The Mysterious Tower makes an appearance in all three storylines, but never for more than an eyeblink. Let’s take bets on how many words it’ll take me to get through it today. Hrm… I’m going to shoot for 750. Okay? Ready-go!
The world begins with our future friends Donald and Goofy! They’re waiting around the Tower when Ventus arrives via Star Shard, and are disappointed to find that he’s not their missing king. Boy, you two need to cuff the guy to his throne or something. And yes, their confusion at the sight of Yen Sid’s tower in KH2 is now inaccurate thanks to this retcon, and any attempt to justify it is going to come off as thin. Hearing that Ven has seen Mickey, Donald and Goofy lead (shove) him into the tower, where he meets up with Yen Sid.
Yen Sid chides Ven for a while about running away from home (he knows about all of this from his conversations with Eraqus) but then turns the conversation to Mickey. Ven returns the Star Shard (via Donald, which I see as a subtle implication that Donald was able to keep the Star Shard from misbehaving before it was returned), but is forced to admit that he has no idea where to find Mickey, as Mickey wasn’t on Neverland when Ven got there. But the news isn’t all bad! Now that Yen Sid has the Star Shard, he can apparently divine Mickey’s location without any additional trouble, and he casts a spell to do so.
A vision of Mickey appears in the middle of the table (not that the game wants you to realize that, as we enter a close zoom so that only the vision is visible, but it must be over the table), showing Mickey at the Badlands, his Keyblade out but with Mickey down and injured. The cloudy vision then collapses into magical static (better check the rabbit ears, Yenny!), Yen Sid saying that something dark is preventing him from seeing more.
Donald and Goofy vow to save Mickey, and while this could have led to an interesting one-time fight with your two future companions, Ven sadly refuses. He says that he recognizes where Mickey was found and that he’ll go alone because he “owes him.” As it happens, there isn’t going to be a fight there anyways, but still… a little disappointing.
Ven runs out at this point, but receives two prizes before he goes: D-Links with the overzealous Donald and Goofy! I’ll admit, I don’t know these D-Links very well. They appear far past the point in the game where I’ve generally stopped using D-Links outright. Their Finish attacks are based on classic Donald and Goofy attacks: Donald’s two Finishers are based on his KH2 Limit, Fireworks, while Goofy’s are based on his two Re:CoM Friendship Sleights. Like a lot of other late-game D-Links (Zack, for instance), they’re also made up of eminently useful commands, rather than the mixed- or low-quality ones you often found on early D-Links like Cinderella or even, say… Captain Justice’s.
That’s it. There are a few weak chests in the Tower if you’re interested, but that’s it. ~500 words. I really overestimated.
The Badlands, Revisited – Ventus
Just a cutscene here, but a critical one.
Ven arrives on scene to find Mickey, who has fallen into unconsciousness since he was last seen. As Ven is examining him, who should arrive on the scene but Master Xehanort, seen for the first time since the start of the game.
As soon as they lock eyes, Ven experiences a number of flashbacks, including one of Master Xehanort and him here in the Badlands, Ven unconscious. This is followed by a memory of Master Xehanort leaving Ven on Destiny Islands, and later Xehanort speaking to Eraqus. It seems Ven is getting back his memories, and Xehanort remarks on it, saying that “You remember what you lost […] You had to lose in order to find!” Obviously a CoM reference, and very smoothly done.
Xehanort urges Ventus to take back what Ven lost by clashing with “him.” “Pure light against pure darkness, to form the ultimate key. The all-powerful χ-blade!” That’s the Greek letter χ, which Xehanort explains spells death and endings, here attached to some sort of super-Keyblade. He also insists it’s pronounced /kee/, aka “key.” I’ll admit that I’m no native Greek speaker, but research suggests that o be a fairly obscure pronunciation for the letter, and even Xehanort has to acknowledge that /kaɪ/ or “kye” is a another common pronunciation. Most of the sources I’ve found suggest the modern Greek should be pronounced with more of an /h/ sound, but no matter. Please check out DoubleXXCross’ comment below for some more detailed information on pronunciation around the world!
