While Kingdom Hearts fans are used to secret endings in their games, Birth by Sleep: Final Mix went in a different direction by including not just a second secret ending, but an entire secret, playable chapter. This “Secret Episode” is also known by the name “A Fragmentary Passage,” but as this is now also the name of Kingdom Hearts 0.2, I don’t intend to call it that. I don’t call KH0.2 that either, but that has more to do with its title being an engorged word vomit that only deserves to be addressed by the shortest title we can manage to spite its hubris. So everybody wins, except for the words “A Fragmentary Passage.”
This section of the game picks up… well, actually, it “picks up” by showing you “Blank Points,” which is as the end of the Final Episode in Vanilla, but is only the start of the Secret Episode in FM. But after that’s done, it picks up with what appears to be the opening of KH1, just a few seconds before Kairi woke Sora on the beach. Just then, the scene cuts out and shows the number “1.” Next, we see Aqua arrive at the Dark Margin to meet Ansem, and a cut to the number “0.” Then, the scene suddenly rewinds, past “Blank Points” and all the way to the end of the Final Episode, when Aqua was rescued from the Darksides. This is labelled “Zero point.”
Aqua continues into the Realm of Darkness, but her journey is suddenly interrupted by a tremor, and a strange portal appears in the sky, an opening to the Realm of Light. Suddenly a great geyser of darkness flows up through the portal, and Aqua’s Wayfinder, which had been glowing up until now, suddenly goes dark. The game then gives you the prompt “0.5.”
At this point you’re given a map to the Realm of Darkness. Oh, a map to the Realm of Darkness, surrrrre.
The Realm of Darkness is kind of unusually structured and abstract, mostly a bunch of islands and bridges over black pits. As the player advances forward, they see a patch of darkness not unlike a save point, and they’re suddenly cut off by Sweet, Thrice-Damned Chernabog, if I never see a force field again, it’ll be too soon! Moments later, Aqua is ambushed by Pureblood Heartless that jump out of a save point-looking portal in the middle of the force field.
The Heartless here in their native home are much stronger than the ones you’d find in the Realm of Light. Even the smallest Shadow is dangerous to a certain degree, though I’ll be honest: the Neoshadows still don’t stack up to their appearances from KH1 or even CoM. After defeating enough Heartless, the portal collapses and takes the force fields with it. Up the road, Aqua encounters her first Darkballs. That’s basically the set, by the way, this entire world has to do with just these three Purebloods. I’m not exactly surprised that they didn’t develop any new ones for this scenario, but I think it’s odd how BBS:FM carries on the weird tradition from CoM where we pretend that Invisibles never existed, especially since Days and coded were perfectly happy to use them!
During this segment, Aqua is equipped with Eraqus’ Master’s Defender, and you aren’t likely to complain considering it’s second only to the Royal Radiance in power, missing only a point of strength.
By the way, the game’s report happens to feature the Heartless in “Characters -> Other,” since it has no dedicated section for them!
Up ahead, Aqua encounters and honest-to-goodness fork in the road, a complete break with BBS’ usual corridor mandate. Boy, you give Osaka team money to work on a single world instead of spreading them thin across a larger game and they keep turning out higher quality level design, I think someone at Square should pay attention to this! The player is drawn to the left path by a strange black orb that spawns into existence in front of their eyes, and I’m not sure why the devs did this instead of introducing the orbs on a single path so they wouldn’t bias player decisions. Wanna bet the right path sees only a tiny fraction of players compared to the left? Players not looking for chests, I mean.
The black orbs turn out to be counterparts to the glowing orbs in Neverland that would propel Aqua up the waterfall, with the simple difference that they were constructed by someone who hates you. Which, considering Tinker Bell, may be the case anyways. What I’m getting at is that these orbs will repel you in any direction, seemingly just for the crime of standing near them, and it might take a few attempts to work out what they actually do: shoot you up into the air when you land on top of them, and nowhere else! I actually walked down the other fork on my first attempt, figuring I needed some special power to activate the orbs! Aqua picks a route and soon finds herself in a much more complicated second room.
This next room no matter which path you take, the “Lower Zone,” is dominated by high pillars that you have to navigate via the jump balls, as well as a few more spawn portals. At the end of the room, Aqua finds a portal that seems to be leaking a varicoloured smoke. After defeating the portal, the smoke transform into a craggy, stone-like tree that she can climb from a nearby pillar. Another tree follows in this very large room, giving you access to the next.
Room three, the “Upper Zone,” features several islands of rock, each with a dark stain on them. Aqua has to go to each island. Try hard not to fall in the pit in the middle, which will drop you to the previous room. The walk back is a little extreme! While in this room, you have to go to each patch of darkness and clear them to destroy a dark dome in the middle of the room. When you “destroy” the dome however, it only becomes transparent, and restores when you enter it, trapping you in a massive swarm of Purebloods that will take several minutes to clear.
