For starters, let’s talk about that Combat Lv boost I mentioned a few times towards the end. This is frequently unknown or misunderstood around the fandom (no thanks to Square Enix’s poor implementation of the feature), so I’ll try to pass on the research others have made to clear this up.
What the game wants to do is this: after you complete the Final Episode, the three completed save files “attached” to the Final Episode will have their Combat Lvs overwritten with higher ones to make grinding easier. Unfortunately, should you open a regular character file after beginning but before completing the Final Episode, it will screw up the Battle Lv. for Radiant Garden, which is supposed to be the highest of all, meaning any grinding you do will be slowed! The best course of action, frankly, is to be ready to go into the Final Episode the moment you first complete each character file, but failing that, overwrite the Final Episode by re-completing any character file you dare to open. One commentor I saw online suggested you get rid of old BBS save files whenever you play the game again, too, but I’m not sure that’s necessary. We’re still not sure of many of the details, but that’s the best we have at the moment!
Completing the Final Episode also (reliably, thank goodness) unlocks a superboss in the attached character files. This is the only superboss in the Japanese Vanilla release, and like Phantom in KH1, they don’t even have a good prize until the International release. Sheesh, it’s almost like they did that on purpose! Players can find this boss by going to the Keyblade Graveyard, where they’ll find “The Badlands” once again available to them, this time as a save point transport spot available from the world map. Screenshots from this boss come from me, by the way.
Returning to the Badlands, players will find a floating “split gear” symbol, not unlike the Unversed Mission symbols in BBS:FM, or for that matter the Absent Silhouette symbols in KH2:FM+. Using it will trigger the arrival of the boss: a monochrome version of Vanitas known as “Vanitas Remnant.” Like the Absent Silhouettes, I wouldn’t put too much thought into what this boss is supposed to be in the narrative, though its monochrome colouration does make me think of Nobodies, even though that seems unlikely. The boss music here is “Enter the Void,” one of my favourites in BBS.
Curiously, Vanitas Remnant has only 200 HP, a single health bar! Unfortunately, his defence is higher than anyone else’s in the game! Oh, and to make his defence even worse? He can still do the stupid afterimage trick, he can dodge most projectiles, and worse, he’ll heal himself if you cast a heal spell. To rub salt in it, D-Links are disabled, meaning the only way safe to heal in this battle is with poor, forgotten items, or with the Illusion-R transformation in FM!
The battle with Vanitas Remnant is so hard that most players don’t know how to fight him without using dirty tricks, and I am no exception. Many players are satisfied beating him with Aqua and her Seeker Mine ability, and then to never even bother with Ven and Terra, while others use a flaw in his AI to attack him through a rock. Screw this game’s approaches to superbosses, honestly. Most of the Remnant’s attacks are area attacks, forcing to stay constantly on the run. I’m not sure why the bosses are designed like this, though I worry it might have something to do with preventing you from using Shotlocks without outright making the boss immune? It makes for a tiring experience for the poor hands, let me tell you. The Remnant also inflicts Confusion and Blind, on top of all of its surprise attacks.
There are definitely some videos out there showing people beating Vanitas Remnant fair and square, so frankly I recommend a player search for them if they aren’t willing to cheat. Your prize for clearing the boss is a copy of Vanitas Remnant’s black-and-white Void Gear (or a measly Secret Gem in the poor Vanilla Japanese game), which is a strength-focused late game Keyblade well worth using if you specialize in physical attacks, though it’s outclassed by the Royal Radiance.
The next secret boss, added to the International Vanilla release, is supposed to be unlocked by defeating Vanitas Remnant, but I know for a fact that in the International Vanilla version, it’s actually unlocked by fighting Vanitas Remnant, after which you can lose and mosey over to the other boss! Doesn’t work in the HD release. Oh, by the way, despite this connection to the dubiously-canon Vanitas Remnant, this upcoming scene is canon – in fact, canon for all three characters! – so let’s take a look. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to this boss, so we’ll be going back to flashback screenshots.
This boss is fought at the ruins of the Land of Departure. When your character arrives here, they’re greeted by a hazy figure wearing the black cloak that we now associate with the Organization! When your character turns to face them, they suddenly summon two Ethereal Blades, just like Xemnas but not identical to any of the ones we’ve ever seen, and the music fucking attacks you with “Dark Impetus,” a song that does so much damage to my heart that I’m sure it’s half responsible for all my loses in this fight on the PSP.
This is the newest Unknown in our series, following in the footsteps of Xemnas in KH2 and arguably the Lingering Will in KH2 (fun fact: the devs actually re-used Saïx’s hooded model for the boss). Their most dangerous attack is Collision Magnet, which will instantly kill the player, unless you’re playing 2.5 where it’s possible to get away from this, the most infamous and despised enemy attack in the entire series. Not that it’s easy to do, mind you, it’s just possible. Like Vanitas Remnant, players prefer to cheat their way past this instead of fighting him fair, namely by using the ability Thunder Surge or, less frequently, Fire Surge, as they’re one of the only moves in the game that cause the Unknown to flinch. Towards the end of the battle, the Unknown enters a desperation attack and you can’t hurt them at all, forcing you to do dodge rolls over and over again for something like one and a half minutes flat.