But enough about real-world pronounciation, let’s instead talk about how much damage Nomura’s latest bit of wordplay does to basic communication. “Heartless” and “Nobody” were simple opposites, once the game reveals that this is the case, you can easily follow along. “χ-blade” is not so simple. Nomura wants to make the χ-blade appear to be a sort of “super” Keyblade by replacing the letters “key” with the letter “χ,” pronounced “Key,” but in spoken word they sound the same and it leads to all sorts of befuddling conversations with fellow Kingdom Hearts fans. If you ever met me in person, you’d discover that I exclusively refer to the χ-blade as the “kye-blade,” just because that way, you understand what the hell I’m saying to you! In the game, you have to check the subtitles to be sure!
So, what is this death-blade? We don’t get much of an explanation at the moment, but we’re told that Ven has the power to make it, presumably by fighting with “him.” Xehanort makes a dark vortex above Ven and Mickey and begins to taunt Ven about Eraqus knowing the truth about all this, and saying that’s why Eraqus kept Ventus close at all times. An interesting conflation of the old “overprotective parent” cliché with a more dire reality… assuming Xehanort isn’t lying, of course! Xehanort then summons a whirlwind to blow Mickey and Ven into the void, telling him to find Eraqus and ask him himself.
Just sort of skipping along here, aren’t we? I feel like there’s not much for me to say. Really could have used a fight in the middle, I think, maybe against a few Unversed preying on Mickey’s unconscious body, preferably with Donald and Goofy on hand to help you, with you getting separated after the vortex. There’s nothing really wrong with these scenes, but it’s part of this Retrospective’s format that I not comment much about new revelations if the game is going to give you answers moments later, so what can I say about Ven and the χ-blade that the game won’t say in a few minutes? But we could really use something to break up the pace here. I mean, c’mon, there are two more cutscene-only sequences to come!
Land of Departure, Revisited – Ventus
Ventus arrives at the Land of Departure, and looks for a moment like he might back off, but he finds his resolve just in time for the decision to be made for him as Eraqus comes out the door at just that moment, surprised to see him.
Eraqus tries to be comforting at first, but Ven confronts him about the χ-blade, causing Eraqus to touch his scar and mutter about Xehanort never being able to “let it go.” We flash back in the Land of Departure, meeting a younger Eraqus with no scar. Younger Erqaus is here to confront an apparently permanently aged Xehanort. It seems they’re discussing the χ-blade, Eraqus saying that knowledge is forbidden because the χ-blade would essentially destroy the world! Xehanort’s response is strange. He discusses a “Keyblade War” that happened long ago, and how that apocalypse led to a new beginning for the universe. If you’re reminded of the legend Kairi’s grandmother told way, way, way back in KH1, then you’re right, they are in fact one and the same! What remarkable restraint on the part of the devs! It seems Xehanort wants to learn about the impact of the Keyblade War, saying “ruin brings about destruction,” another seeming tie back to “you must lose to gain.” Xehanort goes so far as to ponder what would happen if there was a second Keyblade War.
At first, Xehanort just seems to be speaking hypothetically, but moments later he declares that a second Keyblade War should happen, as though he means to make it happen himself. This is definitely a unique motivation for a bad guy in a story like this, working purely for knowledge, and like… concrete knowledge, too, not just some vague rant about “science!” or what have you. Perhaps you could compare it to the Organization’s iron-fisted quest for identity in KH2, which just goes to show what kind of series Kingdom Hearts is, but this still feels unique to me.
Eraqus refuses to let this happen, and Xehanort reminds him that Darkness is a beginning, using a line that seems to deliberately echo the debate between Sora and Ansem, Seeker of Darkness at the end of KH1. But Eraqus isn’t having it, hilariously calling Xehanort’s rambling “poetic excuses.” Then, in an action I feel tells us more about Eraqus than the dire nature of the situation, Eraqus resolves to attack Xehanort on the spot! Xehanort coolly responds by calling on the darkness to attack Eraqus with two bolts of dark energy that scar him. Note how Eraqus is being the emotional – typically “dark” – contender here and Xehanort the cool – typically “light” – contender.
