Remember the secret passage in Leon’s grotto? It actually leads to Merlin’s house, but it’s one way. That means that even if it were open, you’d have to go out the Fire door to leave. There’s an event waiting just outside the Fire door, so it’s clear that someone thought this layout through ahead of time! Once you go through the door, you get what I think is still one of the biggest surprises in the series. Now, don’t confuse “surprise” with “shock,” but there really is no way to see this coming: as you step out the door in the Third District, you’re attacked by Heartless, and rescued by Riku! After four worlds of trying to find the bastard, he just… shows up, carrying a suspicious bat-winged sword. It’s one of Riku’s greatest character moments, in how it reveals that he never needed your help in the first place! Riku tries to impress that fact on you himself, but is interrupted when another Shadow appears and Sora takes it out with the Keyblade, saying he doesn’t necessarily need Riku’s help either.
Riku runs this entire conversation like a real jerk, talking Sora down, and it’s really not clear why, leaving the player as confused as Sora must be. But Sora either plays it off or is just completely unflappable (either is possible), at least until Goofy mentions the Keyblade and Riku somehow gets ahold of the thing. Of course the player and Sora know that this shouldn’t be possible: when Leon tried to pick it up earlier, it teleported back to Sora’s hand. And never mind the question of how Riku got it, which may be equally relevant. Riku laughs the Keyblade off as not really that important, and returns it. Sora starts talking about the trips he’s taken around the worlds, but as he does, Riku becomes detached from the conversation. He outright slips away while Sora and Donald are having an argument. Sora’s not exactly happy that Riku has left, but he reasons that Riku’s fine on his own and if Riku’s okay, maybe they’ll see Kairi soon! Sure buddy, it’s not like you’ve been haunted by her ghost or anything.
You might think it’s time to return to Cid to talk about that navi-gummi, but not quite. If you visit the shop, you’ll find that his hired help is manning the Accessory Shop instead. No, you’re supposed to follow up on earlier instructions from Cid to go visit a small house in Third District (hopefully you remember those instructions). I’m not really sure why this room exists from a design perspective. The Accessory Shop and Leon’s training sewer would have been just as valid as meeting places without adding another room to Traverse Town that serves the same basic purpose. Perhaps the devs didn’t want to break the pace from the Riku scene, but imagine if they had sent us to Leon’s secret training room at this point: we wouldn’t have needed that early fetch quest, and the Earthshine Gem could have come from anywhere else!
At the house in Third District, you attend a meeting with the Final Fantasy characters, who tell Sora about Maleficent, mostly so that Sora will know what the player already knows from cutscenes. They explain that Maleficent was the one who conquered their old world, 9 years ago, and that she probably has most of the pages of Ansem’s Report on the Heartless. Oh and also, she’s in town. Thanks for the early warning.
This information turns out to be more immediately relevant than Leon’s posse thinks. Maleficent is, in fact, right outside their window, spying on them with Riku. It seems the dark fairy has taken Riku under her wing, and is nursing a lie on him that Sora has forgotten him and Kairi in favour of being the Keyblade saviour. This is sticking on Riku, even though Sora’s very first words on seeing him were “We’ve been looking for you,” but I guess Maleficent’s good at this sort of thing. Hey, by the way, did I mention that Riku’s bat-winged sword is called the “Soul Eater?” That seems more relevant now that he’s being coaxed into evil by a dark sorceress.
In completing the meeting, Aerith brings up one last, critical plot point. And like every other plot point since you got here, this one is presented like a side quest: she mentions a bell above the Gizmo Shop, which you heard ringing a while back. The Final Fantasy posse says to go check out the bell, and you pretty much have to, even though Cid says he installed the Navi Gummi and you’re ready to go. He even installed a Warp gummi that will let you teleport to old worlds without the frustrating Gummi segments in between! By all rights you should be able to leave, but you can’t go on without checking out the bell. (In fact, it’s actually possible to do the bell quest partway through the revisit, as Spazbo4’s longplay shows.) Let’s get it over with.
