You’re not going to be surprised that Aqua wraps up the story of Dwarf Woodlands, considering that it was left unresolved after Terra and Ven’s stories, and moreover, finishing plots is what Aqua’s going to do something like 4 times out of 5. But you might be surprised exactly where she picks this one up!
This world begins with Queen Grimhilde in her witch disguise, violating Snow White’s personal space. As per the film, she is tempting Snow White with a poisoned apple, and as per the film, Snow White tries it. When Aqua arrives on the world, we learn this to have been a flashback, as she finds the Dwarfs grieving at Snow White’s glass coffin. Yes, after being late to the Castle of Dreams only under close observation, Aqua is explicitly too late in her arrival to the Dwarf Woodlands, arriving after Snow White’s death! And Grimhilde’s death too, as the dwarfs soon imply! What a tremendous thing to just skip! The missing period was later adapted into KHX, because… well why was it even skipped to begin with? If you had to copy a Disney plot so thoroughly, why would you cut the action sequence from your Action RPG?
Doc and Happy tell Aqua most of the story of how Snow White was poisoned, including the parts they weren’t there for, and the dwarfs conclude the best way to find a solution to this magical poison would be to search the Queen’s old laboratory under the castle. Grumpy resolves to go, but hearing about the danger, Aqua steps in and offers her services instead. If you talk to Grumpy after the fact, he expresses concern for your wellbeing, which is how you know he’s upset!
Hidden behind the dwarfs’ cottage, Aqua can find the Payback Surge ability in a chest. This means that Aqua gets both of her counterattacks in only two worlds!
Okay, so even though Aqua is the only character who can go all the way from the cottage to the basement, anyone who’s played both Terra and Ven by this point – which will be most players – will be able to navigate their way to the bottom with no trouble, especially bearing in mind that Terra not only climbed out of the basement but climbed back down as well, meaning that once you cross the forest, like you did with Ven, you’ll just be in Terra’s footsteps. You see how tidy this is? It’s like I don’t have to work at all!
Aqua hits some plot the moment she reaches the Queen’s old castle, where she finds the Prince from the film standing by the well. The Prince tells Aqua that something seems different about the castle, but he can’t put his finger on it. Wait, so the castle was also completely empty of all denizens and servants, the mistress of the castle absent, and the dungeons packed with and surrounded by blue monsters the first time you were here too, but only something indistinct has changed? Oh and also Snow White isn’t here. The Prince, and yes, like Prince Charming, “The Prince” is his official name, is voiced by James Arnold Taylor, whom we last heard from as Jack Sparrow in KH2. Curiously, so far as I can tell, The Prince hasn’t been both animated and voiced outside of video games since his original appearance in 1937! And his first game appearance was 1999’s Disney’s Villains’ Revenge for the PC (where he was voiced by Michael Gough), meaning the character went 67 years in either live appearances, silence, or total absence!
Realizing The Prince is talking about Snow White, Aqua conveys the bad news about Snow White being poisoned, and he rushes off with her directions because the developers even have a chance to censor the part where Aqua would have said that she died! So good job, Kingdom Hearts! Instead of allowing the Prince to ex machina his way into butt-nowhere in the middle of the forest and stumble upon Snow White, he now goes looking for her where she should be and gets updated directions from an intergalactic interloper! This is, tragically, a genuinely better plot progression than the original film.
Continuing on her way, Aqua heads into the basement lab until she reaches its heart, the chamber where the queen kept her Magic Mirror, which still remains. Oh, this could be interesting! I wonder how the Mirror will behave without its mistress? Will it—wait, wait, wait a second. I forgot this was Kingdom Hearts and nothing interesting will ever happen to expand the mythos of the various Disney worlds. Carry on in whatever neutral fashion you’ve chosen to go with today, that’s fine. I have to accept these things.
