The Fairy Godmother waits for the player’s permission to start the next sequence, after which she uses her magic to shrink Aqua down and send her through an upstairs window (this, for lack of a better explanation, is the only clue we have to suggest why Ven was shrunk down to begin with).
Aqua finds herself in the dressing room (the big room from Ven’s scenario, where the window was open this entire time!) where she finds Jaq painstakingly dragging a key from one side of the room to the other. If you’ve forgotten the plot of the film, this is the part where Lady Tremaine locks Cinderella in her bedroom and Jaq and Gus try to rescue her, all the while harassed by Lucifer the cat. You won’t be seeing Lucifer during this sequence, but you will see the Unversed, perhaps once again inadvertently working on Lady Tremaine’s orders. Aqua then offers to help Jaq and draws her Keyblade, which the developers meant to bring up Jaq’s story about Ven being here first, while completely overlooking the fact that her Keyblade is a much more efficient way to unlock Cinderella’s door.
This is the start of an escort mission, which has a unique element in that Jaq not only has a health bar but will drop the Key every goddamned time he takes damage, though perhaps that’s for the best in some situations, since it keeps him out of trouble with enemies at a distance. The biggest problem here is the same one Ven had during his escort mission: Aqua’s just not very capable yet, and where Ven’s biggest threat was trees he could instantly kill (though I’ll admit, they’re very dangerous if he doesn’t), Aqua has to fight Bruisers with their area attacks! At least Aqua’s probably gained a few levels on her walk here! Again, these are signs that Aqua was meant to be the last-played scenario, even if the other two weren’t so clear-cut.
Clearing this segment gives Aqua the Thunderbolt command style, which makes Aqua the only character to have a second Command Style by the time she fights her first boss! Not that it’s going to be particularly helpful, especially since this is going to be a speedy boss and Thunderbolt’s Finish attack is set in place, but I suppose that’s something! Terra, as you may recall, got an extra D-Link before his boss fight, which was a uniquely-timed reward for him as well. Ven got nothing at all! Wow, first they don’t give Ven a leg-up in the Mirage Arena with a personalized low-level challenge, next they don’t give Ven a full set of Keyblades, and now this! Poor little Ven!
After Jaq makes it to the mouse-hole on the opposite end of the room, he runs out of the story and we cut to manor’s foyer, only ever seen in BBS during this cutscene (players could later adventure here during KHUX). Aqua, still the size of a mouse, spies on the proceedings as Lady Tremaine lies about her step-daughter’s existence and the Grand Duke is about to leave. Unsure what else to do, Aqua starts to move, only for the spell to wear off and for her to regain her full size and fall right off the ledge where she was spying. Everyone in the room just stares at her, mostly in fishface I’m ashamed to say, though they did bother to give an expression to the Grand Duke.
Completely incapable of explaining her breaking and entering, Aqua deflects the question by asking if she can try on the slipper instead! Okay, fishfacing aside, this is pretty clever and funny, I’m enjoying this. Aqua probably only gets away with this because the Grand Duke already “knows” her so to speak, but at the same time, he’s also heard the Prince confirm that she’s not the right person. Aqua tries to bluff her way through this, but Lady Tremaine recovers and returns to the original, more important question of what the hell Aqua’s doing here, but somehow the Grand Duke decides it’s more important that she try the shoe after all. Thankfully this is all the time Aqua needs, and thank goodness because otherwise the developers would have had to do detail work and to change her model to not wear a shoe and ugh! It’s just too much. God forbid.
As I was implying, Cinderella shows up and of course it’s her shoe, the end. Aqua even gets a moment where she switches gears from her protesting that she’s a woman and deserves to try on the shoe for her to offer Cinderella her hand to get down the stairs, a fairly masculine gesture in Cinderella’s European medieval society, and then stands by her like a guard. It’s like a proof waiting for a gender studies essay! Or alternately, you could comment on how this is the second time that a Keyblade wielder has taken a “guard” role next to Cinderella, a role that seems especially pertinent after DDD.
These kinds of comments are basically inevitable with BBS, especially after a bizarre comment from Nomura that he wasn’t sure if Kingdom Hearts fans would accept a different kind of female lead after three major female characters that were all variants of Kairi, and were, in his eyes, very similar. The comment was simply stunning. Firstly, we have the on-the-nose absurdity that Nomura believed Kingdom Hearts fans might not accept a second female character type to begin with. Goodness knows all but the most virulent misogynists could probably name at least two female character types that they enjoy, though I wouldn’t particularly want to hear their answer. Of course, Nomura seemed to have no such reservations about the men! Furthermore, he didn’t seem to be all that aware of the differences that already exist between Kairi, Naminé and Xion to begin with! I mean, in a broad way, I’ll admit that they’re similar and come from the same root but… really? To treat them as being exactly the same character? If you honestly believe that, why’d you have three of them to begin with?
Now, it’s entirely possible that the interview was mistranslated, but I remember reading it for the first time and feeling several mysteries click into place in the back of my head. Like: “This is why this idiot wasn’t willing to put Kairi into battle, for fear that she would come off as ‘a different character,’ or, god forbid, experience character development.” Or: “This is why this idiot had to test the waters not just once but twice [Xion and Aqua] before being willing to commit to Kairi with a sword in a game.” And a great deal about the development of FFXV began to click into place, while we’re on the subject. Click, click, click-click-clickity-click-click. This guy developed numerous Final Fantasies before this, right? Final Fantasies… with women in the cast, right? Were they… were they forced on him? Described to him in great detail by another high-ranking member of the creative team so that he couldn’t nullify anything? Did he not pay attention to the results as he himself was working on them?
