The Keyblade Graveyard turns out to be a very familiar place indeed: it’s the proper name for the Badlands, and as Ven arrives in another location, he discovers scenes of great destruction, including a gash that seems to have been cut across more than one mountain, and a (honestly somewhat comical) hidden Mickey crater. Ven approaches the view and draws his Keyblade, vowing “friends forever.” Goooooood luck with that!
You might not want to race off the moment you arrive at the Keyblade Graveyard. This world has only one save point, and it’s at the end of the world, meaning anything you leave here will force you to backtrack all the way to the start! One thing hidden here is very important, too: Ven’s other Xehanort’s Report! Just… lying in the open. Catching some rays. Really an underwhelming place to hide Ven’s second Xehanort Report. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask… why couldn’t they have hidden them all, instead of handing most of them to the player via plot progression? I think I’d have liked that. The only reason the original Ansem Reports were handed to the player was because of the in-game fiction that Maleficent’s cohorts had split up the report. For me, even that isn’t as fun as tracking them down, and the Xehanort Reports are given to you in such an artificial way as it is that it would have honestly been nice to spice it up with gameplay.
This is Report XII, the last of the reports in proper order, as it happens (including Xehanort’s Letter to Eraqus, that’s thirteen reports in all, and Ven gets both the first and last!). In this report, Xehanort writes about how he led Ventus away from Eraqus by taunting him about Terra. It’s nothing we don’t already know, just clarified here for clarity’s sake. Just make sure not to miss it, because again: the game won’t end without it!
In any event, Ven moves on to the second room of the world, which is full of giant tornadoes! These overreacting weather phenomena chase you around if you get close to them, making it hard to escape them without advanced movement commands. Should you fail – and you probably will, with the unnerving sound of a tornado swooping down on you probably from behind – you’ll be sucked into a forced battle with the Unversed. There are three major groups here, including one memorable but frustrating encounter with giant Unversed that hit extra hard and, thanks to the swirling background and floors fucking with perspective, are hard to track down despite their giant size. I could do without seeing these stupid tornado backgrounds ever again, if possible. Another of the Unversed groups is fought in slightly slow motion, while the third seems to be relatively normal, if still high-level.
After crossing the “Twister Trench” room to reach the other side (“Twister Trench” sounds like the name of a Donkey Kong Country stage to everyone else, right?), Ven comes to the Fissure, the game’s final save point and Moogle Shop. Yup, that’s it. The entire world is only three proper, explorable rooms long. Four, I suppose, if you count The Badlands which become explorable in the post-game. All that’s left now is to double check you have all the Reports and/or secret ending requirements and to move on into the final boss zone.
The final approach to the final boss area is a long tunnel, which satisfactorily conveys the warning that “this is the end, save first!” Beyond: the vast desert crossroads full of Keyblades, from the KH2 secret endings, surprising absolutely no one who saw them.
The scene that follows is identical for all three characters, leading to a strange exchange right at the start involving Terra, Aqua and no Ven at all! I guess he heard them from a distance?
Terra has arrived first, Aqua second. She looks cross when she approaches, but her face falls when she arrives and she says: “I was told… the Master was struck down.” This is the first Ven players have heard of this, but it does match up with the evidence we’ve seen. To make matters worse, Terra confesses that, “I was stupid and helped Xehanort do it.” This seems to surprise Aqua (we’ll later learn that she knew, so perhaps it hadn’t sunk in until he admitted it to her face). Terra explains the situation – Eraqus trying to kill Ven and all – and claims Xehanort set everything up just to awaken the darkness in his heart.
Terra confesses that Aqua and Eraqus were in the right and that, “I did need to be watched,” but says that it won’t happen again. Aqua then begins to lecture Terra, saying that he’ll go astray again. I can understand her concern at first, and she hasn’t said anything wrong quite yet, but then she bafflingly adds: ‘Tell me—how does that honour our Master’s memory, Terra?” as though he were somehow already to blame for a hypothetical she just set out before him? A mistranslation perhaps? A missing line, with Terra promising to use the darkness? Maybe, but it’s a pretty dickish thing for Aqua to say in any event!
(It’s clear that the developers wanted Aqua and Terra to still be mad at one another (you’ll see why down the page) but it might have helped if it was for a concrete reason, rather than… this.)
