Beyond the ornate door, close to the heart of The End of the World, you find the beach of Destiny Islands. I’m sure this will surprise some less than others – KH1 is so referential to its opening hours that this isn’t a very surprising way for it to end. You’re given a moment to explore with Donald and Goofy, but most of the doors don’t work. Inevitably, you’ll realize the game wants you to go to the secret cave, which is when Ansem makes his approach. As he repeats his lines from his appearance on Destiny Islands, the island begins to crumble, corrupt and crack. With the entrance to the cave destroyed, you turn back to find Riku, looking out over the cliff side that was once the beach.
(During this time, PS2 players can access a great glitch to pretty much fly around the island.)
Speaking through Riku, Ansem addresses the Islands as a “tiny place […] a prison surrounded by water,” echoing his own sentiment in Ansem Report 7. Ansem says that Riku wanted to escape the islands, and so opened his heart to darkness. Consider this in context of my comments on Darkness, Light and Childhood from Hollow Bastion, and you might realize something the games won’t say outright until CoM.
Ansem takes over Riku again, transforming into his own shape, saying this time Riku is lost forever. “His heart belongs again to darkness. All worlds begin in darkness, and all so end. The heart is no different. Darkness sprouts within it, it grows, consumes it. Such is its nature. In the end, every heart returns to the darkness whence it came. You see, darkness is the heart’s true essence.”
That section is often quoted by later games, and it sparks what I can only call a philosophical debate between Ansem and Sora that’s going to carry us to the end of the game. Sora counters that “The heart may be weak. And sometimes it may even give in. But I’ve learned that deep down, there’s a light that never goes out!” Ansem insists to the contrary, that “every heart [must] return to darkness!” and the first fight begins. We’ll return to these ideas later in the sequence.
Ansem summons up a humanoid Heartless at this point, one that the fandom knows unofficially as “Ansem’s Guardian.” Ansem’s Guardian strongly resembles a Pureblood Heartless: purple-black, four head tentacles instead of the two on Darkballs and Neoshadows and the mane on Darksides, some sort of back spines, and a heart-shape gap in its stomach. It lacks legs or a tail, as it spawns from Ansem as though a sentient shadow (though if you want to get technical, it has something like Genie’s tail that fades away rather than reaching a point). The Guardian is bound about its body and mouth with cords.
The battle is actually not that threatening for the prelude to a final boss. Like some of the other bosses so far with phases and refights, this first phase was created by lopping off half his ability list. He also often gets distracted by attacking Donald and Goofy, which is just a waste of his time because, unlike area attacks from Hades and Cerberus, Donald and Goofy can take single attacks just fine. Ansem also totally wastes time with a defensive technique that calls on the Guardian to protect him. This makes him nearly invincible, but also prevents him from attacking. Once you learn that’s the case, you’re just going to heal! It doesn’t gain him any advantage at all. It’s even possible – though not easy – to hit him while he’s doing this, but I’ve never really got a feel for it, so I use it to recharge my Aero. He’s only hurting himself.
The only real dangerous attack here is when Ansem sends the Guardian after Sora. While you can dodge this, I’ve never found a consistent way to get out of the way. Once you’ve been tagged, the Guardian will intermittently replace Sora’s Attack command to “Freeze” and unlike the Unknown’s “Shock” command, a question mark shows up above your head to warn you. If you hit “Freeze,” the Guardian will pin Sora in place, and Ansem tends to attack Sora once he’s been pinned, so that’s going to hurt. There’s no “Release” command like in the fight against the Unknown: you have to wait for the Guardian to leave on its own.
Hacking the game has suggested there was going to be a battle with Riku-Ansem around this point in the game. A prototype room for the fight still exists in the data. I bring this up because there’s another minor problem with this battle: you often get snagged on the shitty, quickly prepared terrain of the contorted Destiny Islands. Not to forget that flying glitch I mentioned a few paragraphs back! It feels like they did the collision data for this arena in under an hour, and as narrative appropriate as this arena may be, as a combat arena it’s terrible! I can’t help but wonder if they added this arena at the last minute to replace the cut one.
As to the “cut” Riku fight itself, I always figured this rumoured “fourth” Riku fight was actually the fight you already did in Hollow Bastion, and that the fight in Hollow Bastion was supposed to be easier or non-existent. After all, not only was the Hollow Bastion fight too hard (and set to the music of the final boss), but it came after two other boss fights and would have felt crowded even if it hadn’t been legendarily difficult! But I could easily be wrong, I’ve never even seen the interview explaining the cut Riku fight to begin with.
After the fight, Ansem flies into the hills at the centre of the island like a ghost, and the hills blow apart, revealing a great, dark-stained crater. Strangely, the game gives you this opportunity to pause and reequip items. It’s the last chance you’re going to get, so take advantage of it before going in. Once you do go in, Ansem uses another of his damn force fields to keep Donald and Goofy out, so fair warning.