Now, you might remember the Gizmo Shop from our first trip, and how it was out of power. Gaming logic suggests that since you couldn’t reach the bell during earlier trips to Traverse Town, you’ll have to restore power to the Gizmo Shop, right? Wrong. You can easily do so if you want, by using Thunder near some exposed wires in the Third District (that’s how electrical repair works, right?). Unfortunately, all it does is let you advance the Postcard sidequest I mentioned off-hand in our first trip to Traverse Town. No, you can reach the bell now because… someone moved a ladder? Yeah, there was a ladder leaning against a wall during your first trip and Sora was too damn lazy to move it. I think we can call this “Legend of Zelda Syndrome” after the series that used a ladder to cross pits in his first game then forgot it for every pit-filled game to follow. It seems someone moved this ladder for Sora, off-screen, without mentioning it. It’s completely arbitrary.
You climb up to the roof, fight a small horde of Heartless that lives on top of the Gizmo Shop for just such an occasion, and Trinity Charge your way through some debris blocking off the bell. There, you ring the bell and learn that ringing the bell causes a decorative fountain in the square below to rotate. Even though the ringing you heard earlier in the plot did not cause the fountain to rotate. You have to ring the bell three times, as prompted by numerous hints and outright instructions from the Final Fantasy crew. The game repeats the “three rings” instruction so many times I can only assume that everyone who ever tested the game got lost without them and they felt the need to put the instructions in triplicate? Once you’ve finished the third ring, the Keyhole to Traverse Town will appear on the fountain. But life’s not that easy. When is it ever?
No further than halfway across the room to the keyhole, the Heartless intervene. It’s the Guard Armor again, but before you can say “lazy game design” it transforms after a short battle, by… flipping upside-down? Oh yes, of course: I too grow more powerful in a handstand. The Opposite Armor is a much bigger threat than the original boss, not only in terms of the component parts but because the main torso has a heavy laser attack that hurts a lot. Also, if you’re in Proud Mode, this is probably where you’ll learn that despite my praise for Cure, Donald’s doesn’t have much MP at this point in the game, and he’ll probably spend most of the fight drained and useless.
With a little effort, you clear out the Opposite Armor and lock the keyhole, securing Traverse Town and the Final Fantasy cast’s safety. So no matter how less-than-engaging the setup, that quest was important in the end. In fact, this experience raises an interesting question we’ll be coming back to later in this game. Traverse Town has a heart, but Traverse Town isn’t a natural world: it’s a conglomeration of dead worlds smashed together, and all of them lost their hearts. Believe it or not, you’re getting a preview of not just one but two huge plot points, one for this game and one for the series. It’s maybe a little too subtle, but it’s definitely there. Veterans might know what I’m talking about.
Beating Opposite Armor earns you the Aero spell, a force field that dramatically reduces damage and outright intercepts projectiles at the cost of 2 whole chunks of MP. That’s huge, but so are the defences. It can be a hard choice to make in a panic (it’s made even worse because, like Cure, the spell requires you to select a target as you cast it). The spell will be essential later on, but for the time being you can dawdle on it. It doesn’t last that long without a few upgrades, either way.
You’re officially done here, but there are still a few things left to do. Previously, Cid invited you to visit him in the first district, where he’s running his “real business”: a shop selling gummis and gummi ship upgrades. He gives you a free gun for showing up! Some of Cid’s upgrades are pretty handy, even if you’re just planning to skip most of Gummi Mode. He gives you the ability to build larger and more complicated ships with “Computer” upgrades, which can be hard to refuse. You’d need Cid’s upgrades to build a gummi ship worth flying into Final Mixes’ challenges, but once again, I figure the average player can beat the game with a little caution and no gummi customization at all.
While we’re standing here, I think I should mention the odd safe that’s just behind Cid. You can unlock it any point after you learn about the Keyblade’s unlocking powers during your first visit. It’s in the middle of this weird clearing, like a building that’s under construction, and nothing else like it exists in the game. It’s not even housing anything of particular importance?
