“Just let go of everything and fade into the darkness.“
“Is there any point in continuing this fight?“
“No one can save you. And no one wants to.“
-Aqua, Kingdom Hearts 0.2:
Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
“No one cares about you.”
“People would be so much happier without you here.”
-Me, when depression takes hold
SPOILER ALERT AND CONTENT WARNING – If you have not played Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, be aware this article discusses the game at length. This article also discusses themes of depression and suicide.
Unlike the other Kingdom Hearts episodes’ connections to mental health, which were notably more subtle, the relevance of the subject in this story was unmistakable. Aqua is literally stuck in darkness, which is how I and others often refer to depression. She battles awful thoughts about herself and all of her hard-earned achievements: “Are you really worthy of being a Keyblade Master?”, and “Your bonds of friendship only tie you down.” She pushes against all her worst fears as she worries that she is no longer loved and no one will ever care to help save her from the darkness. She feels lost and alone, so no matter how tough she starts out being, and as she moves further into the realm, she spirals – making it harder and harder to disprove those dark thoughts…and this is just how the story begins!
Aqua eventually doubts every aspect of her existence as she descends further into her mind, unable to fight off her most negative beliefs about herself. She continuously reminds herself of everything she could have done better; the further she goes, the harder it is to continue to see light. In the meantime, Xehanort (the primary villain in the Kingdom Hearts series,) has the perfect opportunity to exploit her vulnerability and use her to complete his evil scheme. Exhausted from struggling against herself, Aqua loses the ability to feel anything at all. Finally, she gives into her thoughts and sacrifices herself for her friends by literally transforming into one of villain’s puppets.
Aqua’s entire arc is based around how much she values her friends; largely, the only thing keeping her alive is her desire to protect them from harm. From playing the previous games, we know that their current state is dire. When we meet Aqua once again later in the game, it’s clear she believes she hasn’t done enough to protect those she loves from evil’s grasp. Finally, feeling as though there is no other way out, she sacrifices herself. Aqua’s transformation into a Xehanort puppet ( or being ‘Norted, as the internet calls it) is more than a sacrifice of her life for her friends’ – it’s the equivalent of a suicide attempt.
Aqua, like many of us who suffer from depressive thoughts, does not see herself as the reason her friends were protected… or the true reason why darkness ultimately did not take over at the end of Kingdom Hearts 1.5. She sees herself as nothing more than a miserable shell of angry thoughts, without a hope that it will ever get better. And considering that shell only lived to protect others for so long, it’s almost no wonder that she becomes worn down. Sacrificing herself so that the people she lives for can seem noble…but what is nobler is to seek a stronger, clearer purpose; one that fully realizes her own potential as the incredibly strong warrior and role model we all know her to be.
There is a reason that fans gasped when they saw Aqua had changed in the first trailer for what is currently perceived to be the final game in the series. She is supposed to be the one who pulls through, the one who cleans up the mess and sets everyone straight. Seeing the power mental illness has to cloud our judgment is jarring, yet also very real.
Whether she comes back to her normal self will be uncertain until we see and finish the new game; her choice to turn away from light is disheartening to those of us who have heard negative-self talk and work so hard to keep up the good fight, pushing those dark thoughts away. I hope we see Aqua return and inspire those of us still in the clutches of depression once again. Thankfully, Aqua’s support network is strong. She doesn’t have to fight alone. She might not feel them there, and they might be a bit late, but they are coming. I know she is strong enough to push through, and this time fight even harder to be her complete, fulfilled self.
Marie is better known as Mxiety a tea drinker, corgi fanatic and serial worrier. She is dedicated to defeating mental illness stigma and can be found live on Twitch, hosting interviews and researched discussions in written word across the internet, and also as a Take This Streaming Ambassador. You can learn more about her and access other resources at mxiety.com.