Everything in the previous entry was late-game stuff you could easily do before the final boss, but at this point, we’re well and truly into the list of stuff you should be doing after you’ve beaten the game. But since they’re available now, we might as well cover them. For the record, the term “Superboss” comes from turn-based RPGs, where it refers to bosses measurably stronger than the final boss, which exist just for the challenge. Final Fantasy 1 introduced Death Machine, aka Warmech, who is often cited as the first Superboss, but it doesn’t actually outclass the final boss, it was just very strong. I can’t say what the first true superboss was, but Final Fantasy had acquired its first true superboss in FFVII. Kingdom Hearts, though… Kingdom Hearts is really fond of the idea. If you want to prove you’re the best at the game, you’re going to have your work cut out for you with some of these high-class challenges.
One thing to keep in mind here is the weird way KH1 seems to “break” once you reach a certain high level. It’s hard to say which level. I feel the game still gives a decent challenge around Level 60 and 70, but by the time you reach Level 99, it throws up its hands and surrenders completely. While I personally don’t mind this, I understand that others do. It’s a serious problem because you can break the game’s entire difficulty just by levelling too much, even during regular play. This is a problem systematic to all traditional RPGs, and I feel it’s a really, really bad sign when a game like KH1 lets you gain those levels just by doing the sidequests. KH2 (and its Final Mix especially) tried to deal with this by providing Level 99 challenges, while the other KH games just made Level 99 unreasonable to reach. Both solutions are better than KH1’s, which is to just give up if the player has the gall to… play and enjoy the game’s content? How dare you.
We’ve got a wide variety of screenshots for you today. The first three will be coming from RickyC’s longplay of the western Vanilla release of KH1 on PS2, which you can also find at World of Longplays (YouTube). Then, we’ll one superboss from our old friend Spazbo4, before turning over to KHI user ShardofTruth, who took screenshots of the final superboss from the Japanese PS2 release of Final Mix!
Remember when I said that going on too late in the game would cut you off from Neverland’s clock tower and its hourly rewards? And when I said Neverland clears out most of its save points at one point? This is the reason why. Once the Princesses opened the Keyhole at Hollow Bastion, the Phantom was let loose and secured the Clock Tower as its new haunt. You want the hourly prizes back? You’re going to have to fight for them.
First you’re going to have to get there: you have to talk to Tinker Bell inside Hook’s ship (even though she’s in your party as a Summon?) and talking to Tinker Bell means bringing Peter Pan whether you want him or not, because you don’t speak fairy. And you won’t want him around. Pan’s not at all suited for this fight, but too bad, you’re going to have to suck it up. Once you arrive on the site, Phantom will appear: a great, cloaked, Death-like figure, wearing black in the original and white with creepy black sleeves in Final Mix. Much fuss has been made about Phantom resembling a villain from one of the Peter Pan book sequels, but Kingdom Hearts’ references to original books have slim to none outside of this, so I don’t feel this reference was intentional. Phantom is the only superboss that appears in all versions of the game, including the original Japanese. Most of the others were added in the international releases.
The fight requires a lot of prep, and you’re going to have to radically change your setup if you hope to pull through without trouble. There are two major problems: the first is that Phantom is fought almost entirely with magic, and no point in the game has forced you to use magic to this much of an extreme. The second is Phantom’s special ability. Some folks will tell you I shouldn’t call it this because the game never says outright, but I’m going for it: Phantom uses the infamous Final Fantasy spell “Doom.”
Doom in Final Fantasy is simple and a little gruesome: the enemy taps you with a timer and if you haven’t won the fight by the time it’s done, that character dies and you’ll have to revive them. Kingdom Hearts is not so generous. Phantom’s Doom is going to target Peter Pan first, and once he dies, it targets your other ally, and then lastly it comes after you (this is, by the way, the reason I feel Peter was forced into the party: so the programmers could target him first without any randomization). Anyone taken out by Doom is out of the fight for good. They won’t come back until the fight is over, no matter what items and spells you try to use.
The way Doom operates is also very strange: the clock tower is doing the counting. To stop it, you have to go over to any face of the tower, target the minute hand, and cast Stop, which is completely illogical and won’t occur to you the first few times through without outside help. Keep in mind that the strength of your MP determines the duration of Stop, and you’re going to want a lot of MP to hurt Phantom in the first place, so a magically-aligned Keyblade is ideal. Keeping on top of Doom and the Clock Tower should be your first priority, but wait till you hear the rest.