Sensing something is wrong in this evil room, Aqua goes to the mirror and is confronted by the Spirit. She reacts defensively at the very first moment, and is proven justified when the Spirit draws her into the Mirror just like it did Terra, without even a word of introduction! Yes, this means we’re getting a repeat story boss between two characters, and it’s not even a cheapo boss-substitute like the Jellyshade swarm! While obviously a boss refight was justified with the Trinity Armour, and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge each character at least one chance to pop Vanitas in the nose as deuteroantagonist, this is less inspiring to me. It’s better than the Jellyshade swarm, sure, but that doesn’t make it quality. I’m happy to say that the game will only do this once more, which is still more than I’d like, but that example’s only a midboss and so is a little easier to excuse.
The game did bother to provide a little variety in this refight, and in doing so it revealed that once again, Aqua was meant to go later in the game than her brothers. Namely, this is just Terra’s fight plus a single attack. Not that it’s a very good attack! The spirit just pops out of the mirrored ground and spits a single fireball sort-of-but-not-really in your direction, mostly leaving himself open. If you are hit by the fireball you get Confused, and that makes me feel like the attack is just dangerous enough to consider a mild threat instead of a total weakness for the boss, but it’s a real thin line!
After the battle, the Spirit of the Mirror returns Aqua to the real world, and says, “The Queen is gone, my service done,” implying that she left him with some sort of orders to guard the room… I guess? I’m straining here. At this point Aqua has to return to the Dwarf’s Cottage empty-handed, and since you can imagine that she doesn’t go kiss Snow White herself after they went to the trouble of introducing The Prince, it should be no spoiler for me to say that Aqua doesn’t truly accomplish anything in Dwarf Woodlands except to give The Prince directions! I know I’ve complained in the past about how the main plot doesn’t seem to impact the Disney plots in any way, except for the incredibly thin suggestion that Sora or other good guys exist as a mitigating factor against the lesser enemies (Heartless and the like) to allow the Disney plot to go forward as usual, but today we genuinely did nothing, with the Prince apparently able to handle the Unversed on his own. I’m not convinced the Prince wouldn’t have found Snow White on his own if we had left him to his own devices, just like in the film! I’m not sure why they chose to have her go bash around with the mirror instead of, say, run down the Queen, but the reuse of the Mirror suggests some corner cutting was necessary in one form or another.
Rather than force the player to walk back (perhaps because the developers felt you were less likely to have a Fire spell to trigger the boilers on your second world? or maybe just because it would be boring?), Aqua jump-cuts back to the cottage, where The Prince kisses Snow White and she revives. Aqua seems genuinely moved by this “miracle,” and has a flashback to a day in the past when Ven was also unconscious and didn’t seem like he would wake up. This section seems incredibly contrived at first glance, as though they manufactured it just to make it match the current situation (which I suppose isn’t the worst form of writing, since at least they bothered to make a connection to the main characters, but is still a little thin), but once Ven does wake up, we see that his pupils are blank, and furthermore she keeps calling him “Ventus” when she otherwise always calls him “Ven.” This implies that the scene takes place not long after Ven was brought to the Land of Departure by Master Xehanort, maybe immediately after, given his horrible reaction to being asked questions in Terra’s flashback. Furthermore, I suppose BBS can connect Ven being asleep to Roxas being asleep for large parts of Days, just for a few extra points. Ultimately I don’t mind the contrivance so much, but I never fail to flinch at it when I see the scene, just a little. Anyway Ven woke up and that too was a “miracle.”
One curious thing I want to discuss now that we’re done the first three worlds with all three characters is a strange, underlying connection you may not have immediately noticed. For the practical eye, these three worlds were chosen for two simple reasons: 1) they let us see Maleficent before the events of KH1, which was the minimum a good prologue could do, and 2) they feature the worlds of the three Princesses of Heart that we haven’t visited yet. Even still, there does seem to have been an attempt at giving the three worlds a common theme, but it’s one that feels as though it was abandoned part-way through the process, perhaps another victim of BBS’ obvious editing problems. Where KH2 was peppered with mistakes for lack of an additional editing pass (and with rather weaksauce previous pass, retaining elements that should have been tossed wholesale), BBS has been edited by a glacier, digging huge troughs through its plotlines, elements and themes. Can you guess what theme these three worlds have in common? It might be a little tricky, because the editing problems prevented them from being truly “common.” More like… cousins. The theme I’m talking about dreams… or am I talking about sleep?
