Just like Terra, Aqua ends her trip to Neverland with an automatic cutscene where she stumbles across the light of Destiny Islands. Naturally, she straightaway finds the paopu tree and examines her Wayfinder, and begins talking about a “storm” that’s coming. Ah-huh. Yeah, uh, Aqua, maybe I should… point something out…
You see, if you look back on it, even though Aqua has been paramount in resolving the plots of most of the Disney worlds, from Aqua’s perspective, the main plot is kind of a mystery, which only further cements her role as The One Who Had to Go Last. While I can’t be as certain of this as usual because DJ Firewolf is using an interweaving script, I don’t believe Aqua has so much as heard the name “Xehanort” (outside of the Xehanort reports) since she asked Terra about him at the Castle of Dreams in the very beginning of her journey! She knows nothing about Vanitas’ greater significance, only that he was an asshole who now smells strongly of calamari. She overheard that Terra might have hurt someone in the process of, in his words, “fighting the darkness,” but she doesn’t honestly know the specifics and just has a few hints that were dropped by Maleficent while rambling, and she seems to have concluded that he’s a good guy after all and that Maleficent was lying, or at least that’s how she’s been behaving. Meanwhile she seems to have grasped the fact that Ven’s ready to move on and start a bigger life, and simply needs to come to terms with her own burgeoning resolution.
So if I’m reading things right, the “storm ahead” is that she might have an argument with Terra but is mostly hopeful about it, she’ll have to fight with her dad to convince him to let Ven go out into the world, and that she might not be able to live with Ven any longer, which is always sad but you’d hope she might be happy about instead of treating it like a trial that has to be weathered. Also she beat up a murderous shitbag and he vanished. That is her take on the story. Do not play Aqua first.
Aqua’s dubious inner conflicts aside, she’s soon surprised by the arrival of both Young Sora and Young Riku, who are having the same race that Kairi will later initiate at the start of KH1. They both spot Aqua, however, and by the looks on their faces find her very suspicious and worrying, quite in contrast to Riku’s reaction to Terra, though Sora’s is about the same. Aqua jumps down to talk to them and gets a laugh out of Sora, causing Aqua to think that Riku reminds her of Terra and Sora of Ven. Oh, you’re just going to point those connections out, huh? After this entire game of clear but unspoken connections, you’re just going to slam the hammer down at the eleventh hour? Fine. Fine, whatever, this is a YA series, I guess if you want to ham-hand it, that’s your choice.
Like Terra, Aqua is immediately struck by the possibility that one of the boys could wield the Keyblade. She decides to interview them, but as she does so, she realizes that Terra has already introduced Riku to the Keyblade. Changing her tack, Aqua asks Sora how close he is to Riku, and when she learns they’re “best friends,” she starts to ask him highly specific questions about dark paths and stuff, driven half by her recent worries about Terra (and how Terra connects to Riku) and half by the writers’ less-than-subtle approach in this scene, wanting to connect this scene to the events of KH1. She charges Sora to look out for his friend, who will one day wield the Keyblade, and sends them on their way. That’s all. She doesn’t give Sora access to the Keyblade, just a simple, heartfelt pledge that will go dramatically out of hand.
Left on her own, Aqua sits on the paopu tree and stares out to the sea, which is a very clever trick done to make her look as though she’s looking at the empty spots on the tree next to her that we’re so used to seeing filled with friends. She then remarks: “One Keyblade is enough… for any friendship.” She’s obviously talking about Terra and his jealousy, but she continues to speak in plurals, as though Ven were somehow included in this too, and maybe I’m being presumptive about her being okay with Ven going on with his life but it really seems to me like she should be by this point, and nothing about him having a Keyblade has hurt anything!
Oh, but we’re not done with the cutscenes yet. Hope you aren’t in the rush to save or something! Like the others, Aqua gets the evolved form of her starter Keyblade at this point, the Stormfall, which you may recognize from FM+. Curiously, it’s not a magic-focused Keyblade but a balanced one in virtually all categories!
As Aqua is leaving Destiny Islands, she comes across a glowing figure in the void between worlds: King Mickey, who appears to be leaking light, presumably the effect of the void eating away at him to get to the tasty centre.