To hurt Phantom, you’re going to have to attack an orb in his robes that is his only vulnerable spot. Like Ursula’s cauldron, the orb is vulnerable to Fire, Blizzard and Thunder depending on its colour, though it changes colour much faster. It can also turn white, which renders it vulnerable to physical attacks for a time. Yet again, colourblind players are screwed over. The orb disappears after taking damage, i.e. one spell or a handful of hits when white. But since it disappears for such a long time, you spend much of the fight doing nothing!
If you’re paying attention, this combat system mixed with Doom means the game wants you to have four spells ready at a moment’s notice: Stop, Fire, Blizzard and Thunder. And you only have three shortcut buttons! And don’t forget Cure and Aero! Aero’s actually really important too, since Aeroga (and only Aeroga, not Aero or Aerora) can deflect the Phantom’s most lethal attack and save you a lot of other trying to dodge it. Oh, and remember how Aero and Stop are 2 MP instead of 1?
It doesn’t seem like there’s enough MP in the world to deal with this fight. There are guides out there that can help you a little better, but I’ll reduce it to three key strategies: 1) Land on the tower and summon Tinker Bell, so you don’t have to worry about Curing again. Mind that she can’t save you from Doom. 2) Get a better MP Keyblade, even if it means the Spellbinder. Ultima if you can, and if not, there’s a good one tied to one of the other superbosses. Trouble either way, but helpful. 3) This is an old and sacred trick: Give Goofy MP Gift, and turn off every other MP consuming ability that he and Peter Pan have on them. Goofy will funnel all the MP to Sora as a result, and you’ll keep on top. Bring Ethers just in case. Give some to Goofy. Remember: 2 of his MP become 3 of yours, or 1->3 in Vanilla.
Beating Phantom restores access to the Clock Tower and its hourly prizes, the Dalmatian puppies you might have missed here in Vanilla, gives you an achievement in 1.5, and most importantly gives you the Stopga upgrade. This is also probably your last spell upgrade, so you can now get the Dream Rod.
“Kurt Zisa” is actually the name of a real person, a prize winner immortalized in Kingdom Hearts as a brutal machine of death. Belated congratulations!
To find Zisa, you have to speak to the Magic Carpet in Aladdin’s loft, who looks pretty excited about something. You’re going to have to have a few words with our rug friend about the difference between “Things that are Exciting because they are Neat” and “Things that are Exciting because you will Shit Your Pants.” Carpet takes you to the scene: a series of ruins surrounded by a circle of pillars. There, Zisa attacks: a mechanical, insectoid thing with multiple hand and giant swords. You’re immediately grounded, and it all gets worse from here.
I know I said we’re pretending this is all happening before Sora goes to the final world, but the final world gets you a mobility upgrade that would be really helpful here. Food for thought. Whenever you enter the fight, do yourself two favours the moment the fight starts: summon Tinker Bell immediately and then cast Aeroga immediately afterwards. There’s a reason for the urgency: Kurt Zisa opens the fight by disabling all magic after the first few seconds.
Kurt Zisa has two phases: a combat phase, during which he uses whirling blade attacks and disables magic, and a magic phase, during which he casts magic and is only vulnerable to magic. To make matters worse, he is only truly vulnerable in between phases. To clear the combat phase, you have to attack these glowing orbs he carries in two of his many redundant hands. Thankfully they drop HP orbs when destroyed, like a start-of-game boss. To clear the Magic Phase, just do damage with spells – it’s hard to say whether to go with Thundaga or rapid-fire Firaga, because neither seems ideal. You can smack his magic shield with your keyblade for MP orbs, but there aren’t many.
The fight with Kurt Zisa is a matter of pattern recognition. He hits too hard for you to let him get away with it. Dodge, or he will treat you like a toy caught in a lawn mower. The only other thing you can do is bring a balanced Keyblade (again, Ultima is best), pack items, keep Tinker Bell active, and try to cast Aeroga before he starts his combat phase. Good luck, I’ve taught you all I know!
