Returning to Hollow Bastion, you’re immediately reunited with Beast, who has decided the best way to protect Belle is to putter around the fringes outside the castle instead of being anywhere near her? I guess you’re the boss. He rejoins, and you begin the long climb back to the top. All the old save points have been disabled until you’ve revisited them, and the Bastion’s new Heartless formations are waiting nearly every step of the way. At least the puzzles are still solved…
Before you restart the climb up the dungeon, you might want to visit the library. Belle, unvoiced but true to character, is poring through the library looking for a practical answer to their problems. She clarifies a few things I’ve already said to you, and hands you the Divine Rose keychain, one of the best attack Keyblades short of Ultima Weapon and certain… extreme alternatives. It’s not so interesting in Vanilla KH1, but it has three more points of attack in Final Mix, making it one of the best weapons out there. I finally had to give up my long affair with the Oathkeeper to bring this beautiful thing to bear.
The rest of the world is all slog. You’ve been through this world, there’s no longer any need to do any puzzles, so it’s nothing but fighting. Once you finally return to the Castle Chapel (the room where you first fought Maleficent), you’ll find the other Princesses waiting, telling you they’re holding back the Darkness for now but that Ansem has gone willingly into the tide. All the easier for us, I suppose. Besides some perfunctory dialogue from Jasmine meant to explain why she doesn’t go back to Agrabah, that’s all there is. Time to lock that Door to Darkness, right? Nothing left between you and it and a big empty room, right?
Good, I’m glad we all know better than that. I knew I was right to trust you. The Great Hall has been packed full of Heartless. There’s only one formation in Vanilla, but in Final Mix, it’s more of a crapshoot: you might get the group from the vanilla game, or you might have to deal with Hollow Basion’s fucking synth Heartless, the only time a synth Heartless has essentially appeared as a “story enemy” thanks to your technically “clearing the world” during your first visit. This one’s a doozy. Alongside an army of Wizards, Defenders and the like, you’ll encounter the Stealth Soldier. This rapid-attacking enemy is invisible, and often shakes Sora’s lock-on, something you’ve never seen enemies do. It can even escape the arena if you don’t chase it down fast enough, but until it escapes, it will ram you from seemingly nowhere. Chasing it down to get Energy Stones is a pain.
Searching the Great Hall is worth the trouble no matter which enemies are guarding it. Remember those chests Sora jogged past during the initial cutscene, much to my frustration? One contains a Dark Matter in Final Mix. You can also find the last box of Dalmatians in this room. If you haven’t found the rest, feel free to go looking after you’re done here, because they’re waiting for you! Last of all, you can also find a chest containing the most important item of all: the Oblivion keychain, a fragment of Riku. Signified as a dark crown (a light crown being the symbol of Sora in this symbol-heavy series), the Oblivion keychain represents Sora’s connection to his other best friend, and is an attack biased keychain like the Metal Chocobo. I’m not really a fan of magic-reducing Keyblades in KH1, and this is no exception. Pass.
So you clear the room and reach the smoky emblem at the back. All right, let’s do this. Let’s go in through the Emblem and see what horrible surprise Ansem has waiting for us to guard this ultimate source of oh you have to be kidding me.
Ladies, Gentlemen and everyone in between or elsewise, when Yoshitaka Amano was working on promotional material for the original Final Fantasy, he drew a famous piece depicting the Warriors of Light combatting a ferocious winged monster: the Behemoth. Though this iconic monster did not ultimately appear in the first game, it has appeared in every entry since, along with every main-numbered sequel (except Advent Children, the film sequel of FFVII). It serves as the first enemy you see in Mystic Quest, appears in every Crystal Chronicles game, and all but one Tactics game. It’s in 4 Heroes of Light and Bravely Default, Final Fantasy Dimensions, and even Chocobo Racing and the Square Enix-developed Nintendo title, Mario Sports Mix. The Behemoth is a big deal. It even showed up in the trailer for Final Fantasy XV, a game originally based on Kingdom Hearts’ fundamentals, just to show what the game could do.