Ansem then summons a Darkside, which rises from the crater. That’s ominous and thematically appropriate bookending and all, but the Darkside has barely changed since the start of the game. In fact it’s barely been upgraded statistically, and will die in an instant. The only interesting footnote about this fight is that, the first time I did it, I assumed the Darkside was Ansem’s Guardian, unbound from its bondage gear momentarily. I still don’t think that’s outright impossible, but I don’t favour the theory these days.
After the fight, Ansem returns and we just keep going where we left off. This fight with Ansem is rougher than the first. For starters, it’s just Sora. That’s why Ansem had so much trouble against Donald and Goofy: he’s only programmed to fight one enemy at a time! Cute trivia, but the first fight should have really been tweaked. Next, Ansem has a much larger spread of attacks, and painfully, Freeze is still there. The Guardian can also launch attacks from the ground like Cerberus, which would have humiliated Donald and Goofy. Ansem’s invincible during this desperation attack, so it’s not out of the question to just glide around aimlessly until the threat passes, but I find Glide doesn’t last quite long enough. It’s preferable to dodge on foot as long as possible, as Sora can too easily get caught coming out of Glide into a landing.
Fighting Ansem solo is the first real challenge of the finale, but it’s manageable, and you’ll win with time. It’s also the last traditional fight in the game. The early Kingdom Hearts games had a serious problem with this: they often insert a gameplay change at the last damn second. BBS, by some measures the fifth game in the series, is the first game that fully avoids an atypical final boss fight. In this game the gimmick is that you have to fight the final boss while flying. I mean, I guess I could cover the events that occur between the two fights, but the fact that you’re back to swimming controls is annoying enough to wipe that kind of focus from my mind. And this time, I’m in agreement with everyone else. This isn’t like me liking Atlantica and just summarizing the popular dislike: fighting the true final boss with swimming controls is horseshit. Instead of letting you fight a final boss with skills you’ve carefully developed and skill you’ve honed, you’re thrown into a fight where strategy is worthless, skill is worthless, and you’re barely capable of dodging. I mean, it’s not as overt as a game outright changing genre for part of the boss fight (but we’ll get to that in good time…), but the root is the same: they chose to end the game by playing differently than you had been playing up to this point. At least we’re somewhat familiar with the flying controls…
Okay, story. You beat Ansem, but everything goes black, and the next thing we know, we’re in “the endless abyss!” according to our host. “Within it lies the heart of all worlds. Kingdom Hearts!” Well thanks for that, asshole. Thanks to you, everyone and their dog thinks the Kingdom Hearts in KH1 is a pre-existing “Heart of all Worlds” while close reading and later games will confirm that this “Kingdom Hearts” was an artificial one made by you pressing together the destroyed worlds. This misconception still hasn’t been cleared up among the fandom. Now, it’s not a very damaging misconception. We’re not misunderstanding something that breaks the plot or anything, but after seven games, it’s pretty common to see a fan come out of the woodwork going, “wait, hold on,” after they realize something is wrong, and they can’t put their finger on what.
The trio is floating in the void, and in the distance they see a small floating island beyond strange… trees? This island is dominated by the ornate door from the Dive to the Heart, now the size of a three storey building. A careful observer might realize that this is the island Riku appeared on in that last Final Mix exclusive scene (hard to guess if that’s deliberate or just a matter of pre-existing assets), though the door is new. Ansem announces that this door leads to Kingdom Hearts. “Look as hard as you are able. You’ll not find even the smallest glimmer of light. From those dark depths are all hearts born. Even yours.” Dude, that isn’t helping the “pre-existing Kingdom Hearts” misconception. If I hadn’t just gone over that splurge explaining Kingdom Hearts was manufactured, I’d be convinced there was a retcon involved here, but there isn’t! The game really is contradicting itself!
Ansem then reveals himself, and wow, this is a doozy: he and the Guardian have become bare-chested and giant, and merged below the waist to a giant space battleship made of muscle. It has a tooth-filled maw at the fore, and since this whole amalgam comes out below the waist, I’ve just got to call it a giant penis. Don’t look at me like that. It’s a dick with a mouth. Congratulations, Square. Your ability to turn your final boss into a giant flesh abomination continues to astonish even after all these years since Final Fantasy IV. This is “The World of Chaos” (according to external sources), and I am agog.
The trio suddenly start falling, like Looney Tunes cartoons that just noticed they weren’t on solid ground, and disappear into the abyss, but Sora recovers when he feels Riku’s voice in his head, taunting him playfully. Sora recovers, and flies up to battle.
Ansem stage 3 is the most dangerous of the final fights, even if it is the first flying boss fight with Superglide’s speed boost, which you’d think would make it a breeze. You can barely dodge, you can’t summon Tinker Bell alone, it’s just you, Ansem, and Aeroga. Ansem is armed with a huge double-bladed staff, and can summon energy beams and other projectiles, almost none of which matters to your strategy, because you can’t get out of the way in the first place. I’m sure there is a way to get out of the way of his attacks – after all, people have beaten this game at Level 1 – but I feel it’s just hard to get into the right mindset after all this time playing with an entirely different set of controls, you assholes.
