever explored in the way it could have been.
What you're insinuating is that the reason Kairi's character wasn't fleshed out was for the sake of propagating a male presence, and this isn't accurate considering her character could've been expressed deeper alongside her characterization with Sora. With how KH3 presented the opportunity, this is a direct issue of Nomura's neglect to emphasize that part of her story, but this isn't directly synonymous with what was worked on. Could've easily done both.

I'm more of a direct person. The issues presented within Kairi's role within the story isn't BECAUSE of Sora, but rather what Nomura didn't expand on outside of this. That's a flaw in itself. I understand where you're coming from (mainly with Kairi, not at all with Aqua), but from understanding that the writing for Kairi's character had opened up with possibilities outside of her romantic subplot with Sora, we can affirm that the lack from further emphasizing these possibilities is in itself its own issue—rather than being something that could be fixed by erasing the male presence for her character. There are plenty of females in fiction that can have motivations that stem from a male love interest (since it seems you're trying to stigmatize this particularly with male specifically), but have been shown to have another set of insightful traits that add to their characterization and function within the story. It's rather inadvertent to say that the lack of showing Kairi's training, not showing enough interaction with Aqua, or not having her be a playable character is because of Sora's presence. These are flaws that could be emphasized outside of her relationship with him. KH3 more than any game emphasized the romantic nature that Sora and Kairi shared, this is true, but getting rid of this defeats the purpose of what KH3 also set as a precedent to give her character more moments to shine in the series.

I 100% agree her character needed more exploration, but I will say that this isn't at the cost of stripping Sora away from her characterization. Like I said, I'm more direct. There's nothing wrong with emphasizing that part of her story, but the issues with the parts that weren't, that something that needs to be fixed outside of taking away an important part of her character.
 

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Feminists will never admit defeat, MelodicEnigma, no matter how many times they trip over their own arguments. Just let it rest.
I don't actually agree with you, though. lol

I also don't necessarily disagree with them, either. There is a lack of female presence, and Kairi's character wasn't as emphasized as it should've been. I just don't believe undermining the part of her characterization with Sora is the solution to give her a better standing as a character.
 

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Feminists will never admit defeat, MelodicEnigma, no matter how many times they trip over their own arguments. Just let it rest.
That's enough. This thread isn't the "I want to define gender by my own stupid guidelines" thread.
 

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But then, wasn't it handled the way it was because of the male presence? Had she been a princess of heart without being a damsel in distress and a potential love interest and a conflict point for Sora and Riku, wouldn't that have made her importance and relevance change immediately? Had she been a friend to them in the same way that they were friends, without them competing over her and pushing her into the "weak, must be saved, girly" role, her whole story could've gone differently, but since she was, from the beginning, planned to be Sora's motivation throughout the entire series, none of this was ever explored in the way it could have been.
Exactly this. What folks are missing here is that the way women are portrayed in this game and most media is a direct consequence of centering male characters in the narratives in which they appear, or even within their specific arcs. Hypothesizing a comparable scenario in which only women were centered, but in which they were still poorly portrayed, is not meaningful in this context-- in such a case, the ways in which women are portrayed would automatically differ. While that wouldn't serve as an excuse for bad writing, we can't just dismiss the specific baggage that attends depictions of male-female relationships and how that influences the way they're authored and received.
 

MelodicEnigma

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Exactly this. What folks are missing here is that the way women are portrayed in this game and most media is a direct consequence of centering male characters in the narratives in which they appear, or even within their specific arcs. Hypothesizing a comparable scenario in which only women were centered, but in which they were still poorly portrayed, is not meaningful in this context-- in such a case, the ways in which women are portrayed would automatically differ. While that wouldn't serve as an excuse for bad writing, we can't just dismiss the specific baggage that attends depictions of male-female relationships and how that influences the way they're authored and received.
Honestly, this is just approach.

