Gabe Durham is the founding editor & publisher of Boss Fight Books. He is the author of a previous Boss Fight entry, Bible Adventures, and a novel, Fun Camp. He lives in Los Angeles.

Michael P. Williams is a writer, researcher, and Japanese specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. He has taught English in Fukushima City, Japan, and he lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Boss Fight Books: Nightmare Mode by Gabe Durham and Michael P. Williams

So you've managed to best our most fearsome books? Well gear up, brave adventurer: It's time for some DLC. Boss Fight's authors have done so much great writing you won't find in their books, so we decided to put together our very own B-sides & rarities compilation: Nightmare Mode.

In this anthology you'll delve into lost chapters and timely essays in which Boss Fight authors return to the games and series that inspired their full-length titles. Inside you'll encounter:

David L. Craddock on how Shovel Knight's developers collaborated with speedrunners,
Alexa Ray Corriea on the characters and themes in Kingdom Hearts III,
Alyse Knorr on how Princess Peach's story draws on 2000 years of women in peril,

Alex Kane interviews the man behind Star Wars Battlefront II's use of motion capture technology,

Salvatore Pane on the fan projects that have kept the Mega Man series alive,
Philip J Reed interviews S.D. Perry about her beloved Resident Evil novels,

Gabe Durham on how Zelda's fandom influenced the official Zelda timeline,
Jon Irwin savors the anticipation of waiting for a new Mario game,
Chris Kohler interviews Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu about his legendary soundtracks,

and Michael P. Williams on how Chrono Trigger fits into the Japanese tradition of retrofuturism.

If you've read these authors' Boss Fight Books, Nightmare Mode offers you a fresh angle on a familiar topic. And if you're just encountering their writing for the first time and you like what they have to say, we've got whole new books awaiting you.


As a Boss Fight Books author (Shovel Knight, 2018), I can tell you that the publisher's editors know how to carve tight stories from any manuscript that lands on their desk. That means material gets left on the cutting room floor. Nightmare Mode assembles some of those lost chapters and essays from various authors into a volume as tightly made as any of Boss Fight's other excellent game retrospectives. If you collect Boss Fight volumes, you'll want this in your collection. – David L. Craddock



  • "Games writing in the '90s was about the here and now, what's next, and the potential for the future. Now, 25 years later, we still explore the diversifying future of gaming, but also have a rich history that can retroactively teach us about what may be coming next. That's what Boss Fight Books is all about: old games and new perspectives. New ways of understanding video games, the people who make them, and the people who play them. A meeting of the past, the present, and the future."

    – Aidan Moher, Fanbyte



Darkness, Rage, and the Power of Waking: Self and Survival in Kingdom Hearts III

Alexa Ray Corriea

This one's for Camillethe real Princess of Heart.

I watched the credits roll on Kingdom Hearts III—the game I had been waiting on for over a decade—alone in darkness.

I never thought I'd finish Kingdom Hearts III as the person I was now, a person wholly different from the girl who placed Kingdom Hearts II in her PlayStation 2 nearly fifteen years ago, the young woman who stayed up late at night playing Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep on her PlayStation Portable, or even the working adult who played Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for her first professional game review. The years had been both kind and cruel, and after a traumatic brain injury the struggle inside me had become louder, a raging storm of darkness that threatened to swallow me whole. Like Riku, I was battling my inner demons and determined to turn them from weakness to strength, using them to guide my hand in reaching out to others and creating things, stories, that would maybe help someone else find their light. It was, is, an exhausting fight without end.

I never thought of myself as like Sora anyway—carefree, seemingly immune to that darkness—but the deeper I felt myself fall under that shroud of darkness, the longer I let it hold me, the stronger I felt that maybe I belonged down there. Down in the darkness with the Heartless.

After such a long time waiting, here it was: I had the bittersweet end of Sora's story. Sora braved the darkest depths of the trippiest hell in the name of love, building friendships and breaking and rebuilding himself along the way. Kingdom Hearts III included perhaps the most ham-fisted metaphor I have ever seen for getting your shit together, and because I am a sucker for grand sweeping metaphors about love and friendship, it moved me profoundly.

