Ven’s trip to Enchanted Dominion, the home of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, begins with him looking for Terra once again. He wanders around the castle from the film, where he comes across the sleeping Princess Aurora, where he is accosted by the three fairies: Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. They ask what he’s doing there sneaking up on their foster daughter’s bed, and he adds to Kingdom Hearts’ cringe-pile by saying “It’s just, I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful.” Oh Ven, you creeper. This is a rare and dangerous Idiot Ball strategy known as “A point in the net, but also a serious foul.”
The fairies warm up to Ven, Fauna saying that “I’m certain that you have a pure heart, just like our precious Aurora.” Ven asks about the story of Sleeping Beauty and is given it in brief… very brief: “Long ago, Maleficent cursed her.” Well I suppose that is all you need to know! However, she now adds “Now [Maleficent has] stolen her heart.” This might not seem that surprising to any veteran of CoM, but remember that Maleficent stealing hearts in CoM was an imaginary scenario. The only stolen heart in the past was Ansem-Riku stealing the hearts of the six princesses to make his weird Keyblade in KH1, and it hasn’t happened since!
Ven insists on helping out, and the three fairies agree to accompany him. It’s going to be a long walk: you start at (nearly) one end of the world, and I want to say you’re going to walk all the way to the far end, though that’s not strictly true. Maleficent’s castle has a number of alternate paths instead of being a corridor, thank goodness. Still, it’s going to be a bit of a hike.
Two new Unversed are going to greet you part-way to Maleficent’s castle: the Archraven, presumably based on Maleficent’s pet, Diablo, and also the Thornbite. The Archraven is unique among Kingdom Hearts, being more concerned with stealing pickups on the ground (HP orbs, D-Link crystals, etc) than with attacking you (thankfully, as GrovyleTheThief points out, their pickup action doubles as an attack). This isn’t such a bad idea, but has poor implementation: the Archravens rarely lower themselves to your level if there aren’t pickups on the ground, which makes them more tedious to fight than interesting. Something should have been made to “click” in their AI if they were the only surviving enemies, but as it stands you’ll stand around waiting for them to drop low in the sky just so you can hit them! As for the Thornbite, they don’t feel all that distinct on its own, probably because it was meant to be an early enemy for Terra, the same way the Monotrucker was meant to be new to Ventus… even the Monotrucker didn’t show up during Ven’s campaign!. Too bad Aqua doesn’t get a similar grace enemy in her first world (though her first boss spawns Thornbites), because she has a hell of a time without them!
By the way, be careful before you go much further. GrovyleTheThief very observantly noticed that there’s no save point past the clearing mid-way through the world, and after a certain room you pass a “point of no return” and can’t get back to the save point without fighting the world’s boss!
After the long walk out of the castle and through the forest, you’ll come across a wall of green flames preventing you from going any further down the road. This is a peculiar obstacle, but you almost wouldn’t notice what’s weird on a Ven-first playthrough. You see, to keep each world feeling fresh, BBS often walls off certain doors to certain characters, so that the area beyond will be exclusive to other characters. For example: Aqua can’t go to the mines in Dwarf Woodlands, as she’ll be stopped if she tries to go past the cottage. This wall of flame exists to keep Terra from heading down this route into the area beyond. Fair so far.
Here’s the thing: this is one of the only times the game ever provides an in-narrative obstacle to keep one character out of an area restricted for another character. For every other locked door in the game, your character approaches the door and then says, “I don’t want to go in there” or some variant, and that’s it! And no wonder! As arbitrary as those “I don’t want to go in there” doors can be, it takes an entire voiced cutscene to get Ven past the wall of flame! In the end, I’m surprised they created the wall of flame to begin with, because it just seems like a huge expense!