Fuck this games’ superbosses, for real. Let’s never do this again, either here or in any other game.
After the battle, the Unknown appears to vanish into thin air but then returns, still hazy and indistinct. It takes a good look at your character and then walks off. That’s it! Your reward for this is the “No Name,” one last Keyblade, which is a balanced Keyblade and basically a reverse Ultima Weapon. There’s honestly no reason to take it over the Royal Radiance, should you have both.
Screenshots from here to the end of the game are from me.
Unlike the past Kindom Hearts “secret endings,” which were concept trailers ranging from two to five minutes, Blank Points goes on for a startling 11:47, and appears to be divided into subheadings. We start with “Hidden truths,” which sees what remains of Master Xehanort and Terra having a debate inside of Terra-Xehanort’s heart, both surrounded by an aura of light.
Master Xehanort says he’s not sure how Terra is even still around in here, and after a few quips, Terra implies he has a plan. Master Xehanort seems to somehow sense what he’s thinking, and says that someone else is also in the heart, adding “Eraqus, you sly fox.” Terra says that he’s willing to pay any price to stop Master Xehanort’s plan, putting a hand over his chest as he says, “even if you do wrest my heart from me,” (which to a DDD players means putting his hand over the Recusant’s Symbol). Xehanort then tells Terra that he is just “one of many roads I might take,” alluding to his plans in KH1 and 2, if not beyond.
The next section is entitled, as is sometimes the fashion in Japan, with an overlong phrase: “Image of their backs, preserved in memory.” This one sees Terra-Xehanort, now in a labcoat, walking in the basements of Hollow Bastion. Braig comes up to him, referring to him as “Mister Master,” but Xehanort shows no sign of recognizing him or the title. It seems Braig doesn’t believe Xehanort is really amnesiac, though when he doesn’t get a response, he asks if he might be Terra instead, but this too doesn’t get a solid reply. The fact of things is left ambiguous, raising the question of whether or not Terra-Xehanort conducted the actions that led up to KH1 with Master Xehanort’s memories, or if Aqua and the Lingering Will beat it out of him, and things really did happen just as they were written, triggered by some niggling memory at the back of his mind.
Ansem and Ienzo enter the scene, eating sea-salt ice cream, and they both take long looks at the other pair.
The body of the ending comes into play with is “Two who were never meant to meet,” as we find ourselves at the Dark Margin, looking once again at the face of Ansem the Wise, shaded by a black Organization cloak. An educated guess would say this scene takes place after Ansem was banished to the Realm of Darkness by his apprentices. As he’s sitting at the Margin, Aqua arrives and is seemingly unchanged by her years of experience in the Realm. She’s surprised to see a stranger, and so is he, and they get to talking.
To the player’s surprise, Ansem says that this is his second time at the Margin, implying that this isn’t, in fact, his banishment from before KH1. Indeed as the scene goes on, it becomes more and more clear that this scene is set quite later, after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2, meaning that Ansem survived the explosion of his device and was banished to the dark in the process. Indeed he says it’s probably more than a year since he was banished, Aqua, meanwhile, has been here for something in the neighbourhood of twelve or more years, without change. Beyond the fact that he’s been here twice, Ansem remembers nothing, not even his name, and certainly now how he got out of here the last time. Or how he got that cloak! I guess if the writers really want you to present yourself as someone who’s lost their identity, the appropriate props will manifest out of thin air!
Aqua tells Ansem how she’s been driven by her promises to come back to rescue her friends, and Ansem is inspired to remember “a boy I once knew.” He tells the story of how that boy has travelled across the worlds “to keep the light safe.” Aqua asks is something has gone wrong in the Realm of Night, and Ansem is able to remember the rough details, and says that the boy saved the worlds more than once with his Keyblade. Aqua suspects it might be one of her brothers, but Ansem is sure he doesn’t know those names.
As he continues to think on the boy, something very unusual happens: “Dearly Beloved” begins to play inside of the game for the first time since KH1. Ansem talks about how he did “terrible things” to the boy and his friends, and more. He asks a rhetorical question, saying that “While the boy slept his long sleep, I hid the results of my research inside him.” He doesn’t explain what he means, but he hopes that the boy, “A boy like him who touches so many hearts, he could […] save all those people whose lives I managed to ruin. So many are still waiting for their new beginning, their birth by sleep.”
While I’d love to dive into this title drop like I did “Chain of Memories,” Nomura’s failure to address the idea during the completed version of Birth By Sleep largely prevents me, but we’re about to get a hint of what he means when Aqua asks if Ansem remembers the boy’s name. Ansem starts to answer, only for the segment to cut out in favour of the next, but the cut is not so hard as it first appears.
