You might remember I said we’d be back in the Mirage Arena to cover the second stretch of challenges for Arena Mode. Well, here we are! Once again, Mirage Arena screenshots are from me, but we’ll be rejoining Spazbo4 when we return to the plot.
The first challenge at Arena Level 6+ is at Rank 7: Combined Threat. Combined Threat is only available after Radiant Garden, since it ends with a battle against the Trinity Armour! As if you weren’t going to get tired of fighting that thing after three story encounters! Clearing Combined Threat with Aqua gives you the Sky Climber Command Style, which you might remember from Ven’s coverage of Mirage Arena.
A bit more interesting than a repeat Radiant Garden boss is Risky Riches, an easy-difficulty, high arena level challenge where you battle Spiderchests and later an exclusive set of Prize Pods for exclusive synth junk. A higher-stakes, higher-reward version is later available called Treasure Tussle. Neither treasure event has a boss.
Probably the most interesting arena challenge in this set is the FM+ exclusive Monster of the Sea. This battle pits you against none other than Monstro the whale as an opponent, and has an interesting structure: you start inside Monstro’s gut, and get out after facing a wave of enemies. Once you’re out, you fight Monstro against a timer, after which Monstro will swallow you again. Complete enough waves and the game will finally allow you to finish Monstro without a timer, though it’s certainly possible to beat him earlier! While in the guts you have to deal with organic deathtraps left over from Re:CoM of all places. It’s good to see they didn’t leave the inside rounds as boring ones with no change in response to your unusual surroundings, you know? There’s also an increasing quantity of stomach acid during each subsequent “gut round.” What a delightful life it is to be a Keyblade wielder!
As for Monstro himself, he has a lot of HP but the real trick is to hit him in the first place, since he’s rather fast on his fins and the arena is large. Thankfully, a number of explosive barrels have been placed around the arena for your convenience, but Monstro can destroy the platforms that house them to make life complicated. Do not use rush-based Shotlocks against Monstro in an attempt to stun him, since you’ll miss basically every attack. After you stun Monstro with explosives, you can stand on his tongue (this match keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?) to attack him. Rush Shotlocks are fine now, if you want. After a timer runs out, Monstro swallows you again, this time with more stomach acid to contend with. If you clear four rounds in Monstro’s innards, he won’t swallow you again, but it’s possible to kill him before that.
Arena Level 10 will earn you a place in the Harsh Punishment contest, which puts you up against the Iron Imprisoner III. This version of the Imprisoner is no longer being held with the gibbet we saw on the previous two. This means it can move around on its feet, though it still has manacles and an imprisoning helmet of some sort. This is a game changer, as it removes the harmless laser attack from the Imprisoner’s arsenal and replaces it with actual mobility and action, allowing the Imprisoner to cream you from almost any position. It’s no surprise that the internet’s prime strategy for this boss is to let the Damage Syphon ability build up your Focus bar while the Imprisoner tosses you around, and then to go invincible with a Shotlock! Blocking can help from time to time, while other players will want to dodge, constantly, depending on your play style. You’re going to miss having multiplayer if you’re playing in HD, as the bosses’ new mobility means it prioritizes close-range attacks and is much easier to attack from a distance with another player!
The next challenge on the docket is A Time to Chill at Arena Level 13, but unfortunately this is only unlocked during Aqua’s campaign, so we can’t quite address it at the moment. Instead, we’ll move all the way up to Arena Level 17, where we see Copycat Crisis, which ends with a rematch with the Mimic Master, who simply has improved stats. A little disappointing, honestly!
From here, we’ll move on to one last, standard arena round, at Arena Level 20, where the player takes on Keepers of the Arena. This is the last challenge that’s required for a completed report in the Vanilla release, if only because of its prize. This is definitely a late-/post-game challenge, and I outright considered putting it off until Aqua’s scenario so that all of the Arena’s post-game challenges would be in one block! (On that note, expect Aqua’s Mirage Arena segment to be put off until the end of her storyline.)
In any event, Keepers of the Arena includes Iron Imprisoner III as a mid-boss, so you know you’re in trouble well before you reach the finale and take on Iron Imprisoner IV for the finale. Iron Imprisoner IV has lost its shackles and mask (although its head is so metallic that it’s hard to tell unless you’re looking at the Imprisoners side-by-side), and now fights at full capability. By-and-large, it’s just like Imprisoner III, but several of its attacks are now flame-based and do boosted damage, including its hammer and cage attacks (the latter of which didn’t do any direct damage prior to now). The boss also has an attack where it sucks you in and causes an explosion, which you’ll have to dash to avoid. This is easy for Terra, and still relatively easy for Aqua and Ven, but definitely harder on your thumb!
