Back at Disney Castle, we get a look around a really wonky library as we see the text of the King’s letter overlayed across the scene. It confirms what you imagined: “the King” is the icon himself, Mickey Mouse, and is (somewhat comically) written to reflect his inflection. But strangely enough, you don’t hear the Mouse’ s legendary voice, even though the scene is shot as though there was supposed to be a voiceover. The reason for this, purportedly, has to do with Disney’s fears of letting Square handle their crown jewel in this first outing, so he was pushed back as much as possible. Rest assured that when he is voiced, he’s voiced by the legendary Wayne Allwine, who voiced the role from 1977 to his death in 2009.
The scene tells us a lot about the plot, and also the arrangements at Disney castle. Mickey writes that he’s noticed several stars going out. A pretty dire, apocalyptic start to our story. As a result, he’s gone off without any warning to investigate. Thankfully, he seems to have a hunch on what to do, and instructs Donald to find Goofy and locate someone with “a ‘key'” that will help them out of this, and to stick with the key no matter what. Mickey also tells Donald to inform Minnie even though Donald was clearly trying to hide this from Minnie in the last scene. If it’s been a while since you watched a Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s an asshole.
During this exchange, we learn that Queen Minnie is voiced by Minne’s voice from 1986 to present, Russi Taylor. Daisy is played by her actress since 1999, Simpsons and Futurama regular Tress MacNeille. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Disney’s official actors appear in Kingdom Hearts to play their roles more often than not. We also learn that the animated broomsticks from The Sorceror’s Apprentice keep the castle clean, a nice background detail.
Minnie agrees that Donald and Goofy should go after this “key,” and that they should follow the letter’s direction to talk to a man named “Leon” for advice. She appoints a third member of Donald and Goofy’s party as well: Jiminy Cricket, from Disney’s Pinnochio, to serve as chronicler. Cricket (the late Eddie Carrol, who voiced Jiminy from 1973 until his death in 2010), explains that his whole world blinked out, and he found himself at Disney Castle with no signs of the rest of the Pinocchio cast.
Given the length of the previous Disney Castle segue, this is where you’d expect this sequence to end, but it continues into another sequence that’s almost as long again (I’ve wondered if perhaps this scene might have been broken in two at some point). Minnie leads the three into a strange room beneath the gardens: a sci-fi shipyard, complete with a strange, blocky ship.
This is the “Gummi Ship” made of “Gummi Blocks,” which apparently work like sticky Legos, ready for an eager player to customize them into whatever shape they wish. The engineers in charge are chipmunks Chip and Dale (like Pluto, these two go unvoiced). The chipmunks set Donald and Goofy up inside the Gummi Ship and, despite some sort of warp tube set up for the ship’s launch, drop them straight through the floor instead. Genuinely funny cartoon moment #2! From the outside, we get our first look at a Kingdom Hearts “world,” but I’ll talk more about that once that becomes a more common sight.
Back on the Destiny Islands, we get our one and only shot of the village mainland. We’re inside Sora’s room, in a shot that lasts only a few seconds and so contains some truly hideous set dressing. Blocky toys, stiff cloth… There, Sora hears a thunderstorm break overhead, and he realizes that the raft was left out on the other island, exposed. Being the great dunderhead of legend, Sora races out to cross the channel and rescue a raft they didn’t build to survive a storm, despite it being built to carry them across the ocean.
As he leaves, we hear a voice coming from somewhere else in the house. This is Sora’s mother, briefly played by Kath Soucie, one of the game’s Disney talent (so spoiler warning if you look up her IMDb). This is one of the most infamous moments in the Kingdom Hearts fandom, since this is Sora’s mother’s only line or reference in the entire series. A later game hints at Sora’s father, but only just. We otherwise get no hint of Sora (or Riku, for that matter) having any family at all. Since Soucie was saying something about Sora’s dinner being ready, it’s become a fandom joke that the series is going to end with her storming on scene to tell him his dinner is ten years cold.
The fact that Sora runs out from his home and is whisked off into a magical world is sometimes treated as another hint that Sora was in some kind of dream all along. Thankfully, it’s the last of them – which is good, because it would have been an awful twist, but one has to wonder why those hints were there?
Returning to the island, we are greeted by four unpleasant facts. Firstly, it’s night. In fact, if your TV is just a little too dark, this scene might be nigh-unviewable, forcing you to rely on your scavenger hunt knowledge of the island’s layout to find your way around. Second: the music, “Night of Fate,” far more dire and frightening than the bouncy, happy, summer themes we’ve been hearing on Destiny Islands prior. Third: there is a giant purple orb in the sky, scattering dark energy in every direction. And fourth and most immediately threatening: the shadows from Sora’s dream are here, and this time they’re real.
