So Terra got to Radiant Garden because he was led there by Master Xehanort, and Ven got to Radiant Garden because the Star Shard led him there. How does Aqua “just happen” to end up at Radiant Garden at the same time as her brothers? Honestly, kind of at random! She just happens across Terra on his way from the Badlands to Radiant Garden (or whatever world Terra players had just visited) and she follows! Sometimes the easiest answers work the best, I suppose!
Despite being within line-of-sight of Terra, Aqua arrives on-world in town square with no sign of the man. And please remember that Terra arrived on world and immediately entered a fight with multiple waves of Unversed, right here in town square, so I can only conclude that Aqua went on another of her damnable chalupa breaks between here and there!
Having missed Terra, Aqua does stumble across Scrooge McDuck, and she asks him about “a boy who’s not from around here.” With that shitty description, you won’t be surprised to learn that she gets bad directions: Scrooge never saw Terra, but he did see Ven head off towards the Bastion. By the way, this is an easily misunderstood scene, since it’s rational for anyone who played as Ven to think about the time Ven and Scrooge talked, but that scene actually hasn’t happened yet. It seems Scrooge saw Ven going towards the Gardens while entirely off-screen, and is now relaying this information to Aqua, just before Ven will return from the Garden to rescue him. Yeesh. Thankfully the report clarifies after you clear the world. Also, Scrooge directs you to the gates in town square that theoretically lead to the castle… except, as you may remember, they don’t work, and never will! This means you have to follow Ven’s route through the Gardens, despite never encountering Ven! It strikes me that Aqua may have been intended to take a different route then Ven, presumably directly to the castle through the gates, and only going through the Gardens on her way back, or maybe even not at all?
After making her way across the Gardens and up to the Bastion, Aqua is greeted by a scream, and she climbs the stairs to discover young Kairi being chased by several Flood! Wow, can you believe it? Young Kairi! I wonder if we’re going to learn anything about her life in Radiant Garden, and what kind of people she hahahaha I can’t take it, I’m sorry, I can’t even joke about this series even trying to talk about things I’d be interested in any more, there’s no goddamned chance!
Kairi runs for shelter behind Aqua and unconsciously touches Aqua’s Keyblade, and yes, this simple action is the explanation for how Kairi was “introduced” to the Keyblade and why she can wield it in KH2! In fact, it goes deeper than that: Kairi is holding a small bouquet of hand-picked flowers when she touches the Keyblade, implying that this inspired her Destiny’s Embrace Keyblade as well!
Aqua realizes she can’t imagine how to fight off the Unversed while defending Kairi, a rare example of a game having the presence of mind to talk down the idea of escort missions… despite having the poor presence of mind to include several other escort missions. Just then, Aqua is spared the dilemma when King Mickey arrives! Remember that Ven followed Mickey here, so this isn’t as surprising as it might seem if it’s been a while since you played Ven, like we have. Mickey asks Aqua to take Kairi somewhere safe, and she’s so shocked by his Keyblade that she doesn’t respond at first, but he insists and to my shock the game actually depicts Aqua picking Kairi up under her arm. Bear in mind that 3D gaming despises having characters pick things up, since it’s almost sure to look terrible, so this is astonishing! She picked up another human being! Arguably the most complicated kind of 3D model in any given scene! The shot doesn’t last long, but how wondrous! I feel like I’ve seen a rare bird in its home in the wilds!
The Flood surround Mickey, and things look about as dire as, uh… a short man and five cats could possibly look… and Aqua soon returns after taking Kairi down the nearby steps. The Flood even politely wait for Mickey to ask her a slowly and carefully enunciated question!
Naturally you team up with Mickey for a battle. After that’s done, Aqua and Mickey introduce themselves and also their masters as a means of explaining their Keyblades. Here, Mickey curiously remarks that he’s not being trained by Yen Sid for the first time, by going to the trouble to explain that he came “back” to Yen Sid for “more” training. You might wonder why Nomura went to the trouble of giving Mickey two or more “blocks” of training in his past. The answer to this is waiting in DDD, and I’ll leave a note for myself to address it when it comes along, though I wonder if Nomura always envisioned this information taking the form it would take, or if it developed that way over time?