In the next room, it’s time for a boss, which depending on your count is somewhere between Birth by Sleep’s fifth to ninth “final boss,” depending on who you count. Ah, the indeterminate line between final bosses and regular bosses. One of my favourite bizarre Kingdom Hearts traditions! We suddenly start seeing things through a red filter, with what I think are supposed to look like bloodshot veins on the circumference, though honestly they look more like digital TRON lines to me. Aqua arrives in the camera’s view, and the viewer begins to circle her location, drawing her attention.
Boss music begins to play. This tune, “Hunter of the Dark,” long lent its name as a fan-name for the boss itself, but with the release of KH2.5, we now know the boss to be named… ugh… “Dark Hide.” It’s a pun. Lillian Disney help me, the final bosses’ name is an awful pun. I don’t… I need a second, hold on.
Okay, I’m back, let’s do this for fuck’s sake. Still in cinematic, the Dark Hide gets behind Aqua and rushes her, something we once again see from its point of view, not hers, which is important. Here, she suddenly realizes the Dark Hide is not an Unversed, from which we can only conclude that she’s been under the impression that all the other Heartless were? I mean, she never learned that the Unversed came from Vanitas and that they’re gone now, but they have just as little in common with the lesser Heartless as they do with the Dark Hide!
The battle with the Dark Hide can be very unusual. Remember those sequences where it would rush at her from its perspective? Yeah, those happen while you are playing. You have to either dodge it, which has the highest chance of success in most siutations; block it and hope to use Counterattack; or use Teleport to get behind it, which is the ideal solution, though I’ve already told you how poor I am at using Reversal/Teleport. If you’re really feeling bold, I suppose you could try to attack it from second-person perspective, but I’m not sure this actually… you know… works, as it’s hard to tell if my attempts are failing or simply missing thanks to this unusual camera angle. But if anyone wants to be my guinea pig, go right ahead!
After taking enough damage, the boss reveals itself to be a canine-like monster, unusually with chains on its front paws (perhaps in reference to the Dark Thorn from KH2). The Dark Hide likes to bounce around, which it intermixes with genuine pounce attacks, making it hard to know when it’s dodging but about to be exposed, and when it’s attacking you. It also has a few other close-range attacks (spin attack, slash) and can spit a projectile at you if you’re trying to get away for a shotlock or if it just happens to bounce backwards enough that it made the distance.
The boss enters a third phase after this where it runs around the arena so fast it becomes a rainbow blur, opening with several dash attacks. When this stops it will begin a repeat of its second phase enhanced with a combo made up of rainbow duplicates, as well as additional and definitely deliberate projectile attacks this time around. It’s a bit of a hectic fight, and it has loads of HP, but unlike a lot of BBS’ late-game challenges, it’s also mostly a fair fight you can win with good fundamentals, and with that the game will proceed to Birth by Sleep’s second secret ending.
At this point, Aqua finds herself walking past what appears to be trees from the Realm of Light, when she sees something before her that shocks her: the Castle of Dreams, having fallen into the Realm of Darkness during the build-up to KH1. At this point, the game shows the words “A fragmentary passage,” and we begin to see visuals that appear to be from KH1, 2 and Days, but on closer examination are brand new: Mickey in the Realm of Darkness; Riku and Kairi at “Neverland’s” London clock tower; Donald and Goofy in Traverse Town; Hayner, Pence, Olette and Kairi at the mansion in Twilight Town; DiZ entering this mysterious “data” he was mentioning into Sora as he sleeps; Riku spying on Roxas and Xion. Last of all, we see Young Xehanort on the Beach in Destiny Islands, who turns to become Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, then Xemnas, and then Master Xehanort. After this, some strange flashing images of Sora vanishing from Destiny Islands and Ventus from the Chamber of Waking, and then the words “Birth by Sleep – Volume Two –.”
So, yeah, about that. That mash of things we just saw. That was a trailer for a game that Square Enix never approved, but Nomura really, really wanted to make. Nomura did eventually funnel some of his ideas into KH0.2, but as you can see by watching this again after looking at 0.2, BBS “Volume 2” was supposed to be of much wider scope, covering events from previous games in another perspective. You might remember me discussing Nomura’s plan to follow Riku through the events of Days and KH2, and it looks like he might have been hoping to do that in “Volume 2” even during KH1, what with Riku featuring in more of the scenes than anyone else. It was also hinted that we might learn more about Xehanort’s life. As it stands, most of these scenes will probably never see the light of day. Sure, you can imagine the Twilight Town trio showing Kairi the mansion, be it during her abbreviated visit during KH2 or maybe in a post-KH2 venture, but we’ll never see it to be certain what they did there. And that’s disappointing… but also the way things have to be.