Defeating Zisa gets you shit-all in the North American PS2 release except peace of mind and EXP, but in Final Mix will give you a new ability, Zantetsuken, and also Ansem Report 11. Ansem Report 11 is the first of the Final Mix reports, this one is dedicated to filling plot holes. It spells out plainly what I already told you about the “walls” between worlds being made up of gummi blocks, and talks about Ansem’s plans to find the Keyblade Wielder. It seems he’s the reason Kairi ended up in Destiny Islands: he set her loose in the void knowing she was a Princess, and figuring she would soon attract the attention of the Keyblade Wielder, one way or another. Ansem’s not a very nice guy, I don’t know if you picked up on that.
Clearing the Hades Cup gives you access to a new round in the tournament listings. Originally labelled with question marks, this special round becomes the “Gold Match” after you get started: a solo fight against the Ice Titan from Hercules. Ironically, you’re likely to unlock the “Platinum Match” (below) well before the Gold Match.
Unlike the Rock Titan, the Ice Titan is a legitimate threat. To begin: if you haven’t got Guard equipped, put it back on. You borderline need it. Ice Titan is mostly harmed by reflecting attacks back at it, and while swinging your Keyblade sort of works, it’s not well enough. Next, equip a magic Keyblade, the best that you have (this is the fight that gets you the best magic Keyblade in the game, so you’ll have to make due with second-best). Strength is useless here, as you’re almost never going to directly hit this guy, so even the Spellbinder works well here. Ragnarok doesn’t even seem to work, no matter what I’ve read (even guides that seem to rely on it, so something may have been changed between the North American vanilla release and 1.5?). Your only options are deflecting his projectiles and casting the odd Fire spell. And while Fire counts, that’s still not how you’re going to do most of the damage.
The Ice Titan has a whole barrage of attacks, many of which have to be dodged. But in between attacks you have to dodge, it will fire out some heavy icicles like a gattling gun. By using Guard, it is possible to reflect these at the Titan. These make up the majority of damage done in the entire fight (and are worth their weight in Tech Points). Dodge, block, dodge-dodge, block, heal, dodge, block. That’s about it. It has some close-range attacks, but you can avoid them with either practice or by going into the stands.
The Ice Titan has two other behaviours: it can collapse, though you can’t seem to harm it very well when it does so, and it at least once in the fight it goes into desperation mode and uses heavy attacks, including icicles the size of motorcycles. You can’t reflect these ones (Eamonn notes that the Titan will also use these at other phases in the battle if you’re using Aeroga, since Aeroga normally has the power to deflect projectiles). Bail, Sora. Glide for it.
Clearing the Ice Titan gets you a lot of EXP (mostly in the form of Tech Points), but it’s also worth a new Keyblade in Final Mix, not to forget an achievement in 1.5. The Diamond Dust is the best magic Keyblade in the game. It’s the solution to all your magic problems, be they Phantom or pesky mushroom.
Clearing Hollow Bastion unlocks one last secret round at Olympus Coliseum: the Platinum Match. And it’s no lightweight division. Also a solo match, your opponent here is Sephiroth himself, Final Boss of Final Fantasy VII. Like Cloud, he has a single, black wing, on the opposite shoulder. In a subtle touch, Sephiroth fights Sora with his off-hand, to explain a kid just off thirteen or so being able to beat him (and he doesn’t seem all that impressed when you beat him, either).
Sephiroth is fought to his signature tune, “One-Winged Angel,” and is perhaps the hardest boss in the game. He’s certainly the hardest in the vanilla game. He takes some serious preparation time and a lot of practice, since he can kill you instantly at any given moment. PS2 players relied on Sora’s special attacks to buy time and invulnerability, while Final Mix players can rely on Leaf Bracer. Vanilla players are very jealous, I assure you.
Sephiroth’s early attacks are simple: he uses his Masamune, one of the longest swords in fiction, to do most of his attacks, and will react to your attacks by summoning three pillars of fire that you have to be ready to dodge. He also teleports around a great deal. But after you’ve dealt some damage, he starts putting in some real effort.
