That’s enough heady seriousness for one day. Let’s check in with Pooh, and add a chapter to his book that has to be pretty damn wet at this point. Hope he doesn’t mind.
Well I mind, because thanks to our rescuing the Dalmatians early, we’re about to follow up the most frustrating world in the game with the most frustrating mini-game. This chapter introduces Roo to the story (Kanga is nowhere to be seen in the entire game). Like many of the 100 Acre Wood characters, Roo goes unvoiced. Together with Roo, Tigger, Owl and Pooh, we take a trip down to Tigger’s favourite bouncing spot.
Setting aside the mini-game, this is a fantastic room. It feels like an odd compliment to make, but the room is packed with content and fun. In an odd way, it actually feels like the Disney parks, and I find Kingdom Hearts is often at its best when it emulates the Disney parks. There are little hidden details and things to find, objects you can interact with, and something I associate strongly with the Disney parks after a trip I took to Disney World in the Florida summer: hidden water sprayers from the water parks, which are emulated here by water spouts that raise secret platforms once you trigger them. This combination of secrecy and play always appeals to me, and Tigger’s secret bouncing spot is great for it.
There are three things to do here: a side quest and two mandatory mini-games. The first mandatory game has Roo and Tigger bouncing across a specific pattern of tree trunks. Nominally, the game is to match their pattern by jumping across the same tree trunks. In reality, the game here is you strangling the inadequate platforming controls, and a terrible top-down jump you have to perform from a tree branch. Once that’s out of the way forever (you can never replay it), the true nightmare begins: Tigger’s Giant Pot. Make your own jokes.
Tigger’s Giant Pot has simple rules. Tigger, inside a giant hunny pot that goes completely unexplained, will toss nuts at you, because… we’re playing a licenced NES game? Your objective is to hit the nuts into the side of the pot, trying to break it. You do all of this while standing on a tree trunk, and if you fall off the trunk, you lose. Hit nuts, don’t fall: that’s it at first glance. To break the pot, you have to accrue a certain number of damage points, but the game doesn’t explain how to get damage points very well, and is inconsistent even with the best advice. To qualify for Cheer, you have to break the pot within a minimum time.
As far as the Internet can tell, the idea here is to hit the nuts at the peak of their throw (ThePumpkinQueen at Kingdom Hearts Insider suggested the idea is to hit the pot close to the rim), but Tigger throws the nuts in such a way that they travel through the air a random speed. Isaac Newton spinning in his grave! I just got NES cliché bingo! I don’t mind the variable speed of the nuts in and of themselves, but it’s just unfair for the Cheer time limit. Sometimes Tigger just throws too slow for you to win without a perfect performance! But there are deeper problems, problems I don’t even understand. You can hit two nuts at proximate heights and get different score each time!
There are also problems I do understand, but that doesn’t make them any easier to swallow. Like how Sora lunges forward when doing any attack, even air attacks. This lunge means that very likely to jump off the tree trunk whenever you swing your Keyblade! Fortunately the game has something of a grace period: if you hit the nut and then fall to the ground, the game will let you try to get back up on top of the tree trunk. But make sure not to miss the platform when you jump back up, because that jump counts!
All in all, it’s the hardest mini-game to clear for story purposes (remember the Honey Tree, when you couldn’t fail at all?) and probably the hardest to high score for Cheer. Equip a long Keyblade like the Jungle King, stick your nose in a walkthrough, and pray.
Thankfully the optional side quest is a lot of fun. It involves Owl asking you to hunt for nuts hidden in the area, in exchange for absurdly good prizes. The only problems with this sidequest are the fact that you can only carry one nut at a time and the game doesn’t explain that to you, so you’ll probably be running around another nut wondering why the game won’t let you pick it up. Oh, and there’s a nut that just doesn’t count? It’s fake I guess. Unripe maybe? It looks fine to me.
A thorough player might also find the best hidden chest in the entire game while they’re playing around here. The chest is lodged in a hidden clutch of leaves below another leaf platform. In Final Mix, this chest contains 100 Acre Woods’ Dark Matter, and what a pain! With that memorable find behind us, we’ll leave 100 Acre Wood behind us for the day. The next time we visit Winnie the Pooh, the world is going to wrap up entirely.
According to an interview with Yoko Shinomura, the composer of the Kingdom Hearts games, she comes up with the theme music and battle music for each Disney world by watching the movie and coming up with something that sounds like a track from the film without actually playing a track from the soundtrack. Or something to that effect. But Halloween Town? Halloween Town’s theme is just a remix of “This Is Halloween.” Welcome to Touchstone Pictures’ The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I do hope you were aware that Touchstone was actually just a division of Disney.
Halloween Town is the third of the optional worlds you can reach after Agrabah. If you’ve already beaten Monstro and Atlantica, it’s best you return to Agrabah before driving to Halloween Town, or you’ll be interrupted by the plot on the route that links Atlantica and Halloween Town directly. Once again, this world is optional (you need two of the three worlds after Agrabah to clear the game), but it’s worth it to go to Halloween Town for the prizes.