The one in Kingdom Hearts has chubby baby cheeks. Oh, and it’s barely capable of defending itself, but I just can’t get over the baby cheeks, after all these years. They’re technically tusks, but they’re tusks that look like chubby baby cheeks. I didn’t even know what the Behemoth was when I first played the game, but I’ll tell you this: it did not impress. Maybe it’s the purple colouring. I’ll give them this: it does look like a Heartless, it just doesn’t look like an iconic monster, or you know… a threat. The FM recolour helps a bit, but only a bit.
Yeah okay, maybe I should be serious too. You fight the Behemoth in a room lined with the same coloured smoke that was spilling out of the emblem, which is snazzy, but I wasn’t kidding, the fight is totally underwhelming. The Behemoth is only vulnerable on its unicorn horn, but that’s okay because it moves suuuuuuuper slooooowwww. When it does attack, it’s only after giving you plenty of time to heal. You’ll probably work out quickly that you can climb up its hind legs to bash the horn from behind. Once you’ve done that, all you need is Aero. It can only touch you with a lightning attack that hurts like hell if you’re bare, but barely scratches you with Aero. The Behemoth is knocked down after you land enough hits, so it’s up to you whether you want to leave your secure perch to land some easy hits.
If you don’t want to get up on its back, the Behemoth makes a great place to practice your Ragnarok, since its horn is up in the air. You can mess around with any technique you want, because the Behemoth is not offering much resistance. I have to question why they chose to put such a deliberately underwhelming Heartless in such a key plot point (and it is deliberate, as you’ll see in good time).
Having defeating the Behemoth, you hear a familiar voice calling you back from the real world. It’s Leon, Yuffie and Aerith. They came in Cid’s old ship to congratulate you, but also to deliver a sad ultimatum: by sealing the final Keyhole, everything will be returned to normal. While that’s generally a good thing in a video game, in this case it means that the “walls” between worlds will be restored. When Sora asks what those are, the Final Fantasy characters point out that he had never heard of the other worlds before now. The implication is that there were physical barriers between the worlds, and by restoring everything to “normal,” and the worlds will be divided again, like they used to be, and the characters will never see one another again.
It turns out these walls are actually quite literal, and KH2 confirms it. The clues are there if you look for it: the walls around Hollow Bastion were destroyed when Ansem opened “the Door” in Hollow Bastion and triggered the meteor shower of gummis: the gummi blocks are pieces of the “wall,” which is why they do so well in space. Think on it some more: Kairi came to Destiny Islands the day of the meteor shower: the day the barrier around the world fell. Perhaps it was not long after Ansem’s door was opened?
I understand all of that. But as for the rest of it… why?
I’m willing to accept that if everything “goes back to normal,” the walls will go back up. What I don’t understand is why sealing the Keyhole on the Door to Darkness will make things “go back to normal” in the first place! It doesn’t make any sense, it shouldn’t restore the walls and it certainly shouldn’t restore the worlds. The Keyhole didn’t exist a day or two ago! It’s not the source of the original problem! It’s not the Keyhole’s fault that the Destiny Islands was ripped to shreds. It’s not the princess’ fault that everyone’s cousin has been transformed into an evil tentacle balloon! And even if the Keyhole was the source of the trouble (I already mentioned this isn’t actually the ending, right?), why would fixing the cause of any damage restore the damage itself? This is the magical equivalent of melting down a wrecking ball and watching a skyscraper reassemble itself!
The game can’t even be arsed to make an excuse, and I think that’s what bothers me most. Just say “The Princesses will put everything right with their magic!” and I’d never have blinked, but no, it gives you nothing! This is a serious writing problem in and of itself, and Kingdom Hearts 2 will still be dealing with its mess two games later! And very poorly, might I add. Kingdom Hearts 1’s biggest writing mistake leads to one of Kingdom Hearts 2’s most insubstantial plot elements. And friends, that is a problem!