The next segment, “All the pieces lie where they fell.” First, we see the mansion in Twilight Town, and find Naminé, still at work drawing in her upper room, even though she should have merged with Kairi. She works for a moment (with a white crayon, as though they didn’t dare include a scrap of colour in the scene but Naminé’s skin), and then we cut to her pad to see a drawing of a familiar figure sitting on the paopu tree: “Sora.”
From here, we go to the clock tower in Twilight Town, where Roxas, Axel and Xion are still eating ice cream, as though nothing had ever gone wrong. Together, they look up at the sunset and Roxas and Xion also say, “Sora.” Thanks to Palizinha for pointing out that Axel does not – but we won’t learn why until later games!
And in the Land of Departure, still as it was at the beginning, Ven is shown sleeping in the gardens, where Terra comes to wake him, and they to say, “Sora.”
Returning to the Dark Margin, we see Ansem’s face, implying that he too has answered the question, and see a tear slide down Aqua’s face as she recognizes the boy she met in Destiny Islands, the boy she asked to protect his friends, but was never charged with any power or greater duty, and had gone on to save them all.
Birth by Sleep certainly has its moments where it fails as a prequel, or does a substandard job, but there’s one element above all where it stands as an ideal prequel, and does the rare job of enhancing the existing parts of the story. It would have been too easy to force Terra, Aqua and Ventus’ story into Sora’s, which would have been a tremendous damage. Sora’s story is one of a boy who comes into responsibility by chance, but shows through his efforts, his determination, and his love, to be more worth of the role than the one who was “chosen” for it. He was never given the Keyblade, only inherited the ability to use it indirectly by sheltering Ventus’ heart as a child, an event he does not remember but stands as emblematic of the strengths that would empower him in the years to come. In this way, Birth by Sleep leaves Sora’s story exactly as it was, with all of its triumphs exactly as we saw them. A boy who was willing to open his heart to everyone fought a man who stole that power from others, and while that man might not remember his worst, and Sora might not remember his best, the man is left struggling to do evil and the boy flourishing in the chance to do good.
But it’s more than that, because these are interactive stories. To do harm to Sora’s narrative would do harm not just to him but to the player who experienced it in the role of Sora. Instead, Sora’s experience is preserved, and his victories remain the player’s victories, and his struggles the player’s struggles, still intact, and in so doing, the game does games have done for many years, but with never so much effect: it thanks the player. Since the player is responsible for most of Sora’s actions, the credit is the same. I’d even go so far as to say this is intentional, and I’ll discuss why in just a second.
In the last segment, we saw all the people that have fallen along the way. Most of these are also people who have been under your control – Terra, Ven, Roxas and to a lesser degree Xion and Axel who were party members and Mission Mode characters instead, with only Naminé having never been playable. Ansem also adds himself and Aqua, who was also playable, to this list of people waiting for “Birth by Sleep.” As these characters are playable, their struggles have to a degree been your struggles. When properly executed, the deaths or losses of these characters have been some of the series’ hardest moments. And yet here they are, most of them doing the things they love with the people they love (poor Naminé), and even with Terra and Ven, who are not doing any particular activity, we see them beyond their problems and together.
Taken in context with the ending of coded, Blank Points is ready to suggest something that up until now we hadn’t been able to consider: a chance to fix what went wrong. A chance to set things right, to overcome the elements that the game forced on you, the player, with an effort under your power to control. Indeed, not just to describe that it’s possible, but to encourage you to do so: the player is Sora, and Sora is the one who saved the day, and the one who can save everyone now. The game is saying that you’re the only one who can set this right.
That’s right! One of the most respected and beloved scenes in Kingdom Hearts is a spectacularly done advertisement for Kingdom Hearts 3. And I just ruined it for all of you! Including myself! Bwhahahahaha!
Here, the segment breaks and we proceed to “Where they wait for him…” and we realize these haven’t been subheadings at all, but a single phrase. “Hidden truths / Images of their backs, preserved in memory / Two who were never meant to meet / All the pieces lie where they fell / Where they wait for him…” In this final scene, we go to Destiny Islands where Sora, in his KH2 gear, is looking out to sea, still holding Mickey’s bottle and message from the post-credits ending. Riku arrives and asks: “Your mind’s made up?” Sora confirmed, and Kairi comes soon after. Each character is given a close-up, by the way, to show any poor, confused new players that these are the kids they met earlier in the game.
At this point, Sora says that he has to go: “They really need me. I am who I am… because of them.” At this point, Kairi gives him the Oathkeeper a second time and closes the game with the words “See you soon.”
This is followed by the words “Reconnect KINGDOM HEARTS,” which was something of a tagline for some of the series advertisements in the buildup to KH3. And that’s the end of the game!
The Vanilla game.
I am… never getting out of here, am I?