Now that we’ve finished up the game’s half-time show, let’s wind things back a bit before we get too far ahead. After clearing out the first world of each 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. However, you also unlock a third world up in the top-left corner, which offers a far more complicated experience. First off: for anyone actually looking at the new world after their first world, you don’t want to go there quite yet. Trust me on this: start some other world from the first loop, talk to the first Moogle hologram you see, and buy Cure. Now go to the weird world.
This is the Mirage Arena, home of BBS PSP’s multiplayer mode. Or as 2.5 HD players call it: the appendix. Don’t mistake me, the Mirage Arena has a single player experience (in fact, part of it is actually mandatory!), but the multiplayer facet was entirely removed in 2.5, making a lot of its decisions very, very odd in isolation.
By the way, screenshots from the Mirage Arena were taken by me, as Spazbo4 doesn’t cover the place (no, not even the one time you have to go there!). While most of these shots were taken with characters at the end of the game, I had to start a brand new Beginner Mode folder to get that title card up there. Took me seventeen minutes for one picture! I hope you’re all happy.
The first thing you do in the Mirage Arena is to change the colour of your Keyblade Armour. You’re only allowed to wear your Keyblade Armour in the Arena because, in multiplayer, it made more sense for everyone to be armoured and colour-changed so no one would confuse another Terra for their Terra, and everyone could tell which Terra to blame, if you follow me. Of course in 2.5, decorating and indeed wearing your armour is just for fun, included just because they had the code lying around it was no harm to keep it, even if it now serves virtually no purpose. One fun feature in the PSP versions is the ability to add a friend’s deck and current Finish command to your list of D-Links! This feature was cut, though I think it might have been nice if they had given you some presets to choose from, maybe even to buy at a Moogle?
A commonly told story about BBS’ development is that Laguna Loire from FFVIII was supposed to appear in BBS to give the Mirage Arena some story context, but Square Enix’s brass gave the devs an ultimatum: Laguna gets to be in BBS or Dissidia 012, and not both. They chose to put him in Dissidia, and in tried and true Kingdom Hearts tradition, chose to replace him with jack squat. Listen: Square, this isn’t that hard. What you’re looking for is someone who would run an arena. I’m personally thinking some kind of Gambler – a managerial casino boss sort of role. Now there aren’t that many dedicated Final Fantasy gamblers, but all we need is one. Setzer, Selphie and Wakka have all been used. I suppose you could have easily used a character from a Job System game in the role of Gambler, but hold on! We actually have one pre-assigned Gambler left in the series (at the time of BBS’ release), but he’s already perfect: Cait Sith from FFVII. And would you look at that? Not only is he a con man (urm, con men?), but he was first met in a combination mini-game house/arena!
Come on, Square, that wasn’t even as hard as I’m pretending it was. I thought “Gambler” and then I immediately thought “Oh, Cait Sith would be perfect!” Meanwhile, Square, your thought process seems to have been: “I’m going to lunch.” Tell you what, Square: if I look at Cait Sith’s Japanese voice actor and find him already on the Kingdom Hearts’ cast list ready to roll, you owe me a digital English release of SaGa 2 DS.
And the credit goes toooo… Hideo Ishikawa, voice of both Leon and Auron. I’ll see that release on my 3DS in a year, Square.
I asked Kyle from the Marathon to throw me a few other possibilities for an arena manager, since he knows some of the later Final Fantasy games. His focus wasn’t so much on the minigames, like mine, but on the arena side of things, which was a good approach. His first suggestion was recurring character Gilgamesh, which would have been amazing. He also mentions Shadow from FFVI, who was also closely associated with an arena. We’re lapping you, Square.
Ed. Returning to this post now that Kyle and I have gotten into FFVIII, I want to return briefly to the subject of Laguna Loire now that I know more about it. Big spoilers for FFVIII: Laguna is from FFVIII’s past. Based on the Final Fantasy presence we do get in BBS, it strikes me that the writers’ intent may have been to introduce the player to characters from the past of other Final Fantasy games in the same manner as this is the past of Kingdom Hearts? Perhaps they were worried about stranding a character in Kingdom Hearts’ past but then not being able to use them with Sora in the present? Still, I think their giving up at first opportunity was pretty shameless. They could have still plumbed the depths of Crisis Core or Before Crisis (the Legendary Turk, for example), although BC may have been off the table because of its Japan-only release. There may even be Final Fantasy characters that qualify from games I haven’t played yet! Personally, I think Cait Sith still would have worked, as Kingdom Hearts could have made him effectively ageless and he could have interacted with both groups (there’s no need to delve into his real backstory). They could have also aged some older character down 10 years, like they reportedly considered doing to put Cid Highwind in BBS, but never did. Or heck, sacrificing one character in Final Fantasy’s vast archives to being “from Kingdom Hearts’ past” would hardly have done any great harm!
