Beyond the dwarfs’ cottage, Ven enters the spooky forest from early in the film, when Snow White flees from the huntsman and encounters all sorts of spooks and frights. Of course, we’re not Snow White, so the forest seems perfectly normal at first. There aren’t even any Unversed!
At the edge of the forest, you encounter Snow White, who is on her own and crying. As I look at her from this limited angle, I find myself surprised to notice that her blue and red sleeves resemble the face and tear-like eyes of a Vanilla version Unversed, namely a Flood or a Scrapper. That’s probably just a coincidence, but boy does it look similar! The tear-like eyes of the Unversed have drawn a lot of discussion in the past, but if they were just based on Snow White’s wardrobe in a salute to early Disney animation, that’s certainly cute but takes a bit of emotional wind out of them, doesn’t it?
Snow White is voiced by Carolyn Gardner, who has had the role since 2001 (around the time of House of Mouse, but actually in a different production called Mickey’s Magical Christmas) until 2011. Gardner is only known for this role, and I’m afraid I can’t find much more out about her!
Snow White tells Ven that the trees were attacking her, and Ven empathizes with and comforts her. She calms down a little too fast if you ask me. You get used to it (or you’ll get driven up the wall by it, there is no middle ground), because BBS as it seems to have taken its identity as a portable game to heart with extremely short scenes designed to keep players from missing important stuff on the way to work or school. It can be very jarring and abrupt! At least they understand the economy of time, but takes a lot of the emotional punch out of certain scenes. Despite its somewhat rushed emotional impact, keep this scene in mind, as it seems to have been designed to be viewed in contrast with another scene we’ll be seeing later in another character’s first set of worlds.
Snow White mentions that she has nowhere to stay at night, which prompts Ven to mention the unoccupied cottage he saw on his way there. At first this seems awful presumptuous of him (if we’ve learned much about Ven in the past ten minutes or so, it’s that he’s a disobedient little shit who thinks ahead even less than Sora, which is why he was so highly favoured in the Idiot Ball draft pick), but after a little thought I realize that I’d probably do the same thing. Snow White could quickly confirm that she couldn’t go back the way she came, which leaves the cottage as the first possible place she could check for safe haven. Couldn’t hurt to ask, and all that.
Unfortunately, the road back to the Cottage won’t be as easy as the road to here. Just as you’d expect, the trees come alive to attack Snow White, even though there’s no explanation for this. Remember, they were just Snow White’s fear in the original film, and they don’t seem to resemble Unversed! I can only assume the Queen’s magic is involved. Bear in mind that with the Heartless are still more-or-less encaged in the Realm of Darkness at this point in the timeline, the developers can’t lean on “darkness” as an ambient excuse for every little question mark that crops up in the journey. Of course, the Unversed attack our duo as well, leading to Kingdom Hearts’ second, 100% traditional escort mission. Whoop. Ee.
Snow White is going to panic and follow a zig-zag pattern through the woods here, and she’s fairly rigid about it, so you can at least know where she’s going to go on subsequent playthroughs. You know. Once you lose. Don’t feel bad, it’s an escort mission, there’s no shame in losing to one of those.
Both the Unversed and the trees are serious dangers here, since either can deplete Snow White’s “Damage” bar if you aren’t minding her at the time. The game does mercifully have the Unversed stand around staring at Snow White for a while before they attack, but the trees aren’t so generous, probably because they’re rather slow to move to begin with. The trees have an over-large health bar. Since trees only come to life when Snow White is nearby, I can’t imagine you could kill them with Ven’s current techniques, at least not before they kill her. Instead, you should stand near Snow White and use a Quick Time Event that pops up during the trees’ attacks to rescue her. I don’t think anyone will mind if I call these rare QTEs “Reaction Commands,” would you? This first one is called White Calm, which causes the trees to be defeated instantly. Unfortunately, Snow will take at least a scrap of damage in the process (probably more) and the game won’t show the Reaction Command unless you’re in the right place at the right time, which is a problem with many of BBS’ reaction commands, especially when it comes to teammates (and, I’m sorry to say, even more escortees).
Once you’re through the escort section, you must hit one more QTE to end it (not unlike KH2’s final Holy during the escort of Minnie during Disney Castle). Ven takes Snow White to the Cottage, where they split up, only for the dwarfs to return from work. You can see why the developers did this: it allows the film’s scene to play out (off-screen) without Ven complicating it, given his poor reputation with the dwarfs. Sure enough, once Ven returns, the dwarfs have taken a shine to Snow, but still aren’t willing to talk to Ven despite Snow vouching for him.
Luckily, Snow is able to talk to Ven long enough to explain how she got caught up in the woods in the first place. It seems there wasn’t a hunter in this version of the story, at least not traditionally. Instead, she was approached by a young man carrying a Keyblade: Terra. Snow explains that she was attacked (presumably by Unversed) when Terra arrived, and Doc assumes that Terra summoned them. Snow isn’t willing to say as much, since she’s noticed that Terra was Ven’s friend and doesn’t want to implicate him, but it’s clear that Ven is jarred (interesting “trust” you’ve garnered with your family, Terra). Of course, the dwarfs are convinced that any friend of Ven’s must be pure evil. Ven angrily promises to prove the dwarfs are wrong, and he runs back into the forest to find the scene of the crime.