Leon and the others say goodbye to Sora, and Leon promises that they’ll never forget each other. Donald and Goofy then start wailing at Sora to come lock the Keyhole. Man, I know the universe is overflowing with Darkness and all but I don’t think I’d ever see the day when Disney’s finest are telling me to stop being sentimental with my friends. Fine then. You go back in, find the Keyhole inside the smoke room, attached to yet another Heartless Emblem. So it’s a Heartless emblem inside a Heartless emblem. That makes sense. Sora raises his Keyblade, and seals it. And nothing happens.
We’re spared Leon’s “Well that didn’t work,” speech, and cut instead to the Princesses telling us that they sense a great Darkness off in the distance. Over, oh… that way somewhere. This dialogue is so perfunctory it’s hard not to see it as a rushed addition. They assume it must be Ansem and “the heart of darkness” and I guess we’re going to have to deal with that. No one explains why sealing the Keyhole didn’t work, so I guess we just have to presume Ansem is responsible, Nihilanth-style. The Princesses offer the Firaga upgrade to Sora so we can get this party started, and scoot him out the door, with the reminder that saving the world will somehow shove everyone back to their native worlds. Well hell, why look for Riku and the King at all? Just kill Ansem and everyone will be back home! Sheesh.
The last world in the game is now visible on the map near Hollow Bastion, but we’re not going to go there yet. True, you could proceed straight to the ending, and experience it at the difficulty at which it was intended. Sounds great, right? But you’d be missing a very wide spread of optional gameplay in the process, and I’m not sure how much of it was meant to be experienced before the final boss and how much of it was not. Depending on the designer, a Final Dungeon / Final Level can either be a big step up in difficulty (accounting for power-ups and experience gained in sidequests) or can be similar in difficulty (considering sidequests to be bonus content). KH1 is one of the latter. You can easily double your play time going around picking up synthesis items and gummi missions, fighting secret bosses for premium rewards, and trying to unlock the Secret Ending (especially in Normal Mode), but when you reach the final world, it won’t be a challenge any longer. As far as the Retrospective is concerned, I choose to address the sidequests now. It will make the final boss more impactful, and canonically, the events do seem to “take place” prior to the final boss, so this is where I’m going to address them.
To a new player, I’d recommend they go to the final world to meet the new Heartless, learn their patterns, grab some of the last synth items, maybe find a mid-world save point, but then go back to clear the new Tournament that just unlocked at Olympus Coliseum, which seems appropriately balanced for that point in the game. But in the end, it’s up to each individual. Remember, you can always come back and do this stuff later. If you unlock the Secret Ending later, you’ll have to beat the game again to see it, but hell, you’ll be a much higher level!
The Late and Post-Game
Technically speaking, Kingdom Hearts 1 doesn’t have a traditional “post-game.” Post-game segments are, by definition, what happens after you beat the final boss. The Kingdom Hearts series typically unlocks all of its stuff just before the final boss. There’s a lot of room for niggling discussion, but I’d argue only KH2 Final Mix+ has a true post-game, with Re:CoM and Days throwing in paltry runner-up efforts (which, depending on your opinion of post-game content, might not even be a bad thing!).
But like I said: Kingdom Hearts unlocks segments before the Final Boss. This means that some of this stuff is going to be harder than the final boss for some players, while others seem to be intended to get you ready for the Final Boss. Where to even begin?
The lowest hanging fruit at this point of the game is right where you are, in Hollow Bastion. If you go and visit the library, you’ll find that Leon, Yuffie and Aerith have joined Belle in looking for a practical solution to their problems. Aerith has some good finds, though I’m not sure why she has them all. Would it have been so hard to split them up between her, Yuffie and Leon? As a result of Aerith having all the good stuff, you have to talk to her three times or miss some of her gifts, and a lot of players do.
Aerith’s first prize is… busy. She and the others have dug up three more sections of Ansem’s Report from Maleficent’s collection. So long as you’ve been completing optional worlds, you’ll only be missing one page at this point (in the Vanilla release), and a little rational thinking will tell you who has it. Unsurprisingly, these new reports are a little less secretive about Ansem being a bad guy.
