Since we already covered all three characters’ time at the Land of Departure, we get to jump ahead with our big buddy Terra, where we join him on his first world, the Enchanted Dominion. To recap: Terra is off on a mission to fight the Unversed and find Master Xehanort, and to prove that he can overcome the darkness within. Since he left the Land of Departure before anyone else, he’s got the simplest setup, even if we know things didn’t go… very great for him. In any event, let’s hit the ground running!
Like I implied when I started with Ven, Terra gets to work by actually encountering and reacting to Unversed at the get-go! “Monsters!” he shouted. “The ones the master mentioned. These are the unversed!” Either that or I’m about to kill my first squirrel! This is the best possible opportunity I’m going to get to name Terra’s starter Keyblade, the Earthshaker, an extra-long, extra-wide chunker of a Keyblade. I’ll also introduce his Command Style, Critical Impact, which turns many of his attacks into small-range area attacks! Just to cap off our gameplay amuse bouche, I’ll remind you to try out Ven’s D-link while you’re at it, and to make an active effort to use it so that the game might level it up and give the D-Link the Haste ability!
After a short brawl, he decides to go exploring, at which point you might discover the giant wall of green flame still blocking the way to Maleficent’s castle. Remember: Terra came here before Ven, which means the fairies have yet to clear this particular path (and as far as Terra players need be concerned, they never will!).
Terra’s trip to the Enchanted Dominion is easily one of the shorter world trips in general. Without Maleficent’s Castle, he only visits the small half of the map and he doesn’t do much there either, which is probably an additional sign that this was supposed to be the first world for new players. Since we’re already familiar with the layout, I could easily say “Terra walks up to Aurora’s room, then falls ingloriously back down the stairs, and then he’s done!”, and you’d understand me, but let’s try to do a little better than that, hm?
The plot gets started when Terra arrives on the bridge leading to the sleeping castle, combat music playing all the way (he’s chasing the last of the Flood from his initial encounter). After he destroys the last Flood in cinematic, he looks up and discovers the castle, and the main area theme comes playing for the first time in a very well done reveal! …Assuming you haven’t been messing around looking for chests and sticking your hand into the green fire wall, of course. It’s one of the only times Kingdom Hearts has made a big deal of the default area theme, almost ever!
Terra is not alone on the bridge: Maleficent is here as well, out for an afternoon brood. As he approaches, you can see a slight smile play on Maleficent’s lips, a very nice touch, before she turns and acts surprised to see him. She claims – not technically lying – that Flora is responsible for putting everyone in the castle to sleep, and acts generally disinterested and suspicious all at once. It’s not clear exactly why she’s being suspicious, even to an aware viewer. Not yet.
After asking Maleficent a perfunctory question about the Unversed, Terra turns to the subject that actually interests him: Master Xehanort. Maleficent claims to have met a stranger who might be Xehanort, and directs Terra to the castle for more information. She adds that the stranger said something about “imprisoning ‘the light,'” because goodness knows, the audience don’t need to pretend Master Xehanort isn’t evil, not even if we were playing Terra first!
Terra heads into the castle, fighting his way up to Aurora’s bedroom, hopefully getting in some D-Link training or what have you. Once in Aurora’s bedroom, Terra finds the princess asleep, and remarks on how this feels familiar. Sneaking into bedrooms, eh Terra? Well now we know where Ven learned it. Actually, he seems to be referring to young zombie Ven, though that won’t be clear until later in the scene. Thankfully and unfortunately all at once, we have our Ven-first perspective giving us information that Terra-first players wouldn’t yet have, since Terra’s players wouldn’t know about Ven’s early life at the Land of Departure. Just then, Maleficent arrives and starts babbling about Aurora being a Princess of Heart, and she even explains her plan to unlock Kingdom Hearts with the princesses. This early, huh Mally? Maleficent mentions the Keyblade, which gets Terra’s hackles up as she has no reason to know about it. Maleficent explains that the Keyblade is the only way to unlock the heart, which implies a lot more than it sounds: not only does it imply she’s learned this from somewhere (presumably Xehanort, as even Terra guesses), but if you think about it, it may even explain why she would later recruit Riku in KH1 – as a means of getting his Keyblade! After all, her plan wouldn’t have worked without it, would it? I can’t believe that didn’t occur to me earlier!
