Boy, I think to myself, BBS sure is peppered with tiny, idiot ball narrative mistakes. It’s a story about a man who would believe any authority figure that talks to him, even if their head is literally ablaze with hellfire, a boy who believes the very suggestion that his big brother might change to the degree that he runs away from home, and a young woman who is so respectful to traditional authority that it takes her ages to trust her closest, should-be-most-trusted friends. But I already blew all my Idiot Ball jokes during KH2! I had better go gentle on it and just make it clear that stupid decisions are being made when they’re made. But that’s not going to be enough on its own! I need a centrepiece! Some atmospherically ludicrous moment of bending over backwards to serve the plot at the cost of the character’s intelligence! The twenty-layer wedding cake spectacular at the middle of the buffet table that is this Retrospective!
Hans Christian Andersen, do I love content that writes itself!
Terra arrives at the top of one of Neverland’s scenic waterfalls to find Smee and Hook performing some of Neverland’s scenic cowering in front of a pack of Flood, defending not just their own lives, but a huge treasure chest. Terra charges in and rescues them, fighting off what might honestly be the most difficult pack of Neverland monsters he’ll ever have to fight in one sitting! What a greeting!
After the battle, Hook and Smee return to the scene, Hook chastising Terra to save face, and insists that Terra won’t get a share of the treasure for his services. Terra doesn’t give a damn about treasure, and asks about Vanitas instead, but sure enough Hook doesn’t know anything. Haven’t been having a very good job tracking down the main plot these past few worlds, have you Terra? At least there’s been character development, of a sort. Better not throw away all that accumulated development and respect in some incredibly asinine scheme!
As Terra is pondering what to do next, Hook tells Smee that they should book it “before the light draws ’em back again.” He’s almost certainly referring to the light of the sun (although I’m curious how this is phrased in Japanese), but Terra latches on to the word “light” and asks what Hook means. Hook realizes that Terra has misunderstood, and quickly comes up with a lie, saying that the chest “contains light gathered form all around,” and that a dirty, evil “boy” he knows is sure to come and steal it. Terra mistakes his description of Peter as a light-stealing fiend as actually referring to Vanitas, and asks to help Hook “keep the light safe.”
I’ve talked in the past about certain narrative tone and elements, like sensationalism, complexity and elements that defy suspension of disbelief, and how the narrative has to “earn” those sorts of things. But a scene like this makes me think that it just might be possible to try to earn something and come up only part-way? When Terra is hearing that Hook has taken light and put it in a box to keep it safe from an evil young man, I certainly hear that too. In this universe, it is possible to magically take light and put it in a box if you very well wanted, as it’s a quasi-physical magical element. And a young man really is our antagonist. But while I often hear KH’s worldbuilding in the spirit in which it is intended… in this case, I just can’t shake what they’re literally saying, and what they’re literally saying is: “Hello, stranger I’ve never met before, I – an incredibly rude and unkind man who has treated you nothing but poorly – have locked the Literal Concept of Care Bears-style Happiness in this box and am trying to protect it from A Small Child.”
I have so many problems with this lie! First off, we just can’t ignore the fact that Hook was in one gear and then shifted to another, and moreover that he already referred to the contents of the box as something that was meant to be divided, shared and done with as one will. Occam’s razor suggests treasure or currency, and while BBS is trying to imply that Terra has no idea what treasure even is, this is impossible to swallow because Terra carries around and spends munny the same as any other protagonist in the series! He is familiar with currency and enough of the customs around it, as well as being familiar with the manipulation of magic and the infrequency of it, that Occam’s razor should be carrying him in the opposite direction. Terra’s only proof of Hook’s lie is sloppy wordplay. Maybe things are coming off so strangely because of localization, but I don’t know. This scene is a fairly common talking point in the fandom, and I’ve never seen anyone bring up the Japanese version of events as though they would clarify things!