Unfortunately, on the return trip, Ven is cut off by a giant Unversed in the shape of a monstrous tree. Once again we can see this as a sign that Ven wasn’t supposed to go first, since the boss shows up with almost no preamble, and Ven seems hardly surprised to see it, but I’m sticking with my Ven-first route, faults and all.
The boss is the Mad Treant, decorated with a “summer” colour scheme in Vanilla and dark bark and an “autumn” theme in FM (the dark colouration from FM seems designed to better resemble the actual, bluish trees bordering the area, but it makes the battle a little too darkly lit, in my opinion). Bad news: you have to fight this boss even though poor Ven almost certainly hasn’t levelled up over the course of Dwarf Woodlands, even if you fought every enemy in the game so far short of returning to old rooms to grind. Yes, that means you quite possibly have to do Ven’s first boss at Level 1! But it gets worse. The biggest threat in this boss fight is the same in all of BBS’ first boss fights: unless you’ve been getting lucky or clever during the board game feature I mentioned in passing during the tutorial, you won’t have the Cure spell and are forced to rely on D-Links or Items to heal.
Oh, have I not talked about Items? That’s probably because I don’t use them, but you probably should in this first boss fight at least. Items exist as part of the Command system, and must take up a Command slot to be of any use. Items can be used at any time, with no reload delay, but are of a very limited quantity. For example, you get three Potions on a single, equipped item command panel (assuming you have three Potions, of course!). Once they’re used up, you’ve essentially lost the Command Panel until the battle is over. One big nuisance about items is that you can’t use them directly from the menu: you haven’t to equip them to the reel, use them and then unequip them, and every time you equip or unequip something to the reel, every non-Item command has to cooldown again! This is true in all three Command Deck games! What a pain.
If it makes you feel any less guilty about using Items, it helps that your Commands are generally garbage at this point in the game, good for minor enemies but no good for boss-fighting whatsoever. You won’t be hurting if you toss one or two of them for an Item command!
The Mad Treant’s primary strategies are to bombard the field with its bomb-fruit, which inflict Poison (BBS actually has a traditional Poison status, unlike Days). It also has stomp attacks, which is so predictable from a large-sized Kingdom Hearts enemy at this point that I almost didn’t mention it. The Treant can also attack you from below with its roots, but only if it implants itself in the ground, so it’s up to you to debate whether or not to attack (and risk being hit on landing) or to run and be safe.
Like any BBS boss to come (especially slow ones like this), it’s important to abuse Shotlocks, though it can be possible to take this too far and make the boss too easy. On the other hand, being stranded without Cure makes me testy, and I’m willing to break whatever difficulty is necessary to get on with the game and get my precious Cure spell back.
One other thing to bear in mind with every BBS boss is that they eventually get angry and enter a second phase, but it’s rarely a concern with these first few bosses. In the Treant’s case, it adds some bombs to its stomp attack, but since you should be clearing out of range in the first place, you might not even notice this change!
After defeating the Treant, Ven runs off to the next room, which turns out to be the flower field where Snow White was attacked. Unsurprisingly, Terra is no longer there, but Ven gives him a shout all the same. I can respect this a little more than Sora’s shouting for Riku and Kairi in KH2, considering it’s been a much smaller span of time, so for all he knows Terra might be nearby, buuuuut… it’s also an open field that Ven can see perfectly well, so it’s still a little silly. While Ven doesn’t encounter Terra, he does encounter a local: the evil Queen in her disguise as an old woman. They’re introduced when the Queen somehow manages to drop her one poisoned apple and Ven ironically returns it to her. Oh yes, a truly effective villain is passing us by here today in Kingdom Hearts.
The Queen is voiced by Susanne Blakeslee, the voice of Maleficent, which sounds neat until you realize the casting director gave her the villain’s role in all three of this game’s inner worlds. While I initially chastized this, it turns out it’s partially for a reason (spoilers!): Maleficent is one of them, and another villain shares Maleficent’s original voice actress, Eleanor Audley. Maybe you already know who I’m talking about? The Queen here is the exception, which makes the casting disappointing. It ultimately it makes all three villains sound nearly the same, with only this “witch” disguise sounding any different.
While Ven and the Queen are initially polite, things take an ugly turn when the Queen notices Ven’s Keyblade. She remarks that she’s seen another one, and says that Terra (“that ruffian”) threatened her with the Keyblade, demanding to know about Xehanort. This is cleverly phrased: the Queen is a villain, so the player might be inclined to distrust her outright, but there’s no way she could have learned the name “Xehanort’ unless Terra really did ask her about it, which lends her claim a certain authenticity it would have lacked entirely without it.
The Queen becomes more and more irritated with Ven as he asks additional questions (“Must you all menace a poor Granny so?”), essentially forcing Ven to break off the conversation and allow her to go about her malicious business, leaving the plot of Dwarf Woodlands in the hands of another player character – namely, Aqua.
