Deep Jungle, the next world on our list, has an interesting history with Kingdom Hearts. This world is based on Disney’s Tarzan, and it seems that while the Tarzan character is out of copyright, the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs still held a trademark on the name. As a result, anyone wanting to work with “Tarzan” would have to negotiate with them, even though Disney’s Tarzan was a separate version. Square did this for KH1, but after Kingdom Hearts 1, either Square or the estate said “no,” and Deep Jungle has never appeared again, not even in flashback, or even the manga of KH1 itself! There were development shots of the world being revisited in CoM, but no dice. Thankfully it was still around in KH1.5.
So take a seat, friend, as we visit the world that only temporarily existed as part of the story.
Deep Jungle’s story begins, for some reason, in Gummi Mode. Sort of. After reaching the fifth world (and without asking if you want to land), Donald and Sora get in a fight over the controls, all conveyed via text box. Donald figures the King would never be on a backwater world like this one, while Sora figures that doesn’t discount his friends, who love getting lost in impenetrable jungles. The two get in a fight over the joystick. This is an interesting look in how Donald doesn’t yet care about Sora’s concerns, which is good, because Donald is a pretty petty character in most properties, and this comes off as genuine for him. Long story short, the ship crashes. Besides the character moment, you’ll notice that this is the game’s way of addressing the question: “Why visit every planet you see?” so that it can never come up again, in any game.
Sora ends up separate from the others in the crash, appearing in Tarzan’s parent’s treehouse from the film. There, he’s attacked by Sabor, the leopard. Sabor is a recurring midboss, and she isn’t very hard to beat. Her only real strength as a midboss is sheer hitting power, as her attacks are heavily telegraphed. With luck and a little skill you’ll overcome anything she has to throw at you, especially if you have Guard. If she does beat you, you’ll be glad to know that this first encounter is another fight you can lose and carry on without a game over. This has less to do with difficulty (like Leon and Cloud) and probably has more to do with the fact that the devs crashed you here without asking permission. Imagine if you were just finished Traverse Town, and were cruising the worlds to see what they were! The whole Kingdom Hearts franchise is pretty good about not trapping you in an overwhelming situation, and either asking for your go-ahead or allowing you to escape without harm. You’ll see quite a few good examples in KH2. If you should lose, you’re rescued by Tarzan. If you win, you’re… still rescued by Tarazan, as Sabor recovers just a few second later.
Sabor runs off, and Sora is glad for the help, and tries to say hello. Unfortunately, this is only mid-way through the film, and Tarzan only sort of speaks English (via his original voice actor Tony Goldwyn, best known today as presidential skeezeball Fitzgerald Grant on Scandal). Sora tries to explain that he is looking for his friends. But when he is about to name Donald and Goofy, he changes his mind, and asks instead about Riku and Kairi! Donald was being an ass about Sora’s priorities, and this makes for an excellent character moment. To Sora’s surprise (and ours), Tarzan implies that he does know how to find Sora’s friends, and says a word in the gorilla language that Sora doesn’t understand. Unsure what else they can do, Tarzan decides to lead Sora somewhere to help solve their communication problem.
(Apparently the gorilla language in Burrough’s Tarzan series is called “Mangani.” We’ve all learned something today!)
At this point, Tarzan joins the party, making him our first Guest party member! He then quickly runs away, leaving you behind. Don’t worry, he’s still in the party, but this isn’t the last time Kingdom Hearts will have a party member bolt on you, only to… still be in the party once a fight starts?
Guest party members can be interesting. They never leave their home world, but are happy to help so long as you’re there. Typically, to use them you’re going to have to kick either Donald or Goofy out of the active party at a Save Point, as you can only have two allies at a time. Don’t worry though, because like several Final Fantasy games, the party member not in the group will keep gaining experience even though they’re not physically present (in fact, behind the scenes, every guest party member in the entire game is silently gaining experience at every point in the game, even if you haven’t met!).
Why use a guest? Local flavour, I suppose. It helps enhance the story. In fact, later games will force Guests into the party for story reasons, but in KH1 it’s nearly all up to you (the game is only forcing Tarzan into the party because both teammate slots are empty). One advantage Guests have over Donald and Goofy is that they start with all their Abilities. However, Guests never have enough AP to use all their abilities, whereas Donald and Goofy will eventually gain enough AP for all their abilities at high levels. You’ll want to pick and choose which abilities to use and which to drop.
