The Final Episode begins with an extended cutscene. The cutscene begins with Aqua taking Ven’s body out of the Mysterious Tower, and as she muses about needing somewhere to put him, his hand moves and summons his Keyblade, making a portal of light. Aqua sees inside it (though we cannot, even when looking at it) and she laughs and says “All right, if that’s where you want to go.”
After a loading screen, we see that Ven has brought them back to the ruins of the Land of Departure. Even though you could have come here with Aqua during her save file, it’s impossible to get to the entrance to the castle, so she still has some ugly discoveries to make. Chiefly, she finds Eraqus’ Keyblade, the Master’s Defender, still lying among the wreckage. She collects the Keyblade, musing about how some of her last words to Eraqus were about Terra’s strength and light, given the outcome in front of her.
It’s now where the game finally answers a question that I know I at least had been musing about for the game’s entire length: that “certain knowledge” Eraqus promised Aqua after she became a Master. We learn that the Land of Departure has a special defence mechanism that Eraqus and his predecessors created in event of a siege: she can use the Master’s Defender on a hidden Keyhole in the back of the throne to “seal away” the Land of Departure. “From that day forward, all who visit this land will be lost to oblivion,” with no one able to unlock it but someone who knows the secret, which in this case means Aqua alone. She does this, and we see the Throne Room transformed… into the long-lost Chamber of Waking, counterpart of the Chamber of Repose in Radiant Garden, locked in the heart of Castle Oblivion, which was the Land of Departure all along.
Ven is left here in the throne at the centre of the room, still sleeping, and Aqua leaves the chamber. An experienced KH player, especially one who’s played KH2:FM+, will know one unfortunate fact: Ventus is still there, ten years later. Still sleeping, and still lost. Aqua never came back to him, and we’re still got an hour or so of gameplay to find out why. Roxas responded to him when he arrived during the events of Days and had a sudden attack of memories. Why Sora didn’t have a similar reaction, given his heart’s connection to Ven going back to childhood, well, that’s a retcon, but Palizinha has Nomura’s official explanation in the comments below.
Standing outside of Castle Oblivion, Aqua hears Terra’s voice in his head, asking her to put an end to him as well, and she asks him for guidance to find him, despite earlier implying that she would use the Wayfinder or something? I don’t know, whatever. Clearing this cutscene gives you the Brightcrest, a twice-evolved version of Aqua’s Keyblade, which also somewhat resembles BBS’ Ultima Weapon. It’s a rare magic-focused Keyblade with a high crit rate, and nowhere near as strong as the Ultima Weapon, Royal Radiance, or the post-game Keyblades, but it will serve here if you prefer it over the Stormfall.
At this point, Aqua arrives on the world map to find Castle Oblivion vanished. She has access to every world in the game, but Radiant Garden is highlighted with black clouds. While every other world is essentially the same as in her campaign except at a higher Battle Lv, I repeat myself by saying: please, please, please don’t actually play here, because Radiant Garden itself is locked off and cannot be normally accessed, and you’d be surprised how easily that messes other things up. Furthermore, once you start playing the Final Episode, please stick to the story and stick with it to the end, because if you don’t and go back to your old folder before the Final Episode is complete, you may trigger a glitch with the Battle Lv. rebalancing mechanic I discussed earlier.
Aqua arrives in town square at Radiant Garden to find Terra-Xehanort standing listlessly in the middle of town, staring up at Hollow Bastion. Remember, we last saw him having been clobbered by the Lingering Will and then blown up by the destruction of the X-Blade, so he’s in a bit of a weird place right now. When Aqua approaches him, he reaches out towards her in a way that’s… well let’s just say that I never would have pegged Kingdom Hearts as a series that realized just how frightening it can be to be touched or grabbed.
Aqua doesn’t get away fast enough, and Xehanort grabs her by, uh… actually… remember what I was saying about Aqua carrying Kairi and how animators hate putting things into characters’ hands? Terra seems to briefly be grabbing her by the top of her shirt, which I’m pretty sure just wouldn’t work, but she acts as though he has her by the throat even though he obviously doesn’t. Thanks to FudgemintGuardian for taking the screenshot below, which shows that the animators just couldn’t get Terra-Xehanort’s grip to look right. I’m serious, click the screenshot for a closeup, his wrist is outright twisted around!
Xehanort is still staring listlessly into the distance and asks Aqua who he is, having apparently picked up a case of video game amnesia via concussive blasts. Upon hearing the name “Terra” he drops her and seems to develop a headache, only for Richard Epcar’s voice to come back strong and say that Terra’s heart is gone now. At this point, Aqua announces herself dramatically as “Master Aqua” for the first time and arms to defend herself. Ah, isn’t that nice? A payoff to that long-running character arc where Aqua refused to accept her title as Master because she was upset that Terra hadn’t gotten the title as well and didn’t want to rub it in his face, but is only now realizing that she has to take on the mantle of adulthood to protect her family in the face of this great evil! Oh wait, I made all that up because there was no story arc about why Aqua never used her title and the game is trying to act like this is a payoff to what is, in fact, nothing. This game, ladies and gentlemen!
