All three characters have a similar opening sequence in the Keyblade Graveyard: pan across identical shots of scenery, walk away from the chest in the opening room for no reason, and then summon their Keyblade and make a vow. Terra’s vow is: “What I do, I do for friendship.” Murder! He’s talking about murder.
As the Keyblade Graveyard uses the exact same rooms for every character (again, despite two of them coming from different directions during the upcoming cutscene), I have nothing of note to say about the world and am instead going to cut straight to the game’s final Unversed Mission before we move on to the finale.
For the game’s final world and final Unversed Mission, the developers decided they needed to recolour true evil, and so pit you against Floating Flora, a set of Mandrake recolours, which you can find in the first room of the world. In principle, the Floating Flora are not unlike the Rare Truffles, Grandstander balls and Mushroom VIIIs of the past in that they represent a juggling game, but Birth by Sleep comes up with yet another variety to surprise you. The trick here is that the Floating Flora are so well-rooted into the ground that you have to land a combo finisher or certain other attacks to uproot them in the first place, which means that you don’t lose when they touch ground. You instead have a minute thirty to work with them, but every time they land, you are seriously delayed.
What’s weird is that instead of counting the number of hits you land, as you might expect from past Kingdom Hearts juggling games, the Floating Flora Mission is scared based on prize balls that drop whenever you hit them in the air. It’s not clear to me exactly how this works per se or why it was even done. To give Treasure Magnet a purpose? Do you get more if you hit them harder, or more frequently? It’s kind of hard to say when the screen is flooded with little balls that block your line of sight and are quickly sucked up by your player character!
The prize here is the last of the Illusion items, Illusion-F, which allows you to burrow and can jump extremely high if you aren’t. I’ve seen at least one YouTuber, Vylsith, who implies that you can do this with simply a bunch of everyday upgrades and button mashing, so it’s not exactly the endgame challenge you might have expected!
Sad fact: not only is the Keyblade Graveyard a repeat for every character, but the opening cutscene of the finale is also a repeat. The trio meets, talks, and are confronted by Xehanort, after which the events of “Birth by sleep” play out. Not one second of this seven-minute sequence is modified by character, and you might as well just skip it on replays! Still, it might help us to re-contextualize some of the scenes now that we’ve seen them from Terra’s perspective. It’s now clear that when Aqua mentions Master Eraqus being killed, Terra either suspects she knows of his involvement or recognizes the value of an immediate and honest confession in-and-of itself. He also seems to be trying to come to terms with Eraqus’ death as we watch. Terra admits he needed to be spied on, and then Aqua gives her weird admonishment about Terra going astray again, which I still feel is unfair of her, even at the end of her story.
Ven then shows up and tells the others about the X-Blade, which is brand new information to the both of them. He then requests they kill him if he merges with Vantias – as having completed the game with Ven, we know that he will. At this point, Xehanort and Vanitas arrive and the events of “Birth by sleep” play out a third time. Ven is frozen and dropped near Aqua, and Terra is knocked off the plinth where Xehanort has awakened Kingdom Hearts. As we’ve seen in Ven’s story, Aqua is then confronted by Braig as Ven tries to recover, but Terra players don’t need to know that.
Now that we’re in Terra’s perspective, we see that he removes his helmet as in “Birth by sleep” and then creates his Keyblade Glider and flies up to confront Xehanort and Vanitas. He removes his Keyblade armour at this point (why, I can’t say, since Aqua and Ven do their final battles in body armour without any technical problems. We’ll get to a potential reason, but I don’t feel it justifies). Terra asks Xehanort what he really did to Ven in the past, since all he knows about the X-Blade is a half-dozen lines of dialogue that mostly amounted to Ven saying “I don’t know what it is, but it’s bad” and Eraqus saying “I agree that it’s bad, and now I will stab you.” You can understand how Terra and Terra players might be confused. Of course, the developers don’t want to explain anything so that Terra-first players will be intrigued to go play Ven’s storyline, so Xehanort doesn’t only insults Ven, and Terra attacks the pair.
