Aqua has only just arrived at the coliseum when she’s attacked by a troupe of Unversed, and she’s about to respond, only for Phil to bound on the scene and start flexing out in a bunch of goofy “martial arts” poses. He claims that he’s going to fight the Unversed, calling Aqua “sweetcheeks,” and she’s so put off by this that she flinches… well, either that or she’s just as repulsed by satyrs as women in many a Greek myth or adaptation, either/or. Of course, Phil can’t back up his bluff and calls Hercules instead, who appears from the coliseum entrance to join you for the opening fight of the world.
After the fight is over, Phil returns from hiding, helpfully educating the international audience as to the proper pronunciation of the word “gyros” while he’s at it. Hercules scolds him for trying to show off, and Phil says that he’ll understand when he’s older… which I suspect is actually a joke assuming knowledge of the film, since Hercules does the exact same thing when he first meets Megara. Joke or not, the game uses this to have Hercules talk about strength and whether strength makes someone a hero (again, a theme from the film) and to transition from there to mention that Terra is the coliseum champion.
While Phil continues to hit on Aqua, she tries to wrench information about Terra from the two of them, learning that Terra has since left the world, and judging by the sounds of it he left some time ago! And remember that Ven’s trip to Olympus Coliseum came first so, you guessed it! Chalupa Break.
After a few lines talking about how Terra turned Zack into a “raving yahoo” (it’s not clear to me if this is referring to Hades putting Zack under mind control, or if they’re talking about how Zack has become the new president of the Terra fan club and won’t shut up about him), Aqua realizes that Terra’s gone and she has no reason to be here, and already seems like she’s planning her next trip.
At this point, Phil basically manufactures an excuse for her to stay out of full cloth, saying that Terra might return to defend his title, you never know! It was at this line that I found myself surprised at the BBS dev staff for creating such a shoddy plot. I mean… Aqua legitimately has no reason to be here any longer. She’d have been no more productive right now if she had taken a wrong turn and ended up at Beast’s Castle ten years too early and was immediately kicked out by a very rude human prince. Maybe Aqua does believe Terra would for some reason come back to compete (goodness knows bad decision-making is a cornerstone of the narrative!), but that didn’t make me any happier that the devs were stranding me here seemingly so they could get a laugh at Phil’s terrible pick-up lines while Aqua grimaces uncomfortably. Sounds like a helluva a weekend, doesn’t it?
Thankfully, I get to feel a little redeemed when Aqua, politely as ever, shuts Phil down with a well-timed rejection. At least he has the sense to give up his harassment now if not earlier, because I get the impression she might not have continued to be so polite, and if you don’t believe me, just watch and see.
So like, how often does the Coliseum run Games, anyways? In KH1, a game that felt like it took place over the course of a few months to me, I could see the tournaments taking place maybe monthly or bi-monthly or even more if you wanted to stretch things out a little. The two Games in Days are 72 days apart, about two and a half months. But this one can’t be taking place more than a few days after the last one, right? I mean… how long could Aqua’s chalupa break have been?
Aqua’s encounter with the Games is nearly identical to Terra’s, except that they have several different rounds. While they do get a little hard to judge, I personally find Terra’s to be much harder than Aqua’s, breaking a game-long trend so far of her getting harder content on all fronts! Usually the differences are simple, like Round 2 where Aqua fights a Bruiser, but Terra fights a Bruiser and a Vile Phial; or when Terra fights 5 Shoegazers in Round 5 in under 15 seconds but Aqua fights 6 Shoegazers in Round 9… in under 40 seconds. Yet even when the differences get complicated, you can still see the same root concept behind each wave. I can’t help but think that these rounds were refined through testing and not guesswork, but that’s so surprising when BBS shows such little regard for character differences and balance at other points? I won’t deny that Cartwheel doesn’t make Aqua a very fast fighter, and you’d probably have to account for that… but you’d think her magic commands might make up for it? I find myself at a loss.
After clearing the final round, which is still the small Jellyshade Swarm, curse their varicoloured monotony. After this, Aqua apparently learns that the name of her next opponent is “Zack” and since that’s not Terra, it’s clear she’s wondering if she should even stay. But the moment she says Zack’s name, she turns around to find him instantly behind her, with great comic timing. Zack says hello and excitedly announces that if he beats her, he can fight Terra, revealing the existence of the two bracket system we only briefly explored during Terra and Ven’s story. Remember? Hercules and Zack were fighting for the final in one bracket during Ven’s campaign, and the winner Zack came to fight Terra when he came out on top in his? Of course, this means that Terra never had a semifinal match, but we’re not supposed to think about that.