The first phase of the battle against Terra-Xehanort opens with him trying to jump Aqua from behind, only for her to catch him. This effect has no particularly purpose, except to show that he’s not fighting fair even though Aqua always does. I could live without it. After this, the fight is nearly identical to Terra’s final boss, save that it lacks the drawn-out meteor barrage and thank goodness for that. While Aqua and Terra control differently, a good knowledge of the fundamentals should carry you through with her just like it did Terra. Oh, and by the way, Aqua can use D-Links again and can still commune with Terra and Ven, so you have your full arsenal on display! The battle music here is “Dismiss,” a mix of Destati and various other themes.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of it, and the first boss segment goes directly into a second. Personally I find this one easier, but it has more HP and it’s still playing hardball, so watch yourself. In this phase, Terra-Xehanort summons the being we knew as “Ansem’s Guardian” in KH1, and begins to fight you in a manner not dissimilar to Ansem, Seeker of Darkness in KH1, though he now hovers close enough to the ground for you to use ground combos if you prefer. Honestly his opening set of attacks isn’t very good: he spends half his HP bar only using a shockwave attack and a close-range punch. Notable new attacks include the Guardian’s ability to grab you from below and pile-drive you into the ground, but that’s about it.
Later in the fight, Terra-Xehanort will occasionally attack you with his Keyblade, and the Guardian will throw dark fireballs that are one of the few enemy attacks in the game to cause Blind, which causes the screen to iris on your position, leaving you only a small spotlight of visibility.
The most notable attack is one where the Guardian grabs hold of you. Unfortunately, Spoazbo4 doesn’t have any footage of it. If you don’t escape from this attack, Aqua will find herself in a vision where the Guardian constantly tosses (non-blinding) dark balls at her. If she can make it past the Guardian, she will find Terra standing in a sigil of light. It’s easy to mistake Terra for Terra-Xehanort (I mean, obviously), and if you attack him the sequence will simply end, but if you join him in the sigil and hit Triangle, you will be given a timed hit opportunity to cause a huge amount of damage to Terra-Xehanort. This sequence doesn’t occur very often, arguably because it’s worse for Terra-Xehanort than it is for you!
After the battle, Terra-Xehanort is struggling, when he begins to glow with light and complains that something is “fighting back.” Actually restrained by the spirit of Terra within him, Xehanort decides to do something extreme (some have supposed that this is actually Terra acting, but it’s been confirmed that it indeed Xehanort, which is definitely not the wisest move he’s ever made). Xehanort brings his Keyblade to his chest and once again inserts it there in an effort to remove Terra from his heart entirely, all while Aqua just sort of stands there. When he does so, we don’t see a heart exit the body, but the Guardian does collapse (possibly suggesting a connection between it and Terra?) followed quickly by Terra-Xehanort himself. As the Guardian dissolves, it leaves a pool of darkness behind, and Terra-Xehanort falls into the pool.
Aqua rushes to the pool and jumps in after Terra-Xehanort, where she finds herself in a great, flat-black Void. She puts on her Keyblade armour and glider, and races to catch up to Terra-Xehanort’s fall, but once she catches up she realizes that she’s not going to make it back to the hole to the Realm of Light in time. And then, in a baffling decision with completely unexplained logistics, Aqua removes her armour, gives Terra his Keyblade, and casts a spell to send him to the portal.
So, uh… geeze, do I even have to say anything? Why do you have a Glider with rocket jets if your spell is faster? If your spell is faster, why did you have to weigh him down with all that crap first? Including armour that protects you from the darkness? For that matter, did your spell somehow require both the armour and the Keyblade? This is the developer’s awful, awful effort to give Terra-Xehanort the armour and Keyblade that later ended up in Xemnas’ possession, and at this rate I think they might have gotten a better response from me if she had just said, “Here you go” at the start of their duel and handed them to him for no reason whatsoever. I mean, she doesn’t seem to have a reason here, does she? They just left it “ambiguous” to hide the fact that they didn’t have an answer!
In any event, Aqua falls into darkness, apologizing to Ven but promising to come back.
Suddenly, we cut to the beach on Destiny Islands, and not the one we’re familiar with, either: the one Kairi used to send her message in a bottle on the main island, a beach that, in the players’ eyes after KH2, must be connected to the Dark Margin in the Realm of Darkness, which is probably what the developers are going for here. Sora and Riku are here and are about to come home when Riku spots Sora crying… or rather, Riku has a prescient reaction to a teardrop that isn’t there yet. Riku says that someone “up there” must be sad, and Sora is unwittingly empathizing with them. Riku recommends Sora open his heart to listen to the person, and Sora closes his eyes, clenches his fist and gives it his all. From here, we cut to poor sleeping Ventus, who seems to hear Sora’s voice.
Back in Radiant Garden, we find Braig leading Ansem the Wise to the town square, where Terra-Xehanort and Aqua’s things are just lying around. Ansem asks Terra-Xehanort to give him his name, and he replies “Xehanort,” prompting Braig to smile in private. They bring Xehanort and Aqua’s things to the castle.
