We’ve seen the Trinity Armour scene and the reunion between the three playable characters twice now, so I’m just going to say that Aqua has gone from “Terra would never do that!” to “I’ve seen the things you’ve done” in just one world and leave it at that. You’ll have to excuse me if I’m missing anything here, because it’s simultaneously hard to squeeze every drop of water from a sponge, and easy to get overwhelmed if you try to count the droplets.
Probably the biggest thing we have left to cover is the fact that we now know that Aqua is not aware of anything Terra’s done wrong. Not. One. Thing. She left Castle of Dreams with a glowing review of him that is actually accurate to his actions there. She knows nothing about his actions in Dwarf Woodlands. She knows nothing specific about what happened at the Enchanted Dominion except that Ven has Terra’s back on the matter and a villain does not, so why would she trust Maleficent over both of her brothers? This isn’t just trifling evidence against Terra. If anything, it strikes me that even a stranger would have his side after the Castle of Dreams. Has she had an in-grown suspicion about Terra, set by Eraqus (it strikes me that this is what the writers intended), that’s somehow so strong that it overrides the evidence and lack of evidence, but simultaneously so small that it never showed up for even an instant prior to this, not even when confronted by the evidence she’s supposedly using to justify her actions?
She’s also just a jerk to Ven, I’m just going to say that.
Whatever, I’m moving on. Your prize for clearing the Trinity Armour is the Bladecharge Level 2 Command Style, my one true love. So! We know from Ven’s storyline that Aqua is going to show up in town square at the end of this world’s plot, right? But anyone coming to Aqua before Ven is going to be confused, as she has no standing objective at all! This was true for Terra as well, but you’ll remember that Terra was teleported into a cutscene to receive his next objective. Aqua does not! The devs basically want you to discover that because the shortcut you took to get here opens to a high platform you can no longer reach, you now have to walk the other way. I suppose you might try to roleplay Aqua “following” Ven after he ran away (although Aqua didn’t seem interested in that in the previous cutscene, and won’t act like this was her goal when they reunite) but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a small handful of Aqua players out there who found the nearest save point and teleported off-world before they realized the world wasn’t actually over!
Aqua then finds herself forced to leave the boss room the same way Terra and Ven do, through the aqueduct, because she can’t jump high enough to get back to her own entrance! This gives her a relatively easy time navigating the fountain room, since all she needs to do is fall, but oh well, you’ll need to climb back up to get all the prizes anyways, especially the one in the hard-to-reach corner, which contains Aqua’s counterattack, Counter Blast. This choice of route is intentionally done to funnel Aqua to Merlin’s house, so that she too can see a cutscene about Pooh’s book and gain access to the world’s Moogle Shop. BBS will later unlock rooms that you never saw during the story without forcing you to visit them, like in Deep Space, but optional voiced content? Never!
Since Aqua is the third playable character to stop by today, Merlin is outside of his house waiting for her when she arrives, and seems at a cross between generous and truly annoyed. After what’s mostly a monologue from Jeff Bennett, Aqua can check the book the same as the others, no big deal. However, there’s more to this than it may seem, as there’s always a big chest in Merlin’s house. In the other two storylines, this chest contains Recipes, but for Aqua, it contains nothing less than Xehanort’s Report 3! Geeze, I wonder what Merlin thinks of this?
Report 3 basically confirms that Kairi’s grandmother’s fairy-tale is actual history (I mean, as much as we want to trust Xehanort as a reliable source of information, but what choice do we have?). Xehanort explains that before the old incarnation of the world fell, there were no KH1-style barriers between worlds. Naturally, the reports also have to summarize the info about the barriers, since we haven’t discussed them since 2002. He explains that the war over “the light” did indeed begin as a war over light in general, but became a war over Kingdom Hearts, because “they learned the Keyblade’s true use.” It’s not entirely clear what he means, but it’s probable he’s talking about the X-Blade. He then goes on to hypothesize that one might construct Kingdom Hearts from an amalgamation of “all the worlds,” which you can see as the plot of KH1 or maybe even a more extreme version of that plot, depending on your point of view.
All-in-all, this Report is a continuation of Report 2, which also discussed the isolation of the worlds. Report 2 was acquired by Terra in Radiant Garden as well, meaning that anyone playing in official chronological order gets a rare moment of clarity instead of the confusion and fuss that usually results from playing in chronological order!
Since Aqua is operating without guidelines or objectives, the plot has to basically fall on her head for anything to proceed. Get it? It’s a Vanitas joke. This happens in Town Square, where she’s jogging off to nowhere in particular and in comes Vanitas. Aqua identifies Vanitas with the help of two illogical leaps, first to identify Vanitas’ motorcycle helmet as a “mask” like everyone else does in this universe, and then to decide that no one else in the universe could wear a mask! Boy, Aqua would find Halloween Town frightening for entirely different reasons than everyone else.
