Axel gave you five cards at the end of Floor 1, and now you’re on the last of the set. You just know that some plot stuff is going to happen at the other side of this floor, because if it didn’t, you’d be at a dead end, wouldn’t you?
We return to Axel and Larxene at their crystal ball. This is that other half of the scene with the awful voice direction that I mentioned earlier. Larxene opens the scene happy that Sora is remembering the blonde girl. This isn’t that surprising when you think about it: Sora was led here by one of the cloaked Organization members, they have the girl in one of their rooms, and they obviously want him to remember something related to their captive. The question becomes what they want specifically, and why.
Larxene says that she’s going to take it from here, and Axel gives her the next set of World Cards. The 3D version then skips several lines from the GBA original in hopes that a close-up on Axel’s disgruntled face will convey the same emotion. It does not. In the GBA, Axel reminds Larxene that they’re supposed to “deliver [Sora] in one piece,” which I think is kind of an important detail for them to forget.
While the 3D version shouldn’t have been cutting lines, I can guess why they did it: they wanted to make it clearer that Axel’s interest in Sora is personal, and they screwed up by relying too heavily on their limited facial animation. Quinton Flynn makes up for it with his one good line in this scene: “Don’t break him.” It’s not said in his playful voice or his expository voice: it’s an unmasked, personal threat.
The 3D versions then skip another line in which Axel says “Sora is one of us.” This line may have been cut for impact, or perhaps because it doesn’t quite match up with the truth from KH2, but I think it’s an interesting hint, and certainly mysterious. Remember the Unknown from KH1 saying “It seems you are special too […] It means you are not whole. You are incomplete.” I would have kept it.
Larxene promises that she isn’t going to break “the toy” and Axel gives up on dancing around the issue and says that they need Sora to take over the Organization. A conspiracy among the bad guys! Larxene is surprised to hear this at first, but says she should have known Axel was in on the conspiracy. This is neat, if unusually delivered. We don’t know anything about this Organization, and it already has more goings on it in than the average villain group. I’m impressed by how well the game is handling it so far. Larxene cautions Axel to ush-hay about the onspiracy-cay, but the minute she leaves, Axel starts laughing at her for not keeping quiet in front of him. Oo, conspiracy and a double agent! And the worst two voice acted scenes are done and we never have to talk about it again! We’re on a roll!
After all that talk between the Organization members, the game doesn’t waste much time with the quintet. “Hey Sora,” says Donad and/or Goofy. “Do you remember your friend we were talking about twelve seconds ago before we were interrupted by an episode break?” “No!” says Sora, and the scene immediately ends. Un. Believable.
Agrabah begins well enough. The entire World takes place within the city, which is a little dull, but you could say the same thing about all the CoM worlds. You walk straight into town and smack into Aladdin, who is surrounded by Heartless. Everyone dives in.
I didn’t get around to saying in Halloween Town, but it’s very hard to feel threatened in these intro battles. You’ve had two save points since the last World, and unless you came here straight from Traverse Town, there was no boss in between. This fight in particular has more waves than the average, but it’s still not really putting you in danger. There’s a reason I’m mentioning this, and it’s because Aladdin eventually gives up on the fight and wishes the Heartless away. Pathetic! They’re so desperate to recreate KH1 that they’re making the characters look like idiots!
The Genie says hello, and we get around to him wanting to be wished free so fast it’s pathetic. I said it in KH1, but these games are just running the bases with the plot of Aladdin. Guess how coded is going to go?
Agrabah doesn’t really add much in terms of variety to the dynamic level design. There are no booby traps attacking you or barring your path, though you can run into those drop-away shutters from before. At least I think they drop away. They sure take their damn time, and they’re pretty rare to boot. Oh, and all the Pot Spiders from KH1 have been replaced with Barrel Spiders because Pot Spiders don’t exist in this game. One nice thing that does happen on Agrabah’s overworld is its Looming Darkness room in the remake, which is made up of market stalls in a sort of destructible maze. The Heartless in a Looming Darkness room try to bum-rush you, so destroy the stalls and you’ll be giving them a beeline!
Since Agrabah has nothing worth talking about, let’s talk about Blue Map Cards instead. The Blue cards are a more expansive topic than the Red and Green, offering all kinds of features, as well as a higher drop rate for cards when you break objects in the rooms they spawn. Let’s start with the worst of the set! Remember when I bemoaned the use of the Random Joker on its own, and that it just creates a random room you could have created manually? That’s because it duplicates the function of the Mingling Worlds card, which does nothing but provide a random room that will never be the room you want. It’s a card that is only interesting if you’re so bored with CoM that you’d rather do anything other than play intelligently. It doesn’t even necessarily have the boosted drop rate from destructibles, since it “stops being” a blue card if it picks a red or green room. Chuck ’em.