You might remember that Mickey was seemingly kidnapped by Vanitas after arriving on Neverland in Ven’s tale, and then simply disappeared until the events of “Birth by sleep” in the Keyblade Graveyard. This is where he ended up: beaten to a pulp and left to die in the corruptive darkness between worlds, only to be saved by sheer chance! Sheesh! The Disney company trusts Square Enix more than I would have ever imagined. And let’s be clear, Vanitas (or Xehanort, or both) did leave Mickey to die, as Mickey plays no role in Master Xehanort’s upcoming plan. He was captured as bait for Ven and now he’s useless, so off he goes to the cold embrace of the void! It’s not clear how Aqua ran into Mickey, be it through chance or the connection between hearts, but she keeps him alive and so essentially made sure that he would continue to be a thorn in Xehanort’s side for the next eleven-plus years, so let’s call today the most productive visit we’ve ever had to the Mysterious Tower.
And yes, we are bound for Aqua’s petty trip to The World The Game Didn’t Care About And I Certainly Don’t Either. Aqua arrives at the tower with no sign of Mickey, presumably having stuffed him into her inventory and is off exploring and opening chests as he bleeds out. Once you finally get to Yen Sid’s study, Aqua unpacks Mickey from hammerspace and leaves him on the floor to be tended to by Donald and Goofy. Geeze, does Yen Sid not have a bed for this kid? Like even if the big wizard doesn’t sleep himself for all I know, surely Mickey must have a bed for his own use! “Just throw him on the floor,” says the great sorcerer, “…with the other bodies.”
Yen Sid wastes no time telling Aqua that things are worse than she suspects: Eraqus is already dead. Quite in contrast to Kingdom Heart’s usual “prescient reaction,” Aqua waits politely through his entire delivery before showing a hint of emotion, as though the game outright wasn’t able to react until the captions had cleared. Video games have a very, very bad habit of this kind of linear scripting (scripting meaning the coding used to arrange these sorts of things, but I suppose the problem descends from there into written scripts). It doesn’t happen all the time in BBS, but this is a pretty bad example. Or maybe it’s a matter of Japanese-to-English word order? Still, do you think if he had kept talking, like reciting the dictionary or something, she would have held it all in until he had finished? Yen Sid tells her that Master Xehanort is responsible, but also Terra, but since he seems to have known this through divination, he can’t be sure of the specifics. She tells him that he’s bound for the Keyblade Graveyard, making Aqua the only one not to receive an invitation from the bad guys, which kind of makes me wonder how Master Xehanort expected to get here there to bait Terra in the first place!
After this cutscene, in which Aqua interacted with Donald and Goofy in no fashion and they only had a single line of dialogue each (both shouting Mickey’s name to his comatose body), Aqua somehow gets their D-Links! She also gets Xehanort Report 4, which is probably one of the most interesting ones in the set. This report opens by saying that the person who completes Kingdom Hearts will not only recreate the world, but will become “greater than human.” He goes from there to describe the details of the Keyblade War, saying that it was fought by “defenders of the light, servants of darkness, those who sought to reconcile the two, and those motivated by nothing more than lust for power,” leading to the destruction of all parties, Xehanort’s insinuation here being that all are equally destructive. The world was then reconstructed with the barrier walls specifically to prevent the war from happening again, but Xehanort curiously says that no one opened the door to Kingdom Hearts, so how did the world reform in such a specific, goal-serving manner? We might never get an answer to that.
Okay so full disclosure: I’m actually going to hold off covering most of the game’s late-game content, as well as the details about unlocking secret content, until after we’ve cleared Aqua’s storyline. I don’t recommend actually doing this in play, and I’ll go into details as to why once we get there, but for the Retrospective’s sake, this strikes me as a good idea. Thanks to that, and due to all the repeat content in Aqua’s finale, we’ll be able to get here embarrassingly fast for a “final” section of content!
Aqua gets the same opening sequence at the Keyblade Graveyard as the other characters, while her prayer is “The three of us will always be one.” She then goes off to experience all the notes we’ve seen in the past: tornadoes, accusing Terra of how he’s going to be evil again even though she keeps changing her mind on that issue time and time again, and Ven’s asking her and Terra to “put an end to [him]” if he’s absorbed by Vanitas. “Birth by sleep” plays, and we find Aqua on the lower levels of the Graveyard, guarding poor, frozen Ventus.