Report 2 details Ansem’s attempts to study darkness by extracting it, cultivating it, suppressing and amplifying it. These tests cause the subject’s heart to collapse, and the strong implication is that Ansem was using human subjects. As a result of his experiments, Ansem begins to see the Shadows on his world.
The suggestion here is that Shadows are humans that have lost their hearts. There was a debate on the Kingdom Hearts Insider forums a while back asking if Kingdom Hearts 1 was originally implying that Ansem had, in fact, created the first Heartless in existence during this process. The later games clearly disagree, but the discussion was focusing on whether or not that was a very tidy retcon. I personally don’t agree. Or rather, I feel that if Ansem did create the first Shadows, it’s really short-sighted writing. It seems there’s too much dark magic in the Disney universe for no one to have ever succumbed to darkness, and besides, the entire universe went through a darkness-related apocalypse in the deep past. Either way, later games disagree, so while it’s worth considering, go into this knowing that Ansem didn’t create the first Shadows under current canon one way or another.
In Report 4, we learn that Ansem was “feeding” the Shadows with more victims: “living and unliving samples,” and he notes that they only respond to the living. In this report, Ansem comes to a strange conclusion. Having only just named the Heartless “Heartless” in Report 3, he now sees that “The hearts taken by the Heartless become Heartless themselves. […] Could they be the darkness in people’s hearts?” That’s right! The Heartless aren’t literally heartless. In fact, the Heartless are hearts! This pun was so important to Nomura that he addressed the Heartless in English even in the Japanese version. And it’s a great idea. It conveys multiple layers. It implies what a person would be like divorced from the normal rules of form and intelligence, left as a sort of corrupted, animal drive alone. It also conveys the trouble with first impressions. You can really see, looking at this, why Ansem believes that “One who knows nothing can understand nothing.”
The last report from Aerith was the last report in the Vanilla release: Number 10. In it, Ansem muses about the hearts of the worlds. He seems to have concluded at this point that if Heartless come from the human heart, darkness must also come from the heart. If so, he reasons that the whole universe (though he uses the term “world”) must also have a fundamental, foundational darkness. This foundational darkness would be the realm of the Heartless, where he could go to “become all-knowing.” He writes a rough outline for plans to find the Keyblade Wielder and princesses, but notes that “My body is too frail for such a journey, but I must do this. I will cast it off and plunge into the depths of darkness.“
The other prize Aerith gives you is the Curaga upgrade. Lady, I could kiss you. You and your accidental dialogue puzzle!
A good place to continue from there is that last Summon Gem, which unlocks Mushu, the dragon from Mulan, who is Summoned in a sequence reminiscent of Mush’s introduction to Mulan. Mushu is voiced by Mark Moseley, who was Mushu’s original singing voice and has been his primary voice actor since the earliest tie-ins. Mushu fights perched on Sora’s head and gives you a fire breath attack. He’s the one that’s so useful against Sniperwilds. You’d think he’d be useful elsewhere but I find he just doesn’t cause enough damage.
Looking at the mini-art book that came with my collector’s edition of KH1.5, there are actually some sketches of Sora summoning Mushu. When he does, Sora is clearly annoyed at him for standing on his head. Believe it or not, this raises an issue with me. The concept art is fine. It’s great even. It’s just that in the game, Sora is simply smiling. Vacantly. Always. The facial animations in most of the Kingdom Hearts games is so bad that some fans have coined the term “fish-face” because of the pointed appearance of the original low-res models. Some also use the term “emoticon faces” because they’re just flat drawings on the face, like Lego figurines, but “fishface” seems more prevalent. The effect wasn’t very impressive in 2002, but it was acceptable. It’s not acceptable any more.
Mushu is the last of the summons, and as a reward for finding them all, you get Donald’s Lord Fortune Rod. But this wasn’t the last summon in some of the game’s original plans. It’s pretty widely known that the name “Bahamut” appears as a cut Summon listed in the game’s code. Bahamut is the King of Dragons in Final Fantasy, and has often appeared as a Summon in those games. Unfortunately the name is all that remains of the original cut content – it was probably never developed past the concept stage. If you add the name to the list and try to use it the Summon, the game will simply crash.