While the game’s Information bar insists that the objective of this fight is to “Defeat Vanitas and Xehanort,” this is misleading. But while I know this is misleading, I’m not entirely clear what the win conditions actually are. During the battle, Vanitas attacks you whole hog while Xehanort stands back and only occasionally throws in an attack unless you outright engage him. The fight will end before either bosses’ health bar is depleted, as the game doesn’t want Terra to defeat either combatant during this first phase. This means the end trigger could be any number of possibilities, I’d say with two leading possibilities: 1) the battle ends when either Vanitas’ health passes a certain threshold OR Xehanort’s health passes a certain threshold, or 2) damage done to Vanitas and Xehanort is totalled and the fight ends with that number passes a certain threshold. I wish I knew which was true, because my recommended strategy would change entirely depending on the reality. With the first system, the player should never attack Xehanort under any circumstance but accident, because Vanitas is far more aggressive and is easier to attack, especially if you don’t provoke Xehanort, but in the second system, the player can and should attack targets of opportunity! I know if I were designing this fight, I’d would have designed it to work via system #2. The problem is that most players will end up fighting Vanitas most of the time, so situation 1 disqualifies any damage done to Xehanort. But occam’s razor favours system 1!
Terra-first players have never even fought Vanitas, which is going to make this especially tricky. Vanitas’ stats are nearly identical to his stats in his upcoming battle with Ventus, save that he is still vulnerable to Zero Gravity and Sleep (not that I recommend bringing those spells, since Xehanort is not!), and also Vanitas doesn’t have his Keyblade wave attack, though that was never all that dangerous to begin with. A player should note that they’re never really safe from Vanitas even if they’re off on the other side of the battlefield attacking Master Xehanort: Vanitas will melt into the ground like Terra’s Dark Impulse and then jump up from under you.
After “defeating” the twosome, Terra locks blades with Xehanort, and Xehanort sees an opportunity and orders Vanitas to leave, kill Aqua and engage Ven. Vanitas jumps off the precipice, and I’ve already seen how that went (Vanitas lands on top of Aqua’s head like Super Mario). Xehanort, of course, stops Terra from leaving and shouts at Terra to give into the darkness, and sure enough he does, dramatically announcing that Eraqus was his father the way characters only do if they’re reading directly off a script. “My master……… no!… my father?” No better way to undercut what should have been an emotional moment than the tired and straggling tenets of drama! Terra then explodes with darkness, and despite this being a nearly identical setup to the fight with Eraqus, enters the fight without any darkness at all! That’s probably for the best but all the same.
Excusing his own appearance in the previous battle and accounting for the fact that Vanitas left before his HP could be depleted, Master Xehanort has nearly double the HP of any of Terra’s story bosses to date. In fact, get this: he has 200 more HP than Ven’s final battle against Vanitas in their combined heart, which is an even bigger gap when you remember that Vanitas also left that fight before his HP was at 0, swapping out for the D-Link battle instead! Still, durability will only get you so far, and I don’t personally find Master Xehanort to be all that much more dangerous than Vanitas, certainly not once you’ve mastered the principles you needed to battle Vanitas and Master Xehanort combined.
While Xehanort might have pelted you with a projectile or a combo during the battle with Vanitas, he proves to have a lot more attacks at his disposal when fought solo. He opens the fight by showing you that yes, Osaka team does remember the events of “Birth by sleep,” as he attacks you with a column of earth, potentially tossing you into the air. The column then disappears, which is both understandable and yet so exaggerated that it’s a stab straight to your suspension of disbelief. In my experience (though this may just be my experience), Xehanort rarely repeats this attack, which is probably for the best.
Unusually for a Kingdom Hearts boss, Master Xehanort openly acknowledges the Final Fantasy roots of his spells. You might recall me saying things like “Firaga pillar” in regards to Sephiroth and Eraqus, but the spells aren’t actually called taht, that’s just me providing a little colour. Master Xehanort, on the other hand, will actually shout “Thunder” as he calls down an area attack, and naturally he also has a Blizzard attack, though he calls on it with “Freeze!” Actually, come to think of it, Xehanort lacks a Fire attack, so while the Final Fantasy reference feels intentional to me, it would be more accurate to say that he has three elemental spells: earth pillars for Terra, Thunder for Ven, and Blizzard for Aqua.