For once remembering that they’re supposed to blend in, Sora and the others disguise themselves in Halloween costumes. Sora dresses as something of a vampire, with a strange little mask he wears off-kilter on the side of his head, while Donald is a mummy and Goofy is Frankenstein’s monster. Also Donald has gaps in his bandages with nothing inside. Donald did you turn yourself into a ghost? That’s commitment to a cosplay, man. I don’t know what to say to that.
Entering through the main gate, our heroes are ambushed by a platoon of Search Ghosts… who stand there doing nothing. They don’t react to you in any way. It seems they’ve been assembled by Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, who is planning on using them in his Halloween celebrations. And you can’t blame him: the Search Ghosts go so far as to have eyeballs hanging out of their sockets. Native to Atlantica my foot. Unfortunately for Jack, they just refuse to dance for him! Chris Sarandon’s delivery is so joyful and matter-of-fact that you get as confused as Sora in no time. You also can’t help but laugh. Doesn’t he not realize what he’s dealing with?
Sarandon is Jack’s original speaking voice (Danny Elfman did the singing). Besides Jack, Chris is best known for playing Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride, so make sure to use your favourite quote before the world is up. I love this quote from his IMDb bio: “[Sarandon has] played everything from vampires to Jesus Christ.” Also introduced in this scene is the Mayor of Halloween Town, voiced by Mr. Johnny Bravo himself, Jeff Bennett, whom we’ll be seeing quite often as the series goes on!
Going to Dr. Finkelstein for advice, Jack makes the logical conclusion that “the Heartless need a heart!” The doctor, played by Jess Harnell (the voice of Wakko Warner from Animaniacs, and Finkelstein’s official voice actor from this point on), is glad to help, saying a heart isn’t that complicated. He consequently introduces a few Halloween-y ingredients he claims make up a heart. The first ingredient is a container with a lock: a gruesome, pumping heart-like thing that Finkelstein just has lying around, made of stitched together mummified flesh and metal bonds. They can’t proceed without unlocking the bonds, however, and he doesn’t have the key for whatever reason. This forces Sora and the others to decide if they want to help.
Sora decides that this is a great idea. Not only does he want to see the Heartless dance (…Sora…), but he also makes a great point: if this works, the entire Heartless problem could be solved in a sweep. I know, I know, TV shows and movies for ages have warned against taking the easy way out, but not only do I feel that’s sometimes fallacious logic, does manufacturing a heart for demons sound like the easy way out? Besides, Sora isn’t really deviating from the plan, as far as he knows it. Sora doesn’t know what the current plan even is: he’s just trying to find King Mickey to do Mickey’s plan. Why not give this one a shot?
Also, I think it’s interesting to note that, as far as Finkelstein is concerned, the lock is an integral part of the heart. If Finkelstein is correct, it is part of the heart’s nature to be either exposed and open, or locked and sealed away. What a dire outlook on human nature, and yet if you think about it, the Heartless are “unlocked” by your Keyblade and thus freed, so it must be true, however dark the implications. The way Halloween Town focuses on building up the thematic core of the series works to its strength. When the other worlds branch out from their plot island, it’s usually to focus on advancing the main plot (Agrabah) or character development (Deep Jungle). Halloween Town’s thematic angle is just as good if not better, and good variety too.
So Sora unlocks the heart with the Keyblade. In a great delivery (I don’t know what it is, Chris Sarandon or the writers, but I think it’s Chris Sarandon), Jack realizes he’s been so involved in his project he doesn’t even know Sora’s name, and now that Sora’s already done him a favour, maaaaaybe he should ask about that.
With the heart unlocked, Finkelstein and Jack gather the remaining ingredients that they imagine make up a heart: Pulse (a twitching frog, reminiscent of the electrical experiments that inspired Mary Shelly to envision Frankenstein); Emotion, which they divide into Terror (a spider), Fear (nails on glass, which is hilarious), and Hope and Despair (an orange and purple snake eating one another in an ouroboros??). I feel like I could talk about this all day and still not understand what I’m saying! The developers clearly put a lot of effort into this sequence, with so many unique models and a uniquely shot bit of exposition, so I can’t help but think about it in the larger context, even if it’s a biased approach to understanding hearts.
Finkelstein tries to activate the heart with these ingredients, but it fails (who knows what it was supposed to do), and Finkelstein decides to add more ingredients. In the most fortuitous bits of incidental dialogue I’ve ever seen, he suggests they add “memory.” The heart being made up of memory, you say? Do you hear that, folks? That’s the sound of a trail of dominoes so long, we might never see the end of it.