The fairies douse the flames and off you go, into a visually striking room based on the film where you climb an incredibly steep and narrow path up to the castle. It makes for awkward fighting later in the game when enemies appear here, but Ventus will get through unopposed on this trip. You can really tell this room was based on a matte painting, because it doesn’t feel right in 3D space! Once past the castle gates, however, he’ll have to fight a real oddity: minor enemies from the Disney canon! We haven’t seen this since Port Royal! Maleficent has two strains of “Goons” guarding her castle: pig-like melee fighters (armed with spears or maces) and vulture-like missile fighters, all taken from the film. They dissolve into green flames when killed, and in a real curiosity, you can set them all on fire and get them to run around like the pirates in Port Royal, even in international releases! (They have the same “run around as though they were on fire” response to Blizzard spells, which is unusual to say the least.)
It’s hard to believe we’ve been through this many games and are only now seeing Disney minor enemies for the second time! Admittedly, there haven’t been many Disney villains with armies at their disposal, so midbosses and the like have always been more believable, but then you think about people like Shan Yu and realize… no, that’s not as true as it first sounds, is it?
After a showdown with Maleficent’s goons in her throne room, you find your way into a strange room inside the castle that reveals the walls of a magical maze, but they appear only as Ventus approaches the walls. You may already be familiar with this kind of maze – for example, it was a mini-game in Majora’s Mask. This one’s a little different than the MM mini-game in that it’s also a teleporter maze, and it connects to an adjoining room that isn’t easily navigable at this point in the game. Specifically, the adjoining room has a high section and a low section, and you can only go from the high to the low and not the reverse.
Oh, while you’re touring the adjoining room I just mentioned, be sure to see scenic “The Only Door in the World that Ven Won’t Open.” There’s no reason for him not to open it, and his refusal to check ironically pushes Maleficent’s agenda up a step. Thankfully Aqua will set things right before Maleficent can capitalize, but this is still a game of Idiot Ball. Sometimes, in the sport of Idiot Ball, you just have to slam the ball into your own face and knock out a few teeth, and that’s what’s really important. The games’ excuses for not letting characters into exclusive rooms are always janky and usually permanent, but this is probably the worst example in the set, because Ven’s laziness actually does a serious damage!
Finally, Ven reaches the back of the maze, quite possibly by accident and well before you’re finished stripping the place of treasure. There, Ven finds Aurora’s heart (the glowing ball type of heart, like when Sora removed his own), and uses his Keyblade to unseal the magic spell keeping him out. As he does, the heart seems to send him a message, and we see a flashback to earlier in the film when Aurora (Briar Rose) met up with Prince Phillip and how they fell in love. You know, in the abrupt and mockable Disney way. This includes a narratively crucial pickup line from Philip, saying that he and Aurora met “Once upon a dream,” which Aurora eventually repeats. The fairies and Ven chat and Ven declares that Aurora’s “dream came true” in finding her true love. Urm… sure, Ven. Remind me to have Terra and Aqua give you a primer on shitty flirting before you ever go to a nightclub. Also, it’s kind of hard to describe Philip and Aurora’s forest date as a dream coming true considering that, at the moment, she’s trapped in perpetual sleep, being harassed by an evil fairy, and locked away from her beloved… you know.
This is the only time we hear Aurora awake in this game, and her brief role is provided by Jennifer Hale. As for Phillip, he’s voiced by celebrity impressionist Josh Robert Thompson, who beyond his numerous impressions has numerous Disney bit parts, appeared in Epic Mickey 1 and 2, and also FFXIII as someone named Rygdea.
After the flashback, all Ven has to do is leave (perhaps with the help of a nearby teleporter if you’re not looking for chests), but he’s intercepted in the throne room by Maleficent herself. To Ven’s surprise, she is able to recognize his Keyblade and is even able to use that to guess who he is as well! When he asks for an explanation, Maleficent says that the Keyblade was how she stole Aurora’s heart… with Terra’s help. Ventus doesn’t believe her, but considering the evidence (including the fact that she knows Ven’s name) things are suddenly against Ven’s big buddy.