Xehanort can also call a swarm of Keyblades from nowhere, and can teleport from point to point almost on a whim, which makes it hard to find a safe spot to heal (although he does hilariously sometimes teleport into one your attacks-in-progress, and I can’t imagine why he wasn’t programmed to avoid them). In short, his strategies seem mostly primed for long range, and he’s incredibly bad at getting out of stunlock, but don’t let down your guard at close range, because his combo is the most damaging attack he has. Oh, and there’s one other attack you should be aware of. I’d never actually seen it before looking at video playthroughs (yes, I’ve never seen it across five playthroughs! Sometimes with Kyle at the controls instead of me, so it can’t just be my playstyle!) Xehanort can also pin Terra down after completing a combo, saying “You’ve played your role! You are weak!” and will attempt to freeze you like he did Ventus. You have to rapid-tap the button to get away from this, and it doesn’t seem possible to escape without some damage on top of the damage done by the combo!
After defeating Xehanort, his losing quote is “Only now have I truly won.” He reveals part of what he means as he collapses to the ground at the start of the next cutscene, when he and Terra discover that Xehanort has stalled long enough for Vanitas to merge with Ventus, forming a bright pillar of fiery light. The pillar of light is directly behind Terra, and Terra shows some brains by not wanting to turn away at first, but he eventually does turn, and that’s when everything goes to shit. While Terra is distracted, Xehanort picks up his own massive Keyblade and repeats what Sora would do ten years later, by stabbing himself in the chest and freeing his own heart.
Xehanort, apparently still able to talk through the all-consuming power of monologue, calls this “the final union,” and talks about giving up his old body for a stronger new one that would survive “beyond the Keyblade war!” Before Terra really understands what’s going on, Xehanort commands his heart to go into Terra’s body. Terra doesn’t dodge and doesn’t try to deflect the heart with his massive Keyblade, which would probably have been my #1 and 2 options in this situation, but he does go for what would have been my #3… if only because the plot demands. Namely, he puts on his Keyblade armour, which he has never relied on to protect himself from anything but the darkness of the void between worlds, except during “Birth by sleep,” which was written years before the rest of the game and now seems out of date. If Terra had worn the armour at other points in the game, I would have respected his decision to use it now, but no, this just seems forced. Imagine: if the devs hadn’t removed Terra’s body armour earlier (which I pointed out was inconsistent with the other two characters), he could have tried anything else here (blocking, dodging), failed just as much, and it wouldn’t have seemed forced at all that he was in his armour when this happened! I suppose you could argue that “Birth by sleep” already removed his helmet, and the helmet is part of what’s happening about to happen (you’ll see), but they could have just… put it back at some point, right? Or had it appear automatically when Terra defends himself here? Or had it appear from nowhere when it’s needed in just a second, because “magic” would have explained that away easily given the context of what’s about to happen?
Xehanort’s heart enters Terra’s body in spite of his efforts, and Xehanort’s body, now free of his dark heart, collapses into light in the same fashion as Eraqus’. The Keyblade armour around Terra’s body then falls to pieces, as does his Keyblade, and we see that from the union of Xehanort’s heart with Terra’s body, a familiar face has been born: the Xehanort we knew from KH2, who would become Ansem, Seeker of Darkness and Xemnas the Superior of the In-Between. Richard Epcar voices Billy Zane’s line from Ansem, Seeker of Darkness in KH1: “This 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.” Xehanort then retrieves his old Keyblade.
So this was Xehanort’s plan with Terra all along: to make Terra give in enough to the darkness that he could corrupt and overwhelm Terra’s heart and hijack it, becoming this amalgam being we’ve known as the source of all our problems in the previous four games. He was so afraid and tired of prisons that his own body and universe became prisons in the end, ones that he’d have to escape to survive the destruction of the both. I like the prison theme, that was very well handled.
Now that Terra is transformed, note that Terra never earned the Mickey, Donald and Goofy D-Links, because he never met Mickey, Donald and Goofy. This was definitely deliberate. Between their absence ,and the way that Young Sora was never given a good look at Terra, you can probably guess why it happened: so that none of the people who were in Ansem’s study in KH2 were able to recognize the painting of Xehanort as being Terra with a dye job. Indeed, the only member of the KH2 cast who should be able to recognize Terra is Yen Sid, and as you’ll recall, he flew off to Bermuda after his one and only appearance in KH2 and never returned! Not a very satisfying explanation, but I can’t argue: “not actually appearing in the majority of the game” would prevent him from identifying Terra, to be sure! The most disappointing fact about this development is that Terra never gets D-Links to replace these three. Hades, Dr. Jumba and Hook might have been nice, but Terra had burned most of those bridges by the time he got to them, so I can understand why it happened even if I don’t much like it.
