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“Why can’t Sora be this quick on the uptake?” Joshua asks Sora’s deeply protective childhood friend who one might expect to be offended at the cruel implications of his words.

But Riku is not offended. With a fond grin on his face, he replies, “Yeah, well, Sora’s a little…”

And they both have a cruel laugh at Sora’s expense.

A cruel laugh indeed.

The thing that gets me about this scene is the way Riku refuses to defend Sora’s honor. Some guy he barely knows just politely called Sora stupid. You’d think he’d politely ask Joshua not to call Sora stupid. The least he could do would be not agree with him, but that’s just it. Riku does agree with him.

The way Riku trails off tells us all we need to know—in his heart of hearts, Riku thinks that Sora is stupid. Why did the game go out of its way to show that Riku thinks Sora is stupid? Riku’s reply to Joshua could have easily been, “So what do you want?” That would be a little rude, but that would be totally in character because Riku is a little rude. We know this about Riku because Sora says it while talking to the emperor in the Land of Dragons:

Sora with a speech bubble saying, "Rude? Then it WAS Riku!"

I tend to believe the things Sora says about Riku, in the same way I believe the things Riku says about Sora. They’re each other’s closest friend, so we can trust what they say about each other.

If Riku says that Sora is stupid, I assume that’s what the writers were really going for. If Riku says it, it must be true.

But it’s not true. I swear on all the graves in the Keyblade Graveyard that Sora was never stupid before Dream Drop Distance. He was silly and naïve, but never stupid.

From the beginning of KINGDOM HEARTS, we see that Sora is the type of guy who takes things at face value. He tends to instantly believe and trust the people he meets on his journey without stopping to wonder if he’s being told the truth.

Luckily for Sora, he mostly meets Disney characters and FINAL FANTASY heroes. We the audience know these characters are the good guys, but they’re complete strangers to Sora. If you strip away all of the context from their movies, Sora befriends and believes some questionable people.

In Deep Jungle, a man wearing only a loincloth comes up to Sora and tells him he can lead him to his friends. We the audience know that it’s just Tarzan from Disney’s Tarzan, but from Sora’s perspective, a mostly naked stranger just asked him to follow him into the jungle so he could take him to his friends. Just replace “friends” with “candy” and that’s Kidnapper 101.

In Halloween Town you have Jack Skellington, an eight-foot-tall skeleton man whose goal in life is to scare children. He wants Sora’s help with an invention that can control the Heartless. He claims he wants the Heartless to dance for a performance, but what if that’s a lie? What if he wants to control the Heartless for more nefarious purposes? What if he wants to take over the world? What if he’s working with Maleficent? None of this occurs to Sora as he immediately trusts that Jack has a good reason for wanting to control soul-stealing monsters.

At the Olympus Coliseum, Hades pops up out of nowhere and offers Sora a ticket for the games. I don’t mean to profile grayish-blue men with flaming hair and claws, but Hades is clearly not one of the good guys, and Sora doesn’t seem to notice at all. You’d think he’d be a little hesitant to be talking to this creepy if not totally evil guy. Instead, he accepts Hades’ ticket and goes on his merry way. Again, replace “ticket” with “candy” and we have a recipe for kidnapping.

None of this makes Sora stupid. KINGDOM HEARTS as we know it wouldn’t exist if Sora didn’t immediately trust the Disney characters, but his trusting nature is more than just a tool to facilitate the story. It reflects a character trait that’s been with Sora throughout the series, and that trait is naïveté. He’s not stupid, just a little inexperienced and innocent of the outside world.

It doesn’t occur to Sora that he should be wary of any of these people because nothing all that bad has ever happened to him while living on his paradise island. When he first ventures into the outside world, his ability to detect stranger danger is a little lacking.

By KINGDOM HEARTS II, Sora has a lot more experience with the outside world, but he is still deeply trusting of the people he meets, including literal pirates. He generally still takes people at face value, and nothing demonstrates Sora’s trusting mindset better than his introduction to Mulan.

When Sora first meets Mulan, she’s dressed as a boy and Mushu is calling her a boy, and so that’s how Sora perceives her. Sora doesn’t notice that she’s stumbling over her words or that she doesn’t seem all that comfortable in this persona. If he does notice, he probably just assumes Ping is a nervous kind of guy.

The truth is that Sora is a naïve kind of guy. He is genuinely shocked to find out that Mulan is a girl, to which Mushu responds that Sora would “fall for anything.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say Sora would fall for anything, but Mushu has clearly caught on to Sora’s overly trusting nature.

Sora in the forest saying "I'm right here!" right after Mushu's insult to his intelligence.
Sora defending himself against Mushu’s callous words.

KINGDOM HEARTS II strikes a good balance between a naïve, goofy Sora and a more experienced, aware Sora. He’s more secure in his knowledge of the outside world, yet he still maintains his innocent mindset. This time on Olympus Coliseum, Sora knows that Hades is not one of the good guys and treats him as such. Nevertheless, Hades still manages to manipulate him into unlocking the Underworld’s Underdrome by kidnapping Meg. Sora doesn’t stop to think that there might be some deeper reason behind the kidnapping. He takes it at face value and never even realizes that he was tricked.

Again, this isn’t stupidity, just inexperience. Sora hasn’t learned that Hades always has ulterior motives and meanings and can’t be trusted in any capacity. Heck, even Hercules doesn’t really learn this until the end of his movie.

Despite his continued inexperience, it’s still clear that Sora has learned from his previous journey and had some character growth since the last game.