Aqua points out that if this is the way things are, she should have been in the bloody audience all along, and well… yeah! Remember what I said about poor decision making being a foundation of this games’ plots? I bet you that if I surveyed everyone that ever played or watched the scenes of BBS, we’d get a pretty good percentage of people who recognized it would be better to be part of the audience from the outset, plus a sarcastic subset that would never have considered it because you can’t be alive and part of the Olympus Coliseum audience, sheesh. Phil continues drilling a hole in my brain by making up bullshit to trick Aqua into staying for one more battle, but she’s eventually convinced when Zack and Hercules want to see this through as well. And you know? I haven’t given Willa Holland a single compliment in this entire affair, and that’s for good reason up to this point, but when she says she’ll finish what she started, it sounds firm but spiteful. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’ve got something in my ear, but she has some great deliveries just around the corner and I can’t help but think Willa was starting to get into Aqua’s head and realized just how short her fuse was burning.
Hercules is dismissed to go train to remove him from the upcoming scene, and Aqua is left alone with Zack and gets a chance to interview him. Zack gives a summary of the events of Terra’s trip that shows just how poorly Kingdom Hearts fares in summation: “This dude named Hades tried to make Terra his pawn of darkness, and he used me to do it!” I make it a serious, serious point never to try to describe fantasy or sci fi to outsiders or newcomers with in-universe terms, because they never sound anything but ridiculous out of context. Assuming the work is genuinely any good, the fact that one feels the need to mention in-universe terms to outsiders generally shows that one doesn’t understand the core of the work, and conversely, if one can’t summarize a work without using in-universe terms more confusing than a proper name, I suspect the work is not very good either. But that’s just half of my problem with Zack’s summation, the other half lying with the word “dude.” Be honest with me: would you really pay any more attention to a product that just casually jumps from casual language to stupidly world-specific terms that sound ludicrous out of context? Like, imagine Gandalf taunting the Balrog: “You cannot pass! The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! It’s unrighteous, bro! Go back to the shadow!”
Since “dude” is in-character and “pawn of darkness” is not, “pawn of darkness” is ultimately the source of both problems, and should have been made to fit Zack’s voice.
Zack also mentions that he was possessed, and Aqua becomes conflicted by his brother’s now-inconsistent behaviour, stealing hearts one world and rescuing them on another. They part and meet again in the arena, where Zack vows to fight Terra again “fair and square.” Aqua replies: “The friendship between boys. It almost makes me jealous,” and Willa makes Aqua sound so sarcastic and ticked at the general situation that I can’t help but laugh every time. She obviously wasn’t supposed to, since this seems meant as a parallel to her brothers, but she does and it’s hilarious. Her follow-up, “Let’s fight!” sounds more annoyed and worn down than eager, as if she’s just going to get this over with and go on with her life, poor Aqua.
The fight against Zack is identical to the first phase of the fight between Terra and Zack, except once again Aqua gets the easier version, and this time I can’t even find out why! Sure, arguably Zack was partially charged by darkness in the first fight, but the only changes here are status effect resistances, and there’s nothing about darkness that really justifies that. Aqua is simply getting the demonstrably easier fight this time, despite the entire game playing in the opposite direction! In any event, you get a Deck Capacity Up for winning the fight.
Zack’s not happy about losing at first, but he recovers fast, and is back on his feet just in time for Hades to arrive on scene out of nowhere. Hades talks about wanting to check out the winner, and he and Aqua end up talking about Terra, Hades lying and saying that Terra came to him for advice on darkness. Er… well I think it’s a lie, but it’s hard to say with Hades’ ego, it may be that he’s lying to himself, you know? Hades then reveals that he’s the winner in the other conference of the Games, which means he’s going to fight her in the next round and kill her, both for spiting him in their conversation and for being associated with Terra, as he’s still angry about all that.
Zack grumbles about not being able to fight Hades himself, and urges her to stay and fight in the championship, but it’s clear he doesn’t even need to have asked, as she’s more than riled up at this point and ready to take Hades down.
Zack is waiting in the audience (alone, so very alone) to watch the championship match, and we find him looking around in confusion as the coliseum has taken on its Pegasus Cup appearance where it appears to be night, and he appears to be cold. In a moment, we see why, as suddenly two icy hands reach over the edges of the coliseum and pull over the weight of a monster: the Ice Titan! Or rather, the Ice Colossus, as we’ll learn this isn’t the real thing in time, but bear in mind that you aren’t aware of this technicality until you see the Report after the fight! Hades teleports in to stand with the Colossus and declares that it’s in the rules for him to “call for backup.” He insinuates that Aqua should call for her own backup, either insulting Zack as inconsequential or hoping that Terra might show so that he can make this personal.