We’ve also seen the immediate next scene as well, and even how it ends, though I can’t skip ahead that far thanks to ~new gameplay~ and other such nonsense. Braig arrives on the scene and fights Aqua, distracting her from helping Ven or Terra long enough that Vanitas is able to take her out from above. By the way, now that we’ve seen Braig in Terra’s storyline, it’s clear that he’s visibly changed: not only does he have his eyepatch and scar, but he’s glowering with dark power and I’ve already mentioned the yellow eyes when we saw this scene with Ven. It may be that Master Xehanort’s promise to him all along was to give him access to the powers of darkness.
First things first: Aqua has to fight Braig, set to a tune taken from “Another Side, Another Story” simply called “Another Side. ” We’ve got a few changes from Terra’s fight against Braig in Radiant Garden, though the fundamentals are the same. There’s no sniper sequence this time. He has immunity to the few status effects that he was vulnerable to before, but nothing worth writing home about. In terms of changes: Braig will often teleport away just to psyche you out, way more often than he used to against Terra. He also seems to do the “run around the player while shooting” attack more often than before. On the matter of outright new attacks, he has one that involves him standing in the middle of the arena and pirouetting while firing. His more notable attack is to shout “Kiss yourself goodbye!” and to start firing dark bolts into a portal, which begin to spawn about the arena. Worse, they stay embedded in the arena for a few seconds, damaging them if you walk into them. But even this doesn’t change the battle’s fundamental core of moving around to dodge his fire? Like Vanitas in Ven and Terra’s scenarios, this is very nearly a repeat battle from the middle of someone else’s storyline, and to me it’s the easiest of BBS’ final bosses!
Aqua wins, Braig runs off, and Vanitas knocks Aqua out. All old news. While unconscious, Aqua has a memory of only a few minutes ago, when Ven asked her to put an end to him if things go to their worst. Aqua wakes up some time later when found by Mickey, who showed up all the way back in “Birth by sleep” but has yet to impact the final boss battles in any way! Aqua calls out to Ven in shock, and she and Mickey go looking and find him on the conveniently shaped boss arena nearby where Aqua fought Braig and he fought Vanitas. There, Ven is standing listless in the middle of the arena, the X-Blade in his hand and wearing dark armour. Aqua doesn’t notice the change in clothes or the oversized, ostentatious doomsday weapon in his hand, but Mickey does, and is ready to knock it aside when Ven tries to stab her with it. Ven, now with yellow eyes, then begins to speak in a voice made up of both Jesse McCartney and Haley Joel Osmet, Dragon Ball Z-style, meaning Vanitas has taken over.
Wait, hold on, pardon me, just a second. Would someone please get Hal Hickel on the phone? …I don’t care if he’s busy! …Just ask him that if he can’t pull off killing a teenaged boy with a several-million dollar CGI monster, what the hell good is he?
In any event, this presumably takes place while Vanitas and Ven are fighting within their one body, even though Vanitas has control over the body and doesn’t seem even remotely distracted. I guess perhaps their hearts are fighting but Vanitas’ mind is presently both untouched and ignorant to the inner conflict? I don’t know. “Ventus-Vanitas” identifies his blade as the X-Blade for any players who have yet to complete Ven’s scenario, and says that he’s going to open Kingdom Hearts and restart the Keyblade War. Aqua doesn’t know enough to understand the severity of what’s going on, but she knows things are trouble, and demands that Vanitas “Give Ven his heart back!”
Ventus-Vanitas is fought to perhaps the most sedate and morose of all of Kingdom Hearts’ final boss themes so far, series wide, even considering we just rolled off of “Another Side.” This is “The Key,” and it sounds almost more like a dark cutscene theme than a boss battle, setting the mood for what’s about to happen, in my mind. Mickey’s here to help you for this final boss battle, sharing the functionality he demonstrated in Ven’s first encounter with Vanitas in the Badlands. Unfortunately, this includes the inability to use D-Links, which is a mechanical pain in the butt, but hold that thought all the same. Fundamentally, a lot of the lessons you’ve learned against other fights with Vanitas the Unkillable will serve you well here, though he doesn’t share the full library of attacks and defences. He also doesn’t make much of an effort to copy Ven’s attacks like you’d expect after the fight against Terra-Xehanort, which I suspect may be an effort to show the power of the X-Blade? Hard to say.
