Tragedy BefallsPart of the reason I am fond of Birth by Sleep more than other Kingdom Hearts games is because the aspect of tragedy is more prominent (wow, I guess that makes me sound a bit morbid). Of course there are various characters in the series that have depressing ends and roles. However, Birth by Sleep is a bit different because the entire trio is separated and meets unfortunate "ends" rather than being reunited. I know it won't actually end that way, but they do seem to have it worse off than Sora, Riku and Kairi ever did in my opinion. Terra is locked in an endless battle to fight for control of his own body with Xehanort after dealing with the fact that he killed his own master. Ven is locked away in Castle Oblivion as an empty shell without his heart. Lastly, Aqua is lost in the Realm of Darkness in which she has been wandering aimlessly. For 10+ years the three of them have been suffering tremendously. It's no wonder that Aqua says she would never wish their lives on Sora and Riku.
So, what's my point? Well, since I stereotypically end up liking tragic characters, I was setting the stage to pose an argument that Aqua can be considered a tragic heroine as things stand right now. Please keep in mind that she does not fit perfectly into the categories required to be considered a tragic hero in terms of Shakespeare. However, I do think it is a logical argument to be made.
1. The character must have one or more tragic flaws: This one may be a bit of a stretch, I suppose, but just bear with me. Aqua has only two main flaws that could be considered tragic in my opinion. She goes majority of the game naively thinking that the world can be seen in black and white and that she has the utmost belief in Terra's unwavering strength even when it is becoming evidently not the case. If we consider her being stuck in the Realm of Darkness as her tragic end, both of these flaws could clearly contribute to that end. If she did not believe that darkness was bad and light was good so strongly, she probably would not have been extremely judgmental and accusatory towards Terra in Radiant Garden. She might have been more compassionate, understanding and willing to extend a hand in order to help Terra through what he was experiencing. Instead, she backs him into a corner and makes him feel isolated and alone. If she had admitted to herself that maybe Terra was not as strong as she believed him to be and realized that he did actually need help overcoming the darkness within him, she might have been able to decrease his feelings of isolation by reaching out. Maybe if things had been different, Xehanort would not have been able to take advantage of his isolation and would not have gained control of his mind. Therefore he would not have had to fall into the Realm of Darkness and Aqua would not have had to sacrifice herself to save him. Of course no one knows for sure, but there may have been a different outcome if the interaction at Radiant Garden had gone differently.
2. The character must be of noble birth: Well, Aqua was not royalty of any kind. But not everyone has the ability to wield a Keyblade. In that sense, she was set apart from most other people in the world of Kingdom Hearts. She also passed the Mark of Mastery exam and was considered a Keyblade Master, which increases her "rank" as well.
3. The character must see and understand their doom: Once Aqua realizes that there is no way to save both Terra and herself, I think she understands right away that she will have to sacrifice herself. She takes off her armor and gives him her weapon in order to ensure he makes it back to the Realm of Light. After sending him off, she has resigned herself to knowing she will continue to drift down into the Realm of Darkness. She does not die obviously, but never having been in the situation she was in, she really had no idea what would happen to her. I personally believe that she probably considered fading into the darkness as close to death as she could get without actually dying. I think it is safe to say that she understood some sense of impending doom when she made her decision.
4. The character must die or suffer a fate worse than death: Again, Aqua clearly does not die. However I think death probably would have been the easier option compared to wandering around the Realm of Darkness alone for 10+ years. Even if she held onto the small hope that she would one day be reunited with her friends, she still spent most of her time suffering and wondering what exactly would become of her. She had no idea what was happening with Terra or Ven, either. Was Terra still locked in the back of his mind? Was Ven still waiting for her in Castle Oblivion? She had no idea. Between being in the Realm of Darkness and being alone with such thoughts to occupy her, I would consider her fate to be worse than death at this point in time.
5. The character's death must be meaningful: Aqua's "end" was most certainly meaningful. She saved her best friend. No, Terra did not yet regain control of his body, but she did save him from fading into the darkness. She gave him the chance to fight rather than letting him slip away. Without her sacrifice, none of Kingdom Hearts II, Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days or Dream Drop Distance would have been the same. If she had not saved Terra/Xehanort in such a way that he lost his memories afterwards, he never would have been a pupil to Ansem and thus Organization XIII never would have been formed. Either way, her sacrifice has a greater meaning.
I have no doubt that Sora will eventually save Aqua and the others. Even if Aqua is not destined to be suffering for the rest of her existence, I do not think that changes the fact that she is a tragic heroine as things stand right now. All that will change when she is saved and has a happy ending is that instead of being a tragic heroine, she will be a heroine who lived through many years of tragedy. Aqua will certainly never be the same person. Any traces of the naive girl from the beginning of her story will most definitely be dead. In any case, it's fun to think about, right?