Eraqus’ hot-headedness has only begun to get him in trouble. Back in the present, Eraqus looks at Ven and says that he resolves not to “fail again.” Determined to destroy the χ -blade, Eraqus attempts to kill Ventus on the spot with an attack made of chains of light.
Ven is only saved by the timely arrival of Terra, who intercepts the attack. Obviously, we’ll learn more about Terra’s arrival in his own storyline. Eraqus orders Terra to step aside, and when he does, Eraqus once again reacts with his head stuck up his own ego: “Why do all of my attempts to reach you fail?” Oh yeah, that’s definitely what’s going on here. Deeply hurt, Eraqus zealously declares that Terra will have to die too. I’ve talked about “fantasy bigotry” here in the past, and how characters like Mickey, DiZ and Yen Sid have senselessly turned their backs on others because of their prejudices. Unfortunately, excusing the instance with Mickey which we only really know about because Mickey told us how he was feeling, we haven’t really been able to see these things live. The games themselves have only commented on bigotry in hindsight, via Kingdom Hearts Days, as the bigoted actions were partially supported by the developers of KH2, especially Yen Sid’s! This is the first time we’re seeing this sort of thing, shall we say, “fresh,” right off the truck. Eraqus’ believe in the absolute primacy of light is right in our faces this time, and it can only end in disaster.
Behind the fight, Ventus has recovered from his initial shock and insists that Terra allow Eraqus to kill him, but Terra naturally isn’t listening to that. In the next moment, Eraqus manages to flatten both of them with an area attack, leaving Ven helpless. Seeing how powerful Eraqus is, Terra resolves to fight his master. No doubt to Ven’s surprise, he begins to gather dark energy despite being calm, not unlike Xehanort in the flashback. It seems Terra has gone part-way to the darkness after all, Eraqus repeating a line from his conversation with Xehanort to single this out. Bad news for Ven’s hopes!
Terra then summons a portal of light behind him (I’m surprised it wasn’t a Corridor of Darkness, but perhaps that’s a sign?) and throws Ven, urm, through it? Well, near it, at the very least. Except in the next shot it’s through it. The trouble here is that despite using these Corridors of Darkness since KH2, the games have never actually had to move the camera through them, and they’re essentially two-dimensional. This means that Ven really was thrown “near” the portal rather than through it, because it’s impossible to be inside a 2D object without clipping effects. In the next shot, the game hands off to a new effect to make it look as though Ven is through the portal, but it’s a too little too late. The portal closes behind him and—
Yow, whiplash! Before we know it, we’re on the Destiny Islands of all places, with a jaunty and cartoon logo appearing before our eyes! What a tonal shift! Don’t do that to me, c’mon!
Why did Terra send us here? I’m afraid we won’t get an answer, as Ven barely sticks around the Destiny Islands and its inclusion seems to be here mostly so that he visits the same worlds as his siblings, no matter how shallow the visit.
Ven arrives on the starting beach in Destiny Islands, and is about to slap on his armour when he hears Vanitas’ familiar voice speaking to him from atop the bridge to the islet. Vanitas insinuates what you probably guessed: he’s the other person Ven needs to duel with to “become” the χ-blade. He says Ven is strong enough now, so why not duel on the spot? But Ven refuses, not wanting the apocalyptic sword to be forged.
Vanitas pauses at this, before saying “You used to be too broken to talk back.” Yeesh. It’s not very surprising to learn that they used to know one another, but Ven has another violent flashback, and we discover just what he and Master Xehanort were doing in The Badlands in his previous flashback as, for the first time in BBS, we see Heartless. Specifically, Neoshadows, which have surrounded Ven, as Master Xehanort casually looks on. Jessie inflects a somewhat younger voice here, though as usual it doesn’t come across in his model.
Ventus insists he’s not strong enough to fight the Neoshadows, but Xehanort insists he “Sharpen your fear into rage” and give into the darkness. Why? Xehanort insists this will somehow produce the χ-blade, but it’s not clear why this would happen. We’ll only be able to guess for the moment, as Ventus does not or cannot unleash his darkness at this point, and he’s mauled by the Neoshadows.
