After the paopu scene, we the gamers are shunted half-way across forever for a left-field moment I still don’t think I’ve fully absorbed. No, really, it’s not until we fade in on the scene that I remember it takes place at all, much less right at this moment. Cutting away from the sunny colours of Destiny Islands, we appear in the bright white and deep red of a pristine castle, where none other than Donald F. Duck, dressed in wizard robes, is walking around to the tune of the “Mickey Mouse Club March.”
Mr. Duck approaches a giant door, knocks, and then opens a much smaller door built inside. And one of the benefits of forgetting this scene is that that gag makes me laugh every time. Kingdom Hearts mimics a lot of Disney style but its few successful cartoonish sight gags are few and far between – frankly, I’m only fond of this one, a second later one, and one far, far, far away in Kingdom Hearts DDD. That golden age sensibility just doesn’t emerge in Kingdom Hearts as often as I’d like.
This is Disney Castle, and rumour has it that it was once built as a working part of the game before it was relegated entirely to cutscene purposes. You can almost tell in certain segments which rooms are properly scaled for adventure (perhaps from an earlier draft), while others seem to have been made purely for cut scenes, since they’d never be functional the way they are right now. Donald, voiced by Tony Anselmo, his regular voice actor since 1985, enters an astronomically sized throne room and says hello to someone he addresses as “your majesty,” only to open his eyes and discover that the room is bare. After a moment, Pluto the dog appears with a note in his mouth.
Donald runs squawking to the castle’s topiary garden, where he finds Goofy the dog (Goofy’s a dog, right?) sleeping in some sort of knight’s gear. Donald wakes Goofy, shouting about the letter being from The King, and how it’s top secret and even the Queen doesn’t get to know. Of course Goofy (voiced by Bill Farmer since 1986), waves past Donald to say hello to Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck, who have overheard everything. Ah, the classics. Oh, for the trivia-curious, Farmer also voices Pluto’s barks in later Kingdom Hearts games. I had… never noticed that Pluto was silent through all of KH1, but it’s going to bother me for the rest of my life now, isn’t it?
We cut away from Disney Castle with that gag, and return to Destiny Islands. There, Sora has free reign of the beach, though you’re quickly directed to a door on one end to rejoin Riku and Kairi. Here, it seems Sora and Riku are debating what to name the raft (already, with no depiction of your arriving on scene or starting this conversation). They decide the winner of a race will get to pick the name. This is all conveyed via text prompts, but just then, the game shifts to in-engine cutscene to have Sora declare that if he wins the race, he’s “captain,” which… has nothing to do with the name of the raft? Riku interrupts at this point to say, with plain-faced sincerity, that if he wins: “I get to share a paopu with Kairi.” I said we were going to stare down the barrel of pubescence right after the Disney break, didn’t I? But why is the game providing two different outcomes for the race?
Sora doesn’t have time to really absorb what Riku is saying before Kairi calls a start to the race. The race is an actual mini-game, and while I can win it on replays, I have never managed to win the right to name the raft. It’s a mix of three factors. One, I’m usually a little rusty once I start playing KH1 (I tend to play the games in release order, so there’s usually a gap between when I last played KH and when I pick up KH1), and this race actually comes pretty close to the line if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Two: it’s hard to know what you’re doing, because the race track has some highly varied routes and even reacts to the runners, like a section of bridge that collapses when you run over it near the front. Smart! It’s a great idea I wish they expanded into a larger mini-game, but this is sadly all you see of it. Last: this is a race to an end point and back, and the checkpoint at the far end doesn’t always register the way it should.
What’s more interesting to me is how Riku runs the race. Not only does he react to the changing track (he’ll even back off if you reach the zipline first), he even reacts to getting a lead on you… by lagging behind. It’s a spectacular character moment created entirely by mechanics. The duel and race against Riku prove he’s pretty much stronger than Sora, but here we see that he doesn’t want to devastate his friend: he wants to have fun, he wants Sora to have fun, and he wants to tease Sora a little. In this case, this manifests by walking if you fall behind. It’s more fun for the player as well, since the race doesn’t come to a stop if they fall behind, even if it’s a little obvious on replays.
If you do win, the narrative takes an even weirder turn. Remember at the intro when the cutscene was concerned with the paopu and the text sequence with the name of the raft? In the outro, it’s the cutscene that’s suddenly concerned with the name of the raft, and the text with the paopu. If Sora wins, the raft is named whatever you want (the game suggests “Excalibur”), while if Riku wins, the raft is named “Highwind,” after the airship from Final Fantasy VII. When you talk to Riku after the race, he brings up the paopu issue, joking that “you didn’t think I was serious, did you?”
While it game does treat the two sequences inconsistently, I do think it’s nice how Riku won’t reveal his prank until Sora talks to him later, as though you had to pull him aside to ask him about it. The tease is also a good character moment from Riku, and a bit of a complicated one.
You can replay the race with Riku if you want, which will earn you a “Pretty Stone” for victory. This is what MMO fans call “vendor junk”: a useless item that exists purely for selling at shops. Unfortunately, the Pretty Stone is only worth petty cash. Potions and petty cash. The game… really doesn’t want you to stick around on Destiny Islands, does it? To make matters even more disappointing, the fact that Riku is hanging around to race means he isn’t hanging around to duel! A dialogue box could have easily given you access to both.
