Since I was babbling on about Keyblades and Keychains in the last post, it might be worth pointing out another upgrade I haven’t addressed: permanent stat-boosting items. There are three kinds of these, all rare and hard to resupply: one for Strength, one for Defence and one for AP. And I’ll be straight with you: they should all go to Sora. Sora’s the one that will be doing the most attacking, so Strength should definitely go to him, and he’s the one taking the most hits and costs you the game if he dies, so Defence is a no-brainer. You might consider giving some AP Ups to Donald and Goofy, but Sora’s going to have more Abilities than them at any given point in the game, so while he doesn’t need max AP to cover all his skills, most players will probably still be fine ignoring their buddies. And yes, if you really wanted to, you could potentially use AP Ups on a Guest to fix their “never enough AP by design” problem, but it’s not worth the cost. Why toss away an item that will help you forever, just so Tarzan can get Critical Plus for the short time you’re together?
After clearing Deep Jungle and Wonderland, you’re free to advance the plot, whether you’ve been to Olympus Coliseum or not. Sora, Donald and Goofy return to Traverse Town, and oh — by the way, have I mentioned that these games, especially KH2, always addresses the as “Sora, Donald and Goofy,” in that precise order, as though you’d forget their names if they weren’t constantly repeated at you? Look, that might not seem like trivia worth mentioning, but once you’ve heard it for the hundredth time you start to split the pain. …What were we talking about?
Right, once you’re at Traverse Town, you enter what’s probably the least stringent point of the game. Traverse Town Part 2 is heavily railroaded, but for some reason, it feels like you’re in the middle of a free-roaming sequence. Or as though this were a series of sidequests that domino into one another. I can’t really put my finger on what gives the impression. Maybe the general freedom of movement? In fact, your movement is so free that it’s possible for you to miss an entire story segment, even though the characters involved will act like you saw it at a later point in the game. Since this game’s been so good at providing alternate scenes up until this point, this sticks out like a sore thumb.
The fetch quests starts with Sora and the others insisting on talking to Leon about the Navi Gummi, even though I’m 90% sure that it was Cid who was interested in the Gummi if you came back to Traverse Town with only one of the two halves. Of course, any veteran gamer will tell you that that sequence with Cid was optional and therefore non-canon, but really: when did Leon ever give you a sign that he was the go-to guy for gummi information? Not that my complaints matter. The game won’t let you talk to Cid about the Gummi, even if you try (he just complains about things being stolen from his shop). That’s being real stubborn, Sora. Reeeeal stubborn.
With no way to talk to Cid, you now have to track down Leon on Yuffie’s advice. This involves finding a Red Trinity in shallow water in the back alley you otherwise probably forgot existed. Thanks, Yuf. And boy, are you in for a mess when you go exploring. I wasn’t kidding when I said Cure gives the devs permission to unlock the menagerie. Even though this is just a re-vist, you get three new Heartless: Yellow Operas, the Thunder bell wizard who are weak only against a spell you don’t have and will never want to waste on the likes of them; Green Requiems, the Cure-casting bell wizards (gotta hate a Cure-casting enemy) that aren’t as bad as they sound; and later in the plot: Air Soldiers. These steampunk, bat-winged goofballs still follow the Soldier pattern of “dawdle and strike,” but they hit hard enough and are the first fliers in the game that can really take a hit in turn, so you may have to adapt your tactics to take them on. If nothing else, they’re the first generic enemies that will help you appreciate Fire and Thunder for their abilities to hit foes rather than their abilities to overcome weaknesses.
This flying trio of enemies may also be a good point for me to mention that players who selected the Sword at the outset will probably have Combo Plus abilities at this point. This Ability gives you an extra swing in your combo while you’re on the ground, but not in the air. For Air, you’d need Air Combo Plus, but weirdly enough, combat-focused Sword players won’t get any Air Combo skills until near the end of the game. No, perhaps in an attempt to make it seem like Sword’s opposite, it’s the Rod users that have Air Combo Plus in Final Mix. …Because magicians are well known for swatting flies? Well, enjoy it while you’ve got it, Gandalf.
