After clearing out the first world of any characters’ story, you unlock both the other worlds in the first loop at the same time, one at a lower challenge level than the other. You also unlock a third world up in the top-left corner, which is fully optional and doesn’t fit into the story per se. I actually considered covering that optional world right away, but I discovered only yesterday that Spazbo4 never went there! I’m going to have to rustle up an optional source of screenshots. In the meantime, let’s proceed with the story!
Castle of Dreams, the world of Disney’s Cinderella, is an unusual world for Ven in that it’s one of the only times he arrives at a world first, ahead of his siblings. Urm… sort-of-siblings. …Actually, you know what? Gonna go with “siblings,” both because it’s true and in active defiance of that line from the intro. Oh, and one other teeny tiny detail about Castle of Dreams: Ven has been turned into a teeny-tiny Ven, and he has been caught in a mouse trap. No explanation is ever officially given for this, which is part of what makes it hilarious (although, yeah, one can presume the Fairy Godmother is responsible).
It’s the night of the big ball, and Cinderella is stuck doing chores in hopes that if she gets them done on time, she can attend the ball. Cinderella is voiced by Jennifer Hale, who has had the role since House of Mouse (including both Cinderella direct-to-video sequels). We have an additional Disney connection via video game adaptations of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and several minor roles in the Lilo & Stitch franchise and Sofia the First. She is also the voice of Aayla Secura in many Star Wars adaptations. Of course, you probably know her as the voice of Samus Aran.
Cinderella isn’t actually the first person to find Ven: that would be her mouse friend Jaq, voiced by Rob Paulsen, voice of Yakko Warner, both Raphael and Donatello the Ninja Turtles franchise (depending on adaptation), and PJ on Goof Troop, plus a whole lot more. He’s had the role of Jaq since the first DTV film. Jaq’s dialogue in this game is a piece of work, since it’s accompanied by “plain English” subtitles that are almost hilarious. As you may or may not know, Jaq speaks very rapidly and with an accent. As a result, the subtitles “tone it down” to plain English, only keeping the odd Jaq-ism like “Zugk-zugk.” The plain English is so out-of-keeping with Jaq’s actual dialogue that I keep expecting it to translate “Cinderelly! Come on! Gotta flurry! Gotta flurry!” into something like:”I say my dear lady, we must make haste t’wards the sitting room wherein we shall indubitably find—” and so I often find myself laughing at jokes that aren’t actually taking place.
Also, I just can’t help but notice how out of proportion Ven’s head is to Jaq’s. This is not where I should be staring, and yet here I am.
Also introduced in this sequence is one of the worst pieces of background music in the series, “Bippity Boppidi Boo.” It’s essentially an instrumental version of the Fairy Godmother’s trademark song, which if you’ll recall is the words “Bippity Boppidi Boo” and words that sound like “Bippity Boppidi Boo” repeated over and over again. It’s a little repetitive! Which makes for a catchy song with varying lyrics when it’s played once in a film, but here where it’s played on loop without lyrics? For every second you’re not in combat? For three trips? Plus returns to find items? Plus the entirety of this world’s Command Board, which thanks to some mostly-exclusive commands you can win there, you’ll have to visit at least three times if you want 100% in 2.5, or six times on the PSP, which forces you to complete each board with each character at the Mirage Arena to boost your arena rank? It’s a 47 second loop that will be playing for hours.
Things get started once Cinderella takes teeny Ven and Jaq to her room and talks briefly about the upcoming ball and how she wants to attend but needs a dress. Cinderella is then called off to do chores, and while she’s gone, Jaq fills Ven in on his plan to make Cinderella’s dress in secret, so that she can go to the ball after all. Ven is happy to help, especially once Jaq mentions Cinderella’s “big dream,” which reminds Ven of Terra’s dream to be a Keyblade Master. Unfortunately, Jaq hasn’t seen Terra, but enough about the main plot, we’ve got a dress to make!
Oh, but before you leave, you’ll want to buy Cure from the Moogle in Cinderella’s bedroom. No, thank you for the business!