On the other hand, some of the Guests just straight-up aren’t any good. There are more than a few people in the Kingdom Hearts fandom that will warn you off of using any Guests whatsoever, since Donald and Goofy play such integral gameplay roles and the Guests often can’t fill their shoes. I can’t deny that they’re unremarkable, but I still use them for variety. Tarzan is the exception. Tarzan is one of the best Guests in the entire franchise and I recommend you take him either way. Tarzan not only has the highest Strength stat of all party members in the game (or close to it), but he starts with two spells you don’t have yet: a shield spell, and Cure. Finally, after all this time, someone in your party can heal everyone else! I’ve found it even helps to turn off some of Tarzan’s abilities just so that he’ll have more MP on-hand for Cure. His other abilities aren’t that grand anyways: he hits fewer targets than Goofy, just harder.
So Tarzan bailed on you. Better check those social skills, Sora. Specifically, he took off over the edge of the tree house. If you base jump after him, you’ll end up at a room where you can start sliding down branches the way Tarzan does in the film. This is an odd sequence by any measure: the tree sliding is a mini-game, except right now the mini-game isn’t… active? It’s almost easier to explain in text than if we were playing the game. The actual mini-game involves collecting “fruit” along the track to unlock prizes, possibly taking alternate routes that give you access to more fruit. But when you play it now, the fruit isn’t there, and the alternate routes aren’t available. The mini-game doesn’t properly begin until after you’ve cleared the world. Once the game is unlocked, the prizes can be worth a little extra effort, but the game never tells you that the game is available, so you probably won’t know it exists in the first place! We’ll talk more about the game in the wrap-up… you know, once it’s actually present.
The funny thing is, if you ignore Tarzan in the treehouse and jump off the opposite side of the house (the back end), not only does Tarzan pop back to your location, but you’ll end up at ground level in a single move, without having to play the tree sliding not-game at all! Tarzan must really like that slide if he’s willing to waste three minutes of mini-game time doing what he could have done in one second of gravity.
As you finish mucking in the canopy with Tarzan, you see a cutscene with Donald and Goofy, as they find a Gummi block just lying around, which really peaks their interest. You’re reunited with them not long after: Tarzan leads you to Jane Porter’s base camp, and Donald and Goofy walk in right after you in the world’s greatest coincidence. Jane here is voiced by Naia Kelly, who filled the role briefly from 1999 (in the Tarzan game on PSX and N64) to here in KH1. It seems she hasn’t done much acting since KH1, at least not as far as IMDb is concerned.
Donald and Sora make up pretty quickly, which is almost too bad. It started off childishly, but seeing Sora go looking for Riku and Kairi instead of Donald and Goofy was a good character moment. But it turns out there’s a partial reason for this rapidity: Donald and Goofy have decided the gummi block they found means the King’s gummi ship may have been here earlier, so of course they’re interested in poking around for more clues. This also means that Donald no longer has any reason to be mad at Sora. Nothing has changed on Sora’s side, but I suppose Sora’s just cooperative.
As you can expect, with this being the early half of the game and all, we’re not actually going to find the King in Deep Jungle. In fact, this gummi block probably isn’t even from his ship. It’s hard to say: Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts II will explain where all gummi blocks come from, and that explanation arguably tells us where this one came from, too! But Vanilla KH1 just leaves it hanging! The idea from Final Mix is fundamental enough that I can imagine it having been part of the original plan, but I can’t imagine why the devs made a big fuss about this one block and then never explained where Gummis come from at any point in the original game.
It’s here in this scene, talking to human beings from a non-mythical society, that I find myself struck by just how strange it is that no one ever reacts to Donald and Goofy. Or to Sora and his weird clothes. Jane even makes a remark about you being “friends of Tarzan’s” who aren’t gorillas, while making no comment on the duck- and dog-man, or the Japanese boy that just waltzed into 19th century sub-Saharan Africa without a boat and with rubber sneakers the size of tombstones.
Sora explains to Jane that he and Tarzan are having a translation issue, and she suggests they show Tarzan some slides. The idea seems to be that if Tarzan sees what he’s talking about, he’ll be able to point it out. This is a pretty silly plan, considering there are only six slides and they only depict some Victorian scenes unlikely to come up in a jungle. I can only assume Jane is just trying to rope you into finding her crap, since she announces the slides have gone missing. You have to scour the camp for them, giving this segment a nice Destiny Islands feel. While looking for slides, you might also find a series of notes that explain how to make a Hi Potion and an Ether using Jane’s science equipment. It’s a cute little sidequest quest that, combined with the slides, makes the camp feel far more functional and alive than most other supposedly inhabited areas of the game. In the franchise.
