When I finished first-drafting Ven and Terra’s stories, I measured their initial word-count and was surprised to find that they were only separated by around 5000 words (approximately two blog posts) despite the sheer amount of asset re-use between the two stories. Remember: even though Ven and Terra’s stories were careful not to step in one another’s footsteps for the first four worlds, they were basically piggy-backing for the last four. I do not expect Aqua’s story to go on for quite so long, which is why I’m using her section for all the remaining bonus stuff. This short length isn’t strictly an Aqua problem. No matter which order I took, the last character was always going to have the least content simply as a matter of repetition! If you break it down, it’s clear that Ven has the most unique content, what with his near-exclusive access to Cinderella’s house in the Castle of Dreams. On the opposite end of the scale, Aqua and Terra have just short of a half-dozen unique rooms between them, if I’m not forgetting any! And half of those unique rooms are just boss rooms or save points!
I’m not even afraid to spoil Aqua’s story by summarizing the unique rooms, take a look! Terra’s three unique rooms are 1 + 2) in Castle of Dreams: the hallway and save room leading to the balcony, and 3) Stitch’s prison in Deep Space, a boss room. Aqua’s two unique rooms are: 1) a save point in Enchanted Dominion, 2) a large room in Never Land. Oh, and Aqua gets to see the foyer of Tremaine Manor during a cutscene, but she can’t actually play there, so let’s say that’s… five and a half? That’s it! I am going to have very, very little to talk about until we get to the Final Episode. But we might as well get started!
Terra’s first world was Enchanted Dominion, Ven’s first world was Dwarf Woodlands, and so Aqua naturally begins in the Castle of Dreams, only to find Terra just about to leave! Yeah, remember that scene at the end of Terra’s trip to the Castle? That’s Aqua’s opening scene! And bear in mind that on the official timeline, this isn’t Terra’s second world, but his third world, even though the Battle Lv recommends you come here second. That means that after Eraqus sent Aqua after her brothers, all of the following happened before Aqua set foot on a single game world:
- Terra went to the Enchanted Dominion and “stole” Aurora’s heart
- Terra went to the Dwarf Woodlands and scared Snow White
- Ven went to the Dwarf Woodlands and helped Snow White
- Ven went to the Castle of Dreams and helped assemble Cinderella’s dress, and
- Terra went to the Castle of Dreams and helped Cinderella go to the ball!
Aqua was puttering about doing god knows what for five worlds of gameplay plus travel time! And Aqua’s not the only one to take three weeks off-duty at Ignis Scientia’s Space Taco Bell to get a chalupa: we already know that Ven meets Aqua at the end of his trip to the Enchanted Dominion, so that means that after step 4, Ven kicked back and waited for Terra to finish one world and for Aqua to finish two worlds plus travel time to a third before he even got to work helping Aurora!
As a refresher, Terra suggests that Aqua might talk to the Prince to get a lead on the “Masked Boy,” and asks her to pass on his thanks to Cinderella for showing how to remove the stick up his ass, at least temporarily. Terra leaves, and we continue the scene briefly to see Aqua saying “He’ll be all right. He won’t give into it.” So, like… we’re done, right? This is the end of Aqua’s mission. There’s no conceivable way it could continue after this resolution. Game over. Come back next update for—oh, sorry, what was that? We’ve already seen how this plays out? Well, I guess I can’t argue with that, come to think of it. But let me tell you, I was really fuckin’ deflated to see this as my very first experience with BBS, when I tried to do Aqua-first. “Aqua, go make sure your brother isn’t evil!” “Well, he’s definitely not evil, off to find Ven!”
I’ve already expressed displeasure with Aqua’s starting capabilities way, way back in the prologue, so I’m going to simply introduce you to her magic-focused starter Keyblade, the Rainfell, and her opening Command Style, Spellweaver, which causes her to float about the battlefield with wide swings before pirouetting a magical vortex into existence and causing mass havoc. Okay, well that at least has promise! But in general, Aqua can be very hard to use at the beginning, at least until you’ve melded a number of Commands. This seems to suggest that you were supposed to come to Aqua last, after you knew the combinations for a number of commands, which runs alongside an neverending stream of narrative clues. This suggests that knowledge of Command Melding did factor into the game’s difficulty… but only part-way through the game? Aqua also picks up once she starts gaining Command Styles, because most of those are triggered by the magic attacks you’ll already be using if you plan on taking advantage of her strengths.
I’ve been discussing combat, but I’m actually jumping the gun a little as Aqua doesn’t encounter any enemies until after she makes her way to speak with the Prince. On her way to the ballroom, Aqua passes the three Tremaines, and as they pass one another, something curious happens: Aqua sees a flash of the eyes of the Unversed cross the screen (GroyvleTheThief pointed out that these are the eyes of Aqua’s boss for this world!). Nothing of the sort has ever happened before, and nothing like it will ever happen again, but hold your horses, because we’re going to want to finish with this world before we tally our receipts. Something unusual is happening in this world’s design.
The Grand Duke suddenly runs up clutching Cinderella’s lost glass slipper. Aqua shouts a question to him and he politely tells her Lady Tramaine’s name despite his rush. Aqua is clearly disturbed by the strange sensation that came over her, but she’s interrupted by the arrival of the Prince, who, having seen the Grand Duke speaking to someone but unable to make her out past the Duke’s frame, assumes he collected Cinderella. The Prince must be pretty high in the clouds right now, considering there’s no sign of Cinderella, especially her dress billowing out past the skinny Duke, but eh, I think I can give this one a pass. Besides, Aqua is apparently very short for an adult, and is easily hidden by the Duke! Prince Charming (and yes, that is his official name) is voiced by Matt Nolan. I personally know him from the curious short video series The Booth at the End, though he also had a role in American Dragon: Jake Long, and is the spin-off voice of Mort from Madagascar. For a Disney connection, he had a bit part in Tangled Ever After.