A conclusion of the females issues in their overall portrayal in this series being a direct consequence of male inclusion or male-female relationships is to be understood as subtextual evaluation. The effect of stereotypical devices in media is something that can't be afforded to be an oversight when it comes to criticism, I do agree and encourage this where it is applicable. But, what isn't being considered is the core, fundamental issue that characters like Kairi face in fictional material—the place in which you've initiated your interpretation from.

Kairi, as many characters in this world before her, suffers from this flaw in character creation: a character given purpose or portrayed in the story only through their role for another character. This fundamental approach in storytelling is something that is held without the regard of gender, race, age, etc. In its own function, it isn't an inherit issue, but it can be once it acts as a restriction that is reflected onto characterization within the narrative of a story. This is mostly done in which it typically prohibits the character to become what is understood as a "Dynamic Character", and their role in the story is emphasized only by their purpose through the other character or as a plot-device in a given circumstance. This is something that applies even to the character's individual agenda to serve the conflict, which is commonly referenced to villains who appear two-dimensional in their characterization at best. Initially, the problem isn't having a character involved with another or being an importance piece of the plot, but rather not using that simply as a stepping stone to further advance their involvement and portrayal in the story—the how, what, and why needs to be given more attention if the character has a prominent role going forward.

Taking this basic understanding of character construction in specific regards to gender tropes, and how this is implemented into a story can't be ignored. I agree. But, settling on this to define all the females in this series, and how this is placed within their purpose of the story—the conclusion of sexism or male inclusion for their issues isn't an omniscient ultimatum to their depiction, or rather, it isn't at the heart of the problems they all face in the narrative. Even implanting the idea that having another character as a center of motivation is in itself an inexorable issue is inaccurate as well, seeing that this completely hinges on the "how" factor in retrospect of what is portrayed in the narrative. Correlation vs. Causation ideals start to swell up when placing male presence in this narrative as the core reasoning for recognizing the issues the female characters face in this game—primarily to the females that this isn't an applicable use to understand their portrayal. Stating that it is a direct consequence, as such if to be regarded as an inevitable trait in effect, is stigmatizing the very notion of having male/female coexistence in storytelling. It is here where it seems an obvious double standard is designed by the specific inclusion of male counterparts, as opposed to it being a general foundation of flaws in character construction. However, we can understand the issues with the application of male-female relationships to certain female characters to a degree, as characters like Kairi have had another character define her presence in the story since the beginning.

Of course, we can all choose to see what we want to see, that's not something I can do anything about, and I've already said quite enough in this topic. I know what lens you're firm on using to understand the issues for all female characters in the series—so agree to disagree. I can't ignore the issues of Kairi's character, but what I do understand is that the core issue goes beyond the male-female relationship she has with Sora. KH3 had high expectations to rectify the lack of presence and depth of her character, and, well...Nomura failed to exceed the previous writings of his games in KH3 concerning her characterization, and with how easily this was to be presented in the narrative—I understand too that this missed potential reflects his ability to not take advantage of character development as a whole. I can still understand the conclusion of centering her issue around male-female relationship tropes—it's an interesting picture to paint to understanding part of the flaws in Kairi's character despite these issues going deeper than the direct placement of gender, i.e. this wouldn't serve a different function if Sora was a female instead and if she was still given the same treatment—the core, fundamental issue in character construction is still there regardless of female-female relationship. However, issues of male-female portrayal in media isn't an ultimate appliance for every damn female in the game. Relating the issues Kairi has faced since the very beginning to Aqua's character is an inadvertent placement of criticism, especially when the foundation of this correlation relies on the male presence alone. The treatment between them in regards to this is not nearly the same degree, and it isn't functioning as a clear problem for characters like Aqua (who arguably is the most used/expressed character of the BBS narrative) and Xion (who in some eyes, took over Roxas' narrative in Days) to begin with. Their issues don't rely on the gender of those involved in their narrative, so I see no point in enforcing it where it isn't applicable.
 
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Anyway. I don't know what Nomura was thinking with Kairi. I know he heard how many fans wanted Kairi included in the action and doing cool stuff and holding her ground and all of that.

