The World of Chaos is destroyed, and the Guardian seems to go with it. Soon Sora, Donald and Goofy are floating with Ansem out in the void (Ansem found the time to put his clothes back on, apparently). But it seems it’s… too… late? Wait, what was Ansem trying to accomplish with that all that ship nonsense? Why didn’t he just go to Kingdom Hearts? Because that’s exactly what he does right now. He notes that one Keyblade can’t seal the Door to Darkness alone, and orders the door to open, and for Kingdom Hearts to give him the power he’s been looking for.
Earlier, when I was talking about the major themes of the game in Hollow Bastion, I mentioned: “What is Darkness?” We don’t have a definitive answer for that yet (in fact we won’t begin to approach it until Chain of Memories), but we can talk about what’s being brought up here between Sora and Ansem with these “darkness consumes all worlds,” comments: they’re discussing fundamental human nature. What are people really like, are they fundamentally “Light” or “Dark,” or neither? It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen in anime and video games before, though it’s a lot more substantial than certain final boss speeches that come to mind, since the game has been building to this all along. We still don’t know exactly what is meant by those terms, but we can consider it from the angles we discussed on Hollow Bastion: is it in human nature to be strong through personal strength, or interpersonal connections? It’s more than that, but that’s a facet. Perhaps we don’t need to know everything quite yet. It’s an old discussion, and one Sora is banking on when he insists “I know now, without a doubt, Kingdom Hearts… is light!”
Of course he’s right, this is Disney. Having cast off his body to leave only Darkness, and having opened himself up to the power of the Heart of All Worlds, Ansem is wiped away by the Light of Kingdom Hearts as the door opens out. His last words are the interesting choice of “But… why…” After all, he had researched this top to bottom, but it seems fundamentally did not understand that the heart-of-human nature might be Light. But more on that later. We have many games left to go to get back to that, and the answer is far more complicated than you might expect from a Disney product.
By the way, have to compliment the music here, “Beyond the Door,” for sounding halfway between a celebration and a funeral dirge.
Got to hand it to Sora: he, Donald and Goofy don’t even pause to gloat. They rush over to the door and try to close it without even looking in, more concerned about the rest of the universe than great questions of existence. But they aren’t having much luck with doors the size of an apartment building, and eventually it’s Goofy (not Donald, the greedy one?) who looks inside. Beyond, we see a strange sight, which is perhaps to be expected, but it’s not the abstract depiction you might have predicted from say, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Beyond the door lies a cavernous room in the Darkness, where bulges of earth lined with blue. In the distance, these rock columns criss-cross the chamber. The resemblance is very subtle, but unmistakable: the chamber is a stone replica of the inside of the human heart. In the distance, Kingdom Hearts itself, a great glowing source of Light. And in the foreground: every crevasse and fold is covered in Heartless. Presumably they’re safe from the light since they aren’t injured or opening themselves up to it like Ansem, and that’s a problem.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Donald started this game opening a trick door inside a similar, giant white door. I can’t really spot any symbolism in this, but it’s hard to ignore.
The Trio redouble their efforts, to no avail, but are rescued when Riku appears on the other side of the door. Riku’s survival would have been a bit more of a surprise to Vanilla version players, considering they didn’t have the scene where he woke up in the dark. Quite contrary to his weakened appearance in the Final Mix scene (some have suggested that he regained his body after Ansem’s death), Riku says they can all pull this off together, and the doors begin to close as he helps pull them shut. Now, either Riku is Superman, or the door is just taking this “must be closed from both sides” thing very literally, because both doors begin to move at this point, even the one Riku isn’t pulling.
Two Darksides rise up on Riku’s side to put a stop to this door-closing nonsense, and I have to agree with Donald when he says “It’s hopeless!” because even though the Darksides aren’t serious threats, they’re probably perfectly capable of buying enough time for the swarm. But without any interference from the four at the door, the Darksides are destroyed. Donald and Goofy look in, and here, at the very end of things, comes the big man himself. Rumour has it that Disney put Square under contractual obligation to limit him to just one scene, so Square made sure to make him count (he’s not even fully visible in certain promotional art!). Appearing in a halo of Kingdom Hearts’ light, it’s Wayne Allwine’s King Mickey Mouse! And with him: a Keyblade, the Kingdom Key D, a Keyblade from the Darkness, identical to Sora’s Kingdom Key with the gold and silver inverted.
This Keyblade is the reason Mickey disappeared in the intro, and it’s got some funny details hovering about it. I haven’t made much of an effort to hide that Sora’s Keyblade wasn’t the only Keyblade in existence as I wrote this retrospective. Oh, I have some effort on stage to keep out major spoilers, but it’s one of those things that I feel comes across in my word choice, at least in my earliest drafts. That’s one of the first things that’s curious about Kingdom Hearts 1: it doesn’t imply that there are other Keyblades. I feel that, in the English version at least, Kingdom Hearts intends there to be only one Keyblade in the prior to Riku creating the Keyblade of People’s Hearts and the reveal of the Kingdom Key D. Mickey goes even further: in Final Mix, he describes the Kingdom Key D as “the Keyblade of [the Dark] world,” which seems to imply it is alone as a Keyblade from the Darkness, and also seems to imply that in that same breath that Sora’s Kingdom Key is alone in the Light.
Nomura has also said something weird, not quite about this but related enough that I feel I should bring it up here. In describing the Kingdom Key D and Keyblade created by Riku-Ansem out of the princesses’ hearts, he has addressed them as though they were separate categories of Keyblades: Keyblade of Darkness, Keyblade of People’s Hearts, and Keyblades of Light. And yet, the other two Keyblades seem to function exactly like the Keyblades of Light we see later in the series, excusing the Keyblade of People’s Hearts ability to unlock hearts. Doesn’t it just seem like a lot of meticulous worldbuilding for no good reason?