While walking around, you’ll probably also notice a blue trinity, and if you have Tarzan in your party, you’ll learn an important lesson. Hypothetically. The game doesn’t outright say this at any point, but it’s important: you can’t use Trinities unless Donald and Goofy are in your party. While I get where the devs are coming from (the Trinities illustrate the trio’s growing cooperation and teamwork), this is a terrible design decision: it discourages you from using Guest party members, and leads to a disastrous incident later in the game where a Trinity can be lost for good in the Vanilla version of the game!
Jane shows Tarzan the slides, which amounts to nothing. I don’t mind them using a puzzle as filler, so long as it’s not a bad one and doesn’t repeat very often, but even filler should pretend to be relevant. The only notable part of this sequence is when one of the slides resembles Cinderella’s Castle from the film (or Disney World, you could argue). Sora muses that the castle looks “familiar,” which is probably meant to be an in-joke. Unfortunately (in English at least), Sora’s line sounds more mysterious than funny, and it’s given rise to endless fan theories about how he could have seen the castle! One of the later games did sneak in an explanation, but they did so subtly, I think it was an accident! (For an alternate but spoilery explanation, check hana’s comment, below.)
With the slides at a dead end, Jane is at a loss to explain Tarzan’s mysterious Mangani word. Unfortunately, Clayton the hunter seems to have been eavesdropping, and uses this as an excuse to barge in. Clayton (Shakespearean regular Brian Blessed), explains that there’s only one place in the jungle that Tarzan hasn’t allowed the expedition to see, and that’s the gorilla’s nesting grounds. He presumes Riku and Kairi must be there, and suggests Tarzan lead them to it. Tarzan reluctantly agrees, though it turns out there’s an intermediary step you’ll have to complete first. Well, two. First, you’re going to have to learn how to navigate Deep Jungle.
You might have noticed I addressed Jane’s camp as “ground level” for Deep Jungle a few paragraphs back. That’s correct, because the world is more-or-less vertically oriented. Oh, it’s no 2D platformer (though wait a minute on that idea). This isn’t a straight climb ala Elec Man’s Stage or Contra 1 – Stage 3. But there are plenty of opportunities for you to fall on your ass and tumble all the way down to previous rooms, and there’s a rough hierarchy of what’s above what. That’s great when you want to go down, but when you want to go up, you’re in trouble.
There is another way around, if you think about it. It’s lazy, but if you want, you can use the Gummi Ship like an elevator to ease navigation around Deep Jungle, so long as you’ve found the right save points. Kingdom Hearts has two kinds of save points, and the “flat” kind can be used to reach the Gummi Ship. If you followed Tarzan down the slide, you may have found a save point near the top, which simplifies things a great deal. Yeah, yeah, I know, I recommended you not follow Tarzan the first time around. Look, if you’ve never been to this world before, you’re gonna suffer one way or another: suffer going up, or suffer going down. It’s your choice.
…Wait, didn’t the Gummi Ship crash? Weren’t Donald and Goofy were lost looking for the ship, or at least stranded looking for repairs? Best not to question it.
Assuming you don’t take the Gummi Ship elevator, the only way to start climbing Deep Jungle is to head to a pool filled with hippos, which can be crossed in a few chancy jumps for some prizes that just aren’t worth it. The hippos are a red herring: you actually have to find a set of vines. There’s a vine at both ends of the hippo pool, but the one at the far end means crossing the hippos, and the one at the near one blends in too well with the wall, such that you might not notice it exists! (Honestly the far one is just as bad, but it is at the end of the dead end, a place you’re sure to search, while the former one is in the middle of a random wall). Final Mix, or at least the HD remix, puts a lock-on marker over the vines so you can’t miss them.
Thankfully, there are no Heartless in the world: just Sabor, who will show up to ambush you at several opportunities. While I don’t recommend you do so, you can use Sabor to achieve a peculiar effect at this point in the game. There’s a limited window, but if you return to the Treehouse at this point in the game (or earlier), Sabor might jump in, smashing a permanent hole into the Treehouse itself. Whether these holes are… useful… is up to debate, and I don’t recommend making any holes for Final Mix players for reasons we’ll get into later, but it’s something I felt the need to address.