After the Neoshadows have cleared, we see Xehanort approach, fury in his eyes. He says that if this won’t work, “I will extract the darkness within you myself,” and he forcefully extracts Ven’s darkness with his Keyblade. This presumably causes the damage to Ven’s heart we saw in the intro, and producing Vanitas out of that darkness. We can see Ven’s pupils fade as Vanitas is born.
By the way, Vanitas is masked in this scene, but the scene is partially shot as though he were not? Maybe they removed a short animation of him putting on his helmet?
Back in the present, Vanitas says that if Ven won’t fight, he’ll make a reason for him to fight. Vanitas says there’s only one place to spawn the χ-blade: the Keyblade Graveyard (raising the question of why he wanted to fight here? I guess he never intended Ven to take him up on it!). He threatens to murder Terra and Aqua to force Ven to fight him. Not having any choice, Ven resolves to end things, and leaves for the world map, where Destiny Islands appears like a ball of light, and cannot be revisited.
The game is now functionally in its end game state. Seems a little early, huh? Well it is just one storyline in three, but it does feel odd beating the game around Level 30 instead of Level 50-60, which is where Kingdom Hearts games usually end! Your reward for clearing these cutscenes is Ven’s final Keyblade, the Lost Memory, which appears as an evolved form of his starter Keyblade, the Wayward Wind. All three playable characters get an “upgraded” starter Keyblade as their final Keyblade like this, and I think it’s such a great concept that I’m surprised that it’s only been carried over to one other game to date (coded), so long as you set aside KHX’s ability to upgrade all Keyblades’ forms. Returning to BBS, these ur-starters are great end-game options. You can get better by completing final challenges, but these upgraded blades remain a solid option even then, with only Terra (who has multiple, mandatory end-game Keyblades) having any reason not to use his.
You also receive Xehanort’s Report 9 for clearing the cutscenes. This report discusses how Keyblade Masters can extract a heart, and curiously remarks that by extracting ones’ own heart, “it is possible to remain in the world of the living forever.” He explains: he plans to use the Keyblade War to create a “Next World in which light and darkness exist in perfect equilibrium,” but he feels he won’t live long enough to see it. Wanting a “new vessel,” he began to search for one, but instead, he only found Ventus, who was too weak to serve. Instead, he decided to split Ventus into a heart of pure light and another of pure darkness.
But wait, that doesn’t seem to match up with the flashback you say, right? Ven’s report has the answer to that (not the Xehanort Report – remember that BBS’s “report” is what other games call the “journal”). It says that Master Xehanort “intend[ed] to pit the boy [Ven] against one of Master Eraqus’s students of light to create the χ -blade.” This makes a lot more sense with the scene we were shown in the flashback, in which Xehanort seemed to be trying to make Ven pure darkness. It seems there was something of a miscommunication between the journal writers and the Xehanort Report writers! The report writes as though Xehanort were always planning to split Ven, but the journal and flashback suggest he changed his mind. I like to think “changed his mind” is exactly what happened, but I can’t deny there’s a discrepancy in the text.
There’s not much left to do in the game at this point. It’s time to polish off old worlds, maximize commands, and complete Mirage Arena challenges. Once the player is feeling ready, you can head off to the final world, or hell – do it now! It’s easily the shortest final world in the series (depending on how you classify worlds from Days), and has a save point right before the final boss sequence just like any good game, so if you change your mind, no foul. You’re not really “done” until you find the last of the Xehanort Reports, anyways, and one of them is waiting for you on the final world. I mean that, by the way: you literally cannot finish the game properly without all the Xehanort reports, as the final chapter simply won’t unlock until you do, and if you want the secret ending there’s even more work to do than that. But there’s no hurry.
A curious player might take this opportunity to return to the Land of Departure, to learn what happened in the aftermath of the battle. Their visit will raise more questions than answers: the world is overcast in darkness and the way to the castle has been somehow destroyed! There is no sign of either Terra or Eraqus.
Of course, we won’t be discussing end game content at this point in the retrospective – we’re going to save most of it for Aqua’s scenario or even afterwards. For now, for better or for worse, it’s time to take Ven-Ven into the heart of the Graveyard.