After a moment spent exploring the lab (the last Torn Page can be found shoved into Finkelstein’s bookshelf), you head out looking for Memory and run into the Mayor, who tells Jack the Heartless have gone berserk. It seems they’ve been provoked by our first attempt to create a heart. Back to work.
Halloween Town is special in Kingdom Hearts, in that not only are there a lot of new Heartless built just for it, but every Heartless here is specially reskinned to fit the appearance of the town. There are no bright colours here, just a drab, Claymation-style texture, and they all look great, especially the Shadows. The two new Heartless are pretty nice, as well. There are the Wight Knights, a mummy footsoldier, who move in large dramatic motions that make them easy to hit but hard to avoid; the Gargoyles, which can launch long-range attacks and disappear on you, a real pain.
On your side, you have Jack, the only Guest character to fill the Red Mage mix of attack and attack magic. Jack’s magic is all very expensive, however. No Fire for him, he jumps straight to Gravity, and if you use him without turning off a few Abilities, he’ll be drained faster than not. Players of the original PS2 version should probably skip him entirely, due to an oversight we’ll discuss later, but players of Final Mix and 1.5 don’t need to worry and can go with whomever they want.
The “memory” you’re looking for is a Forget-Me-Not, held by Finkelstein’s daughter Sally, voiced by Sora’s mother, Kath Soucie. Soucie also voiced Sally in the Nightmare Before Christmas PS2 game. She’s been all over the board with Disney, including the voice of Kanga from 2000-2010 (though oddly, she would not do the voice when Kanga appears in KH2, despite being attached to KH2 in other roles? The role went instead to Tress MacNeille, who was another Kanga veteran. I can imagine the person in charge of casting was torn). You find Sally hiding in the graveyard with the help of Jack’s dog Zero, and she says she was hiding the forget-me-nots because she’s afraid of what will happen if the Heartless, already rampant, get a full heart to provoke them. Still, she hands the flowers over out of her love/infatuation for Jack.
Unfortunately, the entire conversation has been overheard by the three little imps, Lock, Shock and Barrel (voiced by Harnell, Soucie and Bennet, in a good use of existing resources), who were hiding in a nearby coffin. They agree to go tell their bully-boss, Oogie Boogie, right away. A few scenes later, we see the meeting, where we meet Oogie for the first time. Well… we meet him officially for the first time. Oogie is another a member of Maleficent’s counsel who never mentions or implies that he is a member of Maleficent’s counsel, except it’s even stranger here than it was with Ursula. Oogie is intrigued by the idea of a heart and wants to get ahold of it to control the Heartless himself. Wait a minute – every member of Maleficent’s group we’ve seen can already do that! Technically, we won’t see Captain Hook control the Heartless either, but why did Oogie get a pass? If he’s not on good terms with the boss, I’d have liked to have seen it, but like Ursula, we don’t get to see them interacting, probably because this world is optional and there were too many late-game variables to account for.
Oogie here is played by Ken Page, voice of the infamous “Big-Lipped Alligator” King Gator from All Dogs go to Heaven. He’s also a member of the original Broadway cast of Cats!
You return to Finkelstein, who springs another fetch quest on you immediately. You could argue that this fetch quest is designed to better pace the cutaways between Oogie and the imps, but I don’t think so – I’ll say why in a minute. Like a lot of these “no good reason” moments in KH1, this one also comes down to a mini-game. This time, you have to go talk to the Mayor to get “Surprise” for the heart. And where is the Mayor? Why he’s past the graveyard of course, meaning you could have saved yourself a walk if Finkelstein had given all your instructions at once! The graveyard appears to be a dead end at first glance, but if you clear out the Heartless in the area, the coffin the imps were hiding in will open up and… teleport you away. Presumably this is why you weren’t given your instructions all at once: the three imps couldn’t have eavesdropped at you from the coffin if you were going to climb into the coffin five seconds later. You could also argue that the scene with the imps was supposed to teach you to open the coffin, but I feel that doesn’t hold water. If they had peered out of a door, that might have worked, but the coffin doesn’t make sense as a route in the first place!
Once you emerge from the coffin, you find yourself in another part of the graveyard, where the Mayor plays a short game of Simon Says with you and some impressive looking ghosts. This is also probably the only Simon Says minigame I’ve ever seen that doesn’t force you to do multiple rounds. Just do it once and you’re fine, it can be over in a blink. I don’t really even know what to say. The Mayor gives you a jack-in-the-box for your “Surprise,” and sends you on your way.
I don’t even need to tell you what happens next, do I? You complete the heart and the three imps steal it. There was more surprise in that unseen jack-in-the-box! You’d think Sora might have been on his guard that the Heartless might attack, but no, everyone’s just sitting around like Cecil Harvey staring at the arm of Golbez going three feet an hour towards a powerful magic Crystal. Well, Sora, you’re not going to get any sympathy from me when you have to go all the way back to Oogie’s place.
But first, it’s time for the reason I hate playing in this world.