After thinking about it for a few hours, I've replayed the events of the ending in my head without Kairi getting kidnapped and killed and.... all the events play out exactly the same??? I don't understand the necessity to make her a damsel in distress. Xehanort did it to "motivate Sora". Motivate him for what??? Xehanort already got what he wanted at that point. He wouldn't want Sora to fight back. He'd want him to go away, right? Sora was already motivated to stop Xehanort who not only hurt all of his friends, but to stop Xehanort from literally destroying the entire universe. Is that not motivation enough?

The only thing I can come up with is Nomura needed Sora to disappear, and the only reason he could find is that he dives to a place he shouldn't just to get her back. But what's even sillier is that Nomura doesn't even show this happening. It's just implied. Huh?

If you needed Sora to disappear, why not make up some crap about needing to use "everything you have" to close Kingdom Hearts back up and of course, Sora volunteers to do the thing. Maybe even a callback to Sora's sacrifice in KH1 or something. If Nomura was so hell-bent on SoKai stuff, he could've just used that moment. I dunno.

I'm not sure if it's sexism, or just out of touch? Or maybe Nomura's living out his personal fantasies? I just can't label him as sexist because technically, Aqua is a great character. BbS was great. 0.2 was great. Even KH3 was alright save a few weird choices (I can understand her shock at Terranort and freezing up at the huge demon hurricane given everything that's happened to her. But the whole Vanitas fight situation was... weird)

I felt like he really skimped out on Xion in this game, but even she was written relatively well. She held her own. Protected her friends. Reassured the hero. Namine didn't get much screen time, but everyone treated her respectfully even though she wasn't present. She turned the tides of the final battle in a big way as well.

But Kairi? I'm beginning to wonder if he hates her for some reason. Her specifically. I feel really bad for Kairi fans to be honest. I'm pretty neutral on Kairi overall, but dang that was really messed up. I did expect more from Nomura on this. I thought Kairi would finally get a moment to shine... I dunno man. All those headcanons over the years of Kairi being the spunky berserker has been flushed down the toilet.
 

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I haven’t read anything in this thread, just wanted to post my own response to the game in regards to this. I’m sad Namine didn’t get much screentime, but I’m forgiving about that since she at least wasn’t forgotten. But I hope she’ll have more interaction with Sora in the next game. I didn't see anything wrong with the way Xion was dealt with in this game. I don't mind that she or Aqua cried when they were brought back to themselves, considering how much of a horror show they were put through. Both those scenes made me cry, too. Terra had it pretty awful himself, but he had Eraqus with him to make it a little bearable waiting all that time to be rescued, didn't he?

I don’t feel like there was anything wrong with Aqua in this game? BbS ends with the guarantee that she will be saved from the RoD by Sora, and that’s what happened. She fights Vanitas and saves Ventus. I don’t feel like her power as a character was diminished in this game.

Kairi, on the other hand, definitely got screwed. But considering Kairi has never been anything more than a less appealing Princess Peach damsel for Sora to run after, it didn’t bother me. Plus I don’t like Kairi, so I was almost hoping she would stay dead.
J/k but I did think about it…
 

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Agree so much, at least Princess Peach has her own game where she saves Mario and Luigi for once and I swear she's also playable in Mario 2 and in one of the newer Mario games. You know you have fucked up when your female main lead is more of a damsel than a character that was created in the mid 80's.
 

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im a little late to the party but i thought id throw in my two cents
firstly, real quick it kinda got explained but to clear up any confusion, the point of the Bechdel Test is not to be the Ultimate Feminist Criteria, but rather it's literally just the absolute minimum requirement. the lowest possible bar.
1. two or more named female characters 2. who talk to each other 3. about something other than a man.
there's a good handful of scenes in KH (between original characters, not counting disney) that meet the first two requirements but almost all of them fail to meet the third. the scenes between namine and xion, and namine and larxene, typically end up being about sora or roxas. it struck me that
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secondly, i can agree that problems with kairi's writing don't directly stem from her relationship to sora (or riku) and she could be a marvellously written character even with all the implications she and sora have throughout the series. but i'd still prefer she be rewritten without that subplot entirely, because it was inherently unnecessary from the beginning. there was no reason to have a romantic subplot between the male and female leads at any point in the series, and the only reason there was is Heteronormativity. the very notion that they needed to be written in such a way is ridiculous. let the series be about friendship like it should be.