I began my journey through Kingdom Hearts with family and friends beside me. These same people walked the road with me, no matter the stakes, no matter the cost, as far as they could go. But they can't go with me right to the end. While support from your loved ones is powerful, it's not within their power to do the work for you.

You can start the journey together, but you can only finish it alone. However, whether or not you finish it in one piece is entirely dependent on you.


Previous Kingdom Hearts games had focused on the power of darkness. The darkness gave you power the light couldn't. The darkness made you stronger and smarter and taught you the truth of existence. The darkness would cleanse the world and restore the balance that the light had completely ruined.

The presence of darkness can be an impetus for good things. Just look at Riku, who over the course of the series used the darkness within him as a powerful motivator to fight for his friends and bolster his belief in himself. Throughout the series, he found his identity through the darkness, and turned his greatest weakness into his greatest strength.

In the Kingdom Hearts series, darkness is a force that is mostly spoken of as being bad, but it can be used for good in rare instances. In Kingdom Hearts III, this theme is expressed in an ability called the "power of waking." According to the sorcerer Yen Sid, the power of waking is "the power to free a heart from its sleep." This is a power that very few in the Kingdom Hearts universe possess. Yen Sid, as one of the original Keyblade wielders and King Mickey's teacher, has this power. Naturally, so does King Mickey. And after the events of 2012's Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Riku can claim mastery of this power as well. Sora, our hero, does not have this power.

The key plot point in Dream Drop Distance centers around this power of waking. In the game's final moments, Sora's heart is corrupted by darkness in a moment of weakness. Because of this he is prohibited from learning this power, allowing uber-villain Xehanort to prime Sora for his own devious uses. Desperate to save his friend, Riku manifests the power to enter Sora's heart as it sleeps in a blanket of darkness, and Riku succeeds in defeating the shadows there. Eerily, the shadow waiting to fight Riku and swallow Sora's heart is a corrupted version of Ventus in his Keyblade Armor. And Ventus, you will remember, is the name of the person whose heart has been sleeping inside Sora's for over a decade, waiting to be reunited with his body.

So Riku learns the power of waking and Sora gets a giant F for not only failing his Mark of Mastery exam, but also for falling into darkness right in the middle of it. Though Sora could wield the Keyblade prior to this test, he does not pass, and therefore he is not a true Keyblade Master. And so it is Riku who accompanies King Mickey on his search for the lost Keyblade Master Aqua through the Realm of Darkness. Defeated but not discouraged, Sora packs his bags and goes off to train some more, eager to match his friend.

But Sora doesn't ever seem to understand exactly what the power of waking is, nor is the audience ever really given the bottom line on its abilities. But we are made aware of its limitations, explicitly, and loudly, and repeatedly. The power of waking can be used to traverse the Realm of Darkness and travel between worlds using dark wormholes (called Corridors of Darkness) unscathed, which is a huge and very important detail. It's why Sora can't travel between worlds at all without using one of the Gummi Ships, the blocky vessels that help characters traverse between the game's worlds. Throughout Kingdom Hearts III, Riku and King Mickey travel back and forth from this dark realm on their search for Aqua, sometimes having to retreat from powerful encounters to recharge and strategize. They do it seemingly effortlessly, so it's no wonder Sora puts up a giant fight every time they tell him he can't come along.

About halfway through the game, as Sora is preparing to set out and find Aqua and the other missing Keyblade Wielders Terra and Ventus, Yen Sid stops him: Does Sora have the power of waking?

"Uh… no? Probably not?" is Sora's response.

"Without that power, you are not ready to face the Realm of Darkness," Yen Sid proclaims. Sora has only been in the Realm of Darkness once before: at the end of Kingdom Hearts II, on its dark beaches with Riku, but for only a few minutes before the pair escaped.

Sora literally begs Yen Sid to let him go to the Realm of Darkness anyway, and Riku says they all knew Sora would try to attempt a "half-baked rescue" of the missing fighters. Everyone laughs at Sora. Sora gets uncharacteristically defensive—angry, even.

"The power of waking's important," Riku reminds him, and says once Sora has that power, he can join his efforts. Sora tells Riku not to be too reckless, and when they don't think he's listening, Donald and Goofy gossip.

