Once you return to the Chapel to save, the door to the Great Hall is open. Inside, you can visit the sleeping Princesses, but can’t do anything to help them yet. There’s nothing to do but to push forward, and curse the game when it cuts you off from some valuable chests by hurling you into a cutscene. What did I say, game? What did I say?
No, I guess Sora can’t resist the chance to have a showdown with Creepy Riku, and he dashes so far ahead of the others that they fall into a trap: Creepy Riku puts up a force field around the emblem platform, trapping Sora and Donald in and Goofy out. I can’t help but laugh, and not because Goofy bonks his nose into the thing: it’s because Kingdom Hearts 2 has a force field fetish and I’m not the first person to joke about the bad guys using the damn things to actually trap people out instead of just delaying Sora with enemy groups. We’re going to talk more about KH2’s little… hobby once we get to that game, but for the time being, just be aware that Sora is now trapped in an arena with Creep Reeks, and no one even seems to notice poor Goofy.
Anyways, welcome, friends. Welcome to the cutscene that PS2 players, lacking a Skip Scene button, had to watch over, and over, and over again. Some players can still recite it from memory!
Seeing Kairi, Sora rushes to her side, not noticing Creepy Riku is watching him. Once he speaks up, Sora finally clues in that the distorted-voiced, impassive Riku is behaving strangely even considering how much of an ass-weed Riku has been lately, especially when he calls Kairi “that girl.” Sora realizes he’s being possessed, and with that out in the open, Riku starts floating, because you might as well. Since most of us clued into the possession thing a while ago, let’s get something else out that most of us worked a few scenes ago: Kairi is the seventh Princess of Heart. Some folks have gone so far as to treat her as a Disney Princess in fanworks. If you didn’t already know Kairi was a Princess by now just from cultural osmosis, I respect your good fortune with spoilers.
By the way, now that we know Kairi is a princess, I can deal with a lot of loose ends. Let’s take them in order: according to Panettiere, the voice director for one of the games kept telling her to make her lines sound more “princess-y,” rather than realistic. I think this accounts for what I don’t like about her performance, and I’m glad to finally be able to point a finger at the voice director for certain.
Earlier, I mentioned that some people don’t like that Alice was made a Princess of Heart when she’s not a princess at all. I think another reason Alice was made a Princess of Heart was to get it in your head that not all the “Princesses” were literal royalty.
And hey, remember how the princesses depicted in the Dive to the Heart were princesses that had been kidnapped by Maleficent already, while the anonymous silhouettes represented Alice, Jasmine and Kairi? I like to believe it’s because they haven’t “awakened” to their role as Princesses of Heart. While we’re mopping up old notes, the stained glass platforms at the Dive are why I said that the alternate scene where Maleficent kidnaps Snow White after Deep Jungle was a potential screw-up: because the Awakening implies she has been kidnapped already. I’m still glad they gave you the freedom to see the alternate scene, even if it screws up the Awakening a little.
Back to the present. Creepy Riku wants Kairi to get her heart back so that the final Keyhole and the Door to the Darkness will be formed. Sora just wants his friend back. That’s why this next part of the conversation goes on without much interruption from Sora: no matter how he feels about what Riku is saying, he still wants his friend back in the end and is honestly considering the possibility. Creepy Riku announces that Kairi has lost her heart, but not to the Heartless. Perhaps you already worked it out: her heart is inside of Sora’s.
This makes sense on a few levels. First off, his visions throughout the game, even if the game did do a poor job of conveying they were supposed to be hints. Like I said, too many of them seem like typical video game clichés (how often have you seen exposition like the bedtime story scene that came just as much out of nowhere? Pretty often, I’m sad to say), some seemed like buried memories of Sora’s than new visions. They were also spaced too far apart, but yes: they were meant to convey that Kairi’s heart was inside Sora.
Next, there’s the point Sora made in the entrance hall: people who influence one another are connected by the heart. Kairi’s heart latched on to Sora’s because they have a deep friendship, and Riku had been snatched away by the Darkness at the time. So Sora’s little speech doubled not just as thesis, but clue, and Kingdom Hearts is already building on top of that foundation.
And last, there’s the literal clue: she faded away into Sora back on Destiny Islands, didn’t she?
Sora asks the pertinent question: who is this guy possessing Riku? Creepy Riku is happy to answer: the possessor, the figure in the brown cloak, is Ansem, the man who was “researching” the Heartless. Looks like his research took an interesting direction. He identifies his purpose more plainly here as “the Seeker of Darkness.”
Ansem-Riku approaches Sora, who is still cradling Kairi, and Donald charges him and gets knocked out of the barrier. Riku gets all the way over to Sora, who is conflicted at the moment and doesn’t respond. Riku readies the Keyblade to strike him, and so release Kairi’s heart and “lead me into everlasting darkness!” He almost gets away with it, too, and might have if it hadn’t been for Kairi’s heart shouting at Sora to snap out of it. He gets back on his feet, and the fight is on.
