Kingdom Hearts III's New Secret Ending Is Breaking My Brain

Illustration for article titled iKingdom Hearts III/is New Secret Ending Is Breaking My Brain

Kingdom Hearts III’s new DLC Re:Mind remixes the game’s finale into a series of altered events with additional boss fights and story beats. It also adds an additional chapter in which players can face off against highly difficult “data” versions of defeated villains. Diehard fans who push through these fights will find one final challenge and a hidden ending that calls the series’ very being into question.

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Illustration for article titled iKingdom Hearts III/is New Secret Ending Is Breaking My Brain

Re:Mind initially plays out as a time-travelling swan song for the main protagonist Sora. In order to rescue his friend and love interest Kairi, Sora uses a powerful magical ability to leap back into Kingdom Hearts III’s final stretch of boss fights so as to prevent her unceremonious defeat at the hands of the creepy villain Xehanort. This effort succeeds, although it leaves Sora’s whereabouts unknown.

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Completing the main scenario unlocks a “limit cut” episode in which Sora’s pals use a fancy computer to simulate some of the events from the main game. It’s mostly an excuse to fight against “data” versions of previously defeated enemies. These boss variants add new mechanics and heavy-hitting attacks that demand higher levels of play. Kingdom Hearts III, and really the series as a whole, isn’t too difficult in normal settings. The data fights continue a tradition that the series started with 2002’s Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. That means harder challenges and the addition of a “superboss.” In previous games, these bosses were usually early cameos of future villains. In Re:Mind, something stranger is going on.

Early in Kingdom Hearts III, players can visit a Toy Story-themed world. Before entering the world, a highly detailed cutscene plays for a fictional game called Verum Rex. It’s a futuristic RPG that has a lot of similarities to Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a project that Kingdom Hearts III director Tetsuya Nomura was working on and which eventually became Final Fantasy XV after over a decade of work. Nomura was replaced as that game’s director by Hajime Tabata. Many elements from Versus XIII, in particular the protagonist Noctis and his cadre of guy-pals, made it into Final Fantasy XV instead. Verum Rex had those elements too: a broody hero called Yozora who fought alongside a team of bros in order to save a girl he cares about. The girl in the Verum Rex trailer has similarities to Versus XIII’s Stella Nox Fleuret, a character who was remixed into Lunafreya Nox Fleuret for Final Fantasy XV. It was a silly way for Nomura and the Kingdom Hearts III team to poke fun at some Square-Enix development history. Except it went deeper than that. Kingdom Hearts III’s hidden ending included a reference to Verum Rex, first showing protagonists Sora and Riku wandering modern city streets, and then revealing Yozora lurking up above, watching them from a rooftop.

The secret ending left players scratching their heads, and that’s only become more pronounced with Re:Mind. After defeating all of the data bosses, a final boss fight against Yozora is unlocked. This is Kingdom Hearts in a nutshell: an exciting battle drenched in bizarre lore implications. What is Yozora doing here? How is he even here at all? What does he want?

It’s hard to say, except that Sora and Yozora seem inextricably connected. There are two potential outcomes to this fight. If the player loses, Sora gets turned into crystal and Yozora vows to save… someone, maybe Sora himself, before Yozora wakes up from what appears to be a dream. If Sora wins, Yozora fades away and says that his powers “aren’t needed yet.” Sora then finds himself in the strange, cloudy afterlife that he explored in the main story, before Yozora wakes up in the back of a car. Echoing the opening lines of the first game, they both note: “I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately. Like is any of this for real or not?” All of this implies that there’s some type of overlapping connection between the two, the nature of which is unclear. Are they connected through each other’s dreams? Are these alternate universes that are converging? This is Kingdom Hearts, so anything and everything is on the table. Yozora’s already been bleeding into Sora’s reality ever since his appearance as a fictional video game character in Toy Story world.

The ending is made even more curious by the fact that the final scene with Yozora is framed almost exactly like old Versus XIII trailers featuring Noctis. The secret ending raises metaphysical questions about the Kingdom Hearts universe—however Sora and Yozora are connected seems to alter the fabric of what players took for true—and it’s also a metatextual walk through Nomura’s lost project, which has now been revived in a new form within Kingdom Hearts.

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Nomura’s already had to change his approach to Kingdom Hearts multiple times as his role within Square-Enix has shifted and his ability to complete the initial trilogy became subordinate to other responsibilities. As he was thrust into the initial leadership for Versus XIII, the Kingdom Hearts series grew into a series of smaller interquels before Tabata’s assignment as Final Fantasy XV’s director left room for Nomura to complete Kingdom Hearts III and the “Dark Seeker Saga” focused on Xehanort’s villany. Nomura’s now taken up a directorial role for the Final Fantasy 7 remake. That leaves Kingdom Hearts in a sort of limbo, although a new mobile game focusing on Xehanort’s past was recently announced. Xehanort’s role as the main villain is over, however, and the series is poised to shift into a different direction entirely. From the looks of it, Kingdom Hearts will only get more complicated and self-referential as Nomura weaves in connections to cancelled projects and characters.

Former Senior Writer and Critic at Kotaku.

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DISCUSSION

Can we all just admit Kingdom Hearts has always had a terrible story now?