Just then Ven appears, and the others stop their conversation so he can speak. He gives them a brief outline about the situation between him, Vanitas and the χ-blade (“χ-blade?” asks Aqua, who has plucked the spelling out of thin air). Ven sounds especially upset here, Jessie McCartney’s delivery is great, but it gets even better when he talks about the possibility that he might have to fight Vanitas after all. “If I do, guys… I want you to—” At this point, Terra starts condescending to Ven, talking down to him like a kid brother (good on Jason Dohring in this scene, as well), talking the series’ plan A, about how friends like them can’t be torn apart, but Ven isn’t putting up with it. The others tried to reassure him with physical contact, but he brushes them away and insists that if things go bad, “as a friend… just… put an end to me.”
There’s a lot to say here, much of which I want to hold off until later – like, maybe even coded later – but for now I will compare the scene to a highly similar one from CoM. Remember when Riku asked the same thing from Mickey, and Mickey refused to listen to him? But how, in Days, Mickey gradually came to the realization that he couldn’t help Riku in the end and would have to help in different ways? We’re now at the end of that particular journey, and Kingdom Hearts is now exploring a situation wherein someone really could request death and have it be allowed to stay on the table even within Kingdom Heart’s moral bounds. Maybe you’re starting to see one of my larger conceits here, the major theme I feel runs through the portable trilogy, but if not, it’s like I said at the outset: Days and BBS seem intended to be viewed in contrast.
Just then, Xehanort arrives on scene, and we begin to recreate the secret ending of KH2:FM+ as Vanitas appears out of him as if from a mirage. There’s one new addition here, wherein Xehanort explains that this was the site of the original Keyblade War, and that the war wasn’t over the “light,” per se, as per the legend, but over the χ-blade (he also says that Keyblades of Darkness were used in the Keyblade War, but this hasn’t been backed up by later material). He points threateningly at Ven, and then the scene plays out exactly as it did in FM+… minus capes.
I’d rather not repeat myself from my coverage of “Birth by sleep” at the end of KH2, so I’ll be brief: Xehanort goes to a lot of trouble to separate the three characters, freezing Ventus. While there are a multitude of small changes between the scenes, arguably the most important is that Ven’s Keyblade doesn’t break like it did in “Birth by sleep.” In the end, Xehanort has summoned the blue Kingdom Hearts to the scene with Vanitas at his side, Terra is at the foot of Xehanort’s column of earth, Aqua is with poor, frozen Ven, and Mickey has just arrived on the scene… somewhere. Not close enough to be involved in any of the early scenes, in any event.
As the paltry recreation of “Birth by sleep” wraps up, Ven and Aqua are visited by a stranger… though not so much for us, in a certain manner of speaking. He’s wearing a new getup and he’s not a Nobody, but he sure is familiar: it’s Braig, the original self of Xigbar. Where did he come from? Well, that’s not a question we can answer at the moment. For now, he simply urges Aqua to “leave the popsicle with me” while she goes to fight Terra. Yes, despite Terra not posing a threat yet, it seems the developers really did want the characters to be at one another’s throats! We get a closeup of Braig’s eyes here, showing them to be corrupted and yellow already.
Braig explains why he’s here: if he kills one of them, Terra will succumb to the darkness. He also gets in a reference to Ven’s angry look, which will later turn into his famous, “like I just drowned your goldfish” reference to Roxas. Ven can’t move, so Aqua is forced to fight him, and we skip what must be a boss battle in her scenario simply because there’s nothing Ven can do in the interim!
After the battle, Braig says something about “buying time” and runs off. A bit of a spoiler here, but he’s not seen again on the Keyblade Graveyard and you have to wonder how on earth he got back to any other planet! I guess he does manipulate space…
Aqua chases him partway, before stopping in just the wrong spot. Ven shouts a warning, but it’s too late: Vanitas drops down from the high spire with a Braver from FFVII right to the top of Aqua’s head. The shot is framed such that it’s clear Aqua took something of a glancing blow… maybe too much, since it takes place in slow motion and it’s clear there was no actual contact at all, but as Kingdom Hearts attacks go, it does look pretty nasty. Aqua is knocked to the ground, and just as he promised, Vanitas proceeds to raise his blade over her to execute her just to get Ventus onto his feet and fighting. It works, though you have to wonder what would have happened if Ven had just been, like, too frozen to get up through no fault of his own. Oh well, enough with the quibbles! Time for the climactic, world-ending battle!