Sephiroth’s second phase begins with his most powerful attack. Taken from Kefka Palazzo of Final Fantasy VI, this is the spell “Heartless Angel,” which has been associated with Sephiroth ever since this cameo in KH1. Yes, that is the name of a spell that existed before Kingdom Hearts. It’s a doozy: if you let Sephiroth complete it, Sora will lose all but 1 HP and all of his MP. Sephiroth then immediately jumps in to finish you off, meaning that even veterans can be killed on the spot. There are several solutions but they’re all extreme: firstly, you can try to stay on Sephiroth’s toes at all time so that he can’t cast Heartless Angel. That mobility upgrade I mentioned during the Kurt Zisa fight – the one from the final world – helps considerably. Secondly, you can use Strike Raid to make him flinch while casting. Thirdly (and good to keep in mind just in case), you can have your cursor waiting on the Item button so that you drop an Elixir on your head right after Heartless Angel completes but before Sephiroth attacks.
One of the troubles with recognizing Heartless Angel is the vocal cue, which is practically whispered. All of Sephiroth’s dialogue is practically whispered. Good for Sephiroth’s character, but not for gameplay. At the time, the fans blamed the voice actor, but I think he actually did do a good job with Sephiroth. No, this strikes me as another problem stemming from Kingdom Heart’s voice direction. Someone should have said “be louder,” but they never did. So with all those compliments from me, you’re probably going to be surprised to learn who actually did do the voice: Lance Bass, from 90s boy band N’Sync. No, really.
The fight is a big mess the further you go in. Soon Lance Bass is summoning meteors (Meteor, another keystone Final Fantasy spell), and just never stops coming in with one attack after another. When I first beat Sephiroth in 1.5, he was desperately trying to cast Heartless Angel while a half dozen other spells were still live about the field and I stuck to him like a starving flea. I still don’t believe I made it through, and I was radically overlevelled. This guy means business.
Clearing Sephiroth gets you nothing but EXP in the Vanilla game, but gives you three prizes in Final Mix (four with the Achievement in 1.5). First is the One-Winged Angel Keyblade, a weak Keyblade with a lethal crit bonus. Second: it seems Sephiroth was holding a piece of the Ansem report, implying these later pages all ended up in the hands of powerful, evil entities. This one is cautiously worded, and it is not entirely clear what Ansem is talking about. But because this and the last report are pure sequel bait, I’m going to file them away at the end of this retrospective along with the biggest piece of sequel bait: the Secret Endings.
The last prize is a new cutscene in Final Mix, which occurs as you leave the arena. Sephiroth and Cloud face off, and Cloud strongly implies that Sephiroth is the person he was trying to get Hades to find for him at the start of the game. Cloud claims that Sephiroth is his dark side, and so long as he’s alive, he’ll never “escape this nightmare.” Sephiroth invites him to embrace the nightmare instead, but of course they fight, the scene cutting off and the results of the battle left inconclusive. (Though they both keep hanging out around the Coliseum for rematches with you, so clearly they weren’t trying very hard.)
When the Final Mixes were first released in Japan, it was irritating to the rest of us. Japanese gamers getting all this unique content, handy rebalancing… but we told ourselves that at least the rest of the world wasn’t missing anything critical, right? Nothing about FM was going to upset the story. At least, we weren’t until Square Enix made a major misstep, and began to make those exclusive sections important to the story retroactively. And it all began here. This one addition showed up as early as CoM’s opening sequence, but it’s more important, and so more irritating than just a little cameo. On one hand, most players don’t even seem to realize how this scene is important, because it’s not so important that you won’t understand other segments without it. On the other hand, it answers two questions that will nag at you in the sequels if you don’t understand the context.
The scene begins if you return to the Castle Chapel in Hollow Bastion, where you’ll see the portal leading to your battlefield with Maleficent as a Dragon has reopened. The Princesses are all talking about it: beyond the portal is an evil power that is not darkness, and so they’ve found they have no power over it. If you go into the portal, it’s you, Donald and Goofy against the series’ first “Unknown,” one of several bosses whose origins would not be clear until later games came around to explain it.
Curiously, this Final Mix exclusive cutscene has voiced lines from a young Haley Joel Osmet, implying that this boss fight may have been meant for western audiences as well but just didn’t make it into the release, although I suppose it’s possible they cropped his lines from other places or dropped recordings.