No longer distracted by Aqua, the Grand Duke speaks to the Prince about the glass slipper, and tells him that apparently, in the few minutes he was out of sight between Aqua’s arrival in the foyer and Aqua’s arrival in the ballroom, he spoke to the king (entirely off-screen) and the king arranged the entire “find the owner of the slipper” hunt in all that time. The Grand Duke plans to leave at once to go to the Tremaine’s home, even though he just saw them leave and also it’s the dead of fucking night in a world without electric lighting. I’m not kidding, there are candles visible in this shot right the hell now.
After a funny shot of both men walking away from Aqua in opposite directions like they don’t even remember she’s there. This is definitely an intentional joke, but is funnier to me thanks to my frequent critique of the Disney plots going on without regard for the larger picture. Aqua decides on a change in plans and resolves to go to Tremaine Manor rather than speak to the prince.
Your first Unversed appear the moment you leave the ballroom, with just as little fanfare as they got in Ven’s story, possibly with the implication that they were summoned in the wake of the Tremaines? It’s a long walk from here to the opposite end of the world, the reverse of what Terra had to do but without any plot whatsoever to break up the stroll. That’s not to say that nothing notable happens, however. First off, make sure to grab Counter Blast from a chest in the Courtyard. Second…
Remember that wide-open boss area outside the manor, which I said would have to be someone’s boss arena and is now clearly one of Aqua’s? No boss appears there at the moment, but something almost as diabolical takes its place. You’re gonna love this, this is fucking prize-winning right here. Aqua has her first encounter with Hareraisers in this room, where you discover that her combo finisher can, depending on the distance between you and the Hareraiser, swing clear over their heads. That’s right: a basic attack, the one that does the majority of damage in a combo, fails at its purpose in the very first world of this character’s story. It just soars over their head like a majestic coyote with a rocket on its back, high over a roadrunner and on its way into a wall. This was my first world in Birth by Sleep, and it was like a hearty greeting from Osaka team to say “Welcome to the new Kingdom Hearts game! We have no idea what we’re goddamned doing!”
This room is dangerous too, Hareraisers or no. They’re certainly one of the bigger problems, but honestly more for their multi-hit attack than their… uh… height, though if you could hit them on the regular I suppose you wouldn’t have to worry about them attacking you in turn! You should have seen Kyle and I try to clear this room in Critical, and Kyle is a demonstrably better Kingdom Hearts player than I am. We just kept passing it back and forth whenever we’d die, with no means of healing but to switch D-Links (and no access to the Aqua D-Link and its Cure spells) and the potential that we’d die on the spot to most three-hit combos.
After making it to Lady Tremaine front door, Aqua actually has to… use the door, which was impossible in Terra’s storyline, and in a matter of speaking is also impossible here! You see, Aqua never actually opens the door, she just approaches it, so when I was replaying for the Retrospective, it didn’t occur to me to even walk towards it and I was lost for a moment! Aqua arrives at the front door to find that the Grand Duke is already inside, meeting Drizella and Anastasia. Aqua senses darkness inside and then draws her Keyblade, and judging by her stepping towards the door instead of stepping back to unlock it with the Keyblade, it seems that she expects the door to be unlocked behind the Duke, and that she’s just going to bash her way in and start stabbing people!
We’re spared this delightful sequence of events by the arrival of the Fairy Godmother, who confusingly announces that “It’s dangerous to fight the darkness with light, my dear.” Aqua takes her appearing out of thin air with aplomb, and even says that she’s honoured when the Fairy Godmother compliments her by saying that she only appears to those who still believe that dreams can still come true. Still, Aqua’s just as confused by the FGM’s greeting as I was at the time. That said, Aqua’s formality and respectfulness is emblematic of what I like about her character. The Fairy Godmother’s answer is… indecisive. She begins by suggesting that light will always cast dark shadows, something we’ve already seen with Eraqus and his light supremacy, and a nice bit of lore on top. The Fairgodmother then gives Cinderella as an example, showing how her goodness has unfortunately inspired jealousy in the rest of her family. This is in line with other portrayals we’ve seen with darkness and light in the series, including in KH2 and Xehanort’s Reports in BBS, but it’s the first time we’ve seen the connection so directly! All good so far!
(This said, I don’t like the FGM conflating beauty with light the way Disney themselves do, which is just as shallow as it sounds and I can’t believe Kingdom Hearts actually created it out of thin air here rather than taking a Disney example, as it’s just as dusty and gag-inducing as a Disney mothball. Yes, even though I was defending this movie during Terra, I won’t do it from end to end.)
When Aqua asks what she should do instead, the Fairy Godmother gives a frustrating answer that’s only really applicable here and not on the grander scene: she says that Jaq is trying to help Cinderella, and suggests that Aqua help him. Or rather, he says that the friend is trying “to keep her light from fading.” So the Fairy Godmother’s plan to avoid fighting darkness with light is to cultivate light so that it will, uh… in the process… cultivate… darkness? Look, I agree with her that this is probably better for “the balance” than Aqua running in and lopping off Lady Tremaine’s head, but I think you set up a thesis and then dropped on the ground when you were done stating it.
We’ll pick this up next update.