That brings us to the fabricated magical act. Hook tells Terra that he put all this light in the box, but he offers Terra no proof. He’s basically making this story up on the spot and somehow lands a perfect bullseye for what Terra would believe, which is unbelievable. Remember, Hook has no (known) connection to the larger universe prior to BBS, and – this is important – his world’s magic does not work this way, at least not so far as Hook should be aware. I could maybe swallow this scene a little easier if there were a cutscene of Terra, say, using a Light-based spell in front of Hook to inspire his lie, but Hook pulls this out of nowhere, and it’s just as absurd as though we went back in time, walked up to a someone from the Stone Age, and they word-for-word promised to put lightning into a box and use it to rapidly calculate numbers to produce three-dimensional graphics, all off the top of their head. It’s a lottery-winning lie, and an impossible suspension of disbelief.
And even if Hook’s lie past those tests, even if Square one day produces a Kingdom Hearts prequel where Hook spends fifty years prior to BBS learning the magic of light from fucking Cosmos from Dissidia, he’s still not behaving in any way that Terra should recognize as a good person. He is taking light away from the rest of the world, locking it in a box, and planning to parcel it out into pieces and horde the pieces in a cave, like some kind of existential dragon. This is so, so clearly something that a bad guy does. Like some kind of existential dragon, voiced by Corey Burton.
I can only think of one instance where something like this actually was done heroically in fiction, but I urge you to pay very, very close attention to the extreme context that justified this kind of essentially evil action. In the narrative I’m talking about, a major force of goodness and light was parcelled about and sealed at the utter collapse of society, the final fall of light and goodness in an eternal war and the incredibly likely extinction of humanity, with only a scattered handful of weakened survivors left in the main plot of the narrative. It was done in a last-ditch, final particle of hope effort to stave off not the extinction of humanity – because it was too perhaps late for that – but the end of all life as we know it and the ascension of that fictional world’s arch-evil as an immortal, unstoppable demon god reigning over the broken corpse of life and land itself. It’s what Zelda did to the Triforce of Wisdom in the original Legend of Zelda, and not only did it barely fucking work, but Link had to go on a second adventure, Zelda 2, partially to correct the damage Ganon had done to Hyrule done to justify Zelda’s extreme actions in the first place.
Note also that Terra demands no further information or clarification from Hook, and simply trusts him at his word. This has been a running problem for Terra, his heroic flaw, but this is too far for that, and what I’ve been letting by as a “heroic flaw” is starting to look like a problem with the writing. Remember that Neverland is guaranteed to be the last Disney world, so unless it was made the last world incredibly late in development (which is possible, as I discussed during Ven’s tale), Terra should be showing some character growth and should be starting to question authority figures by now if he’s going to challenge Master Eraqus a world from now. He just needs to do a little questioning! But he doesn’t! I’m all one for breaking old narrative rules, even the basic structure of arcs, but this isn’t an intentional break – it’s a slouch into the very inadequate narrative that narrative arc guidelines are meant to correct. Terra doesn’t have an arc, he has sort of a sharp lurch in the opposite direction at the very end! Like Roxas in Days! Kingdom Hearts just can’t connect from A to B gradually in these two games, not without staying at point A from start to near-finish, only to teleport to point B by the time the clock strikes eleven!
Anyways, Terra the Great Sack decides to escort Hook’s chest to Skull Rock, a rock that looks like a skull, a universal symbol of death and evil understood by even the most independently developed of human cultures, where he makes his secret base. Hook needs this escort because, again, he the great hero of light is afraid of being attacked by a small child, and by the way Hook never refers to him as Vanitas and Terra sticks around even when Hook starts openly referring to him as Peter Pan instead, and indeed even after Peter Pan shows up and clearly isn’t wearing a mask, but I suppose Terra’s interest in Hook’s lie isn’t entirely tied up in Vanitas. …Ugh. Anyways.