And several dozen attempts later, you may even understand how to go about it.
Riku 3 is one of the most infamous bosses of the era. The first few phases are nothing. You’ll exchange a few blows, he deliberately leaves himself open from time to time, it’s a breeze. The trouble starts once he starts using a special technique called Dark Aura, which causes him to go invincible and dart around the stage. Dark Aura is trouble enough (but easily avoided with Glide). The real trouble is how Riku rarely leaves himself vulnerable from that point on. To make matters worse, without Donald you have no backup source of healing or Aero, and without both partners you can’t summon Tinker Bell.
The music here, Forze de Mal, is also the first part of the Final Boss suite. Riku-Ansem might not be a final boss, but consider that a caution.
Riku has two major vulnerabilities. First, he’s not particularly good at dealing with Sora’s Counterattack ability (in Vanilla, you’re sure to have it since it was earned at most at level 24, but in FM it’s earned as late as 57 for Rod players, so that’s not so certain). Block Riku’s attacks and counter, and you’ll get in attacks every time. Second, he’s even worse against Ars Arcanum – if you can land it manually, that is, as Counterattack doesn’t always leave you an appropriate opening (never, in my experience). Save your MP for the final few bars of HP (I’d put off even casting Aero for the first half of the fight), find a moment of vulnerability, and hit Ars Arcanum. You’ll take him apart.
Failing all else, use an Elixir. He’s one of the most infamous bosses of the era. No one will blame you.
Defeating Riku gets you Ragnarok, the second-last of Sora’s special attacks, and the last one that can really be considered practical. Sort of an aerial equivalent to Ars Arcanum, Ragnarok opens with a combo and then has Sora charge a series of energy beams. Learning the timing to it will take a few attempts, but it’s handy. Just make sure you pack the right attack for whatever foe you plan to use it on. Don’t bring Ragnarok to a ground fight, don’t bring Ars to an air.
Defeated, Riku fades into thin air, leaving his Keyblade behind. The force field is down now, so Sora and the others take in the rest of the scene and they discover what we already know about the incomplete Keyhole in the smoke-emblem. Sora then realizes that if he wants to seal the Keyhole and put an end to the Heartless threat, paradoxically he needs to complete it the Keyhole so he can seal it to begin with!
Pondering Riku-Ansem’s Keyblade, Sora decides to kick over another set those of dominoes that go on forever. He gets an idea, an awful idea. He looks to Donald and Goofy, who have already clued in to what he’s thinking, and he gives them that big stupid smile I said would come up again, before stabbing himself with the Keyblade. His heart (Kairi’s heart?) comes out as an orb of light and goes into Kairi instead, and Sora begins to fade away. In the background, a piano plays the notes of “Hikari”/”Simple and Clean” in the background, the first time we’ve heard it since the opening. It’s a really touching effect. Now, Donald running towards Sora in slow motion while shouting his name in slow motion, that’s just hammy to me, and frankly not touching at all.
Meanwhile, Ansem’s Keyblade breaks apart, forming six orbs of light that return to the princesses, and a spark comes out of the big Heartless emblem – the Keyhole is complete. So the other orbs must have been from the other Princesses, right? The Keyblade was made of hearts. Thanks for getting around to an explanation for the Keyblade, Square. It was so loud and clear that people are still baffled about it to this day (Leon explains this explicitly later on, but still). Couldn’t we have seen Ansem-Riku make the thing out of hearts to avoid the confusion to begin with? Not only does that sound clearer, it sounds like it could have been a pretty cool sequence!
Kairi awakens in time to see Sora disappearing, and is up on her feet and by his side instantly. It’s a good show of athleticism and emotional connection, really, but she’s too late: as she reaches him, he collapses into glittering light in her arms. Kairi’s reaction to this is delayed, and then very harsh. It’s clear in an instant that she thinks Sora has died, and she’s not taking it well. She almost throws a tantrum, and who could blame her?
Worse news: a man steps out from the darkness, and from Billy Zane’s voice we can guess that this is Ansem, Seeker of Darkness. And he is a piece of work: tall, muscular, shirtless except for a jacket and a Heartless emblem. He is dark-skinned (which we later learn is the result of exposure to the Darkness. Sorry to anyone hoping for an actual dark-skinned character in the game), and he has a mane of white, anime-villain hair. The hair clinches it. No one with hair like that should ever rule a country. Haven’t they heard of the tyrannous reign of Sephiroth’s Flowing Locks, Follicle Kings of Northumbria?