Like I said above, Keepers of the Arena’s prize is the real reason this challenge was required by the report: it unlocks each characters’ ultimate Shotlock. Terra’s, for example, is Ultima Cannon, the attack used by the Lingering Will where his Keyblade turns into a giant cannon. The Shotlocks are definitely worth getting if you can manage to get them, but that’s the catch, isn’t it? There’s still one arena challenge left in the Vanilla version (even if the diary doesn’t require it) but we’ll put that off until Aqua’s scenario.
One of the most important things to discuss while we’re here with Terra is the Mirage Arena’s only mandatory segment. Should Terra clear the challenge “Sinister Sentinel” (the challenge that features Iron Imprisoner II, as described in our Ven’s post about the Arena), he’ll unlock one of the Xehanort’s Reports, and yes, this is required to get the Final Episode! You’ll need to up your Arena Level a few times to even play it! This Report is Report 5, which discusses the various ways one can move between the worlds – minus the Gummi Ship, which hadn’t been invented yet. Xehanort discusses the Lanes Between, and also how users of Darkness can move through corridors of darkness at great risk to themselves. Indeed, at the time Xehanort writes, he’s not aware of anyone who’s entered the Realm of Darkness and has returned. Xehanort also raises the possibility that the huge Realm of Light might house other Keyblade wielders outside of his circle and Yen Sid, but he has no way to be certain in the end. I’d have really like to have heard about these other circles of Keyblade wielders, or even something else Xehanort seems to hint at (worlds that have been lost in the past!), but we’re going to focus our attention in slightly different directions in the end.
One of the strange things about the game’s official timeline is that apparently Terra doesn’t go to Castle of Dreams after the Enchanted Dominion. According to the timeline, he goes to Dwarf Woodlands instead, despite it having a higher challenge level in the finished game! Just a curious little detail, but one that we’ll set aside to go in the finished game, challenge level order of Enchanted Dominion -> Castle of Dreams -> Dwarf Woodlands.
Oh, but before we head off, note that after their first world, Terra and Aqua can head off to the Land of Departure to grab a few cheap chests. Nice to have a place to go home to, isn’t it everybody? Right, Ven? Sora?
So, last we saw the Castle of Dreams, Ven and Jaq had just finished Cinderella’s dress and sent her off to the ball. But as Terra arrives on the scene (properly full-sized, unlike Ven), he comes to the Tremaine gardens to find Cinderella weeping in a torn dress after being attacked by her sisters as in the film. Terra goes over to ask what’s wrong, and Cinderella gives a brief summary, addressing Jaq and Ven as her “friends” to avoid spoiling that Ven’s already been here (indeed, if you haven’t seen Ven’s storyline, it’s possible to take her dialogue and assume all the other animals from the film were involved in the game as well, but Kingdom Hearts’ ruthless character reductions strike again!).
Terra’s response to this is… ahem. Terra’s response to this is to start lecturing Cinderella one why she shouldn’t be sad because it would allow darkness into her heart and corrupt her. Ho boy. Our big, sheltered ascetic man is getting into the real world like a trout flopping around on the beach. This scene is probably meant to be scene in comparison with Ven’s introduction to Snow White: both scenes show one of the boys encountering a crying princess and trying to help her in their own characteristic ways. Ven is open, receptive and tries to tend to Snow White’s concerns – if in however abbreviated a manner thanks to the size of the scene. Terra, meanwhile, is dogmatic and tries to apply his methods to her concerns. The difference in impact is about how you’d expect. Now, Aqua doesn’t get a scene so perfectly analogous to this, but she does have a scene where she talks to someone in tears, and does have a scene where she helps a princess in distress, so those probably bear keeping in mind.
I think my favourite part of this scene with Terra and Cinderella, though, is likely an animation fluke: just before Terra speaks, we get a close up showing him thinking of what to say, and just before he opens his mouth, his model swaps back to his default fish-face for just five frames, which puts a big smile on his face. “Oh boy!” he seems to be thinking, “this’ll cheer her up for sure!”
Cinderella starts to protest, but is too distressed to do so. Suddenly, their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a group of Flood, who seem to be arriving in response to Cinderella’s distress. This is a strange thing the Castle of Dreams has going, wherein the Unversed actually respond to the emotions that Vanitas claimed that they were a part of during Ven’s ending. It’s basically only seen here, and barely once per story as well: once for Terra, once for Aqua, and none for Ven. It’s like they started trying in the initial trio of worlds, but gave up before they could go any further?