Setting aside the matter of D-Links, let’s take a look at what’s really the twist in this climax. Oh, sure, Master Xehanort possessing Terra is a twist, but remember that the implication up until this point wasn’t that Master Xehanort took over Terra, but that Terra would somehow take over as the archvillain in Master Xehanort’s place, going back as early as his evil eyes in “Birth by sleep.” The red herring is that Terra may have taken Xehanort’s name just like we know that the new Xehanort would later take Ansem’s name. In fact I wonder if this may have been an earlier plan under the “evil Terra plot?” It would retroactively justify the identity theft from KH2 if Terra was a serial identity thief. But that’s jumping the gun, I think. The question is… was there really ever an “evil Terra plot” in Nomura’s mind, or was “evil Terra” always a red herring? It seems that, at least in the narrative as-stands, Terra turning out to be a decent person who uses the power of darkness like Riku is the twist. In the end, Nomura set up a false twist as a red herring and the real twist was the victory of good! And the fact that you probably didn’t think of a twist says volumes about its effectiveness, doesn’t it?
I see an interesting parallel for Terra in the form of the Huntsman from Snow White, even beyond his role in the Dwarf Woodlands: he plays an underling who is offered the chance to do evil but balks when confronted with the reality of evil, instead performing a last-minute gesture of good (and a somewhat weak one as a consequence of circumstance, but certainly better than the alternative). Unfortunately, and don’t let any English teacher tell you otherwise, just because I came up with that allusion and made it sound appropriate doesn’t mean it actually works, and we have Terra’s own tenure as the Huntsman to prove it. Terra never actually contemplated doing evil, nor does he (with thankfully a few exceptions in the main story) genuinely contemplate doing good. He’s indecisive and middling, and I wonder how much of that is a product of the writing and the poorly arranged twist, and how much of it is a matter of structure. Let me explain.
Things simply happen around Terra, sometimes but not always as a consequence of his actions, as he stays neutral as a consequence of his inaction. Yes, his neutrality, like real-world neutrality, allows evil things to happen, but I’m not talking about morality at the moment, I’m talking about milquetoast. This “things happening around Terra” narrative pattern is partially the fault of the game’s structure. “Act 1: Terra,” “Act 2: Ventus” and “Act 3: Aqua” gives Aqua the climax and Ven the rising action, but Terra gets the exposition and wanders off with a hundred loose ends in his wake! It sounds simple, maybe too simple to be responsible for such a wide-reaching problem, but take a look at it from another angle: Terra’s personal arc only ever truly develops and climaxes here in the endgame, which is when he’s actually allowed to participate in the end of a story. Terra’s story is like an engorged version of Kingdom Heart’s already existing backloaded narrative problem. Take this as a prediction: if future Kingdom Hearts narratives are going to fail, I feel they’re most likely to fail in the exact same fashion as Terra’s story, because this is the direction Kingdom Hearts seems to trend as a norm.
But just because I’m getting to musing doesn’t mean the tale is over yet. New Xehanort – officially known as Terra-Xehanort, because god forbid it be easy to type – starts to walk off when suddenly chains of light form around the plinth, chains like those often associated with Eraqus. Xehanort turns about to find Terra’s armour, helmet and Keyblade re-assembled as if kneeling: the Lingering Will. Xehanort is surprised, saying that Terra’s body and heart are under his control, “so why does your mind resist?” Ah, so that’s the explanation: the Lingering Will is our first clear-cut example of the Soul/Mind element of the Body-Soul-Heart trinity. And if Nomura had stuck to plan and made the Unversed properly explore the Soul element of the trinity throughout the game the way KH1 and 2 handled Heart and Body, this might have been both expected and an excellent capper. Instead he did nothing of the sort and many Kingdom Hearts fans are just as confused as ever, while the rest aren’t confused but would have to admit they’re standing on a very thin shelf. Look at this mess! They dropped the ball so hard there’s a crack in the floor!
(Palizinha raises the point that if Ansem the Wise was right in KH2, the Soul can’t be separated from the body without both dying, so maybe this is just the Mind, just like Xehanort says, and Soul and Mind are distinct? I wish they’d clarify these things, but like I was just saying, they seem to have given up on that sometime during development!)
The Lingering Will does not speak, not even to the degree that it did in FM+, and simply draws its Keyblade (always the Ends of the Earth, regardless of the player’s equipment) and engages the new Xehanort to the tune of a remixed “Rage Awakened.”