Ven is so angry about this revelation that he draws his Keyblade before he can hear any more. Maleficent says “I was asked to leave you unharmed…but it seems I have no choice!” Unfortunately, asking Maleficent not to harm Ven also seems like something Terra would say, which makes things even worse (and so very elegantly incorporated, as well!).
The fight against Maleficent is relatively straightforward considering she’s been a late-game boss in every previous game (with the arguable exception of R/R). That’s fair, considering she is at her weakest here out of anywhere else in the series, since she hasn’t started using the Darkness like she will in the future. Maleficent teleports around the room, allowing you to easily track her, though the irregular “rim” of the battlefield (plus the pillars) may make direct pursuit impossible in a few cases. Her standard attacks include a Thunder spell and a strange galaxy-looking ramming attack.
Her most powerful attack is to cast a sleep spell on you (it’s funny to think we’ve gone three games before the developers remembered that Maleficent could do that), though this is heavily telegraphed by placing Maleficent in the middle of the room as she casts it. To avoid this, it’s best you locate the three fairies, who up until this moment have been flying uselessly around the arena as balls of light. They will gather together during this attack, and should you join them you’ll be able to use rhythm-game style timed QTE to block Maleficent’s spell and stun her to boot. It’s easier than it sounds, if only because BBS is being incredibly generous with its timed hits.
After the battle, Maleficent is once again heavily wounded (they had the animation left over from KH1 and they were going to use it!), Ven returns to their original conversation as though nothing had happened! He shouts that “Terra would never hurt someone like that!” Maleficent insists that he did, only for Aqua to arrive on scene at the start of her own Enchanted Dominion journey. As we’ll see later in Aqua’s own journey, she has no context for what’s going on beyond Ven’s comment about Terra not hurting anyone, but she adamantly insists that Terra wouldn’t do anything of the sort. This must be so confusing to Aqua-first players! Maleficent starts waxing about friends being blind to the truth. “After all, one never knows the secrets of another’s heart.” She then drops both of their names, which might convince Aqua players that she learned the name from Terra! (Though from Ven’s perspective, we know that she heard it at least once from Ven. Thanks to GrovyleTheThief yet again for that clarification!) I appreciate their trying to make this scene work from Aqua’s perspective as it goes along, but… considering how they started, they fucked up.
Then, to my shock, Aqua starts trying to coax Ven to go back home to Master Eraqus. Right in front of the obvious villain! It took me a long time to realize that Aqua had no signs that Ven and Maleficent had just been fighting, but even then… is this really the best time? Or are you just that desperate to complete an Idiot Ball forward pass? Unfortunately, Ven remembers the boy in the mask saying that Terra wouldn’t be the same, and Ven shouts that he has to find Terra “before it’s too late” and he flees the scene – and the world, as it happens, taking us directly to wrap-up. Don’t… don’t talk to your sister about the home invader that left you with an ominous warning or anything. Or the evil fairy standing just to the right. And you, Aqua, make sure not to tell Ven about the Unversed or anything else you might have learned along the way! That a team!
Two prizes today, if only because Aurora didn’t end up getting a D-Link. First up is the reward for clearing Maleficent: the thunder-based Thunderbolt command style. Second and more interesting is the requisite Keyblade. Hm, if the Treasure Trove was best suited for Ven, and the Stroke of Midnight was best suited for Aqua… this must be suited for Terra, right? Well sorry, wrong. The Fairy Stars Keyblade is a magic Keyblade, and is honestly of very poor quality, being an only mildly upgraded version of Aqua’s starter Keyblade. Only Terra, to whom it’s a two-point magic upgrade, could care for it, but since it comes at a Strength downgrade, I can’t imagine players caring for it all that much. I don’t think we’ve seen a Keyblade flop so hard since that time Days gave us a downgraded version of a Keyblade we got almost for free in Mission Mode! Yeah, I tend to leave the first three worlds with the Stroke of Midnight on Aqua and the Treasure Trove on both boys – if not the Treasure Trove on all three!
That’s it! That’s all you get when you flee the scene early, Ventus, it’s your own fault!