ATB’s Top 25 Male Characters: (3) Riku

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Once we go through, there’s no turning back. It’s victory…or oblivion. So, Sora…are you ready? Do you remember before? We stood facing each other on opposite sides of that door. Now we stand side-by-side. Let’s go home together this time.

We’re now into the final stretch as the top 25 rolls along with our top 10 characters. Tomorrow, our list continues the countdown to the #1 male video game character of all-time on Aug. 31.

3) Riku (Kingdom Hearts) – 5 votes/286 points

Chris: I think I was supposed to hate Riku in the first Kingdom Hearts game. Here’s the problem — even as he was dealing with his insecurities and dipping his heart into the vat of darkness, he was still more interesting than Sora. Sora spends his time leaping between worlds and getting distracted by anything shiny. When the two reunite for the first time in Traverse Town, Riku seems disappointed that Sora spends his time talking about Gummi Ships (ugh…) and his new friends instead of trying to find Kairi — AND HE’S RIGHT TO BE.

Even before that, Riku was superior. He beat me in a race to name our raft, and I wasn’t even mad. He seemed eager to leave Destiny Islands, but who wouldn’t want to get the hell out of there? All it had was parents, the awful Tidus/Wakka/Selphie combo, and a bunch of sand and invisible walls. Count me out.

But it’s everything that happens AFTER the original games that elevates Riku from a good to a great character. In KH2, he works tirelessly to help regain Sora’s memories, even though his battle with the darkness has caused him to take on Ansem’s form. He saves Sora’s life in Dream Drop Distance.

However, it’s Riku’s struggle to understand and utilize the darkness inside of him — without allowing it to consume him — that really makes the difference. This happens primarily in Chain of Memories, and…well, Shaun will explain it better than I could.

Shaun: Riku sucked in Kingdom Hearts 1. There, I said it. From the moment he invited me to take his hand and step into a GIANT TSUNAMI, I was like “nah brah, I’m good.” From there, he only got more irritatingly bitter and self-pitying.

However, I will also argue that this terrible start is the main reason why he’s the number three best character on our list. Because, as I’ve mentioned before on this list, I ultimately judge characters by where they end up and how they got there, not where they started. And boy, does Riku get somewhere.

As early as Chain of Memories, Riku already started shifting my perspective of him….but being a gigantic bad-ass and stealing the show from Sora, in large part because the game throws you a killer swerve at the end of Sora’s campaign. You know that annoying Riku you’ve been fighting the whole time in Castle Oblivion? Yeah, that’s not him. In reality, he’s been fighting for the redemption of his soul right alongside you.

And that reflects the compelling duality represented by Riku. Unlike his saccharine bestie, Sora, Riku struggles with the darkness inside of him. Doing what’s right isn’t EASY for him. He has to work his ass off for it. But in a way, doesn’t that truly make him more of a hero than Sora, for whom the perspective of the optimist comes naturally?

Despite his struggles, he still manages to kick considerable amount of ass, but ever since Chain of Memories, everything he does stems from his desire to protect his friends. He’s not out to establish a legacy or be the hero — he just wants to watch over his BFF’s, and that’s why he’s the best character in Kingdom Hearts.

Joseph: I don’t think I have the whole picture of Riku. To me, he was the jerk who ruined my island paradise, argued with me every chance he got and was basically a big pain in my neck until late in Kingdom Hearts II when he started to try to redeem himself. Hold on, this is what Wikipedia is for … okay, I’m back. Turns out he was much more helpful than I originally thought. His work in other games has apparently made him a more central character to a series I enjoy. I’ll have to take some time to play Chain of Memories and Birth by Sleep. Hopefully, I’ll gain the same respect for him shown by other members of the ATB crew.

Jason: Do you remember when you played the first Kingdom Hearts and said to yourself, “Man, I’m such a badass!” No? Well that’s probably because Riku was stealing all your fun. His only downside? He was kind of a bad guy — only not really. As the games have progressed, he’s only managed to get MORE awesome, and is something of a full-blown hero in his own right now.

Michaela: Riku is the most well-written character in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. He’s grown so much since the first game, it makes you wonder if he’s the same person anymore. He started out as the standard competitive rival to Sora, even turning against him, but Riku grows through his battle with the darkness in his heart and strives to protect his friends to the point where he disregards his own well-being. It leads to some pretty epic moments and fights in the series revolving around him as a result, and now that he’s a Keyblade Master, he’ll only continue to grow and be a trusted ally.

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