Ven’s segment of the Castle of Dreams was used as an early playable demo at trade shows, so it’s no surprise that it may be the most detailed section of the entire game. That’s great, because it means it’s all downhill from here! Sadly this is true. This segment (and let’s be clear: only this segment, not the Castle of Dreams segments belonging to Terra and Aqua at the Castle of Dreams) is one of the only parts of BBS with dedicated exploration-based platforming and a high level of level design detail, so much above the rest of the game that it’s a little disappointing to me that there aren’t more like it.
You get a stress-free introduction to one of the Castle of Dreams’ unique mechanics here in Cinderella’s bedroom: Ven can ride balls of yarn and steer it around like a log roller. You can also knock the ball around with your Keyblade if it gets stuck. The yarn is great! It’s basically the only feature you could ever need. Not only does the yarn help you get to high places, but it more-or-less instantly steamrolls any Unversed you come across, which is a little goofy (especially for Bruisers) but all part of the fun. Dear KH3 development team: weaponize yarn today!
After a quick climb through the walls of Cinderella’s house, you come to the dressing room, where you’re going to be doing your scavenger hunting. Jaq has given you a laundry list of buttons and ribbons to track down, all of which are in this room, though you won’t be able to reach all the prizes from this one entrance. As one of the larger and busier rooms in the game (well, “larger” at Ven’s size), this is also one of the most populated, but the balls of yarn in the room can help you take control from the Unversed. Then again, you might want to give basic combat a roll, if only to try out your new Command Style, Firestorm.
Command Styles and Finishers are inextricably linked in the way they’re deployed, despite having very little in common otherwise. You get to use your Finisher by filling the bar above your commands, right? Well not quite. Command Styles also use the top bar, and have priority over Finishers – despite using Finishers 100% of the time up until now, they’re actually a sort of consolation prize, a safety net for when things go wrong with Command Styles! Command Styles will gradually take over from Finishers as you unlock more and more of them, to the point where you’d almost have to work consciously not to use a Command Style!
To use a Command Style, you simply need to use an associated Command while filling up the bar. For example, to use Firestorm you have to use fire-aligned commands. The specifics aren’t very clear, but it seems the associated commands have to fill a certain, low percentage of the bar (and once you’re locked in to doing a Command Style, the element chosen has to be a greater percentage than any other Command Style-triggering element). This would probably be easier to calculate if it weren’t for the fact that the bar shrinks if you leave it be for too long, and once it does, how does the game determine how much of the bar is filled up with certain kinds of attacks considering the bar is draining? Do they shrink proportionally? Based on which was most recent? Like I said, the specifics are unclear.
If you fill the bar under the right circumstances, instead of getting a Finish attack, your character will activate their Command Style. The Command Style imbues your regular attacks with special powers: for example, Firestorm replaces your default combo with a special combo full of fire attacks. Note that while the three characters have different playstyles on a regular day, they more-or-less share their standard attacks while using common Command Styles, including the Finish attack that comes at the end of the style. For Firestorm, the Finish attack is a special jump attack that lobs down a wave of flame that does some real hefty damage against groups… assuming your character chooses to attack a group as opposed to some random Flood standing off to one side. Command Styles will remain in play until the bar exhausts (usually because a fight has outright ended) or until you used its Finish attack.
Counter-intuitively, you can continue to use other commands while in a Command Style, even if they’re from another element! Sure, your Keyblade may be actively on fire, but you can still fling ice like the best of them!
Finish Attacks aren’t as simple as they appear either! Finish Attacks are unlocked based on a tech tree of sorts, where your currently equipped Finish Command determines which new ones will gain experience and eventually unlocked. What gives a Finish Command EXP? Hell if you know. The game refuses to explain, so you have to work it out through trial and error. The Finish attacks are colour-coded, which can help in a few cases, but not most of them.
Finish commands that share your current character’s signature colour tend to gain experience from CP, same as your commands. Yellow Finish Attacks (“Gold Rush”) gain experience from Munny you collect off the ground or from special commands. Okay, munny is yellow, so that makes sense. But another Finish Command, coloured black, gains EXP from taking steps! A light-green Finish Attack is a giant troll. You have to use Second Chance and Once More to level it up, abilities you might not even have! Lastly, there are at least three Finish Attacks tied and colour-coded to the basic-level Command Styles. Thankfully, none of these are required to complete the Journals. They’re not hard to complete, but I’d hate to forget about them until later, because some of them can take a very long time!