The Kingdom Hearts series is known for drawing parallels between some of the most prominent characters featured in spin-offs and numbered titles. This is most noticeable in the direct comparison that can be made between the darker hero of Birth by Sleep Terra and Riku from the original Kingdom Hearts titles.
On a superficial level, many fans know that the names of Riku and Terra are similar, and both are usually equated to “earth” or “earth” in Japanese and Latin, respectively. However, looking at the paths of these two in the Kingdom Hearts series, there is an amazing amount of overlap in their narratives, both with the forces they rely on and with the people who try to manipulate them.
Terra and Riku as the masters of the key blade, immersed in darkness
When it comes to comparing Riku and Terra, the most obvious place to start is to see how both use the powers of Light and Darkness throughout the series. In the case of the Kingdom Hearts series, Light and Darkness are not so much moral ambiguities or sides of another force, but real powers of magic that can be used by characters such as Riku and Terra. From the very beginning of the series, it is shown that Riku has a certain affinity for darkness, and the same is seen with the appearance of Terra from “Birth in a Dream”.
For Riku, he is initially presented as young and more than arrogant, always has to be better than the main character of the main series Sora, and he needs to prove himself – something that seduces him with the power of Darkness. On the other hand, Terra struggles to control the Darkness that naturally exists in his heart, relying only on this power as he desperately seeks confirmation and strength to protect his friends. In any case, this need to become the strongest is what opens up both characters to be manipulated by the main antagonist of the series, Master Xehanort.
Both characters end up in Kingdom Hearts Big-Bad Xehanort
Up until Kingdom Hearts 3, Master Xehanorth and his numerous copies were the main antagonists of the series, using not only brute force to achieve their goals. Whether considering the beginning of the “Dark Seeker Saga” as the first Kingdom Hearts or a prequel to “Birth in a Dream”, Xehanorth always starts by contacting one of these two Keyblade owners and manipulating them. In the case of Terra, he uses his status as a recognized Master of the Key Blade and a friend of Erakus, appearing in the image of the father, to encourage the disciple in conflict to bend to the power of Darkness. Then a similar tactic works for Riku, only this time promising freedom from the Islands of Fate to the potential owner and his friends.
Regardless of the initial manipulations that Xehanorth uses in Kingdom Hearts games, the result is the same for both: the antagonist eventually gains control of both characters. Interestingly, it also highlights how similar Terra and Riku’s relationship is with others when their friends come to strip Xehanort of full control in one final confrontation. Although Riku is only under the control of Xehanort (who called himself Ansem at the time) for a short time, Terra unfortunately takes much longer to reunite with her friends and regain control of herself.
The divergence of Terra and Riku begins with Maleficent
In addition to the depressing fate of Terra, which led to the final confrontation that freed him in Kingdom Hearts 3, another important difference between these two characters can be seen in the secondary antagonist of the series. Disney villain Maleficent has been acting as a constant obstacle to Sora, Riku and Kairi since the very first Kingdom Hearts, and she appears periodically throughout the rest of the series. In fact, Maleficent’s original role as the main villain before “Ansem” was revealed to be the antagonist of the turn also makes her a mentor for Riku, and Maleficent leads him on the path to Darkness.
Interestingly, although Terra initially follows Maleficent’s orders and is under her control for a short time, he turns against the villain almost immediately. Terra’s interaction with Maleficent turns out to be a small omen of what will happen to Xehanorth, but he can see through her manipulations much faster, since he is not blinded by the status of the Master of the Key Blade. Perhaps Terra was older than Riku when he first met Maleficent, or the discipline Eracus gave while learning to wield the magic key blades of Kingdom Hearts may give him clarity against her. Despite this, Terra can succeed where Riku fails by resisting the promises of Maleficent’s power.
This single change with Maleficent actually acts as the main catalyst for the different paths that Riku and Terra end up on.