If you had trouble with Master Xehanort, this is going to be even worse, because Terra-Xehanort may be the hardest of the three storylines’ final bosses, though I suppose that’s going to be up to individual play styles. He certainly does have the most HP, topping Master Xehanort with an extra hundred, and a whole mess of attacks. Just to put a nail in it, you also can’t use D-Links, though I wonder precisely why this is, narratively? Because of the chains, cutting them off from the outside world? Because Terra’s connection to others is in his heart? Or is the simple answer that the Wayfinder is on Xehanort’s person and not with the armour? Terra’s Wayfinder actually disappears from the narrative at this point, so I can’t say for certain!
Most of Terra-Xehanort’s attacks are derived from his Terra half, actually using various attacks from Terra’s playable arsenal (note that his attacks are the same no matter what you had equipped or unlocked). Indeed, this asset reuse allowed the developers to make him easily the most complicated boss in the game, and among the most complicated in the series. What might be the biggest problem is the simplest: like Terra, Xehanort has Block and Counter Hammer, which dramatically reduces the efficiency of your basic attacks. He also has an incredibly long combo (actually Terra’s Ars Solum command) that’s too long to be fully Blocked, though there are alternate strategies you can use.
Xehanort’s most common attack in the early phases is Dark Haze, a Sonic Blade variant that you might have unlocked for Terra. This makes it very hard to tell where he’s going to end up after the attack is over and he moves on to either Ars Solum or – later in the fight – the ability to use Terra’s Dark Impulse combo and Finish attack at will. He can also use Dark Volley, and will often teleport ala Master Xehanort to get away from you while he uses it.
At around half health, Xehanort will begin calling down Meteors. This is a great time for using Shotlocks – not that it will hurt him, as he’s invincible until the spell ends (though you might do a little damage towards the end), but because it renders you invincible! When he’s especially weak, maybe below quarter health, he begins to use Terra’s Ultima Cannon. Unlike in FM+ when this could be bounced back and forth, you now have to dodge it, which is generally easy to do. In all honesty, Ultima Cannon seems to be here mostly as a formality than anything else.
With all this dodging and blocking and shooting, how are you going to find time to do any damage? It is very hard to damage to Xehanort without taking any in return. It’s best done when you can land a Counter Hammer on Xehanort, but this isn’t easy to do because both Ars Solum and Dark Impulse last too long for you to block right at the start. Oh, and did I mention that he can heal himself if you use Cure spells at any time he isn’t necessarily busy? Nice guy. Items can circumvent that, if you must, but he attacks so frequently that his reactionary healing is actually quite rare. On lower difficulties, you can generally power through and heal when the time is right, but on higher ones you might just require Actual Gaming Skill, which is something I don’t actually have. Yeah, I don’t have any advice for this fight, and also here, in the last second of gameplay, I would like to share with you that I’m absolutely terrible with Terra. Goodbye, you tragically empty sack that was until recently filled with rocks.
After the battle, you win Xehanort’s Report 11, and like in Ven’s story, we’ll cover it right away. In this, Xehanort clarifies why Ven was sent to Eraqus and later why he was baited into the open world to begin with: because Vanitas was so much stronger than him and he needed to be trained. While dropping Ventus off at the Land of Departure, Xehanort spotted Terra and immediately knew that he would be the perfect “vessel.”
After the battle, Xehanort is left unconscious and the Lingering Will is left standing over him. Suddenly, in the 2.5 HD remake, a cape spits out of the Will’s collar like a fucking tongue. This absolutely critical camera-lick was done to put the Will more in line with its appearance in FM+, and aren’t we all so grateful? It then grounds his sword and kneels again, the same pose where Sora would find it eleven or so years later. After a moment’s pause, a massive explosion suddenly erupts from the ground below the plinth! The explosion will go unexplained for the time being, but for now it’s simply important that we know the Will and Xehanort are both seemingly consumed by it, as the Will thinks after Aqua and Ven. After the explosion clears, only the Will remains, shining in the light of Kingdom Hearts, which vanishes behind the clouds.
Over black, Terra promises his friends that “One day, I will set this right.”
During Terra’s end credits, nearly every character that appears (at least, every character that isn’t common to all three credits sequences) are villains, save for the appearance of Riku.