"Sora's the reckless one," Donald says.

"No, not exactly, he just doesn't think," Goofy replies.

This right here is the gospel truth. The power of waking in its original Japanese moniker is translated literally as "power to free a sleeping heart." Sora can't obtain this power and thus wake anyone else up because he himself is not fully awake. He has not realized his full potential yet because he is completely arrogant. His character growth over the past seventeen years of games has not been one of maturity, but one of regression. His physical power may have grown, but his sense of self, his limitations, and what he is capable of, is far off balance.

In many ways, it feels as though the script writers made Sora dumber in Kingdom Hearts III, and he is more saccharine and obnoxiously, cripplingly positive than ever before. It's like the previous games in the series never happened, and he is meeting all this darkness and destruction for the first time with a shrug and a thumbs up. It makes Sora look willfully ignorant of the gravity of the situation before him.

And Sora doesn't know this, but everyone else does. Hence the repeated warnings to not attempt certain things without the power of waking. And because of his cheery can-do attitude, everyone waves off his recklessness as "determination." Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

The power of waking isn't even meant to be used on individual people, but on entire worlds. We see people's hearts wake up all the time in Kingdom Hearts with a little shouted encouragement and hugs from friends. Waking a heart is easy. Waking the heart of a world is harder. Those sleeping hearts waiting to be awoken are the hearts of the worlds Sora and the gang travel through. And the power of waking is meant to release those worlds from the darkness binding them, worlds that are "sleeping" because the darkness has hidden them from the Realm of Light.

There are only a handful of worlds that fit the description of "sleeping." There are all the worlds in Dream Drop Distance, which are only accessible to Sora and Riku by going to sleep themselves. "Waking them up" or bringing them back to the Realm of Light is the test to see if the boys can handle the power of waking. Then there are the obvious ones: the End of the World from the first Kingdom Hearts; the World That Never Was from Kingdom Hearts II; and of course, the Realm of Darkness. (You could even say the destroyed-and-then-duplicated-as-data Daybreak Town from Kingdom Hearts Union Cross is a sleeping world… but that's a rabbit hole not worth exploring in the confines of this essay.)

Riku and King Mickey can access the "sleeping" Realm of Darkness without harm because they have the power to enter it while it is not "awake," or in other words, not part of the Realm of Light—and therefore not open to receiving those who can't comprehend that deep darkness. But the power of waking isn't so much a magical power as it is a kind of knowledge, a piece of maturity. It is this knowledge and acceptance of the darkness that allows Aqua to confidently sacrifice herself to it in Birth by Sleep so Terra may return to the World of Light. Aqua is able to live in the Realm of Darkness unscathed for over a decade before succumbing to it out of doubt and fear. Neither King Mickey nor Riku doubt or fear the darkness: Riku, because that darkness is part of him; King Mickey, because he knows more than anyone that light and darkness together are what make the universe run. But they don't want Sora to try and force himself into the Realm of Darkness without this knowledge—it would be like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

In Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania, a thick strategy guide for the game peppered with new information and interviews with the developers, series creator and director Tetsuya Nomura says the power of waking is meant to "reawaken what is near death." Worlds that are near death can be accessed or restored with this power of waking. The Realm of Darkness, with its barren beaches and empty sky, absolutely looks near death. The power of waking lets you get there because it is so deeply broken, all hope and light buried.

Sora does finally gain the power of waking in Kingdom Hearts III, closer to the end of the story, but he gets it in a really terrible way. He dies (along with all of his friends), puts himself back together, and in doing so creates a singularity that rewinds time and allows him try again to avoid everyone's deaths. Sora follows a Heartless called a Lich from world to world, defeating the creature to steal back the hearts of his dead friends and bring them all back to life.

As he is jumping from world to world resurrecting the people he loves, a younger incarnation of Xehanort appears with a warning: Sora is egregiously misusing the power of waking. It is for "traversing hearts to reach worlds, not for traversing worlds to reach hearts." Sora is connecting his power to the wrong conductors, using it to travel through worlds and time and space and twisting up everything in the process just to revive his friends.