Wow, that paragraph looks like Swiss cheese.
Once you’ve painted your armour to your liking, it’s on to the main platform of the Mirage Arena, which features a large computer and also a Moogle. The computer is where you register for events and the Moogle where you exchange your winnings, called “Arena Medals,” for prizes (unfortunately, you’ll have to go off-world to shop from a regular Moogle, which seems like an oversight). Among the Moogle’s prizes are a number of synthesis items and unique commands, which are what any completionists will be going for. BBS:FM also added the Aerial Recovery ability from KH2 to the medal shop, though to use it you have to give up your character’s “Payback” ability (you’ll remember that Ven’s is Payback Raid) to equip it.
As to the events, there are four categories – or just three in 2.5, as one of the PSP modes was purely multiplayer. Exclusive to the PSP version is Versus Mode, which is essentially deathmatch. The next two arena modes are minigames from other parts of BBS, which the PSP Arena would allow you to play in multiplayer, though you could also play them in the Arena solo for reasons we’ll get into down the page. Yes, yes, that’s all very nice, but the central feature of the Mirage Arena is Arena Mode. Arena Mode is similar to the Olympus Coliseum tournaments from KH1 and 2 in that you engage a number of Unversed in rounds, though in this case each “round” comes in borderline interminable waves, the division between “wave” and “round” being basically arbitrary. On the PSP, Arena Mode could be played in multiplayer, but obviously this is not an option in 2.5.
The bosses at the end of most challenges are arguably the primary appeal of the Mirage Arena, since many of them are unique to the arena itself. Access to the arenas is restricted by “Arena Level,” which rises from 1 to 30. Ven will only find one challenge open at Rank 1: Day of Reckoning. But there are actually three Rank 1 challenges! The arena also features Rank 1 challenges initially exclusive to Terra and Aqua, such that Terra players would get Day of Reckoning and his exclusive challenge, and Aqua the same. Ven doesn’t have a “starter” challenge like this, and I’m not entirely sure why! Terra and Aqua’s challenges both feature their first world bosses, so maybe the Mad Treant somehow couldn’t be programmed for multiplayer in time? In any event, you can unlock Terra and Aqua’s challenges for the other characters, like Ven, by clearing their entire storyline, which means you might or might not have them unlocked already by the time you get here with Ven.
Getting a higher Arena Rank can be tricky. Arena Mode returns a rank promotion each time you clear a challenge for the first time. Versus Mode doesn’t return any promotions at all, while the two minigames return promotions in unusual ways we’ll discuss when we get to the minigames themselves. Most of your promotions will come from Arena Mode. Another factor that raises your Arena Level is your total earned Arena Medals, earned by playing in any mode you want. You originally gained more medals by playing in multiplayer instead of single player, so to make up for this in 2.5 HD, they added challenges to Arena Mode that multiply your winnings if you complete the challenge. For one example, there’s minimum accuracy challenges, or challenges to use counter-attacks a certain number of times – not something you should honestly pay much attention to in the middle of a difficult fight!
I’d like to talk about the various Arena Mode challenges across the Retrospective instead of all in one clump. Maybe… once each per character? Unfortunately, I can only go so far until we hit content Ven that has yet to see in other parts of the game, so maybe we’ll just skim a few challenges off the top by covering content available at Arena Levels 1-5.
The first round available for everyone is Day of Reckoning, where the player will face off against the first unique Mirage Arena boss… assuming you can get through the regular enemies! Remember that you could have come here as early as World 2, which might mean you’re still Level 1 after killing the Mad Treant! For argument’s sake, I won’t introduce any of the new minor Unversed that appear in the arena, but I will cut ahead to the main event: the Iron Imprisoner.
The Iron Imprisoners line of bosses (this is technically the “Iron Imprisoner I”) are a cut above the usual Kingdom Hearts bosses, clearly intended to be fought with friends in multiplayer and a terror to fight solo, forcing you to have pitch-perfect dodging and blocking skills or suffer. For what it’s worth, this is the easiest of the lot. The Iron Imprisoner line gets its name from their ability to trap the player in a cage, which must be destroyed from within while the enemy wails on you. Ironically, the the Imprisoner isn’t just an “Imprisoner” but is also imprisoned: its arms are chained across its chest and its feet are trapped in some sort of iron case (indeed, the Japanese name is “Iron Prisoner”). Unfortunately for you, it can fly, shoot lasers from its case, and also has a few spinning attacks. Because the Imprisoner is rather slow, it’s possible to pin it down with repeat long-distance attacks (preferably Firaga), which it will not be able to escape, since BBS lacks KH2’s “revenge value” system. Failing all else, just come back later. Unfortunately, the harder the Arena challenge, the harder it will be to level up to bypass it.