Terra has a rare luxury among the three playable characters in that Hook’s ship will never open fire on him, allowing him to explore Neverland with relative ease, or at least as much ease as anyone can manage in a world infested with Wild Bruisers. Since Terra has Air-Slide, he also has full access to Neverland at the outset where Ven had to wait for Tinker Bell to give him Glide. As it happens, Terra and Ven’s versions of Neverland overlap almost entirely, and Terra’s journey is entirely linear, with only a single stop with no intermediaries. As a result, I’m finding it hard to come up with anything new to say about the world, since Terra simply walks to Ven’s boss room and then takes a skiff to Skull Rock (goodness knows how Hook and Smee got the chest over the platforming section in Mermaid Lagoon). Should I… should I just skip to the bosses? That’s silly, right? And yet… and yet!
Skull Rock – which is in an entirely different location than it was in Days, by the way – features both exterior and an interior rooms. You can enter the chamber at the “mouth” of the skull or you can enter through the eyes. Unlike certain examples I could name from KH1 and Days (both in Agrabah, come to think of it), should you enter at the upper level, cutscenes will not play until you go to the lower, allowing you to do platforming right from the off! There! Was that so hard that it had to take three games with platforming elements made by three different development teams? Goodness great garbage, Square Enix (and h.a.n.d.!)!
Once it’s time for the plot to advance, Terra steps away from Hook and Smee for… no obvious reason. He actually just goes to stare at a wall! Uh… you know what? I’m going to do it. I see an opportunity and I’m taking it. I’m going to pretend this is an RPG finally acknowledging that humans need to go to the bathroom! An historic moment! You show those censors, Terra! There’s nothing to be ashamed of your bodily functions! You write your name on the wall for all I care! Yo—oh, wait, sorry, I got distracted for a second, what were we talking about? Oh, right, Smee brings up a shooting star he just saw, and oh hey, look at that! I hardly believe it! We’re actually in the middle of Ven’s adventures in Wonderland this very second, and he and Terra don’t even cross paths! If you’ve forgotten, the shooting star is actually Mickey and his star shard, and Tinker Bell goes to investigate it and is met by Ven, when all of a sudden Cubby and Slightly are dragged off by Peter to steal some real pirate treasure, aka the “light” in the chest Terra is guarding. Tinker Bell ends up kidnapped by Hook and Smee, starting the second half of Ven’s plot. Sure enough, Smee talks up the “shooting star” enough to convince Hook that it’s treasure, and they rush off to get it, where they will inadvertently find Tinker Bell instead.
Hook asks Terra to guard the chest while he’s gone. Sure enough, Peter, Cubby and Slightly are soon on scene, and Peter plans to distract Terra with a fight while the Lost Boys steal the chest. Whew, Peter, I’m glad you’re here! Square Enix was threatening to cut our Kingdom Hearts contract if we didn’t attack a child before the end of the game. Great, now hold still.
Despite an impressive HP bar compared to previous bosses, especially tiny Experiment 221 (Peter’s 700 HP vs Sparky’s 500), Peter isn’t really trying all that hard and can basically be stunlocked to death. I suppose that’s fair, since he literally isn’t trying, but I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. I suspect there might be a development reason for this too, for reasons I’ll expound on in just a moment.
Beating Peter gets Terra the Bladecharge Level 2 Command Style, which will be new to Ven-first players. Essentially, Bladecharge gives Terra and Aqua a powerful Light-based attack with absurd reach. We’re talking about the genuine Sephiroth experience here. It’s just a solid, reliable Command Style and I was thrilled to discover that it returned in DDD in a new form!
Because Peter was never playing for keeps, exhausting his HP doesn’t seem to even tire him out in the post-battle cinematic. Terra asks Peter why he’s such a mean, dumb, stupid meaniepants that he wants to collect the light, and Peter doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but this is all resolved moments later when Cubby and Slightly start shouting about getting away with the treasure, and then trip and drop it, exposing the gold and jewels. Terra is ashamed to discover that he’s been working for criminals. Hey Terra, nice fall from helping the Mistress of All Evil and a god to assisting a common thug. High five!