The punchline here is that the battle with Vanitas isn’t very earth-shattering, in fact he hasn’t much improved from the previous encounter in the Badlands! His HP is the exact same, and the only marked difference in his stats is that he’s now immune to all status effects and you don’t have Mickey! True, he has a number of new attacks, but the fight isn’t fundamentally that much more difficult, especially after your experience with Captain Hook. Vanitas is fast, requires a lot of focus, and preferably a lot of counters, but he’s not unworkable.
After the fight, Vanitas is glowing with darkness and says that now that two of them will have to fuse. We watch as Vanitas’ mask fades away, revealing his real face: …S-Sora’s? Except with black hair?
Yes, Vanitas has Sora’s face, and voice for that matter, sharing it with Haley Joel Osmet. How did this happen? It’s not spelled out so much, but you can probably guess. Ven’s unconscious body went to Destiny Islands about as many years ago as Sora is old. It stands to reason – and will later be confirmed – that Sora was the infant soul that Ven met at the start of the game. This will be confirmed in the game’s ending (that is: the main game’s ending, not Ven’s ending) but I feel like there’s no reason to leave that mystery squirming, especially when you might have guessed it from the opening minutes of the game! Oh, and remember the line that I said was “distorted” in the opening scene with Ven and the baby heart? That was because Haley Joel Osmet was speaking along with Ven and they didn’t want you to catch that until you knew what to look for. You probably guessed all the same, though.
In any event, when Ven merged part of his heart with Sora’s, “until Ven could get his light back,” Vanitas ended up taking properties of Sora through his connection to Ven (if you think that sounds roundabout, I agree. I personally theorized that Sora took on Vanitas’ appearance instead of the other way around! Hirokey123 provided me with a Nomura quote to clarify how it worked canonically). It’s interesting to see how, given Sora accidentally influenced the appearance of Ven’s dark side, that Sora’s dark side, Roxas, ended up looking like Ven’s light side through that same connection. Like a coin that got flipped? There’s some magical guesswork involved, and I don’t think I’d have worked it out without some serious thought, but the connections are there. By the way, Vanitas taking on Sora’s face from what must have been a blank face could be seen as a parallel to Xion, and builds up to a certain in-universe theme we’ll be addressing in greater detail starting in DDD.
On the subject of Ven merging his heart with Sora’s heart: does this explain Ven’s general childishness? There’s been a lot of discussion about this in the Retrospective’s thread on the KHI forums, and you can see why. I mean… half his heart is literally a child’s heart, and the rest of his memory was virtually erased. In fact, I’ve seen some reviews of BBS go so far as to call Ven a “Sora-clone,” and while I don’t necessarily agree with that (for starters, Sora is more complex than either of them, in my opinion, if only because of three games of development), I think those critics might enjoy this theory because it fits their accusation like a glove: Ven really is just a copy of Sora to a certain, literal degree? Still, I’m slow to embrace the possibility, because even though this explanation makes more sense to me than Roxas, I have a lot more trouble believing it was… intentional. Yes, again. Yes, just like Days. In fact, even more than Days, despite it making more sense at the outset. Sorry.
While Days does give Roxas a reason for being juvenile at least at the outset, and has Saix calling him out on it towards the end, in BBS there’s no confirmation of intent. BBS presents us with the facts of Sora and Ven’s hearts merging, but never outright implies that that’s the reason for Ven’s behaviour, or even implies that Ven’s personality has even changed, outside of his no-speaking, no-pupils-in-his-eyes period just after his heart was damaged. For all we know, Ven is exactly the same as he was before his injury, and I think most fans actually hold that opinion. Ven might have always stared at sleeping princesses and drooled, because we have no confirmation to the contrary!
Again, I want to clarify that while I really do like the idea of Ven having a child-like mind more than I did Roxas, it’s just not sitting with me in the end, and I’m not sure it was ever going to? The use of child-minded protagonists hasn’t come to any sort of focus or purpose, or at least it hasn’t yet, except to make everyone look like Sora-clones, and that would hardly be laudable (and again, it’s reductive to Sora). If the writers wanted to explore someone who is blanked of their memory and then has to grow up in a fully grown body, why did they feel the need to repeat that storyline both in Days and BBS, adding no new notes to the tune, and arguably not even that many new notes to what had already been said in CoM and KH2? At least CoM had something to say about the process of memories being blanked. Days and BBS are just using this repeat plot as a stock character! All of these Sora-clones are like some Star Trek prop showing up over and over again across the franchise, rather than a plot device. This is redundant at best, and I’m still not sure I’m ready to credit this floundering execution as being “at best?”