While they’re waiting for the Grand Duke, Aqua whispers her thanks and Terra’s thanks, and just like in the film, Lady Tremaine breaks the glass slipper and Cinderella produces the other. So we’re done here, right? Well not quite. The Grand Duke and Cinderella head off, and Lady Tremaine whispers that, “Cinderella will be put in her place.” A few minutes later, the Grand Duke runs back, saying that Cinderella was attacked by a monster in the woods, and Aqua is going to have to go in and do a little more work to set things to rights.
The boss here is an Unversed, summoned by Lady Tremaine and seemingly her daughters: a twisted version of Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage called the Cursed Coach. The Unversed drops several pumpkin bombs on Cinderella, only for Aqua to shield the Princess with her body… and, urm, presumably with her magic, because she’s only covering about a tenth of Cinderella. Lady Tremaine starts gloating, when all of a sudden another bomb comes down and incinerates her and her sisters. Aqua’s only response to this is “The darkness in their hearts overtook them.” I… I guess? Roy Disney, that’s dark.
So, two topics now. First off we have the matter of the Tremaines summoning the Cursed Coach, the Symphony Master in Terra’s storyline, and possibly other Unversed. This is not unlike the treatment of the Heartless in KH1, but while it is familiar, it is at least providing a level of worldbuilding that we don’t see in the rest of BBS, though I’m afraid to say that it’s also basically done. While you’re at perfect liberty to suspect that the Unversed/Vanitas came to a world because they were drawn to some local villain, the game will not directly suggest this again. This is a hell of a shame, and makes me think that this world may be showing us a remnant of an earlier plotline. It also doesn’t help that Ven’s visit to the world also had a much more refined level design than the others, and while I maintain that that was probably done because it was shown at trade shows, the whole world does give a vibe of taking place “before” some broad editing sweep that wiped out certainly a more ambitious plot, and possibly other ambitious design elements as well!
The second issue we have on hand is the death of the Tremaines, especially among fans of the Cinderella sequels. The Cinderella fans particularly object to the death of Anastasia, who had a redemption arc spanning two films! I suppose there’s nothing here that could stop Kingdom Hearts from bringing them back to life in a later game, maybe just saying they were hit by the bomb but survived all the same (uh, as atoms), but that’s not really the point. The problem is more that BBS seems to have reversed the previous KH2 signs of respect for Return of Jafar (of all trash) to a disrespect for both of Cinderella’s sequels, the second of which, A Twist in Time, is often considered one of the best Disney sequels!
Aqua ushers Cinderella back to the manor and engages the Coach. Like I said earlier, the boss is particularly fast, circling around the arena in with you typically in the middle. It’s vulnerable while it does this, but good luck hitting it with most of your attacks. The Coach has a combo attack that can be easily blocked, but the player should also look out for more pumpkin bombs. There’s also a suction attack you’ll have to move against to avoid, which is not Aqua’s strength with her short-range Cartwheel attack. It can also spawn Thornbites around the arena (Aqua’s first encounter with the Thornbites, as a matter of fact), which can drop HP orbs if you’re desperate. Like the other first bosses, the Coach can also be stunned, just to make things even easier.
After the battle, we cut straight to the palace, where Cinderella and Prince Charming are reunited. Aqua watches them from across the courtyard, where she sits on the edge of the fountain. The Fairy Godmother comes to speak to her here, and Aqua acknowledges that Cinderella’s heart is a pure heart filled with light. She then attempts to bring back the Fairy Godmother’s ideas about not fighting darkness with light, in desperate hope that the Fairy Godmother might elaborate a little. The Fairy Godmother’s response is an infuriating. “You’re too young to know. Experience more things and you’ll find the answer.” Too young? Experience more things?? Ma’am, she is going to go out into the world in the next fight minutes and she is going there to darkness with light, because you haven’t given her another option! I mean, maybe the Fairy Godmother expected Aqua to stop her quest after this experience, but considering she just fought a giant evil pumpkin with her light, I think the signs are pretty clear!
On finishing the Castle of Dreams, Aqua gets the usual prizes, plus the Deck Capacity upgrade we’ve seen at the end of all first worlds in BBS. Just to re-iterate: I’m not going to announce end-of-world Keyblades and D-Links that are identical for all worlds, nor is there any reason for me to bring up the Unversed Missions I covered in Terra’s storyline. As for the Command Boards I said I would discuss in Aqua’s storyline, I’m going to discuss them in the very next post, so we’ll get there!
Like in her brothers’ scenarios, clearing Aqua’s first world unlocks the other two, plus Mirage Arena. As with Terra it also allows her to go back to the Land of Departure for a few Potions, and also unlocks Aqua’s Wheels of Misfortune match in the Arena, one of the easiest-ranked arena contests there is, though it can’t be unlocked for other characters until Aqua has completed her story. We’ll discuss the Arena towards the end of Aqua’s storyline, however, so that I can include all the post-game bosses that happen to appear there. Next update: buy land! Buy! Sell! Buy!! Sell!!