Terra apologies to Peter and tells him that that Hook went after the shooting star and therefore would run into Tinker Bell. He flies off to rescue Tinker Bell on the spot! Well I suppose he cares about someone after all! Terra unusually gets his D-Link with Peter Pan on the spot, even though there’s a little bit of the world left to go. Terra heads out (“Well, I should be on my way. Goodbye, defenceless children in their enemy’s lair!”), but when he does so, he feels an earthquake and hears Slightly and Cubby shouting from inside the cavern, where he left them with the treasure. Slightly shouts: “It’s a monster!” and Terra runs back to help them, where he finds… the Jellyshade swarm.
Yes, you’re seeing that right: Terra fights the Jellyshade swarm three worlds in a row: first in Olympus Coliseum, then on his glider in Deep Space, and now here. Plus the Unversed Mission in Olympus Coliseum, plus any encounters in the Mirage Arena, plus encounters in the other characters’ folders, plus encounters in other characters’ Mirage Arena matches that are already perfectly identical! I will grant that in this instance, the developers did foreshadow the swarm by dotting the outside of Skull Rock with Jellyshades, bu nice as that was, it doesn’t correct the root of the problem. And to make matters worse: this is the boss of Terra’s trip to Neverland. This is the big finale to Terra’s Disney world adventures as a whole! A boss that Ven fought two worlds ago with actual variety in the form of a rare teammate. Do I even have to say something? I feel like I do because this not only got past QA but got past QA in the original game and made them come back to FM with even more, but surely you readers recognize the repetition here, right?
In fact, I think something went wrong on the development side of things here. Note how Slightly says “a monster,” which could apply if he saw just one Jellyshade at first, but certainly doesn’t apply to the entire swarm… and after the boss fight, he will say: “You sure cut that monster down to size!” not only implying that there was only one monster a second time, but at least in English implying that the one monster was supposed to be large. Oh, something is definitely suspicious here. Throw in the shallow nature of the fight against Peter Pan, and it really seems to like they were running out of time and money, and replaced an actual, unique Unversed boss with a repeat at the last minute. I’ll cop to the curious fact that one of the Jellyshades investigates the chest, which is more personality than we’ve seen from the Unversed in most other parts of the game and even implies their emotional origin for once, but I just want… I just have to believe that the developers wouldn’t put you up against the same boss three times in a row with slightly different factors involved. It’s such awful design!
I’m not even going to talk about the swarm. I refuse. Terra’s last Deck Capacity upgrade. Fuck off.
After the fight, Slightly has his suspicious line, and Hook arrives back at the island, thankfully so tied in naval procedure that he announces himself as soon as he’s within hearing range, giving the Lost Boys time to hide. Urm… to hide in a flat, BBS boss arena with the typical lack of detail work. I like to imagine they’re just pressed against the wall pretending to be rocks. Sure enough, Hook has kidnapped Tinker Bell in his stupid, omnipresent lantern, and Terra asks to see her. Since Hook trusts Terra now, he hands her over and Hook starts to gloat, only for Terra to free Tinker Bell the moment Hook’s back is turned.
Hook demands to know why Terra did that, and Jason Dohring gets a good delivery in saying “You know, I didn’t give it much thought,” which is a very subtle line that I think cuts to the heart of Terra’s issues and shows that he’s letting his heart do the thinking. And then, because this is a franchise for young teens, he outright says that that was what his heart told him. Ugh, developers, I understand, but could you show a little confidence in your material? The first line worked on its own!
You might expect a boss fight with Hook here, and Terra sure does, but Hook is scared off by the convenient arrival of the crocodile, and he dashes off, pursued by the croc, unwittingly going towards his boss battle with Ven. Meanwhile, Tinker Bell celebrates above Terra, sprinkling the area with pixie dust, but though Terra seems very happy to see this, this gives him no mobility upgrades, as his mobility is already at its peak! Instead, it causes Terra to flash back to the game’s prologue, when he first arrived and started talking about stars being worlds and Ven being like the stars. His metaphor still doesn’t really make sense in the English version but I’m not sure this scene is meant to clarify, per se, so much as to serve as a happy memory of his closest friends.