But here’s a pertinent question: why call it “BBS Volume 2”? Why not give it an original title? With Riku and Xehanort at the centre and Aqua in the Realm of Darkness, why not… here, give me ten seconds and I’ll come up with something… “Kingdom Hearts: Days of Darkness?” Or something like that. Given the naming scheme Nomura would eventually adopt, there’s probably an alternate universe where this game exists and it was called “Kingdom Hearts 2.5,” before the HD collections were even conceived. But no, he wanted… “Birth by Sleep Volume 2.” Why?
Do you want my guess? Because you might remember me saying: you’re not going to like it. Okay, here it is: my guess… is that Nomura knew he sanded away several of Birth by Sleep’s central elements and themes, like the Unversed and the concept of “birth by sleep”… and so hoped that he could include them and their explanations… in another spinoff game. After all, the only thing that really makes Birth by Sleep “Birth by Sleep,” as opposed to some other Kingdom Hearts game is the cast (which couldn’t be carried over, with the exception of Aqua in what probably became her 0.2 role) and the subject that’s right there in the title: “birth by sleep!” And so my guess puts my chips on “birth by sleep!” As I once said about webcomics: if you give someone an infinite canvas and an infinite archive, one day some idiot is going to come along and try to use all of both.
But that’s just a guess. In the end, Square Enix said “no.” In the process, we may have lost our explanations for some of Birth by Sleep’s thematic and low-level mysteries, but all considered, I’m not all that broken up about it. For starters, we might still learn about “birth by sleep” in some future game, given Ansem’s suggestion that it would be required in the future. Furthermore, while this loss of information may be irritating, if we’re lucky, it might teach Nomura a lesson about counting his chickens before they’re approved. Or at least he might have learned a lesson if the world hadn’t invented constantly updating social games, but that’s a story for a later day.
The Secret Chapter then ends with a Final Battle Reports, same as the one from the Final Chapter but amended with Secret Chapter data. And with that, Birth by Sleep finally, finally comes to an end.
At this point, you’re probably expecting me to have something to say about the game’s quality as a whole. That was never my intent with these Retrospectives, but after KH2 and Days I suppose it’s expected now. All right then. Birth by Sleep shares a spot in my heart with KH1 where I don’t have any particularly exaggerated feelings about it, lunging out and demanding attention. It exists in the hazy milieu in my mind where I think of it and KH1 in the exact same way that I think of Kingdom Hearts as a whole. It’s sort of like saying that, “When I think of Kingdom Hearts-the-series, I’m actually thinking of KH1 and BBS,” but more accurately in the reverse: “When I think of KH1 and BBS, I’m thinking about Kingdom Hearts-the-series.” Kingdom Hearts makes me feel calm, happy, hopeful, focused, and so do KH1 and BBS. And so do CoM, KH2 and Days! But when I think about CoM, the fact stabs out of me that its tutorial is so bad that some players will never play it, despite its high quality story. And when I think of KH2, the game’s sub-quality challenge the faults from that, and its null-quality narrative and the faults from that, hammer at me from the inside against those high qualities I see in it that I also see in the rest of the series. Days… well Days is a gameplay ramshackle and spends most of its run as a narrative snooze, things that I can’t forget even as I try to appreciate its high points.
And I do appreciate the high points. CoM’s narrative and the high points of Day’s narrative are positive “spikes” in the opposite direction. None of the games we’ve covered so far have honestly given me a spike in terms of gameplay, no better than the gestalt I’ve created in my mind to symbolize the “Kingdom Hearts norm,” but I certainly hold out hope that a game someday might.
As I said at the end of the Final Fantasy VII Journal (which feels silly to type, as the FFVII Journal has only just begun to go online as I finish this first draft of BBS), I know that writing middling and neutral things about popular games isn’t going to build my popularity, but I don’t think that neutral critical opinions should be invalidated in some kind of popularity contest, and besides, while BBS may be relatively average in regards to my gestalt opinion of Kingdom Hearts as a whole, it’s worth noting that my opinion of Kingdom Hearts as a whole is already very high, and so forth to KH1 and BBS. KH1’s gameplay was slow, but had incredible depth. Birth by Sleep’s gameplay was haphazard, but enjoyable. KH1’s narrative was less than ambitious, but excellently executed. BBS’s narrative was very poorly executed, but succeeded in its strengths as a prequel when so few do, and also introduced many intriguing and large-scale ideas to the series that I looked forward to see play out. Ergo, and to the heart of things: neutrality. Here we stand in the middle of things, and from here we can see all sides.
That’s the end of it for BBS. There’s no appendix, as the only tie-in product I could possibly discuss is the light novel, and I haven’t read the thing. I did consider doing an appendix comparing the maps of KH2 and BBS to a strict standard to see which game really is “flatter” than the other, but that got lost in the same fuss that’s causing this hiatus as a whole. So that’s it! Goodbye to BBS, and into indefinite hiatus for the blog (well, besides the FF update on Thursday). This is the end of that.