The scene begins with Sora, Donald and Goofy looking cautiously around, only for the mysterious figure to appear from behind. This person is tall, and wearing a black cloak we are not near done seeing the end of. The figure follows the trio, but once Sora notices, the figure continues walking, and soon walk through Sora as though ethereal. This triggers a sudden barrage of memories that flood the screen, made up of lines of dialogue from throughout the game. Sora collapses, but to his credit he doesn’t react with hostilely, at least not at first. After all, the cloaked figure doesn’t seem to have done anything yet.
But the Unknown refuses to speak out loud, instead communicating with the trio via distorted text, in what seems to be a sort of telepathic communication with the characters’ minds. He says “It seems you [Sora] are special too.” Goofy, logically, wonders if this cloaked figure might be Ansem. The figure denies it, though they say that the name “Ansem” is familiar. The figure says: “You remind me of him,” which does not quite mean “You remind me of Ansem” like it might sound. Sora, too, seems to recognize that the Unknown is talking about someone else.
The figure attacks Sora. Sora deflects this (barely) and the figure says “It means you are not whole. You are incomplete.” The figure continues their attack as a “test.”
After your solo fights at Olympus Coliseum, you may have forgotten that you can summon Tinker Bell, so don’t forget that, that’s important. The Unknown attacks with a variety of attacks that take some getting used to, including short- and long-range projectiles and… well, he has lightsabres. He can also teleport and almost never flinches. The only way to provoke a flinch is air attacks, special attacks, and for some reason Gravity, the slowest spell in your arsenal.
And that’s just the half of it. As the Unknown gets weaker, his attacks increase in number and frequency. He takes on a giant energy dome and shoots constant cutting lasers in all directions that are very hard to dodge. Thankfully he’s not as ruthless with his attacks as Sephiroth, but he does have one very ugly surprise: the Shock attack.
If you’re trying to take on the Unknown before beating the game, you’ll never have seen anything like this. Something like it first appears during the Final Boss fight, but that’s it. I’m not going to defend either situation, as I feel it’s just ugly game design to surprise the player with a new technique in the middle of a final or secret boss fight. The Shock attack tags Sora with a spell, and causes him to glow with energy. Sora’s command boxes begin to flicker the words “Shock” and “Release.” If you hit a command marked “Release,” the effect will end. If you hit “Shock,” you’ll take damage. You’ll notice there is no way for you to continue attacking until you hit “Release.”
Personally, I found Sephiroth harder than the Unknown, but it’s a matter of opinion and experience. For me, the relative ease came from Tinkerbell, Donald and Goofy (and I suppose you could take Beast). Your friends’ support abilities make all the difference.
The track playing in the background in this fight is called “Disappeared,” a dark but rising track that works perfectly here, but is a little out of place once it finally returns in Kingdom Hearts 2. It just doesn’t feel appropriate in its new home. Later games that used Unknown bosses would give them remixes when they were finally unmasked, but the idea was new to KH1/2 with this first Unknown, so in a matter of speaking, a Kingdom Hearts 1 musical track ended up lost and all alone in KH2.
Defeating the Unknown is a little underwhelming. You get the best EXP boosting item in the game, but it’s “best” only by a small degree, and besides, you just beat one of the hardest bosses in the game! You’ll only want it if you’re having trouble with Sephiroth or if you’re going for the Level 99 Achievement. Your other prize is Ansem Report 13, which I’ll be covering in the final part of the KH1 retrospective. There is also an outro cutscene.
The Unknown is weak after the battle, but seems to take a deep breath and to “push away” the damage they have taken (an ability the character will never use in later games. Clearly putting aside their plot shield). They say “This will be enjoyable.” When asked what they mean (by a boy trying to cut them in two with an overhead swing), the Unknown responds that it is “Beyond your comprehension, for now.” That’s true, Tetsuya Nomura, it is kind of hard to understand a plot when you haven’t finished writing it yet.
Trying to leave, Sora snaps: “What are you—?” He’s trying to say: “What are you talking about?” but the Unknown interrupts so they can answer the question: “What are you?” instead. To this, they respond: “I am—but an empty shell.” With that, they vanish.
This retrospective’s screenshots come from Spazbo4’s longplay of the PS3, 1.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix at World of Longplays (YouTube), and RickyC’s longplay of the PS2, western Vanilla version of Kingdom Hearts 1, also at World of Longplays (YouTube).