Aqua arrives at the Enchanted Dominion just outside Maleficent’s gate, and the very moment she arrives she sees Aurora’s heart flying out of the castle and back to her body! While we can’t be sure if Aqua recognized the flying ball of light a disembodied heart even with her specialized training, this is clearly an odd thing, and Aqua decides to investigate.
After fighting her way past Maleficent’s Goons, Aqua finds herself in the throne room at the very end of Ven’s boss fight against Maleficent. To repeat: Maleficent accuses Terra of doing something awful, and Aqua concludes that this must be a lie despite having heard none of the evidence or even a half-adequate summary. Aqua ignores Maleficent even when she tries to goad her, and urges Ven to come home despite her resolution about Ven being ready to leave home just real-world seconds ago, and Ven runs off instead, protesting about Terra and it being almost “too late.”
Aqua attempts to give chase, but is distracted when Maleficent finally gains her attention by mentioning her Keyblade, not unlike how she got Terra’s attention during his trip. Now that she has Aqua’s attention, Maleficent is able to worm her way into Aqua’s head by mentioning the unlocking of hearts and Master Xehanort. Coveting the Keyblade, Maleficent implies that she wants Aqua to either work for her or to give her the power of the Keyblade, and Aqua defiantly refuses. Maleficent seems to have expected that, and casts a spell to create a portal under Aqua’s feet. This hole, by the way, remains in the floor for the rest of the game in Aqua’s file, allowing a one-way shortcut to its destination if you really want one. It does not appear in Ven’s file, despite other Aqua-specific changes taking place in a nearby room in both folders.
Aqua soon finds herself in one of her three unique rooms in the game: the prison cell that Ven refused to open during his trip here. Here, we finally get to see why I was so sour on Ven skipping the door, as we learn it’s currently housing Prince Philip, whom Ven unintentionally left to rot. And thank god, after the last two princes, I forgot he had a real name. Philip gives a brief summary of his backstory, honestly no more than what you’d see in any Kingdom Hearts game, but I suppose if you came here after Ven (as again, most players would do) you’d have seen some of the flashbacks he shared with Aurora in that curiously pointless scene when Ven freed her heart. In short, Philip says that only he can break the curse on Aurora.
Just then, as per the film, the three fairies arrive in the dungeon, presumably having started wandering around Maleficent’s house after fighting her. I feel like I’m watching a fantasy version of Hello Neighbour that’s going to end just as darkly when Maleficent catches them. The fairies are just here to fulfill their role from the film, and when you put it under the microscope, you realize that their “role” is just to appear now so that they can actually do something at the eleventh hour and not seem out of place. Aqua says she’s going along with them to break the curse, as she wants to interrogate Maleficent. She then basically just walks out of the cell without any scene showing her use the Keyblade, which might sound lazy but was truly hilarious to me back in 2010. It’s a joke that’s told by not being told: Maleficent makes a huge deal about locking her in the cell, and Aqua just… leaves.
Even though there are technically three exits from the next room, Aqua’s mobility is restricted (the key problem is that she doesn’t have High Jump), and so, like Ven when he was here, she can only escape through one of the three doors. This ensures that she enters Maleficent’s former maze room from the “correct” entrance every time. Luckily, Aqua won’t have to worry about the maze, per se. While some of the maze walls are visible when Aqua and Philip arrive, so is Diablo the raven, and he calls the guards on them, causing the maze to withdraw to reveal the force of Goons hiding behind them. Honestly, in terms of difficulty, the force of Goons doesn’t even compare to the maze. It doesn’t even make full use of the now-giant room, but at least we aren’t doing the same puzzle twice and that’s still for the better!
The real purpose of this sequence is to introduce Philip as a combat companion, ala Hercules and Zack in Ven’s trip to Olympus Coliseum; or Terra, Aqua and Ven against the Trinity Armour or orbs of light. Not only can he fight on his own, but Philip also has a team-up attack you can use with square, and it would pay to master it before you get to the surface and the mechanics become more complicated.
Aqua fights generally alone after this one brawl (Phillip presumably wasn’t programmed to do platforming, even to the minor degree demanded by Enchanted Dominion, and so had to be left behind), but Philip returns when the two of them reach the courtyard and find the inner and outer portcullises locked shut. Thankfully, they’re on the inside of both gates, so they can make their way to the winches, which is a lot easier than conducting a siege in the other direction. Unfortunately, all of Maleficent’s Goons are watching them, including Pig Goons that throw siege defence boulders at you from a distance. They’re quite dangerous!
After a brief skirmish in the courtyard, possibly while using magic to snipe the archers and boulder-throwers on the level above you, Philip will hit an invisible timer and rush to one point in the map, where he gestures to you. This is all assuming he’s conscious, by the way. If the player can make their way to him and hit square, he will toss Aqua in the air and she can then hit X to destroy a chunk of the castle. You know how in KH2 when I talked about Sora being at a “different sort of level 1, or at least a different level 40” in comparison to KH1? I think Recently Graduated Keyblade Master Aqua might be at a different sort of level 10 than Sora ever was, or even her brothers. She’s also got this Queen Minnie thing going one where she becomes preposterously stronger with the help of others. And yet even this is less absurd than Sora flying through buildings at the end of KH2. This is within the range of my suspension of disbelief, at least so long as Aqua or Terra had done it: adult Keyblade wielders who were nearly if not perfectly ready to be Masters.