Maleficent claims Terra’s going to give her Aurora’s heart, and he’s going to do it whether he wants to or not. “In your heart, there is darkness just waiting to be awakened,” she says, and she uses sleeping magic to put Terra’s consciousness to sleep and to raise his id-like dark-side to the fore. As Terra falls asleep, we see some flashes of Eraqus lecturing a younger Terra on the evils of darkness, half to educate players new to the franchise and half to introduce Eraqus’ hard-lined light supremacy views for later, something that is admittedly lost in a Ven-first playthrough, but eh, we’re not doing so bad.
Now asleep, Terra uses his Keyblade on the helpless Aurora, and Maleficent is rewarded with her heart. As Terra recovers and realizes what he’s done, Maleficent confirms that Xehanort was the one who told her all this information, making him indirectly responsible for the events of KH1. Maleficent tells Terra that Xehanort left through the darkness, and they have a brief temptation session before a rumble in the castle distracts Terra from Maleficent and off urgent matters. Some of Maleficent’s best line are here. “For a peacekeeper, you seem to be off to an awfully poor start.” “Wasn’t there someone you needed to chase?” Great stuff.
After this scene, Terra forges a D-Link with Maleficent! Ooooooo. You can see how Terra’s storyline is going to go from here, can’t you? He’s going to get more and more tempted and meet more and more villains, many of which were entirely absent from Ven’s storyline. Yes, it’s all coming together nicely… so far.
Maleficent’s D-Link is made up of a frankly impractical number of Fire and Sleep spells, though it ends with a flamethrower Finish attack that’s at least usable, which is more than I can say for many other D-Link finishers. Unfortunately, as nice as this D-LInk is in the way it mixes with the narrative and mechanics, Maleficent is the only one of Terra’s villainous D-Links… in fact, it’s the last new D-Link we’ll see in the entire game, Terra and Aqua inclusive! Which seems like a serious oversight no matter how Terra’s storyline ends up going. If nothing else: how boring, am I right?
You can’t even interact with Aurora after the fact, not even to observe the bed, despite her being the most important, erm, “environment object” in the game so far. It goes leagues to show why BBS feels so empty at times when you can’t interact with a single person, place, or person-place.
Should you head up the stairs to the secret spindle room from the film, you can find a hidden Sleep spell just waiting for you. Get it? Get it?
Reading to the obvious boss arena in the throne room, Terra discovers an Unversed boss waiting for him: the Wheel Master, which is (what else did you expect?), a giant spinning wheel. The Wheel Master is made up of three distinct parts: the centaur-like central body, the wheel, and the spindle. In tried and practiced Kingdom Hearts early boss tradition, these have their own health bars and drop health orbs when they die. And you’ll want them, because this is going to hurt a bit and Aqua’s D-Link is your only reliable source of healing!
I personally find the Wheel Master to be the hardest of the game’s three “first bosses.” The difficulty for Ven’s Mad Treant comes more from the fact that Ven will almost always be at Level 1 when he fights it, which isn’t a property of the Treant so much as the whole world. The difficulty from Aqua’s first boss comes from the fact that start-of-game Aqua stinks. But Terra is in good shape on both fronts, and even with those advantages, if you fudge your movement on Critical you might drop dead on the spot. It’s a hell of a thing.
On the plus side, the Wheel Master is just custom-built for a Shotlock, so you may as well use it (the Wheel Master also appeared in early trade shows, and I wonder if it may have been selected for just this eye-catching property!). Furthermore it might launch its wheel away and just forget to pick it up for a time, which is always good for a few extra hits. Unfortunately, the player will have to watch out for shockwave attacks, rush attacks and even laser yarn while picking away at the Wheel Master, but once the parts have both fallen, the fight will wrap up quickly enough. The body’s attacks can be easily blocked, and like a lot of early KH bosses, the Wheel Master does collapse in a heap from time to time.