Terra fights off the Unversed (Cinderella vanishes for the duration of the fight, which I suppose is for the best), having his first encounter with Hareraisers, which just so happens to be our first encounter with them as well. While you can definitely fight Hareraisers as Ven – I could easily walk out and find one in the game right now – but I didn’t note any while making my Retrospective playthrough. This may imply that they don’t appear if you follow Ven’s critical path as strictly as possible, as I was, meaning that Hareraisers simply aren’t a part of the story’s enemy lists… but just as probably means that I forgot to make a note when I first came across them. If anyone knows better, feel free to leave a comment.
The Hareraisers have three attacks: a laser and a rolling attack where they hit you with their ears. As silly as that sounds, the latter attack is far more dangerous, since they can easily stunlock you. They also have a quick, short-ranged attack with their ears that serves primarily as a counterattack, which isn’t so likely to hurt Terra with his flagpole of a Keyblade, but Aqua and Ven are a different story.
After the fight, we return to Cinderella’s weeping (geeze, don’t mind the chaos mere steps behind you, NPCs! We promise not to let our filthy gameplay get in the way of your rigid, copy and pasted story!). Just then, the Fairy Godmother appears, paying Terra’s advice some lip service but mostly shunting it aside. Since she was unvoiced in KH1, the Fairy Godmother is voiced by Russi Taylor, who ironically could have voiced her during KH1, since she was already part of KH1’s voice staff and was doing the voice in House of Mouse at the time, but I suppose it would have been silly to give such a small part a voice credit, money-wise.
The Fairy Godmother and Cinderella repeat much of the film’s original scene (conveniently cropping any mention of the word “miracles” from the film) and with a “Bippidi Boppidi Boo,” the area’s horrid background music of the same name begins to play as normal (it’s been silence outside of battle before now). The spell also creates the famous pumpkin carriage, dress and glass slippers for Cinderella. The Fairy Godmother warns Cinderella about her midnight deadline and off she goes to the ball, with only a cursory glance at Terra to interrupt this abbreviated film scene.
Thankfully, after the world’s title card has passed us by, Terra is finally incorporated back into the plot via a conversation with the Fairy Godmother. I like this scene, it’s not often you get to see one of Disney’s big, named “advisor” characters like the Fairy Godmother, backed as authorities by Disney Magic(tm), around to help provide clarity to one of Kingdom Hearts’ unique characters rather than their own. Terra shames himself for not realizing Cinderella’s heart was “full of light” just because she was momentarily upset. He asks the FGM how she accomplished this remarkable change. Unfortunately, the Fairy Godmother’s response has always made me laugh: she turns to him and asks, “Who are you?” as though finally deciding to confront the stranger that broke into her goddaughter’s garden and decided to harass her. “Listen here, you little shit…” I imagine this was a lip sync issue, because Terra replies as though she politely asked for his name instead, and she continues as though she had, as well.
The Fairy Godmother asks if Terra believes in dreams, and that they can come true. Terra shockingly replies: “I do. But I also believe you have to make an effort to make them come true.” Holy shit! I’ve talked at length at how I believe Kingdom Hearts makes a praiseworthy effort to attack its own original conclusions, but is Terra… confronting the elephant in the room about Disney’s Cinderella? My god! Of course, as many fan of Cinderella knows, the common complaint about Cinderella not working for her moment of freedom isn’t actually what’s happening in the film, no matter how often the complaint is thoughtlessly repeated. After all, more than half the film is dedicated to those efforts! The Fairy Godmother agrees that effort is important, but adds that “sometimes just believing in dreams is easier said than done. Cinderella believes her dreams can come true. I wanted her to see that she is right.”
The Fairy Godmother’s idea of faith in the impossible or difficult is one that we’ll be coming back to much later in the game – the ending, specifically. For the time being, it’s worth noting just how much of a lesson it seems to be for Terra. This is for good reason: it’s a quality that he, his siblings and even Eraqus seem to lack. If that feels strange, it’s for good reason: we spent the first three games in the series in control of someone who had this quality ahead of almost all else. But we’ll get back to that.
The Fairy Godmother encourages Terra to go to the ball to see Cinderella’s dreams become reality so that he too can build up a little hope. With that, you’re left to your own devices, and you know what that means: going in the wrong direction! Turning around will direct Terra to the Tremaine manor, where you’ll find the Moogle (and can finally pick up Cure) as well as a few other goodies. There’s no way into the manor from here (at least, not as far as Terra needs to be concerned), so it’s best you turn back after that and start your walk to the castle.
Hm, after a little exploration, it seems Cinderella’s garden was connected to a giant boss arena. But that’s the trick with this game, isn’t it? Whose boss arena?