After crossing the boss arena, the game basically skips the entire walk from the Tremaine manor to the castle, dumping you right in the courtyard from the garden. Here you can fight Unversed both in and around a large fountain, and can find a save point – and hey, did you know that save points in this game disappear if Unversed are nearby? Because if you didn’t, this save point would be happy to tell you, since a troupe of Unversed are stationed just to one side of it both in Terra and Aqua’s scenario, making it almost useless in a rush, unless you approach it from the exact right angle.
Once you enter the castle it’s in to a long, straight hallway with nothing in it. Ah, finally! A room from KH2/BBS that isn’t afraid to be what it truly is inside! I respect your confidence and candour, uninspiring tunnel-room! Bland on, you dingy pebble.
It turns out this room is flat, straightforward and underwhelming for more reasons than just lazy level design: it’s also here to simplify scripting! You see, we’re about to enter another thrice-cursed escort mission, this one a straight line. Please remember that our last escort mission involved Snow White zig-zagging haphazardly through a mostly open room, these aren’t very substantial sequences one way or another.
The cutscene at the head of the escort mission actually occurs at the end of the courtyard room, where Terra is reunited with Cinderella, who curiously sees him and says “I’ve met you before…” as though they met so long ago that it might as well have been in a previous game. I suspect this might have been exaggerated in translation: Cinderella has a few reasons not to recognize Terra (she wasn’t looking at him for most of the previous scene between tears and the Fairy Godmother, and she is wrapped up in a magical experience that’s much bigger than him), so I don’t necessarily suspect a KH2-style editing change, but they did just meet as recently as seconds ago, and even locked eyes at one point, so it still sounds wrong, and in just a few lines she’ll outright reference their earlier conversation!
Terra initially orders Cinderella to stay put as he tends to the Unversed, but she insists on coming along so that she won’t miss the ball. Cinderella jives Terra by reminding him that he said she should stay strong, and surely going to the ball in such dire conditions qualifies? Well, we’re assuming the ball isn’t in complete chaos, but since it’s from the film I’m sure it’s been perfectly preserved in a fucking snow globe, so that’s neither here nor there. Terra agrees to take her and we’re off to the next room.
Like I’ve implied, the escort mission begins relatively simple, with Cinderella simply going in a straight line past a few familiar Unversed. Instead of evil trees and Reaction Commands, you’ll have to deal with Bruisers, which are definitely a step above, but also aren’t guaranteed damage to the princess like the trees, as unlikely as that might seem when a giant, tank enemy with area attacks first spawns on the board, but it’s true!
Unfortunately, the escort mission doesn’t end in the hall. After the corridor, the escort mission continues into the foyer, where the game throws three Bruisers in your face just to complicate things. The three Bruisers are definitely a threat to Cinderella (Shotlocks might not be a bad idea here), but once Cinderella gets past, she takes a simple, straight path through the giant foyer and the only serious threat is a Bruiser and some Shoegazers at the end. Sometimes Cinderella runs straight past these enemies, and you can end early by getting close to her and hitting the button to end the escort! Clearing the escort mission gives Terra his counter attack ability, Counter Hammer, which is an area attack, but not as individually damaging as Ven’s Counter Rush.
At this point, Terra arrives at the ball and one of BBS’ most infamous shots: a wide shot of the world’s saddest royal ball. The giant ball chamber from the film is preserved despite having only three partygoers: the Prince and Cinderella’s two stepsisters, Anastasia and Drusilla (we later see that her stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is in the wings, but she’s not in this shot. I can’t decide whether her presence would have actually lessened the problem). The Grand Duke stands by the entrance just to give the scene an awful sense of perspective. Thankfully the game makes up for it a little by having Terra part with Cinderella with a curt bow, the soldier escort at work, but that’s just a little touch in the face of a great, gaping chasm of failure. Haven’t they at least heard of a tight shot?
Cinderella enters the dance and is almost instantly dancing with the Prince, not unlike the film but also without any of the film’s touches to explain why they’re drawn to one another, with only a tinkling background tune between us an eerie silence. Terra sees this unvoiced scene and remarks on how, “Maybe just believing is enough,” an inversion of a line from Kairi from KH2. You might recall that I eagerly supported Kairi’s line and still do here, where BBS seems to have erased much of Cinderella’s actual effort from the film to make it appear as though she “just [believed]” and got her wish, distorting much of the film’s message of pseudo-karmic reward for hard work, even if that’s a faulty message in its own way.
