We return to 100 Acre Wood, where the second segment of Pooh’s story takes place at the Hunny Tree. Here, you run into Piglet, voiced by the late John Fielder, Piglet’s original voice actor from 1968. Piglet has apparently been restored to 100 Acre Wood thanks to your book repair, but it freaked out by you, seeing as how you’re a stranger. To talk to him, you have to sneak up on him from behind, which Sora just isn’t any good at (poorly designed stealth missions were super prominent in the early 2000s. Be glad this is all KH1 does to you, at least until Final Mix). Once you’ve talked to Piglet, he explains that he was “all alone” when the book was damaged, continuing our theme of existential dread. Thankfully Pooh comes back to help him calm down. Pooh accepts Piglet’s return so casually it’s as though he was never worried – Pooh’s very present-minded that way.
It seems that prior to the events of the book, Pooh and Piglet had been planning to get hunny from the bees. Yes, it’s Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, and the silly old bear is going to ride a balloon. That also means it’s mini-game time. Mini-games are the fundamental core of 100 Ace Wood, with one mini-game appearing in each segment to come. It’s easy enough to win them in general – this game, for example, can’t be failed at all – but the few exceptions can be aggravating. Clearing the mini-games advances the plot of 100 Acre Wood and “transforms” the Torn Page into a prize item. You’d think the Torn Page was already incorporated into the book and couldn’t be transformed into anything, so the phrasing is a little awkward, but 100 Acre Woods’ prizes are pristine.
The prize in this case is a real winner, probably to encourage you to continue with 100 Acre Wood: the Naturespark Gem. This summon gem, once unlocked by the Fairy Godmother, will let you summon young Bambi to your side. Bambi’s interesting. He only costs 1MP but drops magic restoring orbs everywhere he goes, and if you defeat monsters while he’s out, a bar will fill up in the corner. Once the bar is complete, Bambi will drop valuable or even rare items depending on the world. It’s worth trying out every few worlds just because! In fact, thorough use could keep your MP fully charged almost without cost, which could nearly break the game if you’re into that.
But with a little effort, you can do more than just “clear” every one of the 100 Acre Wood minigames. Each mini-game has a target score, one that’s not typically that high, though again… there are exceptions. Owl will give you some hints to the milestones at Pooh’s house. Hit the target in each game and Owl will give you Sora’s “Cheer” ability if you talk to him at Pooh’s house. Cheer is a simple skill that extends the length of time a Summon stays in the field. While Donald and Goofy get their copies of Cheer at certain plot points, Sora has to work for it here in the Wood. It’s a bit of a pain, but with practice, the games become so easy you’ll probably never lose them again on replays, so let’s get cracking!
The hunny tree mini-game can’t be lost, but might take a little practice to high-score. The idea is this: Pooh floats up on his balloon eating hunny, and you swat away the bees that try to pop his balloon. The camera tries keeps the game locked to one 90 degree slice of the tree, though it does move a little. You get more hunny, 10 “points” worth, for swatting each swarm of bees that come after Pooh. This is more hunny, in fact, than you would get if you waited for Pooh to eat the stuff one mouthful at a time! It pays to be aggressive in your defence.
The real challenge is climbing the tree, considering the game’s semi-locked camera angle, the slippery platforms, and – while I can’t confirm this one is real – I get the impression that the game is “helping” you land on the branches by moving you somewhat in mid-air. That’s generally a positive, but sometimes the game’s “help” will knock you off a branch, like you were nudged by a ghost. There’s also a “Rush” command you can use to charge up the tree should you hit the ground, but it’s sloppy. It’s hard to tell whether the sloppiness is a random factor designed to make things more challenging… or if the programmer just screwed up and they decided to have Owl call it challenge. Yes, it’s “challenge” when you rely on a feature of the game to do what it advertises and it puts you in a worse position.
Once you’ve gotten as used to climbing the tree as is possible, the easiest way to win is to willingly jump from branches to swat bees below you. Once you swat a swarm of bees, Sora will be propelled back to a branch, so there’s no danger in dropping off if your timing is good. Usually. Sometimes the game screws up putting you back on a branch, too. That’s why I suspect the Rush command is broken by accident and not design, as it’s probably using similar code.
You need a score of 100 to count this game toward Cheer. That’s less than ten bees with Pooh’s help, so a few screw ups are acceptable. It requires a bit of practice to get up the tree and stay there (as bees stop spawning if Pooh is close to the ground), but hardly impossible.
That’s as far as the story goes for now. Pooh lands satisfied and you head back to Merlin’s. There’s more you can do while you’re visiting Traverse Town… but so much so that I’m going to give it its own section.
Synthesis and Final Mix-Exclusive Heartless
So I promised you some Traverse Town/Green Trinity fun times, right? With the help of Trinity Climb (Sora, Donald and Goofy stacking up in a column to interact with something up high) you can open a trap door in the ceiling of Accessory Shop in Traverse Town. This opens a way into the shop on the next storey, which has always been locked prior to using the trapdoor. Actually, the outside door is weird. There’s someone standing right next to the door, advertising the business inside, but they don’t open up until you break in? I get the game design angle here but it’s narratively silly.
The shop you’ve just opened is the Synthesis Shop, run by Final Fantasy’s favourite money-grubbers, the Moogles. Moogles, if you haven’t seen them, are flying, cat-like teddy bears with big, red, pom-pom antennas coming out of their heads. They’ve appeared in most of the Final Fantasies since FFIII, with North Americans first seeing them – sort of – in Final Fantasy Adventure. Here, they run the Synth Shop, and experienced gamers know what that means.