Aqua hits a winch to open the inner gate, then goes and does the outer gate as well. As I mentioned, Ven can return here later in the game to use the damage Aqua did to the castle to explore the upper levels as well and grab some fairly high-levelled treasure for this part of the game! Escaping the castle wins Aqua the High Jump ability, presumably after all that “thrown in the air” training! That’s how jumping works, right? Somebody get me a catapult.
Now free of the castle, Aqua and Philip make their way to Maleficent’s castle with no sign of the three fairies. They arrive on the castle bridge, and Maleficent spots them and raises her famous wall of thorns. She then comes down to confront them herself, raising serious questions about her faith in her famous wall of thorns. Aqua, seeing an opportunity and apparently not at all bothered by Maleficent or even all that invested Philip’s concern about this castle and its princess, starts shouting questions about Master Xehanort. You sure you don’t want to answer these, Mally? Because I’m starting to think that, if you do, Aqua might just walk off and leave Philip on his own? I mean, that didn’t end well for you very well in the film either, but you never know this time!
Maleficent claims that Terra willingly embraced his inner darkness and did, uh, whatever it was he’s supposed to have done. Remember that Aqua players don’t actually know. Aqua insists that this can’t be true, so Maleficent gives up and decides to unleash her dragon form just to show Aqua what darkness can do – indeed, she quotes the film to say, “all the powers of hell!” Wow! Surprised Disney let you get away with that after the KH2 censorship.
This is the third time we’ve fought Maleficent’s dragon form in this series, and it’s all-new mechanics this time around. When she breathes fire this time, she will cover most of the available arena on the bridge (the way back is blocked by thorns), but Philip will normally call to you and protect the both of you with his shield if you’re fast enough to get to him. Normally. Sometimes he simply doesn’t, god knows why, and of course he can’t do anything at all if he’s unconscious. If you do meet up with him, he’ll not only protect you, but repeat your team attack from earlier to do even more damage to Maleficent.
Maleficent’s other primary attack is to stomp the ground, causing area damage and there’s not much you can do about this except to attack her in the air and try not to land in the middle of a stomp. After a time, Maleficent will start flying, and Philip will again call to you, this time offering to toss you up onto Maleficent’s back. If you get up there, you can do some extra damage but can also easily fall back to the ground. Should you fail to team up with Philip (including if he’s unconscious), Maleficent will do damage across the bridge, and she’ll do it even if you do get on top, meaning Philip tends to take a hit no matter how well you’re playing! Even worse, missing your chance to get on Maleficent’s back forces you to watch her slooowly fly about the arena, which is sooooo booooooring.
That’s basically the gist of it. After Maleficent has been defeated for the first canonical time, Philip finishes the battle with the help of the three fairies enchanting his sword, ala the film. But unlike in the film, where it’s implied that Maleficent was killed by this attack, Maleficent survives here. I suppose they could have reused the idea of her bringing herself back to life like in KH2. I wouldn’t have been happy with it, but they didn’t, and they instead chose the even more questionable route of having Philip all-but-ignore her to go to Aurora, as Maleficent limps off just a few feet behind him!
Aqua goes to confront Maleficent, and like the brown-nosing teacher’s pet paladin that she is, she’s swift to play the Disney party line by saying “It was the power of true love that defeated you!” Oh Aqua. Aqua, Aqua, Aqua. She goes on to claim that darkness could never defeat a heart full of light, and Maleficent reiterates what appears to be Aqua’s running theme for the time being: that light inevitably begets darkness. She then teleports away, raising the question of why she was limping to begin with, Aqua rushing at her far too late. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that Aqua’s tired proselytizing just cost her the information she wanted, and I wonder if that was intentional?
Now unsure about her Terra’s actions in the Enchanted Dominion, Aqua talks to him in monologue about how he has to stay strong for her.
Defeating Maleficent returns the Firestorm Command Style, and also Xehanort Report 6. In this report, Xehanort summarizes information I’ve already told you during the KH1 Retrospective, but was never explicitly said in-game: namely, that there are three families of Keyblades, the Light, the Dark, and the Keyblade of People’s Hearts. Besides noting that the third only came into existence after the world was shattered by the Keyblade War (which makes sense, since the princesses didn’t exist until then), there is basically nothing new here or even particularly pertinent to BBS in general! Arguably Xehanort is talking about the X-Blade when he mentions the Keyblade of People’s Hearts, but honestly, this feels more like Nomura taking the chance to fit in some canon-clarifying interview stuff than it does anything used to enrich the game we’re currently playing!
Oh, and in the final sentence, he talks about how he could use the door to Kingdom Hearts to “control […] all worlds and all people.” Nope, no worries, nothing evil here! And I suppose Aqua ignoring this makes sense since it is just a scholarly statement on its own (aside from the fact that KH2 and BBS don’t even imply that people are reading the reports). It’s maybe a good thing that Aqua has so few encounters with Master Xehanort overall, because otherwise this line might seem a little… well…