I’ve also mentioned the Moment’s Reprieve in the past, which gets you a Save Point. The only notable thing about this card is the fact that it uses this weird black diamond icon, which represented save points in the GBA version, but represents fuckall in the 3D!
More interesting are the Bounty cards. The game starts with the Calm Bounty card, which is far and away the best. There are no downsides to Calm Bounties, but they become less common after the game introduces more Blue Cards, including shittier Bounty variants (by design!). These cards are all about chests: Calm Bounty is a freebie with no Heartless at all, Guarded Bounty has Heartless, including pre-set Heartless protecting the chest directly, and False Bounty will have you dealing with Monsters-In-Boxes alongside the “real” chest, a mechanic borrowed from more traditional turn-based RPGs. As I mentioned earlier, you can fight Black Mushrooms to get easy Calm Bounty cards, which is the best evidence that Calm Bounties were gradually restricted by design.
The prize in the Bounty rooms are identical no matter how much trouble you go through to find them. Each World has a unique treasure you’ll get the first time you visit a Bounty room, after which the Bounty will be a random prize no better than the kind you can get at random from destroying props in he environment. The unique prizes are definitely worth your trouble, such that you should never skip a World without using a Bounty card there if you can help it. The Bounty might unlock a new card or a special attack that’s added to your portfolio. The random prizes are… less impactful.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to backtrack to Traverse Town to get its Bounty prize, since Bounties were only unlocked on Floor 2, but it’s not all bad.
The Moogle Room is the last of the blue cards, and the maybe the most important one. The Moogle Room features a pair of the fluffy critters manning a shop and… cauldron? Essentially, the Moogle will sell you blister packs of 5 random Cards, just like a real-world collectible card game, in exchange for Moogle Points. These Cards can be any card you’ve previously unlocked, and come in four flavours: all Attack, all Magic, all Item and finally, combination packs, made of a random set of any mix of cards. The packs are illustrated with a special “buckle” holding them together to indicate their rarity. The cards clasped by a vine are going to be low-grade, the ones with a Moogle buckle will be best, with a variety of other buckles in between, unlocked as you go through the game. All of the packs can have Premium Cards, though that doesn’t ensure those Premium Cards will be any good…
The Moogle will give you a free pack of Attack cards just for coming, but only has four of each type of pack if you’re a big spender. As a result, you’re going to have to and will want to use multiple Moogle Room cards when you’re looking for a certain card, both for extra packs on sale and for the freebie. Moogle Rooms are pretty much the only way you’re going to get any serious cards into your deck. Want the cards you need to set up a special attack, or want to replace all fifteen or so of your old Kingdom Key or Wishing Star Keyblades with Oblivions and Diamond Dusts at the end of the game? Want 0 cards and Cure cards? Well they’re not all going to drop from barrels, that’s for sure.
The trouble is, the Moogle Points you need to get this many cards aren’t going to drop from barrels either. It’s clear the game intended you to make money by selling defunct cards to the cauldron Moogle. Who knows what he’s doing with them (…eating them? making glue…?). Cauldron Moogle will pay extra money for Premium Cards, so even if you don’t care to use the shiny things, they’ll still prove valuable at the sale table.
PS3 players also have Trophies to deal with as far as Moogle are concerned, including a counter-intuitive side-quest to amass (not spend!) more Moogle Points than is conducive to your safety. Where are you going to get that kind of cash without putting yourself in danger? There are two ways to cheese the system, and Agrabah is just the place to do one. Every time Aladdin hits an enemy via his Friend Card, the enemy will drop Moogle Points. A thorough trip through Agrabah can nest you one or two thousand Moogle Points! It’s well worth the return trip later in the game.
The second way to game the system is to wait to the end of the game, save, sell all your cards to make a small fortune, and then reload your save.
Back to the plot. The Agrabah Key of Beginnings cutscene is a complete waste of time. We still aren’t really going anywhere at this point thanks to all the old KH1 and film ground CoM feels like it has to cover, even though it could have written its own plot without having to clear out these cobwebs. Aladdin talks over some old points, though he does explain something he didn’t from KH1, which is that Jafar led him to the Cave of Wonders to find the lamp. Aladdin also explains about wanting to marry Jasmine, and like in KH1, Genie raises the idea of “Prince Ali” as a throwaway reference that will never happen. Hey! I don’t care!
In fact, I feel like I should go straight to the Key of Guidance room. This scene is amazing in the 3D versions. I’ll start with the GBA version. In the GBA version, this scene takes place in a cavernous room. Sora and the others enter two or three storeys up and a find Jasmine under attack by Heartless, both far away and far below. Sora shouts: “We’ll never make it in time!”