The two of them then begin to talk about Kairi like she isn’t even there, which I guess is fine because she seems pretty spaced out and quiet, having not said a word this entire time. Unfortunately, this conversation uncovers an artifice in BBS’ plot that I’ve been sitting on this entire time, partly so I could dramatically discuss it in this scene, when the game slipped up and revealed it was aware of its own serious problem but did nothing to fix it, annnnnd also because the entire series has been doing similar things since KH2. In short: Mickey and Aqua think it’s odd that Kairi was attacked, concluding it must be because she’s got a heart of pure light. Unfortunately, this only reveals that the developers forgot to make the Unversed attack other people, making them a general-purpose threat to begin with. In fact, here is a full list of incidents where Unversed attacked NPCs who aren’t Princesses of Heart:
- Ven’s part of the Trinity Armour attacked Scrooge and hovered vaguely near the castle guards.
- There are some interactions between Unversed and NPCs in Olympus Coliseum during Terra and Ven’s storylines, so that’s two more.
- Unversed attacked Hook and Smee, and an out-of-control editing flub attacked the Lost Boys, during Terra’s trip to Neverland.
- Deep Space has Unversed serve an adequate plot role in all three storylines, as we’ll see with Aqua in good time.
I’m not going to count Disney Town, where Terra supposed the Unversed were causing trouble but they actually weren’t, and where Aqua’s Unversed-related problem is going to prove equally… exaggerated. In the end, yes, you’re looking at that correctly: out of eight regular worlds, only one world incorporates the Unversed as a menace in all three storylines, one additional world incorporates them in two, and two more feature the Unversed as menaces in one of three storylines. Now, to be fair, part of the problem is that such a large chunk of the game’s cast are Princesses of Heart in the first place, but it was Square Enix’s decision to pare back NPCs to such extreme minimums to begin with, so I don’t really feel very sorry for them!
Aqua proposes that she and Mickey have to protect Kairi in some fashion, a lesson that the cast of KH2 probably should have taken closer to heart, and Mickey offers to “join forces” just for the Star Shard to whisk him away on the spot. “I’ll be okay!” says Bret Iwan in a neutral, conversational tone that lacks the even the exclamation mark implied by both context and the captions.
Not sure how to parse the magical thing that just happened, Kairi suddenly speaks up for the first time, offering to give Aqua her flowers as a reward for saving her. Where Young Riku and Sora were voiced by relative unknowns, Young Kairi is voiced by Ariel Winter, whose career was already well under way when this was recorded. Her career was just about to explode after the debut of Modern Family, where she appears as Alex. Disney was one of her first hires, as “Thumper’s Sister” in Bambi II, and they’ve kept their claws in her with Phineas and Feb, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and Sofia the First, where she voices another Disney princess, Sofia herself. She’s also appeared in two Final Fantasy games as the voice of Moogles: Mog in FFXIII-2 and FFType-0 as an unnamed Moogle. Oh yeah, she’s got that kind of voice.
Kairi and Aqua exchange introductions, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of Kairi’s grandmother, who I’ll get to in just a moment. Seeing she’s out of time, Aqua decides to pull genuine, field-grown, 100% organic authorial mandate straight out of her sleeve like she was saving it there for a snack. She applies the mandate to Kairi’s necklace, which has been a part of her model since KH1. Aqua explains that she’s “cast a spell” on Kairi’s necklace that somehow uses her Princess of Heart light to lead Kairi to a protector in a time of trouble. Without her permission! This is apparently something Aqua can do in a series where most mages have no settings between exploding something moderately and exploding them loudly, and where the most subtle use of magic I can think of off the top of my head involved an incredibly specific trigger condition about pricking fingers on spinning wheels. I just can’t shake the feeling that if Kairi comes into contact with a butter churn, she might turn into a gerbil.
Kairi doesn’t seem to understand what just happened, so she just blithely says “Thanks!” and runs off to her grandmother. Then, since we’re just doing things as a matter of narrative convenience and damn the consequences, Kairi “just happens” to ask her grandmother to tell “that story” again. Kairi’s grandmother then repeats the mythical backstory of the Keyblade War from KH1, and how one day the “true light” will return. While this is basically unchanged from KH1, it is now voiced, with Kairi’s grandmother being voiced by living Disney legend Katherine Beaumont, the voice of Alice and Wendy, who actually came out of retirement to do it! And that just isn’t the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard, I don’t know how to top it.