You find Leon hanging out in a sewer, as you do. Here, Sora brings up the big nagging question: what’s up with these glowing keyholes? Leon, and Aerith, who also happens to be here (sewer parties are for buddies), are excited to hear about the keyholes… well, at least as excited as either of them ever get. It seems each world has a Keyhole (capital letter now), which leads to the heart of the world. So Tarzan was bang-on with calling the Keyhole the “Heart.” The Heartless are drawn to the heart of the world, which must smell like a buffet to them compared to the heart of a human or talking Disney sparrow. Once the Heartless consume the world’s heart, the world is destroyed. So you should probably lock those.
On the subject of your Navi gummis, Leon just tells you to talk to Cid, just like I suggested we do at the start. You’re upsetting me, game, you’re upsetting me with rudimentaries. I know it would be a few years before World of Warcraft would spell out in giant block letters that fetch quests are a waste of everyone’s time, but they were always irritating, and I’m not going to excuse them just because it was 2002. Really, the design reason for this quest was to show you how to find Leon’s hideout. You could have talked to Cid, but they had to show you a room half-way across the map, so they made up this strained reason for you to go there.
But we’re not even done with the failure: let’s talk about one of KH1’s most innocuous but frequently encountered missteps. Leon refuses to talk about going back to Cid until you talk to him twice. You’d be surprised how often players miss this. Kingdom Hearts does this at several points, but for some reason, this is the spot that catches the most players. It was just the design pattern of the day: you don’t stop talking to people in an RPG of the era until they say something generic. Generally speaking, if talking to someone in Kingdom Hearts triggers a cutscene or an item, you’ll want to talk to that person again, just in case. It is pretty damn arbitrary. You know you’re done when Leon gives Sora a “lucky charm” of his. This is the Earthshine Gem, which has no immediately apparent purpose.
There’s a back door out of Leon’s cave, but at present it doesn’t lead anywhere. We’ll carry on as ordered by going to Cid. He explains the gummis are two halves of a Navi Gummi, as we already knew. He explains (again) that this gummi will let your ship go to new worlds. Why it was lodged in a metaphysical keyhole in a tree-trunk somewhere, we’ll never know, but it sure is convenient. Cid says he’ll install it for you, but he wants you to go make a delivery for him. He was repairing a book for a client and just needs it dropped off. So yes: it’s another fetch quest. You may have already been to the destination, which is found in Third District: a strange wooden door marked with a flame symbol. Obviously you have to hit it with a Fire spell to unlock it. Or… at least I hope it was obvious, kids play this game after all. Funnily enough, you could have unlocked this door right after beating the Guard Armor and getting the Fire spell. If you think about it, this puzzle is harder now that you have three spells than it was back when you had one and it was at the front of your mind!
Just past the door is a much more insidious gameplay element than picture puzzles. I didn’t lay into it during Deep Jungle, but from time to time, Kingdom Hearts will forget what made Super Mario 64 precious and magical. Super Mario 64 was about exploring complex 3D environments and finding secrets. But in Deep Jungle and right here in Traverse Town, Kingdom Hearts tosses aside fun exploration and turns halfway back in the direction of Bubsy fucking 3D, with painful, arbitrary platforms-over-nothing, complete with shitty platforming controls. Yeah, Kingdom Hearts has abysmal platforming controls – only coded comes anywhere close to acceptable platforming and they had to add custom options to make it work.
Let me try to explain just one of the fundamental problems Kingdom Hearts has with platforming: camera angles. Take a look at Mario Galaxy’s wide-zoom, high-angle camera angles and compare that to Kingdom Heart’s useless low-angle close-up of Sora’s backside. This is not a precision jumping game. Sora’s jumps are fine for exploring an area, like Destiny Island or even Traverse Town, but not for this: a series of moving platforms over water! What did I do to you, Square Enix? Can I take it back?