That’s the end of the low-hanging fruit, but there are plenty of other prizes available. For starters, perhaps Vanilla players have found all the “Arts” items from White Mushrooms? Once you do have the Arts items, you can show them to Merlin to earn the Dream Shield for Goofy – the one from Sora’s Dive to the Heart! You can get the Dream Rod for Donald as well, by unlocking all “-ga” level spells, and that’s not far out of your reach…
By the way, there’s no way to get the Dream Sword again in KH1. I think it would have been cooler if they had given it to you as a Keychain, but I suppose that might have clashed with people who took Rod or Shield.
As a reward for finding all 99 of the Dalmatian puppies, Pongo and Perdita will hand you double prizes. The first is the second Aero spell upgrade, Aeroga, more precious than diamonds. Aeroga is more than just a simple a timer upgrade like Aerora: it also causes the shield to damage enemies on contact, and seems to deflect certain objects and projectiles as well. The Dalmatians also nose over a “full set” of Gummis. This prize is strange: it gives you every Gummi you can carry, more than you could ever use, but in doing this, the game locks yourself out of chests containing Gummi prizes, since your inventory is full and you can’t sell some of the common Gummis. I was surprised this wasn’t fixed in Final Mix. Completionists may want to double-check every world to make sure all the Gummi chests have been opened. In the interest of your self-preservation, the last Gummi box in the game is in the “Great Crevasse” section of the final world. But to the casual player: don’t put off Aeroga because you’re being petty about boxes, it’s not worth the trouble.
That’s all the easy stuff. What next? Every world has been stocked with high-level Heartless to harass you, so no world is easier than the others any longer. That’s a good idea for the late game. It’s not something I’d want from every game but it works well for Kingdom Hearts, and some of the games in the series that don’t do similar come off as deficient. There’s plenty of room for grinding and synth-hunting. But have I mentioned that there are Darkballs everywhere? And there’s still terrible?
What if you want to do something more substantial? Since we’re here at the end, let’s lay out the Secret Ending requirements and hit them up in depth.
If you’re playing the Vanilla release, you can only get one secret ending. To get it, you need to seal every Keyhole. You can tell which ones still need to be sealed on the map screen, thanks to a special Keyhole icon that appears next to the world’s name. You also need to clear Monstro, which will be marked with a slash symbol in the same spot. In Normal Mode, you will also need to find all 99 puppies and complete the last tournament at Olympus Coliseum. Beginner Mode can’t get any secret endings.
In Final Mix and 1.5, there are two endings, the one from the PS2 version and a new secret ending. To get the one from the PS2 version, Proud Mode players just need to beat the game, nothing special required. Standard Mode players will need to seal every keyhole and rescue the Dalmatians. But to get the second ending, there will be more grunt work. Proud Mode players will have to seal Keyholes and find the puppies, while Standard Mode players will have to do all of the above and complete Jiminy’s Journal from top to bottom.
Completing Jiminy’s Journal is harder than it might sound. In this game it means finding every Trinity, playing every mini-game, and beating every secret boss. It’s actually one of the easiest Journal to complete in the series, which isn’t going to be very reassuring when a superboss steamrolls you for the tenth time in a row. Don’t worry, dead friend! These are also some of the easiest superbosses in the series! Isn’t that great? It helps that Kingdon Hearts 1 doesn’t require you to be a high-level, perfectly equipped demigod to beat the secret bosses, which means that if you’re having trouble, you can become a high-level, perfectly equipped demigod and win without trouble! The absurd monster boss you could barely blink at your first time through seems a lot less threatening when you’re bearing down on it with Ultima Weapon at level 99 and Final Mixes’ lovely Leaf Bracer skill. I suppose it depends on what kind of gameplay experience you want in your brawlers.
But for folks who want to play at reasonable difficulties, I’ll keep up my running train of advice through the game’s final tournament, secret bosses and even (sigh) Gummi Missions…