Once you’re at the top, it’s time for some traditional Tarzan rope-swinging, which is expressed via a few timed button presses to keep from plunging into the abyss. This leads you to a second section of Tarzan rope swinging! These two rooms are extra-hard to navigate because there are nothing but vines as far as the eye can see, so all you have to help you navigate are the shapes of the platforms and the hope that you didn’t get turned around. Boy, it would sure be awful if the game was about to turn you around without your knowing!
So once you enter the second set of vines, a cutscene takes place and teleports you to the other end of the room – a room you’ve never visited – without informing you that it has done so. The game thinks it’s helping, because it’s put you right in front of the exit. It’s a good thing it’s another one of those camouflaged wall vines you’re never going to notice, or this might have gotten really confusing! In fact, the situation is even worse than it seems: if you use the hippo vines to reach the treetops to begin with, you start directly in Vine Room 2, which means you’ll see the cutscene below and immediately get the vine swinging tutorial, even though vine swinging can only lead you in the wrong direction! Someone in development was noooooot paying attention to small details.
The cutscene I mentioned involves Tarzan talking to his tribe’s elder, Kerchak, as well as Tarzan’s mother Kala, seeking permission to show the party to the nesting grounds. In a nice touch from the film, when Tarzan speaks to his family from his perspective, the dialogue is fully comprehensible to the audience (i.e., English in the English version), but just sounds like gorilla noises if we switch to the perspective of Sora and the gang. Unfortunately, Kerchak and Kala go unvoiced (indeed, they don’t speak at all), but even Sora can tell the talk isn’t going well when the two gorillas simply walk away.
You’re not given much of a lead where to go next. Tarzan looks up at the Treehouse, and that’s it. I suppose we’re supposed to read this as a clue that the Treehouse is near the nesting grounds, but the nesting grounds aren’t actually near the Treehouse in the game or the film. So it’s really just a shitty hook set by the game designers to drag you in some arbitrary direction.
(At this moment, the game silently unlocks another mini-game you won’t realize exists until you’ve walked away from it: a time trial to navigate the vine rooms. You start this game by talking to some random flower. The funny thing is, this mini-game has no prizes, so even the walkthroughs don’t talk about it much. You’ll need to play it once for the Play Every Mini-Game achievement in 1.5 Remix, but that’s about it. You don’t even need to try: just start it, jump off a ledge, and you’re done! )
After talking to Kerchak, missing the wall vines, swinging back to the first room, swinging across the first room, finding yourself back with the hippos, going back to the first room, going back to the second room, missing the wall vines, checking a walkthrough, learning about the mini-game, playing the mini-game, getting back on track, going back through the first room, going back to the other end of the second room, finally finding the wall vines, and finally climbing the wall vines, you’ll be relieved to know you’re still not at your destination. You’re very close, but still not quite there. After navigating another room, you finally reach the Treehouse, and the game once again teleports you across a room. Kingdom Hearts, by the black heart of Michael Eisner, if you turn me around again, I will summon the Heartless here myself!
I’m not sure why the game keeps flinging you around rooms like this. Kingdom Hearts must have the ability to detect when the player enters a trigger zone, because the Heartless use that feature all the time. And yet, many of the game’s cutscenes seem to be triggered when you talk to a character, hit a switch, or go from room to room, even when it would make considerably more sense for them to be triggered in zones! It may be that the scripting team got to work so early in the development process that zone triggers weren’t around yet, but that seems like a stretch. Though I can understand why you were flung across the room this time around: those holes Sabor can make in the treehouse would have allowed you to bypass the trigger zone in a really hilarious way.
Entering the Treehouse automatically, you get a cutscene showing Tarzan’s friend Terk and Clayton the Hunter, who has gotten ahead of Sora and the gang, and is about to shoot Terk with his elephant gun. You can imagine how funny it would have been if you had used Sabor’s hole to walk into the line of fire! Terk here does not have any English lines, but her gorilla sounds are apparently voiced by Audrey Wasilewsky of My Life as a Teenaged Robot and later in Mad Men.
Clayton nearly shoots Terk, but is stopped at the last minute by Donald. While Clayton makes his excuses, we see Kerchak and Kala looking on over the scene. Hilariously, they re-use their canned “walk of shame” animation a second time, as though the animators couldn’t be arsed to give them a second reaction to anything. Yes, Kerchak, one of your tribe all but being murdered is just as boring as Tarzan asking you a favour. It’s nice to know the gorillas are in good hands.