After a brief but ultimately inconsequential conversation, Vanitas decides to attack Aqua for seemingly no reason. He actually does have a motive, as I’ll discuss later on, but it sure seems to be happening more because he has an attitude problem than out of any genuine villainous schemes, you know? In response, after three worlds of formality and politeness, only occasionally making out-of-nowhere distrustful arguments with her brothers, Aqua suddenly bares her teeth and snaps, “Guess again!” when Vanitas threatens her. Whoa, a genuine temper, genuine emotion? Where did this come from? And can it stay? Oh, who am I kidding, after Xion we all know that—wait, are you serious? It can and will stay?! I-I don’t even know what to say! I may be crying.
Aqua’s fight against Vanitas is essentially the same as the one that Ven just completed in the Badlands/Keyblade Graveyard, which is remarkable because Ven got to do that with Mickey’s help and all Aqua gets is another world’s worth of experience, which isn’t equivalent at all! Thankfully, Aqua can still use Sleep and Zero Gravity to trump Vanitas like a cheater if you need her to, but she hardly has to. In fact, when I first did this fight as Aqua, it was when I finally started to come to grasps with her strengths, and had a nearly perfect battle that I’m sad to say I’ve never duplicated since. Still, it gave me some insight into Aqua’s controls that let me see why other players would favour her. You know: players who, unlike me, aren’t garbage at the game.
The crux of it lies with Aqua’s Cartwheel, her version of Dodge Roll. Cartwheel is unimpressive at first glance, since it carries Aqua only a short distance, but during this battle I discovered that that short distance is short enough for Aqua to dart back into the combat the very next second, and that can be quite useful! All three characters get a similar number of invincibility frames from their dodge attacks, despite each one carrying them a different distance, and I was surprised to find that Aqua’s took me just as far away as I needed to strike back almost without fail, even though I would have sworn to you beforehand that I needed more distance, more I say! In fact, I became so enamoured with Aqua’s dodging abilities that I balked when I later synthed Fire Dodge and learned that it removes your invincibility frames in order to let you do damage to enemies. Look at me, maturing as a player!
Aqua is also able to use her magical power to boost the damage of all spell commands without honestly suffering all that much with her attack commands. Yes, she may be the weakest of the three in that regard, but it turns out that I favour the tactical flexibility of more of the spell commands than the attack. Who knew?
After the battle, Vanitas seems defeated, only to him to hop right up as if untouched and then start laughing. On the flip side, consider Aqua: she just nearly killed a guy and didn’t so much as flinch until he got back up. We’re back in the KH2 Sora school of coldhearted heroics. She’s not just acting the part that Eraqus has given her, she’s ready to live it, god help her. Vanitas says that he’ll leave her around after all and that it “Doesn’t hurt to have a backup.” The implication here is that Aqua is now being considered as an alternative for one of Xehanort’s two big plans. Neither seems like a perfect fit: she’s not a perfect opposite to Vanitas (in fact, I’d say her combining with Vanitas is probably impossible), and her heart isn’t dark enough for Xehanort, but I guess he’s considering her all the same. And as you might have just intuited: yes, this implies that Aqua didn’t have another role in Xehanort’s plans before this, and this actually is the case. He essentially only considered her to be bait for Terra and Ven and an acceptable murder-target to provoke Terra’s darkness. Well here we go again, Kingdom Hearts once again not taking proper account of its female characters, I wonder what else—I’m sorry again, what was that? Xehanort’s failure to account for Aqua is perhaps his greatest mistake and almost comes off as a deliberate slap in the face of the misogyny of previous Kingdom Hearts games for overlooking their female characters? Holy shit! I thought I was getting use to the idea of this series disappointing me in the same way over and over! What’s going on?
In the final scene, we revisit Aqua and Ven’s end-of-world conversation, which now looks very strange after Aqua was just attacked by a murderer and nearly killed him, though you can see why she’s a lot angrier and more insistent about Ven going the fuck home! Why didn’t she explain that to Ventus? Well, you see, it’s far more important that she cover for the developers on the matter of upcoming plot events (that is, the events of Aqua’s story to Ven players) than it is that she be a good sister. Naturally!
Deck Capacity up from Vanitas, which makes Aqua the earliest to complete her Critical Mode set. She will go on to be the first to finish her Deck Capacity set on the lower difficulties, being the only one who doesn’t wait until Neverland before getting their eighth slot!