As Terra returns to the present, we encounter another clue that this sequence is somehow incomplete (our third, if you count Peter Pan’s inadequate AI, the seemingly changed boss, and now this), in how Slightly and Cubby bemoan the loss of all their pirate treasures. This is incredibly strange, because even though the Jellyshades knocked the chest around when they were looking at it, they did nothing to the treasure and the boys should be able to just… scoop it up off the ground! It was never lost in any way, and yet now it’s vanished from the scene! In any event, Terra suggests that they fill the chests with the things that are really special to them, which leads to the payoff at the end of Ven’s tale, tying things together nicely… in fact, maybe a little too nicely. It feels like Terra has finally been allowed to end a Disney world, but the question is raised of what Aqua’s going to do if the story’s already over. The story doesn’t need a prologue, either, so she can’t be first… They wouldn’t… nah, I must be overlooking something.
Should you return to Skull Rock on later trips, you can find a second Blobmob here, exclusive to Terra and looking very much out-of-place with its Deep Space aesthetic!
Given that this is the last regular world, it’s no surprise that Terra leaves the world and is immediately dropped into a cutscene, but for consistency’s sake, let’s discuss Neverland’s Unversed Challenge before we move on. This one takes place at the First Nation’s camp, which I suppose is appropriate because you’re going to battle a recolour of the Triple Wrecker, the totem pole Unversed. This recolour is known as the Element Cluster, and forces you to pay attention to an easily overlooked detail about the Triple Wrecker, namely that the Triple Wrecker’s totems constantly shuffle their position. The Triple Wrecker does this to change which spell its about to cast, but for the Elemental Cluster, you’re going to have to hit it with a spell matching the totem in the middle.
Thankfully, the three totems do look distinct, which should help if happen to be colourblind. They’re also flanked by arms that vaguely resemble their element, and of course they keep casting spells at you during the battle! Square probably could have pointed out which totem was which in the mini-game’s instructions, but as these things go, one of KH’s better efforts when it comes to colourblind players.
Speaking of colour, the Element Cluster is a recolour of an enemy where colour already delineated abilities, right? This means that while the Thunder segment is still yellow – in fact a brighter yellow than usual – the Blizzard and Fire segments actually look like different shades of purple to me, at least from the front?
Now personally, I’m never, ever fond of a challenge that forces me to unequip my comfortable character build for bullshit stunts. I’m surprised I’ve never made a big fuss about it on the blog so far, considering we’ve been through so many games full of gummis, mushrooms, Magic Jars and, uh, CoM. The entirety of CoM. In any event, this makes me bitter about this challenge right from the off. You’re going to want to carry all three Final Fantasy magical elements (Fire, Thunder and Blizzard) at the same time, possibly in double, since you have to hit the Element Cluster 70 times in a minute thirty! Oh, and I mentioned that it attacks you, yes? In fact, the attacks are so distracting that the wiki recommends you synth Renewal Block just so that can heal you instead of timewasting Cure spells? Yeah, this mission is so hyper-specific that, you know what? Maybe I am justified with a little griping!
Your prize for winning this one is a rare but not exclusive command called Voltage Stack, which was introduced to the Vanilla international releases. It was designed to be used with your fellow players in multiplayer, a feature lost in 2.5. It’s also available for purchase at the Mirage Arena for medals. It’s not the only such team-up-command-that-no-longer-teams-up: others include Trinity Limit and Union Rush, which are still medal shop exclusives. I thank the Elemental Stack for sparing us 1800 arena medals that could be spent on other things, but it might have been nicer if these ex-multiplayer commands could have been upgraded into some new form!