Hopefully, you see why I favour the explanation that the writers didn’t intend to do any (or at least some) of it, and are just kind of bad at character creation and writing teenagers? On one hand, we have complexity for no purpose, and on the other hand, good, old-fashioned Hanlon’s razor incompetence. Both are worthy of critique, so while I’m torn about which to critique in particular, I hope I’ve at least covered my concerns with the issue. No matter how I look at Ven’s personality, it feels like a square peg solution for a round hole problem, be it selected by Rube Goldbergian authorial machinations too big for their mundane purpose, or out of a repeated authorial weakness.
Sora – erm, Vanitas – summons a trio of Flood to pin Ven down, revealing that the Unversed actually come from his body. Vanitas explains that the Unversed were a lucky accident of his being split from Ven: in essence, Vanitas is leaking. I respect your being comfortable enough to talk about it. Vanitas explains that the Unversed are his own emotions, under his control, and that he released them on the worlds – get this – for Ven’s level grinding purposes. No joke. Oh sure, there was the Xehanort report talking about them being released to draw out Terra and Aqua, but it was also so Ven could literally become strong enough to fuse. Wow, EXP Zero must really stick in your craw, eh Vani?
The pretences over with, Vanitas approaches and merges with Ven, who is unable to do anything about it. There is a big burst of light, which flings poor, unconscious Aqua away. Geeze, between this and Mickey, we sure are blowing unconscious people around a lot. The explosion then becomes a pillar of white-red light, and we fade to black.
The scene returns deep inside Ventus’ heart, which is now shaped to depict Vanitas and Ven together, sleeping on opposite sides of the same Station of Awakening. Vanitas arrives in the heart too, carrying an utterly preposterous-looking, doubled-up Keyblade that’s supposedly the incomplete χ-blade (below). And it looks simply awful, I mean… I’m still not over it. There are worse looking Keyblades, but this one looks like a pair of scissors! I guess I should have expected after the giant novelty keys in BBS that the greatest novelty key in history would be a giant pair of novelty key-scissors?
Vanitas wants Ven’s side of his heart to roll over and die, but Ven would rather destroy Vanitas and the χ-blade. Vanitas laughs at this, saying that the χ-blade is made up of Ventus’ heart too, so that would be suicide. Ven says he’d do anything to save his two friends, and after a taunt from Vanitas, he paraphrases Sora’s “my friends are my power” speech from the future, just so it will be in your mind when you consider these ending sequences. For now, the second stage of the final battle is on. The boss theme here is “Unbreakable Chains.” Haaaaaah, it’s funny because everything is about to be shot to shit.
Vanitas Stage 2 and Stage 3 run flush with one another, and you’ll be forced to do both if you lose, so it’s important to keep Stage 3’s particulars in mind on later attempts, especially if you experience it and then lose. I think the key factor here is to make sure you have full health before taking Vanitas onto his final health bar, since he might end the second phase at any point from that point on, and once phase three starts you (gulp) aren’t able to heal any longer. Now that’s just playing mean!
The second phase of the battle is different from the first phase, but is fundamentally still “a Vanitas fight,” if you follow me. They kept enough of the original duel at the Badlands (mostly the way he turns into an invisible shell and then jumps you) to make this battle feel like a proper sequel to the original. Unfortunately, a lot of the new stuff just doesn’t hold up. I’m personally of the opinion that if it weren’t for his higher stats, this would be the easier of the first two phases, and I’ve already talked down the first phase! One of the biggest changes to Vanitas’ second phase is the addition of an aerial dash attack, which chews up tonnes of time if you just try to avoid it, all very boring. I’m fairly sure I beat Vanitas Phase 2 on my first try in my original playthrough of BBS even though I couldn’t do the same with Phase 1. To be fair, I did lose Phase 2 on subsequent attempts, after losing to Phase 3! Actually, Phase 3 hangs over this entire affair like a hunk of raw meat, stinking up the air, so that helps Phase 2’s tension once you know about it.