Now that the race is done, it’s time for the second and final scavenger hunt. The trio plans to leave on their raft come tomorrow morning, and so they need food and water for the trip. Kairi gives Sora a jar for fresh water and sends him out after fish, mushrooms and, in a moment of resourcefulness, seagull eggs. Don’t these kids have fridges to raid? The egg is tricky (it’s up one specific tree), but the fish are so easy you might overthink it. What you have to do to catch fish is to actually swim off the coast and grab them with Sora’s bare hands. Dead serious. Even if the fish are a little silly, the fresh water and mushrooms make a lot of sense: you have to get the fresh water from a waterfall-fed pool, unconnected to the ocean. Unlike the game’s lackadaisical approach to logs, the mushrooms are only found in places where you might find mushrooms: that is to say, shaded places, like caves and underhangs.
The last of these shaded places is a secret cave just off the waterfall pool (so finding the water doubles as helping you find the cave!). Nearby, Wakka explains that he and “Tidus” (there’s that infamous line) are going exploring in the spooky cave, just in case you hadn’t noticed it the day before. It’s tucked into the scenery to make a genuine secret cave, so you might need the help. Inside, you find the walls covered with childish carvings, clearly made by Sora and his friends, if not generations of Islanders. There is also a strange wooden wall, shaped like a door with a gold-trimmed outline, but with no handle, hinges or seam.
Sora takes a moment here to check on a carving he and Kairi made of their faces on one of the walls. The distinction in art style between the two is a nice touch. After a flashback, he picks up a stone and make a new carving depicting him offering Kairi a paopu fruit.
Just as Sora finishes up, he’s interrupted by the deep and striking voice of Billy Zane, here voicing an adult figure in an oddly shaped brown coat. Zane is probably best known as Rose’s fiancé Cal from Titanic, though he’s got a career going back to Back to the Future. “I’ve come to see the door to this world,” he says with almost more gravitas than the scene can stand. “This world has been connected […] Tied to the Darkness.” He remarks that Sora “does not know what lies beyond the door.”
The figure and Sora hold something of a conversation, if you can call it that. The trouble is, the figure does not quite… respond to Sora, as though he’s absorbed in something far more important, or as though Sora wasn’t even there.
This is a reasonable reaction, since Osmet’s delivery is awful in this scene, and I wouldn’t acknowledge him either! In fact, the editing is terrible too. Have you seen the convenience store scene in The Room, where the lines seem to be out of order? It’s like that, though not as immediately obvious. Some of Sora’s later lines sound like introductions, some don’t really seem to be responding to the figure’s lines in the first place… And since the figure is intentionally not responding to Sora, the end result is a comprehensive disaster. And of course there are drawn-out pause between words. Just take that as a given in all of KH’s long scenes.
I should probably offer an explanation for the pauses before we get much further. While not the case in this game, in many of the Kingdom Hearts games, these mistakes are the fault of lip-synching troubles between localizations. Say, for example, the Japanese version had a natural pause in the dialog, so the characters’ lips stop flapping, and so the English version must have a corresponding pause, even though the English version doesn’t warrant the pause. Kingdom Hearts 1 is much better off in this regard, since I’ve heard the localization team was given the tools to adjust the lip movements. Great! Now I can’t explain any delivery problems in this game at all! And just wait until we get to games with lip synching problems!
If the localizers had proper tools, then these gaps and pauses must come down to the voice actors or the voice director. I’m inclined to blame the voice director, because that seems to be the case in later games, but the Disney voices in KH1 don’t have these problems? Maybe the Disney voice actors had a different director, or they simply knew better?
The figure finishes off with: “One who knows nothing can understand nothing.” This plays heavily into the themes that will come up before the end of the game, so keep it in mind. Sora is drawn to look at the wooden not-door around this point, and the figure Batmans out of existence.
Sora returns to his nest-raiding and bare-handed fish wrangling utterly nonplussed by this encounter. You’d think he’d mention some of this to Riku or Kairi, but that would mean another cutscene, and Destiny Islands doesn’t like to do that to you, even though the tutorial did. I can only presume it came down to who was designing or maybe scripting each sequence.
The first time Sora returns to Kairi during this sequence, she shows you a craft project she’s been working on. She shows you her half-completed “lucky charm,” made to resemble a paopu made of seashells. This interrupts you before you can end the scavenger hunt, but after Kairi’s shared her project, you can wrap up. There’s another prize in it for you if you finish the hunt without hints.
But before your next Disney Castle aside, you get an odd little scene between Sora and Kairi. I don’t really know how to describe this scene, so perhaps it’s best I go line by line. Kairi and Sora are sitting on the dock, looking towards what should be their home island but isn’t, and Kairi announces that “Riku has changed.” Sora asks what she means and she clams up, only to suddenly announce that they should leave without Riku, immediately! She puts on a front of enthusiasm but it strikes me that she may actually be scared and hiding it. But then she breaks down laughing and says “Just kidding!”
Sora says that Kairi is the one who’s changed, and Kairi makes a little speech about how “I’m ready. No matter where I go or what I see, I know I can always come back here.” And then she asks Sora to never change. These lines really don’t make sense next to one another. Kairi is concerned about Riku, then maybe concerned about Riku but also making a joke, then so unconcerned about Riku that she talks about how eager she is to go on this trip (with Riku), and then acts concerned about Riku by asking Sora not to do what she accused Riku of doing (changing)! For the record, she never acts scared around Riku again. Not in this game, not in other games. So she must be joking, but then why does her joke seem so thin?
This is probably meant as blunt foreshadowing (a veteran would know exactly what she’s foreshadowing. Sorry for the spoilers, but the scene is getting out of my control) but is so blunt that it comes off as though Riku is a bully, or that Kairi thinks Riku is going to murder her if they got on a raft together, which is all absolutely not what they were trying to foreshadow. And if it really was meant as a joke… it’s a pretty bad joke that leaves an ugly mark on a character who hasn’t done anything wrong! In the end, it’s probably best that you forget this scene even happened!