After clearing the second loop of three worlds, it’s off to a fourth world that goes sitting off to one side: Neverland. Of course, as most KH fans know by now, it wasn’t always Neverland. Dummied content in the Japanese Vanilla release suggests that this used to be a Jungle Book-themed area, which is kind of easy to tell given the jungle locations and the giant monkey Unversed you’ll be fighting here, but it’s clear that production shifted early enough that they were able to include another Unversed to match the Neverland theme, if only just in time.
Another thing we learn about the old Jungle Book world from the dropped content is that it had a lot of precision platforming over water, which would have been ruinous just like Deep Jungle. I guess they don’t learn their lessons over at Square Enix, or at least they hadn’t during the first draft. It’s a good thing they revised it, though I’m not sure I prefer the generally generic, flattened BBS world they put in its place. This isn’t the only sign of early design featuring more platforming, as there is also a video of Terra jumping over thorns at Enchanted Dominion. This I wouldn’t have minded so much – it’s the water I hate, not the jumping.
Neverland begins not with Ventus but with a shot of Neverland at night, as Mickey Mouse arrives on scene via the Star Shard. There, he’s greeted by an unfortunate sight: Vanitas, who creates a portal of darkness and orders Mickey to “Move it.” You will not learn the resolution to this scene in Ven’s storyline, which I find more than a little questionable, but as the Star Shard’s glowing light is actually about to become a plot point, I understand them going this far. They had to explain where Mickey had gone after making such a fuss. But why stop?
Jump cut Ventus waking up, having apparently fallen asleep the moment he got there. Look, I don’t know either. It’s just as stupid to me as it is to you. Hilariously, he’s found by two of the Lost Boys, Slightly (the fox) and Cubby (the bear), and Slightly immediately suggests “Let’s try kickin’ him!” Slightly is voiced by child actor Mason Vale Cotton, who was known for Desperate Housewives at the time, and went on to play the role of Bobby Draper in Mad Men. He was only 8 at the time of BBS’ release. Meanwhile, Cubby was played by then-49 year old Wally Wingert, the voice of the Riddler in the Arkham games and other places. They are here with Tinker Bell, who as usual goes unvoiced.
Lucky for Ven, Tinker Bell is the one who does the kicking, and not the 49-year-old, so he escapes and introduces himself. The boys try to chat with Ven, but aren’t able to get much out before Tinker Bell tries to drag them away. It seems they’re looking for a “shooting star” that Tinker Bell spotted falling to Neverland. You know: Mickey. Ven asks to follow along, and it’s off into the jungles of the Neverland Book. Of the Jungle Land. The Neverjungle.
There are two new Unversed here, mostly rounding out the list of generic Unversed (although you’ll miss one if you don’t go back and explore Deep Space in full). The first is the Triple Wrecker, the Unversed that was actually designed for Neverland by borrowing its theme from the… ukkk… “Indian Camp” present there. My god, I’m Canadian, and using “Indian” to refer to First Nations people is a basically a slur over here and I’m not going to put up with it here anymore than I would in real life. We’ll be visiting the place in just a moment and thankfully someone told BBS’ dev staff not to actually portray any of Peter Pan’s infamously racist Native Americans. Not that I imagine they needed much urging, since it meant less NPCs for them, right? But I’ve wandered off topic. The Triple Wrecker is a totem pole Unversed, made up of three totems: a Fire, Blizzard and Thunder totem. The on in the middle is the one that casts its spells and determine its weaknesses. Ultimately, the Triple Wrecker isn’t very dangerous despite probably being the game’s strongest caster, and that’s disappointing. It’s not strong enough to justify paying much attention to its totem-shuffling, making it no more remarkable than any KH2 Heartless.
The other enemy is more noticeable, if only because its stats are tweaked to high hell. This is the Wild Bruiser, the Jungle Book-inspired gorilla Unversed. The Wild Bruiser can absolutely destroy you without much thought, and is quite frightening to see as a consequence. Its most dangerous attack is a charge that lands multiple hits and can easily wipe you if you’re not covered by Once More. Thankfully the Wild Bruiser can be stunlocked by a finishing attack (indeed, this seems to be by design, since it has a custom animation for when it happens and everything), but this relies on you not having to fight other Wild Bruisers at the same time, and you probably do.
The walk through Neverland features many branching paths, though you’re guided by the plot down a single road. Still, before you reach your first checkpoint, you’ll stop off at Mermaid’s Lagoon, a complicated room with lots of swimming and jumping to do, including a secret chest hidden in a grotto that contains a great prize for whoever finds it. In Ven’s case, this chest contains boring old Aeroga, however. Sorry Ven-ven.
Past Mermaid Lagoon, you come to the Lost Boys’ hideout tree, where you’re intercepted by the big boy himself, Pan. Peter greets Ven and tells the group that he just found some “real pirate treasure,” but Tinker Bell is annoyed that everyone is abandoning her search for the shooting star. As a result, the group ends up splitting: Peter and the Lost Boys are off to find the pirate treasure, while Tinker Bell and Ven are off to find the shooting star.