Not that you’d notice. Worlds essentially “freeze” where you leave them in BBS, even if there are plot segments left to go, so Snow White will stay where she is for the rest of Ven’s story, unpoisoned and living with the dwarfs. You could say that after KH2 and BBS having us return to each world multiple times, BBS almost doesn’t want you to come back! …Ever!
(This freezing isn’t universal. For example, in Ven’s third world, Aqua later opens some passages after she leaves. Those will open up for Ven on return trips! But other times nothing changes. It’s irregular.)
You get three prizes for clearing Dwarf Woodlands – or five, if you count the prizes from the Treant. Not bad! Representing the world itself is a keychain, which becomes the Treasure Trove, a balanced Keyblade. It’s important to note that the world-based Keyblades in BBS are all identical across the three player characters (excusing minor aesthetic changes designed to fit their size and grip), so not every Keyblade is going to interest the three characters in the same way or for the same reasons. For example, despite being balanced, the Treasure Trove actually has a lower crit rate and (slightly) lower crit boost than Ven’s Wayward Wind. It’s also a short-length blade, which might discourage Terra, who starts with a long-length blade. Still, being a balanced Keyblade, it’s got something for everyone (for Ven, it has +1 Magic over his Wayward Wind), even if it might not be enough to justify the switch. It pays to be mindful of your Command loadout when you consider your Keyblades.
One other thing has to be said about the Treasure Trove: it’s hideous. Despite introducing several sleek and appealing Keyblades in the form of our characters’ personal blades (Eraqus’ is also very nice, but we’ll get to that later), nearly all the others are cluttered and very often garish. There are definitely garish blades in the past few games, but the design sensibilities of the BBS Keyblades (and for that matter, DDD’s) look awful to me more often than they don’t.
Let’s compare the design of Sora’s first new Keyblade to Ven’s. The Jungle King from Deep Jungle appears to be made of wood and bone: it has two arguably unnecessary spikes on the guard, but it’s otherwise exactly what it claims to be: a Keyblade from Deep Jungle. Compare the Treasure Trove, which is designed after the dwarf mines in Dwarf Woodlands: its grip is decorated with giant gems hot glued to the rim, the shaft is made up of chunky minecart rails (which, I admit, is kind of clever), with an entire pickaxe tied to the tip as the “tooth” of the blade, despite the rails looking like teeth already! There is also a minecart full of gems forming the Keyblade’s shoulder, the part of a modern key that joins the bow/grip to the teeth, despite most Keyblades not even having a shoulder since they’re based on older styles of keys! Oh, and despite the minecart looking like it was clipped onto the Keyblade’s spokes like a damned baseball card out of the 50s.
Obviously these aren’t going to be universal opinions, but I’m just not a fan of the BBS/DDD era of Keyblades (or, for that matter, the upgraded forms of KHX’s blades) and keep hoping, probably against hope, that KH3 might tone it down a little.
Your second prize for clearing the world is a new D-Link, forged between Ven and Snow White. All of Snow White’s “attacks” are based on the seven dwarfs, though you’ll have to unlock several of them by upgrading the D-Link, same as with any D-Link. Some of Snow White’s Commands do exactly what they say on the tin. The “Sleepy” Command is analogous to a Sleep spell, the “Doc” Command casts Cure, etc. But goodness knows they’re not all like that – sadly, this isn’t a game with a built-in sneezing spell. In my opinion, one of the best features of Snow White is the Grumpy command, which is analogous to a command called “Treasure Raid.” It’s even attached to the 0-level D-Link, so it’s available right away! Treasure Raid is a favourite: it’s a standard Strike Raid, except your character can use it to steal an item from an enemy’s drop list. Not only are the odds really good, but you can use it over and over again until it works, which is more than we can say for killing enemies normally. Of course, you could eventually get Treasure Raid on your own, but Snow White is ready to help until that day, and she also helps you pull out Treasure Raid should the idea occur to you off-the-cuff.
Unfortunately, most of the Disney D-Links have some sort of overblown finishing attack that might make you resent the entire process. Snow White’s starter finisher is Sweet Memory, a short-ranged tornado attack centred on the caster, which forces you to use QTEs to land extra hits. Her upgraded finisher, Sweet Seven, also uses timed hits. Despite her relatively balanced Command Layout and a D-Link ability that speeds Command reloads, the finisher attacks are just too cumbersome and slow to encourage me to rush to Snow in a combat situation, certainly questionable against a boss.
Ven also got two prizes from the Mad Treant: a Command Deck capacity upgrade and a new Command Style, Firestorm. I’m still going to put off talking about Command Styles, however, so hold your horses.
There are two other features that are unlocked by clearing this world, but we won’t be discussing them in much detail either. The first is unlocked on every world you clear: special “Unversed Challenges” that appear on the world. We’re going to talk about these during Terra’s storyline, just for the sake of plumping it up a bit. The second is a new board for the Command Board mini-game, which are only unlocked on some worlds, and will be put off until we reach Aqua’s storyline. So keep on holding those horses, and see you on the next world!