Technically, there is the whole rest of the ship to retreat to, but if you fall back more than a few aerial steps, Ansem will summon small pureblood Heartless called “Bit Snipers” by the Japanese strategy guide. Since I imagine many players have never seen them, I’ll describe them as looking like flying arrowheads. These Japan-exclusive strategy guides by Square Enix, called Ultimania, are usually a good source for missing information. That’s where I pulled the name “World of Chaos,” so you can tell this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing of those guides.
Before I forget, the boss music here is “Guardando nel buio,” one last retake on Destati.
I wish I could say more about the fight but I really can’t, this is such a disappointing way to end the game. Strategy is an illusion and skill is almost irrelevant. When you win, Ansem pulls back, wrapped in a sort of flesh cocoon marked with the Heartless emblem.
For whatever reason (it’s a video game, these things happen), this prompts a portal to appear, which Sora enters automatically. Inside, you are suddenly back on your feet, and surrounded by Shadows. You are largely engulfed in Darkness, save for a blue, bloom-lit Heartless emblem on the floor, making it mildly difficult to see the Heartless, considering they’re almost all black. After defeating them, a moving ball of a purple light appears, held by two beams of light. You have to destroy this pillar, in a situation highly reminiscent of the connections between Ganon’s castle and the Temples in Ocarina of Time, except this pillar of light moves like a flesh tendon when you hit it. It’s a nice effect! It also explodes in slow motion, which is also a nice effect, the first time I’ve complimented slow-mo in this entire Retrospective. This ending battle is at least stylish. Whether or not it makes up for the flying is up to the individual player.
On destroying the pillar, you return to the World of Chaos and find a purple haze has formed in front of the Guardian. Approaching the Guardian, you find a number of pustules on the top of the ship, which fire on you. You have to destroy the pustules (specifically, the large ones) while they and the Guardian launch beams at you. After you’ve done a run or two past the pustules, the whole situation becomes a lot less dangerous as their threat comes mostly from their starting numbers.
Destroying the pustules cause the haze to turn into another portal, which you enter to discover a dark room filled with Darkballs this time… Darkballs and Goofy, who comes out of the void to rejoin you! The game is strategically reintroducing your partners so not to give you Donald’s healing, which means it’s a good idea to turn on Goofy’s Evolution before going into the final boss fight if you’re playing Final Mix. Even if you’re playing vanilla KH1, Goofy is not unappreciated after two and a half final boss fights worth of resource burn-out. Especially if he has MP Gift.
The Darkballs are as threatening as dry tissue paper at this point, so you blaze through and destroy another tendon. This one seems to provoke a response from the penis-mouth at the front of the ship, so you head up front to fight it. The glans serves as something of a mini-boss. There are a few more pustules underneath it on the World of Chaos’ hydrofoil or… cow-catcher or whatever you want to call this, but you don’t need to destroy those if you’re not in the mood. The only real danger is this battle is the area attack the mouth uses from time to time. It’s a little easier to dodge than some of the projectiles from Ansem, and you’ll want to, because it hurts like an actual cow-catcher.
Despite all the irregularities, there’s something primal about this face that I like, and the level of detail they put into it. Oddly for something made up entirely of teeth, the mouth never really tries to bite you like Ursula did, but I suppose that would force the entire phallic ship to lunge into your face… moving on!
Killing the mouth causes it to take on a slack jawed look (I guess you don’t get to pick how your genitals die) and another portal appears in its mouth. As you could probably predict at this point, this one contains Donald and a platoon of Invisibles, who might be a little trouble when you can’t easily see them using their special attack. Still, Donald will repair most of the damage you’ve taken, so after this fight, it’s just one step to the finale.
Back on the World of Chaos, a force field has dropped, allowing you access to the ship’s physical heart: marked with a big cartoon skull of all things. A few pustules defend it but they’re non-factors at this point. You break the heart, and Ansem is finally forced out of his cocoon.
You’ve done too much damage to Ansem’s dick for him to use the cocoon again, but he’s healed up to full HP in your absence. Unfortunately for him, there’s not much he can do to stop you. He’s got a new explosion attack, but you’ve got your friends, and Tinker Bell too, if you land and give her a call. It’s funny to think after all the AI mistakes we’ve seen in this game, but Donald and Goofy really do help you out more than you could imagine. Ansem seems like a blow-over at this point, and I feel that clinches the game’s themes. It’s something the later games miss in their effort to create a dramatic finale: they often leave your friends behind. Kingdom Hearts 1, more than anything else, was about the power of friendship, and it ends by showing how much of a difference your friends can make. It’s the best way it could have gone out.
Well, it would have been better if you were on your feet.