You won’t have to walk far (though you should search inside the hideout before you move on, since there are a few chests down there). The shooting star landed in the… rggggk… the First Nations’ Camp, home of vanishing scenery. No, really. One of the key features of the Camp is a totem pole and trampoline drum, both of which keep vanishing during cutscenes that occur in this room, leaving only a shadow behind! It happens at least three times: once now and twice in Aqua’s campaign! This might have something to do with them blocking the shot (though they don’t appear to in any of the shots I’ve checked?), or, for all I know, it might be a technical problem related to them being dynamic objects. The trampoline-drum’s dynamism is obvious, while the totem pole works like this: by bouncing off the trampoline, it’s possible to” climb” the totem pole with attacks (the weird way Kingdom Hearts’ air combos have worked since KH2) until you tag the top of the pole, at which point, it will give you a free Thundaga.
Tinker Bell and Ven arrive at the First Nations’ Camp and find the Star Shard lying around with no sign of Mickey. Tink flies ahead to collect it, only to be snatched up by the arrival of Captain Hook and Smee! Ven, showing some good priorities, demands the release of Tinker Bell with no regard for the Star Shard, but any attempt at hostage negotiation is cut short by the arrival of the Unversed, which attack through several waves, including some incredibly dangerous ones like Mandrakes and Triple Wreckers, or three Wild Bruisers.
If you make it out alive, it’s off to find Peter Pan and to go to Mermaid Lagoon, where Hook mentioned as part of the abbreviated hostage negotiations with Ven. When you meet up with Peter (after an – if I may – rather senseless flashback to the start of the game), you find he doesn’t even seem surprised to learn that Tinker Bell has been kidnapped. Hm, I wonder why? Together, you run off to the Bay, where Hook reveals his master plan: to start opening fire on you with his cannons. That’s bad news, but to your surprise Tinker Bell arrives, free without your help! Okay, one hint was enough, but now it’s clear that one of the other characters is running around in another part of Never Land, even if the game doesn’t explicitly say so!
Peter, Tinker Bell and Ven make up a plan: Peter will fly out to “stop the cannon” (yeah sure Peter, I believe you. It’s not like it keeps firing for the rest of the game, even after you defeat Hook) and Ven will go deal with Hook. To help him out, Peter has Tinker Bell gift you with flight, giving Ven the Glide ability. Yes, only the Glide ability. There are no flying controls in BBS, here or on any other world. He can use Glide to easily pick up Superglide in Disney Town – you know, that chest I said you could sequence break to reach?
Finding Hook isn’t easy if you haven’t been paying attention. It’s easy to mistake the Glide ability as a hint that you need the Glide ability to find the boss. Not true: Air Slide could have gotten you there just as easily. All you have to do is make a jump across the water of Mermaid’s Lagoon, cursing yourself every time you fall in or chase an enemy in.
Past the Lagoon, it’s up the coast through a room stocked with rubble walls you have to destroy with combos or by carefully directing the cannon fire from the Jolly Roger. While here, you might even notice a secret leading back to the Lagoon for a big prize (Blitz, in Ven’s case, a powerful overhead attack), after which it’s on to the final room to challenge Hook for the finale.
The boss fight with Hook begins with him listening to the cannon fire from his distant ship, and hearing it stop. He assumes this means Peter must have been hit and killed, and begins to gloat before Ven arrives and he realizes everything’s gone amiss. A quick look through his telescope confirms this, and you’d think he’d have arranged for some sort of… signal from Smee? Oh well. Furious, Hook engages Ven on an island in the middle of the room, and the two of them are soon followed there by the arrival of the crocodile.
Hook’s fight here is similar to many other fights in the past. He has a long combo that’s hard to block against, he throws presents ala CoM, is weak against Fire, the works. One of the strangest elements of this fight, however, is the crocodile. The croc will attack Ven if he ends up in the water, but it can also attack Hook… sometimes? It’s not clear to me despite repeat experimentation just what triggers the croc to attack Hook or not. I think the shallows are confusing me to a certain degree. Ultimately, Hook’s ability to combo, use long-range attacks, and to guard against your own attacks make him formidable and CoM-like, in that he feels like an introduction to the wave of final bosses about to come.
After putting paid to Hook, he runs off into the ocean chased by the croc just like in KH1 and the film, and Peter and the Lost Boys arrive in a small boat, bringing a treasure chest with them. However, once they open the chest, they find nothing inside but air, and the two Lost Boys are forced to admit that they “losted” the treasure inside. Slightly suggests that they store their own treasures instead, and the game turns on its preachy voice to say: “Instead of fillin’ it up with jewels and gold and stuff, we’ll put in what’s truly special to us. The real riches!” Have you noticed? BBS has elements like its smarmy report entries that show the writers do understand casual language, but they suddenly become formal and lecturing when discussing the Lesson of the Day. It’s something I complimented KH1 for avoiding, and yet BBS does it in force. It’s a damn shame, too, because it only drags down the rest of the series and its normally subtle hand. Normally.
The kids stuff the chest full of play weapons, and Peter turns to Ven and asks what he’s going to put in. Given the lead everyone else has given him, it’s no surprise that Ven chooses to put in Terra’s old training sword. Ven continues his optimism from a few worlds back, by saying “I don’t need it if I’ve got Terra and Aqua. Our best memories are still ahead.” Haha. Sure, Ven. Sure.
At this point, who should arrive but Tinker Bell trying to contribute the Star Shard to the chest, having found it again somewhere. Ven asks if he can have it back, but has no more than made contact with it than it teleports him into the sky…
Your prizes for clearing Neverland include the usual twosome: the Peter Pan D-Link and also the Pixie Petal magic-focused Keyblade. There’s also a Deck Capacity upgrade for players below Critical, and a Command Board that was added to the International release. But more importantly, clearing Neverland kicks you immediately into another sequence, which we’ll pick up right in the next entry…