In the Castle of Dreams, where the former theme is right there in the title, all three storylines make express points to talk about the power of dreams, and what the characters dream will happen to them in the future. Terra even talks to Aqua about it as he is going on his way, and it cause Aqua to remark that everything’s going to be fine. Aurora’s plight in the Enchanted Dominion is an obvious example of sleep, as is Terra succumbing to sleep but being used as a prop in Maleficent and Xehanort’s scam, but dreams are present here as well. Remember: Ven experienced a flashback to Aurora’s life in the forest during which she and Prince Phillip sang about dreams coming true, a flashback that was so important to these resource-parched game developers that they gave Aurora an alternate outfit and even gave her a voice actress who otherwise probably wouldn’t have been a part of the production, even though they couldn’t be arsed to animate Aurora outside of the epilogue and end credits. However, the Dwarf Woodlands have nearly no mention of “dreams” (hold that thought), only of sleep. In fact, like the Enchanted Dominion, sleep is so important to the developers that they created the scene with young Aqua and Ven just to tie the theme into the overall plot. So is it “dreams” or “sleep?”
What’s funny is that Dwarf Woodlands could have easily contained more references to dreams than it currently does. Currently, the only reference to dreams is a new line from the Prince speaking to Aqua, who says that he remembers singing with Snow White as though it were a dream. Ironically, the song he’s referring to mentions dreams, and Snow White’s song from later in the film, “Someday My Prince Will Come,” also mentions dreams, and Grimhilde tempts Snow White to eat the poisoned apple by saying it will make her dreams come true. In fact, the film ends with the chorus repeating the line: “Some day when my dreams come true.” But they didn’t do it here. Why? It’s hard to say. Maybe it was because almost all those references in the film are lyrical, and the exception came from the villain. Square Enix insists on adapting the films line-for-line, but also on treating songs like a bad rash that needs to be covered up. Maybe they didn’t want to violate those “no song” rules by turning the songs into dialogue that wasn’t from the film? Or maybe the fact that these prominent lines were removed was just another victim of BBS’ editing? They certainly wouldn’t have wanted Grimhilde’s murder-bait to be the only line mentioning dreams coming true! Whatever the reason, Dwarf Woodlands was without the unifying theme of dreams coming true and ruined this unifying arc the devs seem to have been going for in these first three worlds.
On the other end of the scale, there was no way to bleed “sleep” out of the narrative of Cinderella, so that theme was also doomed.
So… dreams and sleep. Can we stretch this out any further? Dreams are later mentioned with the Million Dreams Award in Disney Town, and we see more of it with Zack and Hercules wanting to be heroes, but there’s nothing in Deep Space, or at least nothing so explicit. Where were they trying to go with all of this? You’ve probably already guessed that it probably had something to do with the game’s title: “Birth by Sleep.” And we will be getting a few more clues as to what that means towards the end of the game. But unfortunately… not much. And maybe that’s not surprising? After all, if this “sleep and dreams” arc was supposed to provide part of our understanding of “birth by sleep,” then things were already damaged. But that raises a new question: did they realize they had damaged their title theme, or did the stress of editing throw the theme out with the bathwater? I have a theory on that that I’m going to discuss at the very, very end of this, and you’re not going to like it one little bit, but I think it might be possible.
Returning to the present, Aqua says “Maybe Ven left… because it was his time?” So, like… we’re done, right? This is the end of Aqua’s mission to bring Ven home. She acknowledges that she shouldn’t. There’s no conceivable way it could continue after this resolution. Game over. Come back next update for WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS STORY STRUCTURE?
You get a Deck Capacity upgrade for clearing the Magic Mirror. I also want to clarify that Aqua does, in fact, earn Snow White’s D-Link here, despite not interacting with her in any way. I suppose the D-Link does have more to do with the dwarfs than Snow White herself, so why not?