Thankfully Sora’s an island kid and can swim in the water instead of drowning, but you’d almost wish he would drown. When games don’t have swimming controls, they tend to “drown” your character and teleport you back to wherever you fell in. Kingdom Hearts likes to punish you for your failure with a slow boring swimming sequence every time you ham a jump. Can’t we just learn our lesson and never do this again? What was that? It comes back in Birth By Sleep? I hate you.
Back on track now. This platforming segment takes place inside of the sort of dank, flooded cave. I guess this is what happens in a town formed of junk slammed together by apocalypses. In the middle of the cave is an island with a house on it that looks something like a teapot. There’s also a chest in the far end and, if you’re stupid, you can jump for it, miss, realize you can’t get to it at this point in the game, and swim all the way to the entrance to start platforming across the moving rocks again. The chest isn’t even worth it once you can get it. This room is pure evil.
The front door to the… teapot… is broken, but someone’s knocked down a wall, so you go in through the side. Inside the pot is a finished, stone interior, albeit an empty one. Sora, Donald and Goofy look around, and suddenly Sora has another of his… incidents with Kairi. And this is the one you can’t mistake as something else. Sora outright has a hallucination of Kairi walking in front of him, reminiscing about the cave back on Destiny Islands. Donald and Goofy even have to call him back to reality. Where every other incident of Sora seeing Kairi involves some other RPG or storytelling trope that makes it seem innocuous, you can’t ignore this one. The trouble is that, because every other incident seems innocuous, I personally didn’t connect this incident to any of the others, and it seems I’m not alone. The end result is that Sora comes off as having this single, stand-alone hallucination prompted by nothing and never explained except as a matter of guesswork. I’m being a little reductive, but at the end of the day, you just have to understand how jarring it is to have “The hero sees a ghost for a full conversation, with no triggering incident, and no mention of it again for the next 20 hours of gameplay.” If you came here during the first trip to Traverse Town, you won’t see her again for around 30 hours!
You’re broken out of this plot point by the arrival of a new character: Merlin the Wizard from Sword in the Stone (unvoiced), arriving from his trip from who-even-cares. It seems Merlin lives here, and the animators couldn’t resist animating him unpack his magic bag as per the film. After unpacking, Merlin tells you he’s been in contact with King Mickey, and has been instructed to “teach” Sora magic. Merlin also introduces you to the Fairy Godmother (unvoiced), who is in a tiny model of the carriage from Cinderella for some reason. It seems her world was also destroyed. If you come here during your first trip to Traverse Town, she’ll have nothing to say to you, making her appearance all the more bizarre. I suppose if two magical folks want to shack up in one another’s carrying bags, that’s none of my business.
Merlin’s “magic training” involves a special infinite MP practice room where you can blast up some furniture, and is helpful enough for someone struggling against the menu controls. I suppose the greatest failing is that many players first came here after three worlds full of live-fire practice. Why lock a basic service behind a puzzle in a world you’ve already cleared? They can’t have intended him to teach you the Fire spell: you need the Fire spell to get in the door!
All of the above was technically possible after you first cleared Traverse Town at the start of the game. Once you come back with Cid’s delivery however, Merlin’s teapot house becomes more interesting. Merlin explains that that the delivery is a magical book he found out there somewhere, and that it is still missing several pages. If you could Myst things up a little and find those pages, it would be complete, but you’re free to read the incomplete book for the time being. He also suggests you talk to the Fairy Godmother about the Earthshine Gem, essentially opening two new services at once.
The Fairy Godmother explains that the Earthshine Gem is a “Summon Gem”: all that’s left of a strong-hearted person who lost their world to the Heartless but neither escaped to Traverse Town nor faded away entirely. She’s happy to unlock the Summon Gems for you, after which you can call your new allies from the menu. Summons are an odd procedure in either version of the game. To use Summons, you have to select their command from the menu, and then select the Summon: there is no quick-fire option, so it’s hardly something you can do in an emergency. In 1.5, “Summon” is on the main menu (it takes the place of special attacks from Vanilla), but in the original it’s even harder to use Summons, because the Summon command is nested in the Magic menu, which means you really can’t use it in an emergency.