So in the end it was Aqua, the one that Master Xehanort didn’t even account for, who ruined everything. Not the chosen one with a heart forced to be pure of light, or the chosen one with a heart susceptible to darkness, but the one who was consistently nice, respectable, who always did started and finished her jobs when her brothers were gallivanting around the universe (setting aside the one time an authority figure asked her to leave), who inherited Eraqus’ legacy and seems primed to confront its faults, and was, most importantly in the face of Kingdom Hearts’ legacy, a forgotten woman. It was Aqua who broke the X-Blade through the love of her friends and it was Aqua who put Xehanort to pay, possibly delaying his big plans for ten years, and even then in two fragmented, incomplete forms.
Meanwhile in the Realm of Darkness (in a place that strongly resembles the location just beyond the Door to Darkness in KH1), Aqua has been walking for who knows how much time, maybe ages, and she is approached by a group of Darksides. Seeing them, she arms not with her Keyblade (lost in the Realm of Light) but the Master’s Defender, which is all that she has left. Unfortuantely, she soon realizes she’s outclassed and surrounded. Exhausted as well, she wonders if she should let them kill her so she can “fade into the darkness,” but she’s rescued by the arrival of two Keyblades, the Wayward Wind and the Earthshaker, both without their wielders but still willing to protect her. They trivialize the Darksides (honestly, if Darksides appear in KH3 they had better be a tutorial boss or go through a serious paradigm shift because they are a joke), and fly off.
Aqua looks at her Wayfinder and thinks on not just her brothers, but also Eraqus, Mickey and a number of Disney faces she met on her journey as well, including Daisy, with whom she never interacted, but not the Grand Councilwoman, who I guess did reject her in the end as a matter of circumstance. In this vision, Stitch still has a Wayfinder as well. You might think this is just her imagination, because you’ll remember that it was destroyed by Gantu in Ven’s tale, but we later see (during the end credit skits) that Stitch has reconstructed the Wayfinder, suggesting this might be a vision of all her friends and that they really are thinking of her at this moment. On a side note, I personally always hoped Stitch would teach Lilo how to make a Wayfinder, but there I go fanficcing again.
Aqua then looks at her Wayfinder and says “There’s always a way.” And not a split second after Willa Holland is done with her last syllable, Utada Hikaru blasts in with the opening of “Simple and Clean,” with the same “radio alarm” effect I complained about at the end of KH1. I’m just as hostile to it now, let me tell you. This ending is just as abrupt and unsatisfying as the last Aqua one! What the hell! Like I said, you need to unlock the secret ending to get the “real” ending, and god help us that’s confusing.
After “Simple and Clean” ends, we get the post-game skits we’re familiar with from KH1 and 2. Maleficent menaces Aurora’s castle in the Enchanted Dominion, which would later fall to darkness in KH1. The seven dwarfs visit with Snow White and the Prince, which I’m sure we all hoped would happen after the end of their film. Lea and Isa are thrown out of Hollow Bastion by the guards, implying their break-in didn’t go so well, and they end up buying… oh for fuck’s sake… sea salt ice cream from Scrooge McDuck. Experiment 626 flies off to a glowing planet in the distance.
On a far more dire note, at Olympus Coliseum, Zack is watching Hercules train when he suddenly vanishes, with only a black feather emblematic of Sephiroth left behind (as dissonant bouncy music plays on the background). Or, if not Sephiroth, I suppose he could have been kidnapped by Genesis. God help us if it’s Genesis. As I write this, Zack’s not been seen since. Equally dire for a moment, Mickey returns his stolen Star Shard, and was ready to turn in his Keyblade to Yen Sid as well, only for Yen Sid to relent and return the latter.
Meanwhile on Radiant Garden, Kairi is playing when she suddenly gets a distressed feeling and looks off towards the sky, her necklace glinting.
In the final scene of the main game, Sora finds himself his own heart, decorated in stained glass and childhood accoutrements. While he’s there, he’s united with Ven’s heart, which found Sora’s through their connection from the start of the game. Ven thanks Sora for his earlier favour – which Sora doesn’t even remember – and asks him if he can beg another favour and stay in Sora’s heart. Sora accepts, and opens his eyes in Destiny Island, telling Riku that he feels better now.
Oh, by the way, that Keyblade that Roxas wields while dual-wielding, and how I said it wasn’t Xion’s? It’s actually supposed to be Ven’s, and Roxas’ is supposed to be Sora’s Keyblade co-existing somehow, like a time paradox waiting to destroy the universe. Why make this the answer instead of the simpler alternative? I have no idea. But if Nomura was willing to take the simpler alternative, I suppose Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t be what it is today. Iiiii’m not sure if that’s a compliment or a piece of advice to time travellers.
In a final detail, a text overlay tells us that Sora and Riku would go on to save the world, before the game returns a “Final Battle Report” that sums up the player’s data across all three files that went into creating this save file for the Final Episode.
But we’re not done yet. First off: the matter of Birth by Sleep’s two post-game superbosses.