This is followed by a brief scene of Lady Tremaine and the sisters expressing their jealousy over this new stranger, which is my best opportunity to do voice actor bios. Lady Tremaine is Susanne Blakeslee, as I’ve already said. Drizella is also a familiar voice: Russi Taylor, who’s had the role since Cinderella II. Curiously, Anastasia is not played by her Cinderella sequel actress, Tress MacNeille, even though MacNeille was already on staff! Instead, she’s played by Gina Tuttle, who has had the role intermixed with MacNeille. IMDb first credits her as appearing as Anatasia in Michelle Kwan’s 2001 skating show, Princess on Ice, and the Disney wiki credits her for playing Anastasia for Disney on Ice in general, but I don’t feel I can trust either source as-is: IMDb because no other Disney characters are credited for Kwan’s show but Anastasia, and the Disney wiki for lack of specificity. I mean, for goddness’ sake, crediting her for Anastasia in Disney on Ice in general? Disney on Ice started in 1981! Tuttle’s first definite role as Anastasia occurs in a Disney sing-along video, and then later in a Disney Princess property. Birth by Sleep is Anastasia’s most recent animated appearance, so it’s hard to say who holds the official voice actress position today, if anyone at all. As for Tuttle herself, she has a tiny, second Disney connection in a Hunchback of Notre Dame activity game, but she’s spent most of her career doing narrative voice-overs for the American Film Institute and for Forbes in the 2000s.
This scene of the step-family being jealous seems almost like an establishing shot, but according to the report after the fact, the boss Unversed that’s about to appear was summoned by their jealousy, despite there being no direct connection establishing this? There’s a partial justification for the lack of an on-screen connection, because Terra isn’t in the room when the boss is summoned, but it’s more than a little odd.
Just as Terra is about to leave the scene, he catches sight of a Flood flitting around in the balcony overlooking the ballroom floor. He rushes over to the Grand Duke and asks how to get up there, and he gets a quick answer directing him back to the foyer for a side-path. The Grand Duke is voiced by Rob Paulsen, whom we met during Ven’s tale as the voice of Jaq. Must be nice to have the same guy pulling double on every production!
The route to the balcony is a very small door in the foyer, easily missed and easily forgotten after you’re done with it, says somebody who’s forgotten the presently out-of-reach Sticker in this hallway every time he’s played BBS. It also goes to show just how BBS is flat and wide open for a reason, because where KH1 used cramped hallways as a tactical complication to its position-based gameplay, the cramped hallways in BBS only limit the prospective enemies that can even be deployed here. BBS requires wide open spaces, which only emphasize how flat and boring the game is overall.
After arriving at the balcony via the back halls, Terra discovers that he’s too late: a boss Unversed dressed like a marching band leader has emerged in the ballroom itself and attacks Terra with a number of possessed instruments. That’s the kind of sentence we Kingdom Hearts fans have to train ourselves to take in stride, lest we question our life choices. Curiously, Terra seems to feel weak under this musical attack, even though the attack has no such effect in battle (the musical attacks simply cause damage), suggesting some kind of change during development. Well, maybe – Terra escapes the attack by teleporting away, which is something he simply should not be able to do, so maybe this scene is outright incompetent. Terra teleports to the ballroom, where the Grand Duke is shouting for guards, just to underline that there are no other human beings in this empty, empty game. Terra tells the party-goers to let him handle it, so it’s on to the battle.
The Symphony Master attacks you with three allies: a horn, a violin, and a drum. Each instrument attacks at a different range, long to close, in the order I’ve listed them. They’re also fairly breakable, which means the fight has a little initial chaos but also that that chaos quickly ends (especially if you use Shotlocks), and you may very well end up destroying two instruments and then outright losing track of the third, because it just can’t catch up to you now that you’re not so distracted! One interesting side effect of the instrument’s patterns is that while they interact with one another, they don’t interact with the Symphony Master itself, and it’s pure lucky whether you’re going to be attacked by the boss while you’re fending off the far-more-aggressive instrument trio!
While I was here for the Retrospective playthrough, I managed to kill two instruments at once with one Rising Rock, Terra’s upgraded Finish command. Yes, I’m just bragging, what of it?
Once it’s finally time to fight the conductor, it becomes clear that the developers may have tried to make the Symphony Master work with the instrument trio, only to stumble. You see: the Symphony master has two missile attacks and one random-stomping area attack. It has no melee attacks, meaning it was only ever intended to attack the player indirectly, and it’s quite weak as a consequence! I guess what I’m saying is that the fight is basically over after the instruments die, and because of their low HP, this happens very quickly. The Symphony Master hits hard, but not frequently, accurately, at close range, or even very well at long range when it was supposed to, so the major threat exists but ends very quickly. Winning this fight gets you a Deck Capacity upgrade.
After the battle, the Grand Duke returns, thanking you for saving the day, but also bemoaning the failure of the ball. Terra points out that the Prince and Cinderella seem to be getting along well even without the ball, and then changes the subject to something more globally relevant: the Unversed. The Grand Duke says that the Unversed first arrived at the Castle of Dreams alongside “a boy in a mask,” Vanitas, and that some witnesses noticed him commanding the monsters. Of course he’s gone by now.
Just then, a bell rings and Cinderella realizes it’s midnight, with the series’ usual time compression having swallowed up most of the romance that will lead to a nation-wide bride hunt during what’s sure to be Aqua’s part of the plot (either that or they were having a super great conversation in the middle of the monster attack). Cinderella runs off and loses one of her slippers, but rather than be entirely absorbed in this film plot point, BBS shows a moment of genuinely good scope and advances the main plot instead. Would that they had been a little more consistent about this, but BBS still ranks better than KH2 for inclusion of the main plot among the Disney, so I’m not so sour about it.