In fact, the shadows – and I should call them “Shadows” with a capital S, because that is their official name – are so real that you quickly find that Sora’s wooden sword can’t hurt them. It doesn’t even make physical contact with the living pools of darkness! Thankfully, the Shadows rarely attack in this sequence, content to sit and stare as you explore the island. Not that that isn’t creepy. Any attempt to find the raft will be circumvented by Sora, who’s suddenly developed an interest in looking for his friends, apparently under the delusion that they share his self-destructive disregard to nighttime storm-boating. The funny thing is: he’s entirely right.
Yes, both of Sora’s stupid friends are here, so let’s go say hello! Sora finds Riku standing out in the islet, gawking at the sky, something you think he could have done at home. Riku and Sora have a shouted conversation over the wind. Riku has suddenly come into the knowledge that the giant purple death orb is the only true way to leave the island, and says that Sora and Kairi should come with him. He offers his hand to Sora, much like he had in the opening dream, where (if you remember) he was overtaken by the wave. And like in the dream, Sora does reach toward Riku, even as Riku is swallowed up by darkness. Sora falls just short of Riku in the process; when the mess clears, he is standing alone, and is carrying a curious object.
It’s a long, metal thing – an old-style skeleton key the height of a child, with a gold guard and silver shaft, and a thin chain at the base connecting to a Mickey Mouse symbol. For reasons never explained or questioned, it cuts like a sword when swung. The Voice from the Dive to the Heart whispers in Sora’s mind, calling it the “Keyblade.” We don’t know where it came from, but it gives you the power to fight the Shadows.
The Shadows are no more dangerous here than they were in the tutorial, and will drop green health balls when they die until you finally get bored of them. Your objective is clear if you look around: the ornate white door from the Dive to the Heart has appeared over the secret cave by the waterfall. Talk about directing the player! Arguably this is another sign of Sora being in a dream before the game drops that angle. I can’t really explain it in-universe one way or another.
Despite its new door, the cave looks much like it did the day before. Inside the cave, Sora finds Kairi waiting in front of the not-door. She turns around slowly, looking tired and… well, sick. She and Sora have barely had time to acknowledge one another when the not-door at the back of the cave blows open, spilling darkness in every direction. It also knocks poor, dazed Kairi into Sora’s arms, where she abruptly disappears into thin air. A few seconds later, Sora too is blown off his feet. Once he gets out of the cave, he is not going to like what he sees.
The Destiny Islands have been destroyed, as far as the eye can tell. Sora stands alone, on a ruined platform, but not alone for long. The giant boss shadow from his dream is there, too, and this time it’s fighting for keeps. Losing here will get you a Game Over, though Kingdom Hearts always lets you continue near where you left off, though it typically dumps you at the last safe room you were standing in. It took until Days on the DS for them to finally let you restart at the start of a boss fight.
The boss from your dream is called a Darkside: a great, muscular shadow with snakelike hair and thin wings, and by all signs, it’s the one that initiated the destruction of the Islands. Fought to the tune “Destiny’s Force,” the Darkside can be daunting, even if it’s not really all that dangerous. You attack the Darkside’s arms for most of the fight, since the rest of it is too high up, and its attacks give you plenty of opportunity to hit its arms.
One of the things that really helps is a new, opening attack that wasn’t in the dream. The Darkside slams its fist into the ground and then just stays there while you beat on it. It honestly spends the first half-minute of the fight on this slow series of actions, digging into the earth before finally pulling a ball of glowing purple light. (Purple, by the way, is typically used by Square to indicate Dark-element attacks in its other RPGs.) After the Darkside has pulled the orb up, it lets the dark energy disperse like rain. This stuff makes your life a little irritating, but think of all the damage you did in those first thirty seconds and it hopefully won’t bother you much.
Besides this opening attack (which the Darkside might repeat, the poor stupid thing), the fight is the same as in the Dive to the Heart. The Darkside can slam its fists to the ground to summon Shadows, which you can kill for health orbs (Sora’s swing is so wide that if you attack the Darkside’s fist, you’ll kill most of the Shadows by accident!). Occasionally, it will pelt energy balls at you from the heart-shaped hole in its chest. If you carefully time your swing, you can bat the energy back for good damage and tech points. Really, I’ve been exaggerating the danger for dramatic effect. Unless you’re having trouble outright controlling the game, the Darkside is no threat. Tap it on the wrist with your tiny key-sword until it keels over dead, because that’s all there is to it.
But besides saving your own life, you’ve accomplished very little in the big picture. Destiny Islands is gone, and Sora is pulled into the great orb of darkness in the sky. There’s a whole game to go yet.