Synthesis is a process in games where you combine smaller items into better ones. Sometimes this means getting rid of old items, while other times, like here, synthesis is done with items that are otherwise useless and exist only for synthesis. Games that use the latter system are typically trying to extend gameplay artificially – it’s a quick and easy way to add hours to your game. Weeks, in an MMO. Yes, they could give you a new sword for doing a quest, or we could give you a hunk of iron and ask you to do five quests! We could have enemies randomly drop a blaster, or we could force you to chew through three hundred of them to get all four component parts! That’s what Kingdom Hearts is up to. You kill enemies, they randomly drop otherwise useless junk, and the Moogles put them together. The “useless junk” in this instance are a series of Shards, Gems and in Final Mix, Stones implied to be the concentrated examples of the magic used in your spells: Fire (“Blazing”), Blizzard (“Frost”), and Thunder (uh… “Thunder”). There are also others that are a lot less easy to categorize, but you get the drift.
Two catches. To make more valuable Synthesis items, you need to synth all the currently available recipes, even if you don’t want them! Creating 15 synth items in Final Mix will also unlock an ability called Encounter Plus that will cause enemies to show up more frequently and speed the synthesis process up considerably, but you’ll need to make a whole 30 items to get the final set of recipes, which include the best weapons in the game for Sora, Donald and Goofy. Sora’s is the vaunted Final Fantasy Ultima Weapon as a keychain, but whether it’s worth the fuss and effort is up to you. Along the way you’ll make some of the best accessories in the game as along the way, and earn a whole clutch of Achievements in 1.5. If only it wasn’t for that damn catch.
The catch? That’s exclusive to Final Mix, so Vanilla players can breathe a sigh of relief (at least until Orichalcums come into play, but that’s another story). Again: Final Mix added a new set of items, the Stones. These are only available from entirely new Heartless that show up after you clear each world. These Heartless are hard to spot and harder to deal with. Most of these Heartless are strong enough, but they’ll also force you do pull a special trick if you want their synth material, and even then there isn’t necessarily a guarantee. And that’s if they even show up. It’s random to start with, and once you’ve given it a shot, you have to walk several rooms away to get them to show up again, even with Encounter Plus. Some people just Gummi Ship off the world and come back down again to save the frustration. They’re that much trouble.
For starters, in Traverse Town you can find the Sniperwild. These are a variant of Bouncywilds that patrol the Second District with slingshots. If they spot you, you’re boned: they’ll sound an alarm and summon infinite reinforcements that won’t even give EXP, much less synth items. But if you can take them out without any one of them sounding the alarm, you get mounting odds of each kill giving you a Power Stone. You need to kill at least six to get any odds at all, and even that minimum goal is a chore. It would be bad enough if it were just you, but Donald and Goofy can be spotted as well, and you can barely control them! Some players have taken solace in using a latter-game summon to mow Sniperwilds down at a distance, but you’ll need a lot of MP. I’ll tell you which one when it shows.
Wonderland houses the Gigas Shadow. You have to go to the Bizarre Room while you’re tiny, fight a few waves of Shadows, and then the big ones will show. If they hit Sora with their attacks, they’ll teleport out of the fight. You only get the Fury Stones they guard based on how many you kill, so that’s a bad thing. High MP and a summon from the next world pretty much guarantee a win, so they’re not that bothersome. Don’t let that mislead you, though, we’ve got trouble coming yet.
Deep Jungle gives you the Black Ballade, a bell wizard that wants to play a shell game with you by summoning a series of doppelgangers. It’s easier to win this by rapidly pausing and unpausing the game, and yet the Ballade still somehow manages to make this complicated. Oh, and to complete the ongoing train of frustration: Tarzan, Donald and Goofy often get in the way as you’re trying to watch the Ballades, just like they do with White Mushrooms and the Jungle Slider minigame. You’re all against me! At one point, things got so bad that I downgraded Goofy’s shield just to reduce his profile. These enemies drop Lightning Shards, and yes: “Lightning.” The Stone is called Lightning even though the Shard and Gem are called “Thunder.” This is because later KH games changed all the materials to “Lightning” and the translation ended up incongruous in 1.5.
Agrabah’s got the Pot Scorpion, which has what may be the weirdest way to win the item. What you have to do is go to the palace courtyard and hope you find it full of a yard sale’s worth of pots. You then have to break as many as possible without waking the Pot Scorpion. The best way to find the Scorpion is to see which pot you can’t “push” by moving against it, which is probably more of an oversight than a design, but what the heck. The more you break before waking the Scorpion, the better the odds of getting a Mythril Stone from the Scorpion – in fact, the last pot you break can drop an additional stone if you get all 15, though the odds are low. The Pot Scorpion itself is so complex relative to normal Heartless that it’s practically a mini-boss with lower stats. You have block its rush attacks to hurt it, and mid-way through the fight it begins to cause a rain of darkness that spills randomly over the room.
Cute, right? Not really. This sidequest goes on too long, and learning these tricks is one thing (especially if you refuse to check a walkthrough – the game never tells you there even are tricks) and pulling them off 10 times or more to get all the synthesis ingredients you’ll need is another. And I’m not even done. If you want to synth everything, you’ll still have to find the Dark Matters. These ingredients only show up once a world in a very well hidden place, and even if you find them all, you’ll need to synth more, and that means fighting boring old Shadows over and over and over and over. Which other synthesis ingredients are worth a lot of trouble? Let’s make this complete. Well, Mythril is finite, but you’ll get more than enough of that. Orichaclum is a bit of a pain. In the original version, it was earned as a random drop off of a boss refight. In Final Mix, Huey, Louie and Dewey start selling it later in the game, but it costs you big cash.
Now how about I get us back on track with the next world instead of dawdling about on old ones?