Clearing the Wheel Master gets you the Diamond Dust Command Style. All three characters earn copies of the first three, elementally-themed, Level 1 Command Styles, and they behave in the exact same ways, differing only in when they’re acquired, so I’ll mention them but won’t go into any repeat detail. Meanwhile, every character gets the exact same Disney Keyblades at the exact same worlds. For example, Terra is going to end the world and get the Fairy Stars Keyblade, just like Ven did when he cleared Enchanted Dominion, even though Terra is here first and Ven was here last of the opening three worlds. Since these Disney Keyblades are both statistically identical and acquired in the exact same fashion, I’m not going to mention them any further in Terra and Aqua’s playthroughs. D-Links earned at the end of a world are also largely identical (sometimes in cases where they honestly aren’t justified!), though I’ll specify when they’re acquired in all cases, just to highlight the few exceptions.
Terra then returns to Aurora to tell her sleeping self that he’ll come to get back her light only after he learns to stand up to the darkness. Yeeeeeeah, he never visits her again. And then he heads off-world, like he’s got somewhere to go! He mutters something about the other Princesses maybe holding the answer to his questions, probably in a (weak) early effort to unify the game’s first arc, before forgetting it entirely for the second set of worlds.
Okay, real talk time again. We’ve had our laugh about Terra bucking and leaving the world behind, and ha-ha, very nice, but there’s trouble. Normally I’d do what I could in these games to let the evidence present itself and allow you to see the problem before I point a big neon sign at it. The trouble is: there aren’t enough jokes in the world about characters leaving worlds early for me to keep up this charade. This isn’t just some funny quirk, it’s one of BBS’ biggest problems. Its plot is held together by a number of facile narrative tricks, and one of the most prominent is these characters’ inability to stay in one fucking place.
Now in many ways, this problem can be explained by pointing out that Terra, Aqua and Ventus have no formal training, encouraging them to, say… chase down the evil heart-stealing witch? This is true, and many of BBS’ other crazy glue solutions can be explained in a similar manner. The trouble is: not only do these explanations start to feel artificial in bulk, but it is important to realize that sometimes an explanation like that can suck out some of the product’s value! To wit: why should I care about Bozo the Keyblade Klown, his friends, and their inability to do a halfway decent or rational job? If their incompetence were the focus of the story, perhaps that might make sense (in some regards, it is, and yes especially with Terra) but I belong to the camp that feels that sometimes, intolerable narratives really can make a narrative intolerable. The player character incompetence in Birth by Sleep has a surprising impact. In fact it basically sets up the plot of KH1, and that’s really disappointing! The best that can be said for it is that it makes Aqua, who shows up to most Disney worlds last and actually resolves things, look a little better by default, but only a little!
Besides the regular prizes I just mentioned that I would skip, clearing this world also gets you a Deck Capacity upgrade. Also, clearing this world unlocks Terra’s unique mission in the Mirage Arena (which almost goes without saying, because you unlock the Mirage Arena at the same time, but it feels correct to say it this way!). This is Weaver Fever, and features the Wheel Master as a boss. To unlock it for Ven and Aqua, you’ll have to complete Terra’s entire storyline.
But wait! Remember when I said I would talk about Unversed Challenges during Terra’s storyline? There’s one Unversed Challenge per world, usually in the same place for each character unless a character is outright unable to access the room in question. While you have to take on each Challenge to clear the reports, you don’t actually have to win them unless they reward a unique prize… although most do.
The first Unversed Mission is available at the lakeside, where Terra first encountered the Unversed. Unversed Missions can be triggered by interacting with a special floating emblem, not unlike the Absent Silhouettes of KH2:FM+. This challenge features a Spiderchest recolour called a Flame Box, and it’s not honestly worth clearing if you aren’t going for 100%, since all it has on offer is a paltry Firaga that you could get through other means. Oh, sure, Firaga’s nice at the start of the game, but it hardly stacks up to the decent prizes other Unversed Challenges have on offer. Still, let’s give the challenge a look.
The Flame Box plays a relatively simple minigame: it will launch a number of fireballs into the air which will hover briefly before descending. Your job is to chop, shoot or otherwise waste the the fireballs before they hit ground. Your job is to clear 30 without missing one, and that’s not asking for much, especially if you come back with Magnet or Magnega. Without Magnet, however, you’ll have to watch out for huge volleys of four or five fireballs, which can be hard to tackle if you don’t have an area attack, or start in a bad position. Other than launching the fireballs, the Flame Box itself is a non-factor and can basically be ignored once the projectiles are live.
Carry on then.