thirdly, i was banking on
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After thinking about it for a few hours, I've replayed the events of the ending in my head without Kairi getting kidnapped and killed and.... all the events play out exactly the same??? I don't understand the necessity to make her a damsel in distress. Xehanort did it to "motivate Sora". Motivate him for what??? Xehanort already got what he wanted at that point. He wouldn't want Sora to fight back. He'd want him to go away, right?
No. At that point, Sora was suggesting he wouldn't clash with MX to create the final keys. MX wanted Sora to fight so that they would be made.

I'm not sure if it's sexism, or just out of touch? Or maybe Nomura's living out his personal fantasies? I just can't label him as sexist because technically, Aqua is a great character. BbS was great. 0.2 was great.
I mean, most people aren't like... openly, explicitly sexist. I don't think Nomura hates women or anything like that. But we all live in a sexist society, and its messages, culture, etc is ingrained into us from birth and limits perspectives, imaginations, etc. Odds are that Nomura doesn't explicitly hold regressive beliefs, but the learned behaviour, cultural norms, gendered beliefs, etc. influence him unknowingly. I don't think when he sat down to write KH3 he was like "well we can't make Kairi do anything. she's a woman" but maybe when he tried to think of Kairi's role, the only possibilities he could imagine had her play similar roles. This is part of why representation is so important because they do shape the unconscious beliefs of what is possible. Consider also how nearly all the female characters we do have are all cut of the same cloth, being small, petite, soft, innocent, very feminine, etc. I don't think these are necessarily conscious decisions being made, so much as limited imaginations. Consider this quote from Chimamanda Ngozi:

"So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become. . . . But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."

Media is dominated by poorly written women with limited roles, and they happen so often, so frequently, so persistently, that it shapes what people believe is possible. And that's not even getting into any larger societal issues, too.

It's clear though that for all of his desire to be surprising and subvert expectations, he never thinks to extend that to his female characters.


I'm also surprised that no one here has yet mentioned how KH3 introduces a woman into Lea & Isa's story to serve, once again, as a damsel, motivator, thing to cause mangst over. It's just kind of a shame. I feel like over and over again Nomura begins to set up these women as about to do something crucial and then at the last minute twists it to remove their agency or impact. Set Kairi up to be important in DDD, to be the key to Xehanort's downfall even, continue to set it up with her training, only then to end that too. (To be a bit fair, Lea's training also kind of gets shafted. All that build up just for Xemnas to break his Keyblade. Was this Nomura trying to be surprising? By building these two up just to have their moments usurped? At this point it would be more surprising to have them actually fulfilled). Even Ava suffers from this. When it's first introduced, Ava's Dandelions felt like her making the choice to go against what was established, to gather wielders regardless of union status in order to save the light. But even this turns out to be just the machinations of another male character. She doesn't even end up getting to choose Ephemer of her own accord.

I don't know. It's clear this is a pattern that isn't going to change any time soon, so I don't blame people for deciding to leave. But I also don't think it's Nomura's fault alone either. KH1, CoM, KH2, these games weren't much better in these regards either. Even Days, like... I feel like Nomura's original plan for Xion (to have her fight against Roxas because she wanted to keep her existence, wanted to be the real one, etc) was stronger than what he changed it to at the insistence of the other staff members wanting her to "stay innocent". It's a problem of more than just one person.
 

Onion Knight

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Just cause you don't think this discussion is valuable, doesn't mean we shouldn't keep talking about it.
Same goes to you too. Just because you think this descussion is valuable, doesn't mean we should still talk about it.
 

Sephiroth0812

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There is an easy solution to this though.
Those who don't want to engage in this discussion or see no value in it can, y'know, just ignore the whole thread.

There is no obligation to engage or read anything stated here.
 
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