Then Dream Drop Distance comes around, throws that growth out the window and introduces us to a Sora who is clueless at best and completely stupid at worst. Dream Drop Distance would have you believe that Sora is a moron, but it’s nothing but vicious slander against Sora’s intelligence.

I really enjoy Dream Drop Distance, but Sora’s stupidity in that game can be so bad that it takes me out of it a little bit.

The moment that frustrates me the most is from the beginning of Dream Drop Distance when he first meets Neku. Sora asks him what his name is, but before Neku can answer, a bunch of evil Dream Eaters surrounds them and he shouts, “Dream Eaters!”

Sora’s reply? “That’s a weird name.”

What is wrong with this boy? Who would believe that’s a name? Who among the audience would believe a human could be this stupid? This extreme stupidity is sudden and wildly out of character for Sora. Going from the Sora we had before to the Sora of Dream Drop Distance is incredibly abrupt, and I truly have no idea why there’s such a sudden shift in his character.

By the time KINGDOM HEARTS III comes around, Sora has recovered some of his intelligence, but he’s still not all there. There’s this underlying cluelessness to his character, a goofy fog he never wakes from. He never seems completely stupid to me, just a little ditzy.

The moment that really drives this home for me is the final scene in Kingdom of Corona, where we see Rapunzel and Eugene making googly eyes at each other. Eugene tells her, “I’ve saved plenty of Fitzherbert-y secrets just for you.”

This is the kind of joke that’s supposed to fly over the kids’ heads while the adults understand precisely what Mr. Fitzherbert is getting at. I’m sure Eugene thinks he’s being really smooth and romantic. Then enter Sora, who, like a small innocent child, interrupts their moment to be like, “Hey! What are you guys talking about?”

Sora pointing at Rapunzel and Eugene saying, "Hey! What are you two lovebirds talking about?"
The face of a man who realizes he messed up.

Sora from KINGDOM HEARTS clearly does not understand sexual innuendo. Never did I ever think I would type those words, yet here we are.

I’ve always been a little bit bewildered by his innocence here. You would think a teenager his age would understand what was going on here, but he doesn’t. It’s funny, but it also makes me wonder if Sora knows where babies come from. I feel like this scene proves that he doesn’t. Whatever the case may be, this moment shows Sora to be quite innocent for his age, even accounting for the year he lost in the sleeping pod.

While this particular moment in KINGDOM HEARTS III gives us a Sora who is really, really oblivious, he is far from stupid in this game. He’s innocent as usual, incredibly carefree and full of wonder, and he does have moments of clarity. He manages to figure out how to open a Keyblade wormhole mere moments after hearing about “May your heart be your guiding key.”

The Gummi Ship floating before a wormhole in space.
In this instance, Sora is very quick on the uptake.

I’ve spent this whole time defending Sora’s intelligence, but there is one thing I will concede—Sora dropped out of middle school to go fight monsters and save the world, and he never went back. It’s been about two years, maybe longer, and he hasn’t had any schooling. There’s not much time for school when you’re living out of a Gummi Ship and hopping between worlds. Are Donald and Goofy teaching him? Is that any better than having no education?

Despite having no booksmarts, Sora has something else that’s possibly even more powerful—Sora has loads of emotional intelligence.

While I’ve spent a good amount of time criticizing Dream Drop Distance and its vicious slander against Sora’s intelligence, I have to admit that it has one of the best if not the best example of Sora’s emotional intelligence.

At the very beginning, Yen Sid tells Sora and Riku that they’ll need to be tested for the “mark of a true Keyblade master.” Sora tries to deny that he and Riku need to be tested at all, but when he looks to Riku for back up, Riku is hesitant to agree with him. Believing there to still be darkness in his heart, he’s incredibly uncertain of himself. “Maybe I do need to be tested,” Riku says, and that’s when something clicks for Sora.

Upon hearing Riku doubt himself, Sora changes his tune and immediately tells Yen Sid to bring on the test. While Sora likely hasn’t changed his mind about needing to be tested, he’s realized that this test is something Riku needs in order to overcome his self-doubt.

Someone with less emotional intelligence might continue to try to convince Riku that they don’t need this test, but Sora is able to clearly recognize Riku’s internal struggle and what he needs to be able to overcome it. He’s hyper in tune with the emotional needs of others. It’s why he’s able to make friends so instantaneously throughout his travels.

When Marshmallow the rampaging snow monster shows up totally ready to kill him and his friends, Sora manages to recognize that this creature is not actually dangerous. He’s just worried about their mutual friend Elsa, and just needs a little bit of reassurance and calming down. Sora successfully soothes the savage beast, realizing that he is not such a savage beast and is actually friend shaped. In the words of Goofy:

Goofy whispering to an angry Donald, "One great thing about Sora—he can always make friends with anybody.
Goofy is right, but this doesn’t appease Donald’s rage.

Throughout KINGDOM HEARTS, Sora shows innocence and wonder, cluelessness and naïveté. These characteristics demonstrate inexperience, but at the core of his character, he is not a stupid person. Dream Drop Distance mischaracterizes him and greatly exaggerates his cluelessness and wonder in a way that makes him come off as stupid, and this “stupid” reputation has stuck with him for nearly a decade. He can be a little oblivious sometimes, but he is a smart kid. He has the emotional maturity to deeply understand people and befriend them wholeheartedly.

Sora would not possess such a gift if he did not have such vast emotional intelligence. He has a very specific talent, the talent of connecting with people. This talent allows him insight into the hearts of others, and someone perceptive enough to apply their talent so consistently well in different situations can’t be dumb.

sora, riku, dream drop distance, kh1, kh2, kh3


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