So, Phase 3. This is unusual, and believe it or not seems to set a precedent, because DDD’s final boss has a similar last-second rule shift. I’ve already complained about last-second rule shifts like this in KH1 and KH2, but BBS isn’t quite in the same league: it’s trying to work with established mechanics, but it doesn’t explain how or even that it’s doing so, which can lead to a great deal of confusion. Here’s what’s happening: Vanitas is losing, so he uses the χ-blade to shatter his and Ven’s shared Station of Awakening / heart. Having done this, the two of you begin to fight in the void (movement works normally, although that’s the first hiccup), but here’s the part that isn’t immediately explained to you: the game has automatically engaged a D-Link. Namely, a D-Link with Vanitas himself.
Your objective here is to fill the D-Link’s bar to reach its finishing attack before Vanitas kills you. Easily the safest way to do this is to abuse Shotlocks (you have a special one here), but for those wanting a more interesting experience, I hear the D-Link’s three commands work in a rock-paper-scissors model against Vanitas’ attacks, though I’ve personally never seen much need to get into the details. Maybe that’s a little harsh of me, but unless you’re doing a low-level challenge, this should be managable once you get a hang of the rules. Now, note that when I say that, I’d almost certainly say similar things when it comes to DDD’s final boss, but with a negative reaction, so maybe I’m coming at this the wrong way? It would serve me right.
After completing the D-Link, Vanitas falls away from the χ-blade, too weak to maintain it any longer. The χ-blade falls apart, destroyed, but so does Ventus’ Keyblade. Vanitas falls into the void, only to be absorbed into a bright light that is revealed to be a restored Station of Awakening depicting only Ventus. Ven sees this with relief, only for he, too, to fade away into a shower of light. Ven has been destroyed, by himself, from within.
At this point, the game rewards you with Xehanort’s Report 10. All three storylines give you a final Xehanort’s Report after clearing the storyline, and I suppose this is just as well a place to address Ven’s as any. Report 10 continues Report 9, which discussed Xehanort’s plan to split Ven into two. The report essentially confirms what we may have already guessed: Vanitas was split away from Ven, but Ven nearly died in the ordeal. Xehanort took him to Destiny Islands as a quite place to die… though here Xehanort reveals that he did brought Ven here because this was Xehanort’s own childhood home! He even more cryptically describes the beach as “where I made my choice.” One last interesting detail before the storyline ends.
After the sequence, we see a curious moment that seems almost cropped from Aqua’s storyline rather than belonging to Ven’s. Both characters are present and, in fact, unconscious, but Ven is a little bit further away than “unconscious,” and moreover, I feel there’s a jagged line in Aqua’s ending that suggests the removal of this scene. Maybe the scene was moved here simply to reassure Ven players that his body survived the ordeal in his heart? The scene depicts Aqua and Ven in the void between worlds, wearing their armour but holding hands to keep from losing one another. Mickey arrives wielding the Star Shard, and rescues them both. We do not see where he brings them – at least, not until Aqua’s storyline.
Back in this storyline, Ven falls into his heart as if into water, as if into a Dive to the Heart. Despite there being nothing to see, Ven says that he recognizes the place, and then says that, “This is your heart.” And while Jessie’s reading of the line isn’t wrong, I feel it’s a little misleading. He says, “This is your heart,” to clarify that the weird void is a heart, but I feel the stress should have been on the word “your”: “this is your heart,” to show that he’s familiar with the person he’s found. Minor quibbles. I suppose I raise my complaint because it’s the final line in the story! At this point, the credits abruptly appear, the first of four rather abrupt endings we’re going to see in the course of BBS’ collection of abrupt endings, each more jarring than the last.
The end credits show the usual skits (thankfully the skits are mostly unique for each of the game’s endings) and ends with the usual victory screen. After this screen, you’re asked to save your clear data, which is especially important in this game if you want to get to the true final chapter, which takes place after the three storylines. Should you want to update your save, you’ll be given the opportunity at save points should you collect a new Xehanort Report, but otherwise you’ll have to beat the game a second time, which is a little frustrating.
Well, that’s that for Ventus, and our first third of the game. Time to rewind the clock and pick the next of our playable characters – namely, it’s time to go join up with Terra.