Here’s my guess on the matter: Nomura only originally planned three Keyblades period. One from the Light, one from the Darkness, and one artificially manufactured. His “categories” are just his way of bullshitting over the fact that there really just used to be only three. Now, I should say that I don’t actually mind there being other Keyblades. The idea that Riku was special and set up for a destiny was narratively associated with Darkness. It makes sense that Light has more than one Keyblade, because Light gives more than one person power, and shares power between connections. We’ll talk more about this once other Keyblades start to show up, especially in BBS, Days, and, oddly enough, coded.
Mickey says to Sora that now they can seal the doors together, and says: “Don’t worry. There will always be a door to the light,” strongly implying that Mickey was the voice during the Dive to the Heart and at the Final Rest (his text to Riku in the FM sequence is identical as well). Sora hesitates about sealing Mickey and Riku in with the Heartless, but Donald and Goofy’s trust in Mickey is implicit, and they convince Sora to finish the job. Riku’s last instructions to Sora are to “Take care of her,” and Sora nods before closing the doors. Together, he and King Mickey seal the doors at both ends, and the Door to Darkness vanishes to the notes of Dearly Beloved.
In a moment that’s actually a little heart-wrenching, musically, Dearly Beloved fades out, and in the quiet, shifts to one of Kairi’s themes (she has three themes in this game to keep down the redundancy). Sora turns about, and sees Kairi standing there, at the far end of the platform. Sora runs over to her, not noticing the fog beginning the settle around the platform. Donald is about to follow when Goofy holds him back and they watch on, sad, and the fog envelops them as though they’re fading into a dream.
The game then gets a little surreal, as after a quick loading fade, we find ourselves in a pre-rendered cutscene. Kairi is standing on a dark-lit beach, complete with water. The beach cuts off into darkness in the distance. But when she looks up, there’s Sora, on his white-rock platform. A bit later, Kairi looks down again and we see the rock joining the beach where the water had been, it’s hard to describe in just words. Soon, there is a rumbling as the two landmasses pull apart. It seems Leon was right: everyone is being returned to their proper place, and Kairi was put back on Destiny Islands as the world started to be restored. Sora, however, has not been brought home. He was on a “Heartless world” and stays there, and he and Kairi are drawn apart. Sora promises that he’s always with her and will find a way back, and Kairi shouts back that she knows he will.
And then “Simple And Clean” starts playing. Not the one we’ve been hearing up until now, by the way, that was the “Planitb remix.” This is the original. And you’ve heard what I’ve said about this song being inappropriate before, but this point… this point is wrong in both languages, because of the music, not the lyrics. Both versions of the song start at the poppiest moment imaginable, which is never going to work with this tragic incident. I can’t compare to anything else: a song starting loud and mid-chorus like this can only sound like a radio alarm to me. I jump every time this song starts playing over the still silence that preceded it, as though my clock radio were telling me to get up and dressed for work. It does not work for me.
The music works a lot better after a short pause. The next thing we know, we, following Kairi, see lights begin to fall like snow, perhaps the lights of hearts and worlds being restored around the universe, and Destiny Islands begins to restore. One of my favourite bits here is where Sora, perpetual optimist, tries to shout a few more words to Kairi, but while we see him mouthing them, we don’t hear a word as he fades away. As he disappears, we see the other lost worlds restored to the stars like fireworks.
Kairi looks torn between happiness and tears, and after a while, she goes for a walk, finding herself in the secret cave, where she finds all the childhood drawings, and among them, Sora’s new drawing of him handing her the paopu fruit. This finally breaks it for her, and she starts crying before adding her own carving of her returning the gesture, some real crucial real-world grounding after a good deal of fantasy, keeping the ending connected to the emotions that keep Kingdom Hearts going.
And that brings us to the credits. “Simple and Clean” plays out, followed by another iconic track, of sorts. Yeah, the end credits theme is iconic, no joke. “March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra,” it’s all over the Best Ofs. This section of the credits features a few short animations with the Disney characters, like Hewey, Dewey and Louie having been returned home to Disney Castle; the Final Fantasy crew in Hollow Bastion, where Cloud appears and is greeted by Aerith (and Cloud tries to avoid looking at her, the dork); Aladdin and Jasmine reunited; Tidus, Selphie and Wakka running down the beach like Riku, Sora and Kairi in the opening… even Pinocchio having become a real boy. Five minutes later, the credits wrap, and we go to our epilogue.
Sora, Donald and Goofy, the latter wearing their traditional Disney costumes, are walking down a dirt path under bright skies, under grass and trees. They have no idea where they are, no idea how to leave, and while they want to find Riku and the King, no idea where to find the Door to the Light. Luckily, someone has their backs: Pluto, who disappeared back in Traverse Town an entire game ago, appears carrying another letter with the King’s seal. Excited, the three run after, to a reprise of “Hand in Hand.” Goofy even lets out his trademark wail. Together, they go off over rolling hills to new adventure. Finally, the words of King Mickey appear on the screen to remind us: “You will be the one to open the door,” showing us that Sora isn’t quite done yet.
We will never, ever see what was in that letter. I’m serious.
The game fades out to an illustration of the cast, and in Expert/Proud Mode, some gameplay stats as a minor bonus prize. But if you’ve been playing extra-special well, and have completed the right bonus requirements, the game won’t be over quiiiite yet…