Like most of the fight against Vanitas, Ventus-Vanitas constantly changes his attacks from a very wide library, and retains his ability to leave a fake after-image and then jump at you, though he uses it far less frequently, thank god. Other returning attacks include his Blizzaga, Firaga and Thundaga spells, as well as his ability to sink into a pool of darkness ala Dark Impulse, most of which have actually been upgraded! He’s also much faster, not just on the field but in terms of launching his attacks and moving on to the next attack. Besides having more powerful close-range attacks granted by the X-Blade, he also has a blade beam. His most powerful new attack has him teleporting to the middle of the arena and spouting a quote. The best way to deal with this big attack is to go to Mickey and use Burst of Faith. Mickey should always offer to do this as a way out, so long as he’s conscious, but like I was complaining about Prince Philip, sometimes the game screws up, so you may need to quickly use a shotlock or accept the fact that you’re going to take a hit, because this isn’t going to go well for you as the attack is nearly impossible to dodge, especially if you get caught in the X-shaped wave of the attack (indeed, I expect that you’re not supposed to be able to dodge it at all, except with Burst of Faith and Shotlocks, and the fact that you technically can is an oversight).
After Vanitas’ HP is depleted, he launches one of Ventus’ air attacks to knock both opponents off the platform. With Vanitas standing over her, Aqua cradles her Wayfinder and prays: “Terra, Ven, lend me strength.” And as she does so, the Wayfinder flashes and her Keyblade begins to glow with light. Surprised but invigorated by this, Aqua gets up and charges Vanitas, who catches her strike with the X-Blade. Aqua then forces her strength, and the X-Blade suddenly cracks. Vanitas is thrown to the ground and falls unconscious, and moments later, the darkness fades and he reverts to Ven.
Someone on the Kingdom Hearts Insider forums once came asking for an explanation of this scene, and said something to the effect of, “And please don’t tell me it was the power of friendship or some crap like that.” We were all too happy to explain that that’s literally what’s happening here. The implication seems to be that Ven just now won the battle in his heart, and at around the same time, Aqua called on her friends to help defeat her enemy. More specifically, this is another example, and one of the better one to date, of Kingdom Hearts mixing its mechanics and its narrative: Aqua has just used a D-Link to defeat her final boss.
Cracked, the X-Blade goes haywire as it unleashes light. Unconscious Ven is blown away, but Aqua manages to get a hold of him at the last second. Just as she does, the blade explodes into the light pillar we saw at the end of Terra’s story, and grows to encompass a large part of the Keyblade Graveyard.
At this point, we get the last of the Xehanort Reports, number 7. In it, he explains that the X-Blade “coexists” with Kingdom Hearts, and that the Kingdom Hearts created by it is “special” in comparison to, well, the ones from KH1 and 2. It would be “a perfect and complete union of ALL the worlds’ hearts.” He concludes that the Keyblade War must have been fought over the X-Blade and this “special” Kingdom Hearts.
We skip repeating the scene from Ven’s story where Mickey rescues Aqua and Ven from the void between worlds (remember that I suspected this scene may have been excised from Aqua’s story) and cut ahead to Aqua waking up in the Mysterious Tower. On the floor again. Never trust a wizard’s hospitality.
Yen Sid offers a brief explanation and we discover that Mickey and Ven are both present, Ven appearing to be utterly lifeless, like Kairi in KH1. Yen Sid clarifies that there was “no sign” of Terra, and that Ven’s “heart is sleeping,” or perhaps has even “left.” Yen Sid that Ven might sleep forever if he’s not woken, which has led some fans to conclude, and this might very well be the case, that Ven’s body is somehow immortal without its heart. This has led to some confusion on, of all things, the matter of Ienzo. Remember Ienzo, the little boy who would grow up to become Zexion as a Nobody? If he became a Nobody within only a few years, how did he grow up without a heart? Who knows! Frankly I don’t think Nomura thought that thoroughly about things, though I admit that it is strange that he made Iezno a child with no intent of making use of the fact…
Aqua vows to keep Ven safe until he wakes, and Yen Sid lectures her to believe in Ven, as his heart will be looking for someone to “show him the way home” with their love. “Aw!” says Mickey. That’s so cute, this indefinite nowhere plan! Mickey promises the same, and Aqua says that Terra will also do so, prompting Mickey to point out that, uh, he’s probably dead, Aqua! So far as they know. Aqua however says that she knows different, while looking at her Wayfinder, and then… the credits! Easily the most abrupt and disruptive credits break of the three, and wholly unsatisfying! What a way to go!
So I guess we’re going to have to go find a better ending!
Aqua’s credits focus mostly on all the Disney plots she helped bring to a close, and also feature the appearance of Sora where Terra’s credits had Riku.