After some false pleasantries, Ansem announces that the Keyhole is complete and he moves in to mop up the survivors. Donald and Goofy move to defend themselves and Kairi, but any need for a fight is interrupted when Ansem becomes locked in mid-step. Riku then appears as some sort of glowing ghost, shouting that he “won’t let you use me like this!” which will make more sense later if it doesn’t already.
…Kairi is having a really bad day.
Riku tells them to bail because the Heartless are coming, and some Shadows arrive on cue. Kairi makes up her mind and goes, and Donald and Goofy follow. I’m not sure if that vouches for her leadership qualities, magical princess qualities, or sheer group cowardice. Good coordination all the same, new trio!
Okay, I did it. I made it through one of the most dramatic scenes in the series while minimizing jokes that would have damaged the tone. I’m sorry, I have to make them now. Ahem:
- Sora picks up Ansem’s Keyblade and prepares to stab himself. “No, wait!” shouts Donald, despite standing mannequin-still for four solid seconds in the middle of the shot.
- “Simple and Clean” playing in the background of the western releases… a song about your relationship moving too fast. Oh Sora. Our relationship is moving too fast. You shouldn’t be thrusting things into yourself in front of me so soon!
- “You have awakened at last, Princess!” says Ansem. “Now: have you seen my abs? Killin’ it, right?”
As Kairi, Donald and Goofy flee the scene, a single Shadow watches them, presumably one of the Heartless Riku said were coming. And to the surprise of some and the pleasant satisfaction of others, the camera moves to follow it, and we gain control of the Shadow.
The Shadow is singularly incapable. I don’t believe it can jump, and if it can, its jump height stinks, forcing it to move down at all times, which is the intent. Hollow Bastion is a largely vertical stage, made up of elevators the Shadow can’t trigger intentionally, so it’s all down from here. I say you can’t trigger the elevators “intentionally” because it is possible to trigger elevators to “catch” you if you drop too far down. Your final destination is the entrance hall, so the fastest way to get there is to plunge over the edge like Wile E. Coyote. Sure, the following cutscene will imply you came in through the back door instead of the front, but it doesn’t matter much.
The Shadow catches up to the trio in the entrance hall, and is spotted by Donald. Donald begins thwacking it, but it refuses to die or leave. That’s a little humiliating, Mr. Duck. You’re like… level forty or fifty. Kairi, drawn to this stubbornness, examines the Heartless and asks what we’re all already thinking: “…Sora?”
More Shadows appear, and Kairi stands between them and the Shadow she thinks is Sora, promising that this time, she’ll protect him. It’s good, brave words, but with Donald and Goofy distracted, once a Shadow jumps at Kairi, it dawns on her that she is unarmed, outnumbered, and there is nothing she can do. She instead moves to hug and cover Sora.
Donald and Goofy realize they’ve failed their escort mission just a little too late, but I think we all know what’s about to happen. To a tender little tune containing the notes of “Dearly Beloved,” Sora is restored. Do you hear that in the distance? It’s those two domino chains – the one about Sora turning himself into a Heartless and the one about hearts being composed of memories – tripping over one another. Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s fine.
This transformation destroys the Shadows that were attacking them at first, but they are hardly alone. The trio is saved by the arrival of Beast, who returns from nowhere to break some heads. They ask him to come with them, but he refuses to leave Belle, and they are forced to leave him behind in the fracas. The foursome beats the fastest road possible back to Traverse Town as Hollow Bastion, and all the other worlds, begin to spill over with Heartless sprung from the Door to the Darkness.
We return from Hollow Bastion inside the “secret base” in Traverse Town. You know, the one Maleficent knew about and used to spy on them because it was just so very secure. There, Sora is filling Leon and the others in on what went down. Yuffie confirms things are bad, with new Heartless showing up on all the worlds, and wow, you have no idea, but we’ll get back to that. However, the Final Fantasy crew they suggest something is holding back the worst of the Darkness. While this is posed like some mystery, Leon almost immediately mentions the other six Princesses, which as you’ll quickly learn are the force that’s holding back the darkness. If Leon wasn’t answering the mystery, I’m not sure why he brought it up at all. Sora is determined to go back to rescue Riku, and everyone else is kind of eager for him to keep them from being overrun by fucking monsters, so they send him off to Cid to get started.
Bad news, though: Yuffie meant it when she said there were new Heartless. Hollow Bastion Heartless are swarming her in Traverse Town, and that’s just the beginning. Cid tells you that there’s no way to get into Hollow Bastion via the Gummi Route you used before, due to all the new Heartless gumming it up, but he had a third Navi Gummi hidden away to get back to Hollow Bastion in an emergency. Yes, if you hadn’t worked it out yourself (and Sora doesn’t for some time yet), Hollow Bastion is the Final Fantasy characters’ homeworld. So does this make Kairi a Disney Princess or a Final Fantasy character? Wait! Wait! Crossover. She’s both! I just got that, after all these years. That just now makes sense to me. I feel silly.