Aqua eavesdrops on the story, but after the pair are gone, the peace is interrupted by the arrival of Aqua’s piece of the Trinity Armour, Aqua remarking on the tonal dissonance with “It never ends!” Clearing this scene gives you Aqua’s D-Link with Mickey, and also Aqua’s own copy of the Destiny’s Embrace, the blade’s first gameplay appearance! The Destiny’s Embrace is a balanced Keyblade as far as Strength and Magic are concerned, and has a high crit rate to make up for its short length. With a total +6 bonus, it’s essentially a Keyblade from the second set of worlds, akin to Ven’s Frolic Flame from the same world, if a little early.
When Aqua arrives back in the Gardens, she discovers that a heavy metal door in one side has been bashed open, presumably by the Boss Unversed. She uses this route to cut directly to the Trinity Armour arena. This ends up giving her a much, much shorter first half to Radiant Garden than her brothers!
Wait, hold on. Ven arrived at Radiant Garden and Mickey was only a few steps ahead of him, but when he gets to the Bastion, Mickey is gone. Dilan and Aeleus claimed to have never seen Mickey. No clear explanation Mickey’s disappearance is ever given, even though the mystery is raised for the player. Now Aqua is at the Bastion and runs into Mickey, at which point he teleports away. Mickey teleporting away from the Bastion almost feels like the missing explanation for why he vanishes from Ven’s storyline. But that’s only possible if Aqua got to the Bastion before Ven, right? But she didn’t! The fact that she gets the shortcut to the boss room and Ven doesn’t proves that she must have come to the Gardens second. So where on earth did Mickey go that Ven didn’t see him (can’t have gone back through the garden), and the guards didn’t see him (can’t have gone into the Bastion), but he is at the Bastion when Aqua arrives second?
Now I’m going to admit up front: this is probably just a matter of poor writing. Maybe an explanation for Mickey’s movements was accidentally discarded? Or maybe it was never supposed to be a mystery? Or maybe I’m leaning too much weight on the shortcut being bashed open in by the boss? (BBS rarely retains geographical changes between characters, even when it would make sense to do so, and the few that it does retain should be treated as exceptions, not the other way around). The writers might not be aware that they even have a problem on their hands, because if they did, they could have easily had Dilan say “Yes, your friend is in the castle, but that doesn’t mean you can be there,” (you could argue that the two guards are lying about Mickey being in the castle for security concerns, and I’d agree that that’s an even better approach, but I feel that if you wanted to go that way, the lie should have been accompanied with a insinuation or proof that they were lying, to make things clear to the player and to avoid this mess).
Or! Or, we could go with the “earlier draft” conspiracy angle that I love so much! What if Aqua’s scene was supposed to explain Mickey’s disappearance? If we take the story at its word, Aqua arrives on Radiant Garden in pursuit of Terra, so she can’t be that far behind him. She ultimately arrives just after Ven, as Scrooge uses Ven to give her directions to the Bastion. Aqua and Ven are seconds apart at this point, with Mickey only a few seconds ahead of Ven. It doesn’t make sense that they never crossed paths in the Gardens or at the Bastion. But remember that Scrooge didn’t direct Aqua to the Gardens, even though Ven went that way: he directed her to the staircase going directly to the Bastion. If Aqua had taken the stairs, she could have arguably gotten to the Bastion before Ven and Mickey (remember that the Gardens and Bastion are separated by a windy path vista, which implies a great deal of distance). and sure enough, true to our order of events, Mickey arrives on scene after Aqua, and then disappears before Ven can arrive. We appear to have lost Mickey’s “few seconds lead” on Ven somewhere between here, but… uh… huh, maybe this isn’t working.
At this point, I imagine Aqua would go back down the stairs and follow Terra’s route to the boss room, never visiting the Garden and narrowly missing Ven. Meanwhile, Ven would return to the Garden and discover the Trinity Armour piece bashing down the shortcut door, aka the events Aqua experiences in the finished game… or maybe not. I’ve made my case, but I just can’t shake the impression that this may simply be bad writing this time around! I’ve made too many assumptions to try to hold this together.
For what it’s worth, note that when the Trinity Armour battle cutscene begins, Aqua appears to be arriving from the Aqueduct, Terra’s route, even though she doesn’t take that route in the finished game. This seems to be backing my theory until you realize that Ven is positioned awkwardly between both entrances. It seems to me like Ven was put where he was put just so he would be in formation with his siblings, and not for the sake of showing you how he got to the room. If Ven was positioned for dramatic purposes, I imagine Aqua was as well, and so I’m not going to count her position in this scene as evidence for anything.