From this moment onward, Sora begins to use the power of waking with reckless abandon. He uses it to bring his friends back from the dead, to bring himself back from the dead, and to world-hop with lightning speed without needing to use his Gummi Ship. This places an untold strain on Sora, wearing down his physical body and tearing at his very soul as he treats time and space like his personal playground.

We see Sora really, hardcore abuse this space-hopping in the Kingdom Hearts III downloadable content released one full year after the main game. In it, we see what Sora does after the end of the main game, which is to travel through time and space again looking for Kairi, revisiting worlds again trying to piece her existence back together. The result of this search is even more devastating, and I'll get there momentarily.

Sora is determined to complete the job, and in many of Kingdom Hearts III's major boss battles he is fighting alone or with one companion. But even after all this time, Sora doesn't know himself well enough, or perhaps isn't smart enough, to finish it in one piece.

There is another piece to this "know thyself" puzzle: something never explicitly explained or properly explored in Kingdom Hearts III called Rage Form.

Throughout the Kingdom Hearts games, Sora has gained the ability to change his form and ability set in combat, usually with a simple color palette swap on his clothing. In Kingdom Hearts II, he could change into forms that increased his magical or physical power well beyond his baselines or allowed him to wield two Keyblades at once with telekinesis.

One of these new forms introduced in Kingdom Hearts II was Antiform, where Sora would take on the appearance of a black Heartless, shadows whispering off his limbs. In Antiform, Sora's attacks are beast-like, like a berserker, and he attacks and crawls with his hands and feet. He will claw through enemies and rapidly deplete his entire reserve of energy in the process, leaving the player with nothing to work with. Donald and Goofy disappear from the battlefield, leaving Sora to fight alone. Antiform cannot be triggered manually by the player, and it is activated randomly as punishment for overusing the Drive System, repeatedly using the ability to change form in battle. You can only exit Antiform when all enemies are killed, or you have no energy left in the health gauge.

Kingdom Hearts III introduces Rage Form. Like Antiform Sora, Rage Form Sora looks like a Heartless holding a Keyblade—only this time his eyes are glowing red coals. Rage Form also will only trigger randomly, and only when Sora's health gauge is critically low.

Shortly after Kingdom Hearts III's release, in an interview with Dengeki PlayStation magazine translated on KHInsider by user goldpanner, Tetsuya Nomura clarified the relationship between Rage Form and Antiform. "Rage does indeed have characteristics that are reminiscent of Anti[form], but it's basically a separate thing setup wise," he said. "Anti is based on Sora getting completely stained in darkness, but Rage Form doesn't go quite that far. It's based on him going into a rampage state, controlled by feelings of anger."

Rage Form is Sora's anger made manifest, when his emotions allow the darkness in his heart to completely consume him. The main magic spell Sora can use in this form, called "Riskcharge," goes a step further and depletes half of Sora's available health points every time he uses it. Sora is so furious, he could literally kill himself in combat without the proper discipline.

Rage Form is triggered by Sora's desperation every single time—except once. In the final hours of Kingdom Hearts III, in the final fight against big bad Xehanort, Xehanort summons the mysterious and otherworldly power of Kingdom Hearts. He uses it to absorb the light within Sora, which forces Sora into Rage Form. As Xehanort eggs Sora on, encouraging him to embrace that darkness, Sora slowly regains his bearings and is able to rip himself free.

Riku, on the other hand, never once turns to his monstrous side, even after having tapped into his inner darkness countless times before. In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, we learn that Riku's transformation into the dark being Ansem during Kingdom Hearts II was done on purpose, and that he consciously chose to live in his dark form for a while. In this way, Riku overcame that darkness and found himself again. But Sora does not overcome. He plows through his journey with reckless abandon, using whatever power he can, and it comes at the cost of his very existence.

So in leaning on his rage to bolster his power, and in not understanding—or willfully ignoring—his limitations, Sora has lost his grip on who Sora is. And he finishes his journey, finishes it alone, but loses his entire self in the process.

You have to know who you are before you trifle with powers that can alter you and the people that surround you. You have to know what you're made of every step of your journey, or you'll lose yourself along the way.