Yeah, that’s something else I should mention: BBS is incredibly hard to grind past a certain level. While you can technically get up to Level 99, you might die of old age before it happens. You can certainly meld better commands and gain all the game’s abilities in a short amount of time, but levelling up traditionally? Not a chance.
Relatively early on, you can also challenge Sinister Sentinel, an Arena Level 3 match. After fighting some mid-game Unversed, it’s time to refight our buddy the Iron Imprisoner, this time Iron Imprisoner II. Iron Imprisoner II (or as I like to call it, “I.I.II”), is a lot harder than the original and it’s not just a stat increase. Its hands have been freed from its chains, and it is able to summon a heavy maul to attack you. Thankfully its legs are still clamped down, but its range is heavily improved, and with it the danger. The projectile trick is less successful, as the Impersoner it is much more able to close with you. You’ll have to get used to it, because unlike the entire rest of the arena, the Imprisoner II is a mandatory boss – for Terra, that is. I’ll explain why during his storyline.
But even though only Terra has to fight I.I.II, Ven also gets a prize for this match: the Command Style “Sky Climber”. This is another “Level 2” Command Style, and I’m not hugely fond of it. Sky Climber is available to both Ven and Aqua (and both from the Mirage Arena), causing them to attack enemies from above in drop attacks. Despite my not liking it, since you can get it early if you’re capable and ready, it can be tempting all the same!
At Arena Level 5, the player can take on the curiously named “Dead Ringer” match (in Japanese, this is “Bewitcher.” I see what the localizers were going for when you see the boss, but I think the Japanese wins out here). This round is home to another brand new Unversed boss, the Mimic Master. The Mimic Master isn’t so bad. It helps that it’s somewhat neutralized in single-player. The Mimic Master’s central gimmick is that it can spread books around the arena that, if not destroyed (and you don’t have near enough time to destroy them all) will transform into copies of the active players. This could easily confuse someone in multiplayer, but in single player you’re not likely to have that sort of trouble. The Mimic Master also has that rotating laser attack from Hades and Zexion, but it’s still a lot easier than its big brother with the mallet.
Clearing Dead Ringer for Terra gives him the Darkgnaw Keyblade, an incredibly powerful attack-based Keyblade representing his inner, budding Darkness. Hey Ven! Terra’s giving in to his inner, budding Darkness, isn’t that great? The Darkgnaw is actually a mid-to-endgame Keyblade, and should tempt any Terra player that’s aware of it to come get it as early as possible!
You might be wondering: okay, so the Darkgnaw is to Terra what Sky Climber is to the other two, but wait. Does that mean Ven has a not-quite-endgame Keyblade hidden somewhere else in the game? The sad fact is… he never gets one. Terra and Aqua both get 16 total Keyblades in FM, but Ven finds himself one short with 15. Now, mind that Aqua’s “extra” Keyblade plays a very different role to Terra’s Darkgnaw, but what happened to Ven’s 16th Keyblade? Hacking the game suggests that the developers prepared a Ven-scaled copy of Mickey’s future Kingdom Key D, but it’s hard to imagine a way that Ven might somehow collect such an important and obscure Keyblade! It should also be noted that the Kingdom Key D might have simply been a placeholder. I can’t be sure why they’d use the Kingdom Key D instead of any other previous Keyblade, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. You can imagine a developer finding the golden Kingdom Key D easier to see while testing, perhaps? Just throwing out possibilities.
Since that carries us through our planned Arena Levels 1-5, it’s time to move on to some of the other Arena Modes, at least in brief. Versus Mode is self-explanatory: it’s deathmatch, and was obviously cut from 2.5. Since it was multiplayer-only, it’s not required for Arena Ranks even in the PSP releases, and I’m not even sure it was a source of Arena medals, since it would be too easy to cheat! Someone correct me if I’m wrong.
The third mode is Command Board, which can curiously be played both in and out of the Mirage Arena, even single-player, with different rules! The biggest shame is that it’s not possible to play this game hotseat in 2.5, even though it would have been relatively easy to implement (just remove the main game prizes when hotseat is active to keep players from cheating!). Command Board is big and impressive, and I’m as much a fan as I know many others are, so good news and bad news time. Good news: I’m going to give Command Board a full focus post of its very own! Bad news: it’s going to be in Aqua’s Retrospective, just to balance out the content!
Last of all is Rumble Racing, which is locked in Vanilla at this point in the game. The game is unlocked for Vanilla players during the second set of worlds when you first encounter it in the wild, but FM players can play it right away! I won’t be covering this until later in the Retrospective (during Terra’s storyline), but I will say that it’s a racing game and that its Arena Levels come from completing four time trials. At only four arena levels, it’s also the least substantial of the three major arena modes, but if you want Arena Level 30, you’re still going to have to do all four of them!
Once you’re finally done enjoying the mini-games, it’s time for you to scrape off your custom paint and get back to work. The universe is in danger, after all, you jerk! What are you even doing here?