In the 3D versions, they reused the smallest room in the entire Agrabah set: the back-alley where you first met Jasmine. It’s not as though Agrabah has no large rooms, but they chose to set it here all the same. Sora and friends are standing five feet above Jasmine, with boxes nearby to cushion their fall if they chose to get down daintily. Jasmine is within spitting distance, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Sora could trip and fall on top of a Shadow. Sora shouts: “We’ll never make it in time!” So Aladdin wastes a wish.
Genie gets rid of the Heartless and the team rushes to Jasmine’s side. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get up, ever, at any point in the entire world, because that would require the GBA team to draw extra sprites, and the 3D versions just didn’t care to improve it. This whole world is a comedy disaster. It’s beautiful! Just then, more Heartless arrive, and Aladdin forgets we fought off at least two dozen Heartless troops just getting to this room, and tries to waste his third and final wish before Sora interrupts. The fight’s not even that hard, yet for some reason it rewards you with your first Ether. Ethers are to spell cards what Potions are to Keyblade cards, which is to say: useless. While Potions can be justified, it’s because you typically have two to three times as many Keyblade cards as you do spell cards, and if you’ve already been to Olympus Coliseum, you already have the Hi-Potion and have learned just how underwhelming the basic Potion was in the first place. Some kind of Hi-Ether would be great! Instead they’re giving us this little blue cube that should have been unlocked during the tutorial. Maybe the Ether plus the low difficulty of the boss is a sign that you’re supposed to go to Agrabah early on, but I still say thanks for nothing, CoM.
Jafar shows up after this battle, to reveal that he was actually trying to get Aladdin to blow his three wishes, so that he could acquire the magic lamp. And you know? Hold on to your hats, this is a huge observation: I’m not sure this is actually a very good plan. I know, right? Let’s even just set aside the fact that Aladdin only wasted his wishes because he’s lost all sense of perspective: how does Jafar expect to get the lamp after Aladdin wastes his wishes? How does Jafar know the lamp won’t just transport to a faraway hiding place after it’s been used up? (I think that’s how it worked in the TV show.) And even if it wasn’t whisked away by magic, there’s still a problem. I understand not attacking Aladdin while he has the lamp – that would be suicide – but it seems to me that Aladdin could just pass the lamp to Sora, Donald, Goofy or Abu, and they could wish too! Your plan lacks a certain foresight.
No worries though: Jafar somehow gets his hands on the lamp off-screen. Presumably Iago took it like in KH1, but the nuances were lost on the GBA sprites and the 3D version foolishly follows their lead, making it seem like Jafar just has the lamp somehow. Jafar wishes for Genie to bring Jasmine to him rather than fight the heroes, and proclaims that he plans to marry her. For all I’ve been ragging on this world, its careful incorporation of the Aladdin plot to fill the holes left in the KH1 plot is pretty well done. It’s well done, but… I don’t think it needed to be done to begin with? I’ve already seen this plot in 1992! Couldn’t you have done something even vaguely new like every other world in the first set?
Jafar leaves, and Aladdin starts to pout, prompting Sora to make a speech that maybe Aladdin should get up and do something instead of relying entirely on wishes. And I’m not really sure where the game is going with this? Is this… is this the moral? The lesson Sora is going to take back into Castle Oblivion? “Get up and do stuff instead of relying on your magical genie slave?” I feel inspired, both in fiction and in my real life!
To make this all even harder to swallow, I grew up watching Aladdin’s sense of adventure pull him through three films and an 86-episode TV series. This is out of character! Is Aladdin’s defeatism supposed to be coming from Sora’s subconscious? Is this moral supposed to represent Sora’s temptation to ask Axel for answers, which Sora clearly thinks is cheating?
Oh, wait, nevermind, scratch all that. This sequence is only here so Sora can say “Losing someone you care about is bad, but not as bad as never getting them back!” Thanks, Sora! That doesn’t seem to be Aladdin’s problem in the first place, but if you say so! Thanks for ignoring Aladdin’s central character traits to make it all about you. This is about Sora wanting to find Riku and (subconsciously or consciously depending on what floor you played the Agrabah card) he may also been thinking about the blonde girl. Now I understand about an eighth of the awful writing in this scene alone!
“Not as bad as never getting them back,” eh? Shit, if this girl is dead, Sora’s burst like a ripe peach, innit he?
Aladdin, thankfully, comes up with a plan to stop Jafar, but oh man you guys. This plan. I’m so excited. It’s going to be worth the wait. This whole world is a disaster.
This retrospective’s 2D screenshots come from RickyC’s longplay of the GBA version of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories at World of Longplays (YouTube), while 3D screenshots come from BlueGator’s longplay of the 1.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories at Temple of the Azure Flame (segmented version).