As Terra is watching the classic plot unfold, he spots a new arrival at the doors just as Cinderella is leaving: it’s Aqua, coming here at the very start of her Castle of Dreams adventure. Naturally, the two of them meet up, and Aqua immediately tells Terra the bad news about Ven running away from home. This is the first time that Terra-first players would have heard of this. Terra realizes he brushed Ven off during the intro and feels bad, but that doesn’t help find the kid and they both know it, so there’s little more than a moment of disappointed silence. Aqua turns the subject to Master Xehanort’s disappearance in case Terra’s had better luck on that front, but of course we already know that he hasn’t, and he tells her as much. Actually, what he really says is, “it seems [Xehanort’s] looking for pure hearts filled with light. […] All I can tell you is that his search hasn’t taken him here” which accidentally comes off as a super burn on Cinderella.
It’s at this point where the game draws an incredibly arbitrary line in the sand. Having been schooled by a magical lady, walked another lady to the dance, and only just now asked a single question to the locals, Terra decides it’s time to leave on the spot! He’s about to monologue about Vanitas, making it seem like he’s going to look for him, but don’t you… want a better description? To look for more clues? It goes without saying that since Terra could have gone (and canonically did go) to Dwarf Woodlands ahead of the Castle of Dreams, he won’t even mention the boy in the mask once he gets there. Indeed it doesn’t seem to cross his mind in the slightest until Ven brings it up at Radiant Garden. Granted, Terra is leaving because even the player understands (even if this is their first time through the game) that it’s time for Aqua to take over the Castle of Dreams story, but that doesn’t make this any less irritating. She even volunteers to do so even though Terra implied there’s nothing else to do here. That’s… that’s just great. Also: Aqua, weren’t you sent here to watch Terra’s progress? Like Terra, this is explained after the two of them agree to split up (or rather, it will be in Aqua’s version of the scene), but that’s a little late!
Having set fire to their motivations, Terra recommends Aqua interview the Prince. This makes a lot of sense, considering as how the Prince is probably aware of news in the kingdom and Terra never got the opportunity to talk to him. So after giving Aqua no motivations and making her look foolish one paragraph of mine ago, the game spins about and gives her some and makes Terra look foolish?
Terra then stops on his way out and tells Aqua about Cinderella. He says that, “She made me realize how powerful it is just to believe. No matter how impossible things seem, a powerful enough dream will always be enough to light the darkness.” Whoa, whoa there buddy, I opened this world talking about how that isn’t the actual moral of Cinderella and I’m not going to let you talk like this is now that we’re at the end! He asks Aqua to pass on his thanks. If I told her myself, I’d lose my cool standoffish edge, you know? Geeze Terra, now that your big sister’s here, you don’t have to do any cleanup, do you? You know, if you and Ven don’t pick up the pace, Aqua’s gonna be the one to turn evil just to get revenge and I will happily support and control her through it.
In his outro, the background fades to black so it can muffle up the fact that Terra is about to walk through an un-openable door without even attempting to open it, and he thinks to himself about the mystery of Vanitas. After this, he receives Cinderella’s D-Link and the Stroke of Midnight, ending the world.
First thing I’m going to point out is that, now that we know when the three playable characters arrive on this world, I can reveal that the game’s report for Castle of Dreams shows Cinderella in all three of her outfits: in her work clothes when you play as Ven, in her torn dress when you play as Terra, and in her ball dress when you play as Aqua. Nice way to get them all across!
The Unversed Challenge for the Castle of Dreams takes place in the ballroom… unless you happen to be Ven, in which case it takes place in the central room from Ven’s treasure hunt, which has a lot more inconvenient obstacles than the ballroom. I suppose it was the best they had available, but it’s a difference you can feel while the game is in progress.
The Mission here puts you against Lone Runners, Shoegazer recolours, which scatter about the room seven at a time (or at least, that’s how many are there at the outset) and generally try to avoid you. Your objective is to kill 30 of them within a minute and a half, which is obviously going to be much, much easier towards the end of the game than at the start, thanks to a combination of statistics, mobility upgrades, and wide-area effect commands like Mega Flare. You know, I find it a little annoying that statistics factor into this at all. They generally didn’t in KH2:FM+’s Mushroom XIII, and I think it had the right idea. I think I would have preferred if the Lone Runners died after a set number of hits rather than a traditional HP system so that the challenge would be more clearly a matter of player factors like skill and Ability setup (maybe as low as 1 hit, like several of the Mushroom XIII, but preferably more to nullify Mega Flare as a “cheat”). On the other hand, abilities scuttle this “challenge” so thoroughly that it’s not hard to give up on the idea that this was meant to be anything more than a Mega Flare-checking device.
Winning this Mission, and for that matter many of the others, rewards a very unusual two-slot Ability, in this case the “Illusion-L,” which allows you to transform into a Lone Runner and use some of its attacks! Now let’s be clear, these attacks all basically horrible, but as Hirokey123 points out, the ability also makes you invincible, allowing you to cheese any boss that gets within range… in the dullest way possible, but still!