The fact that Cid brought the other FF characters here on a ship when they were children comes off as a reference – intentional or unintentional – to Cid Haze from FFIII, who did the same with your lead characters (at least in the 3D remakes). Kingdom Hearts is packed with references to FFIII, including references to a world of darkness alongside the world of light, and the way darkness and light are treated in the long run. I can’t help but feel that if we don’t see the Cloud of Darkness before this series is over, it’ll be a serious missed opportunity.
The little quest Cid asks you to do is all kinds of silly, especially since the gummi path this Navi-G opens is barely new and not that interesting to begin with. If the new Gummi path isn’t the developer’s real objective… what is? I think what they were really trying to do was to justify one last cutscene. Following a clue from Cid, you truck down to Leon’s training sewer, where you find the Gummi hidden on a mural of the Sun, which transforms into the Moon when the gummi is removed. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to symbolize, though it is very pretty. Kairi is there with you when you remove the Gummi, and Donald and Goofy realize that she and Sora want to, ahem, talk in private. Our reunited leads talk about Sora’s vision of Kairi and that older woman from earlier. Apparently that woman is Kairi’s grandmother. Really? You don’t say! Thanks for sharing all these things you learned in your psychic connection, Sora.
Remember way back on Destiny Islands, when Kairi urgently suggested to Sora that they leave on the raft without Riku? Reminiscent to that, Kairi is now concerned that Riku can’t be okay any more after what he’s done. She’s at least mature enough to realize that things will change their relationship even if Riku apologizes entirely, but Sora is adamant – if a little naïve – that if Kairi could restore him from being a Heartless, Riku can be saved too. Kairi latches on to Sora’s enthusiasm, and tries to get him to bring her along. Sora tells Kairi that she’d “kinda be in the way,” humiliating me, you and everyone who’s ever played him. And for some reason she just accepts this. You know you’re good friends when your buddy can Cecil Harvey you out of the fucking party…
But Kairi has one last thing in mind, and she pulls out the completed good-luck charm she had been making out of seashells back on the Islands. She gives it to Sora, making him promise that she bring it back to her (and thus return alive). She points out that with the charm, she’ll always be with him in a way, bringing us back to our theme of influence and hearts connected. And the game agrees: the charm becomes the Oathkeeper keychain. The Oathkeeper, a silver-white Keyblade, represents Kairi to Sora, and is one of my favourite Keyblades in every game. It’s consistently reliable no matter what game you’re playing. In this game it boosts strength and magic so well that I often pass up other, arguably better Keyblades just to keep the balance between the two stats. Only the Ultima Weapon surpasses it as a balanced weapon.
In Final Mix, this cutscene is followed by a new voiceless exclusive scene. Riku wakes in a strange, dark place. Apologetic, believing himself to be dead, and beginning to shimmer out of existence, Riku hears a voice calling to him. The voice insists that it has “the other Keyblade—the one that belongs to this world.” When Riku asks what’s going on, the voice says Riku’s heart survived the darkness but his body was lost, so he came to the place in the dark where hearts gather.
Riku asks what they should do, and the voice says they need to seal the Door to Darkness, but reveals that can’t be done alone as Sora presumed. It takes two hearts, and two keys, to seal that door, and that it has to be sealed from both sides. Well that’s ominous.
Before we fade out from the scene, Riku asks if Sora and Kairi are okay, and the voice tells him to look inside his own heart, re-reinforcing that connection from before about hearts being interlinked if you weren’t already 5000% clear on that by now. Just in case you aren’t, we’ll be mentioning it a few times more before the franchise is over, don’t you worry.
After that cutscene, you return to Sora, where things are really up to you. A lot of new content has been unlocked across the worlds, along with high-level Heartless. As far as the retrospective is concerned, I’m going to proceed directly to Hollow Bastion instead of looking at other unlocked content. Sorry for the spoiler, but this revisit isn’t the end of the game, and we’ll have time to deal with that new content at a later entry. The thing is: beating Hollow Bastion will unlock even more content, and I want to address all the late-game content at once instead of scattershot. Since you are in Traverse Town, it would make sense to stop off with the Fairy Godmother to unlock your last summon, but I’m going to put even that off to later for the sake of brevity. Long way to go yet.
(But while we’re here, how about I discuss something I said I’d talk about later? Remember I said Monstro had alternate cutscenes if you skipped it until much later in the game? Now that Riku has been possessed by the big bad guy, Riku really has no reason to be in Monstro toying with Pinocchio. And he certainly can’t be there simultaneously. If you try to go to Monstro at this point in the game, the game puts forward an awful explanation, implying that the Riku at Monstro is some sort of… fake Riku? Or maybe Sora is shouting at Ansem and the game is putting forth no explanation at all? And they were doing so well with alternate scenes!)