One more thing to cover before the wrap-up: that missable scene I mentioned earlier. You can get this cutscene at any time between now and when you start the world after next. It’s easy to find: just by go to the Accessory Shop. The game probably expected you would come here after you get the Green Trinity in the next world, since there’s a big obvious green mark on the floor of the Accessory Shop. The game even tells you to go to the Accessory Shop once you get the ability to use Greens, but the window between getting the Green Trinity and arriving at the world that kills this cutscene is so small that a lot of players miss it!
During the event, you find out that the thief Cid mentioned when you first arrived on this world is actually Pinocchio the wooden boy, who hears you coming and hides in a corner. Believe it or not, I feel he’s actually kind of tricky to locate, because he hides near the front door, and video game protocol demands nothing be hidden in the entrance to a room! It just adds to the number of players who have missed the scene. Pinocchio is played by Seth Adkins, who first did the role in one of The Drew Carey show’s memorable “What’s Wrong with this Episode” series (they’re worth a watch even if you’ve never seen the show before). Jiminy Cricket recognizes Pinocchio and holy shit Jiminy Cricket. I forgot all about him! Like the devs! Jiminy introduces Pinocchio, and tells him off for stealing. And… that’s it. The scene is nearly pointless, and wouldn’t even be notable if it weren’t for the fact that Sora and the gang loudly proclaim that they know Pinocchio the next time they see him, even if you missed this scene.
After you clear the world, Chip and Dale contact you to tell you that there’s a new tournament on at Olympus Coliseum – providing you’ve cleared its plot so far, of course. This is the Phil Cup, the first of four optional tournaments you can use to earn some new prizes. The Phil Cup is harmless, probably meant to encourage you to come back later for the real heavy-hitters. It doesn’t even have a boss, save that the pieces of the original Guard Armor are scattered about the ten seeds waiting to stomp you on their own. Considering you just killed the entire, upgraded Opposite Armour, they’re kind of terrible at it.
The prize for the Phil Cup is more than worth the minimal effort: the Gravity spell. This is a niche Final Fantasy spell that almost seems more at home in Kingdom Hearts than it did in the original series – and that’s really weird, because it stopped appearing in Kingdom Hearts after CoM, yet it still feels like a natural fit to me? The spell causes a black sphere to appear around the target, and after a few second of animation, it cartoonishly flattens any lesser enemies caught it the spell’s area-of-effect, doing away with a percentage of their remaining health instead of flat damage. It’s great against tank enemies like the Large Body, especially when they’re at full health and the percentage damage will be higher, but it can’t flatten bosses and only does a tiny bit of set damage to them instead. You’ll see Donald using it on bosses all the time, but I don’t recommend it. The set damage is usually low and the slow cast speed means the spell misses bosses more often than not.
(Yellow Operas are weak to Gravity, but casting it on them is an absolute waste of time and magic. You’ll probably miss the flighty bastards altogether!)
Clearing the Cup also unlocks the option to re-do the cup with Sora solo, without Donald or Goofy to back you up. This is a bonus round, something the average player won’t be interested in attempting. Clearing the solo run not only gives you a new prize, but a third way to play the cup. This time you keep Donald and Goofy, but have to beat the tournament under a timer (three minutes of active play, in this case). The prizes for these modes are much better in Final Mix – it’s almost not worth bothering in the Vanilla game – and for some reason the alternate modes count toward the Mini-Game achievement in 1.5. You’ll be pretty tired of the cup by the time you’ve played it three times, so it might be best to split these attempts across the game.
One has to wonder why opponents keep showing up after you go through an entire cup solo. The Heartless are one thing, but you start to fight real people later on. What makes them so eager to stop you in a time trial once you’ve thrashed them twice already?
Once you’re finally done with the Phil Cup, it’s time to pack your bags. The Navi gummi has added some special warp portals to the map that you can use to find new worlds (another riff from Star Fox). Navigating through the portals is as simple as being on the correct side of the screen when they appear during Gummi Mode, for better or worse (if you’re doing a gummi mission, you can screw up the mission just by being on the wrong side of the screen at the wrong time, like during a speed boost). So let’s head on through: it’s time to take on the second set of worlds, nearly all of them the home world of one of Maleficent’s inner circle.
Now that we’re done the first set of worlds, what were your favourite worlds from the first set? The least? Feel free to say in the comments below!