Summons have even more restrictions. You need a big chunk of MP for starters, you need to have two partners – which for story reasons is not always the case, like when Sora was solo with Tarzan – and they have to be alive at the time. You also can’t use Summons in tournaments at Olympus Coliseum, and I believe you can only summon the same summon once a battle. Oh, and you have to be standing on the ground to call them, which sounds innocuous but is going to bite you in the ass before the game is over.
Once you’ve got your summon out, your partners typically disappear to make room for the Summon. The Summon stays in play until a timer is exhausted, or until you de-summon them manually. The Summon cannot attack on their own: instead they grant you a special power. The Earthshine Gem frees grown-up Simba from The Lion King, who gives you a slowly charged area attack that only hits ground targets. It’s not a very good attack, making Simba a pretty poor introduction to Summons. To be frank, only a few of them are any good at all, but one or two will make up for the whole spread, I promise.
(Simba’s voice is uncredited, but he’s making lion sounds. I’m not clear on whether or not those were made by voice actors or actual lions, so I’m just going to let that slide.)
So you probably want to check out that book, huh? Well, go right ahead: checking out the book suddenly transports Sora inside of it, cementing our Myst connection. Fortunately, being sucked into a damaged book isn’t as dangerous in Kingdom Hearts as it is in Myst. You start by exploring a map inside the book where you can select the segment you want to play. There is only one section available at the start: an open field with a log in it, where you hear the music and see a face that will finally tell you that you’ve arrived at:
I may be a little disingenuous about giving the 100 Acre Wood its own section, as we’re not going to be here very long this time around, but it seemed right for consistency. The world starts as you introduce yourself to the silly old bear. You find Pooh is pondering something as he sits on the tree trunk. Unsurprisingly, Pooh is voiced by Jim Cummings, who has voiced the character since 1988. Cummings is a voice acting legend, and I could hardly begin to summarize his work – he’s been in practically everything, though Kingdom Hearts does appear to be his only Square Enix vehicle prior to Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
You’d probably expect this is the game’s way of introducing some cockamamie plot based of Blustery Day or whatnot. And sure, that happens eventually, but when you ask Pooh what he’s pondering, he gives this surprising answer: “I am trying to figure out how to say goodbye to Pooh.” This surprising and dark comment has an equally surprising and dark root: it seems that with the pages missing from the book, Pooh’s friends have vanished entirely. What would fill an adult with existential dread is treated by Pooh with a sort of matter-of-fact gloss, and he seems to expect that he shall disappear soon as well. And while “disappearing” clearly bothers and confuses him, he seems to put it out of mind after Sora introduces himself, and Pooh wanders off from his momentary crisis to get something to eat.
This memorable opening leads you down to Pooh’s house, where you’ll probably start exploring. And there is all the reason in the world to do so: as an entirely optional world that you have to unlock by finding optional pages, 100 Acre Wood is packed with some of the best goodies in the game. There’s even a prize back at the log, if you know where to look. While you’re searching, you may also notice the most frequently quoted fun fact about Kingdom Hearts 1: the menu command for “Attack” changes to “Hit” here in 100 Acre Wood, for a more playful feel.
Speaking to Pooh (after, say, attacking his chimney to get a Mega-Ether to drop out), you find that he’s out of hunny. Erm. “Honey.” He goes off to find some… disappearing into the narrative mist, just like he predicted. Thankfully you’re not entirely alone (but imagine how jarring it would be if you were?) as Owl is just hanging around outside, unnoticed by the lonesome Pooh. Owl (unvoiced) is showing a lot of outside knowledge, because I guess someone has to. He explains that if you want to continue, you’ll have to find the Missing Pages. Unfortunately, Merlin has already told you that the pages have been scattered about the universe, so it’s going to be a long hunt.
I suppose I could put the 100 Acre Wood Sections off towards the end, like many archival works do, including Spazbo4’s Longplay, but I think I’d rather touch on each 100 Acre Wood segment as a new player might encounter them: around the time they’re unlocked. There’s nothing more to do now, so you had best head out, and back to Traverse’s Town’s plot, already in progress.