I’ve got to talk about my original reaction to this scene because this was a pants-wetter. After the fight with Zack, you get a break before the championship. Your opponent is going to be Hades, a one-time mid-game boss, three-time late/post-game boss (once in KH1, twice in KH2), sort of a big deal. Yes he was a one-time early game boss, but that was in CoM, where he served as the game’s third Sleight-using boss, when you weren’t at all used to Sleights, so remember that sleights can literally reach into your character’s brain and blend them into custard. I was aware of all this, but I held my cool and approached the game like the cheater I pretend not to be, but truly am at heart. I approached him like a Marathon boss by stacking my deck with my usual two Curaga panels and made everything else Blizzard-aligned. That’ll teach him to walk in here with an obvious elemental weakness on his head!
And then I got into the arena and in came the Ice “Titan,” and my heart began to sink. Hades may have technically appeared three times in late tournaments, but only as a significant bump in a road, a difficulty only in a long-distance run, not a sprint! The Ice Titan was a genuine superboss, one that I had, in 2010, never been able to defeat! And I was gong to have to fight both of them! It’s hard to remember, what with Hades being a comedy character and also a mid-game boss that one time in KH2, but this is like trying to fight Ruby Weapon when Shinryu shows up at your back! And if I had been in any other situation, I probably would have reasserted my confidence by reminding myself that it was still the late-middle of the game and they weren’t really going to throw a boss at me outside the curve, but remember that this wasn’t a regular day: I had nothing equipped but Blizzard spells and then in walked a giant popsicle!
On top of all of this, I’d seen Zack fight as an AI teammate during Ven’s story, and the game had deliberately reminded us that it had AI teammates with Hercules at the start of the world! Of course he was going to run in, and hell, maybe that would even things out between Superthing 1 and Superthing 2 over here? And sure enough, in he comes, when Aqua goes and does the most striking thing. To this day I still sort of wonder why the devs chose to do this. Was it a deliberate narrative decision? A technical limitation? That would certainly be possible given the sheer scale of the Ice Colossus plus another boss running around at his feet. But even if the plot was changed to accommodate a technical issue, it was changed in the best possible way.
Aqua. Has. Had it. She arrived at this pointless world, was constantly harassed by a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer and only continued to put on different kinds of pressure after he finally seemed to have accepted her rejection. She’s being dogged by two younger kids that she doesn’t even know, being treated like a celebrity and she’s being forced to stay in a place that won’t help her at all by people who basically knew it wouldn’t help her at all. A new man who represents everything she despises shows up, insults her and holds his power over her and then breaks her confused but ultimately positive bubble of hope for her brother with a convincing lie that things are even worse than she ever imagined. Phil sees her as a piece of meat that needs both his training and his “training,” Zack for all his respect still sees her as an obstacle on the way to Terra, Hades sees her as a weakling too and had decided to pulverize her to make point, and Willa Holland, out of understanding of the character or for all I know maybe even a bad day in the recording booth, has been sounding testier, and angrier, and closer and closer to the edge with every single line. And to make matters worse than even all that, Hades is now twisting the rules to his own ends, and yes, that really is the worst of it all. Let me explain.
As denizens of the internet, you’re probably familiar with D&D’s famous two-axis alignment system. On that alignment system, Aqua is pretty clearly Lawful Good, but she doesn’t represent the wishy-washy melange of heroic traits that “Lawful Good” sometimes represents. Oh no, Aqua is a literalist, AD&D 2e Lawful Good character: she is hardliner Lawful and hardliner Good, two independent efforts that she seems to make every single minute of the day. While she’s learning not to be so aggressive about them both (remember at the outset when she nearly stabbed Lady Tremaine? But then remember, from other storylines, how she doesn’t end up being as hardliner as Eraqus?), she’s clearly happiest when she’s living both principles in kind, and seems to get along especially well with people that follow the proper order of things, at least at first, until people get past her barriers (which hasn’t happened yet and won’t until the next world, but keep an eye on it). But one consistency is that if someone around her breaks the tenants of Law or Goodness, she has a unique reaction to both: one reaction for Evil, and one reaction for Chaos. Her reaction to someone using the darkness (Evil) is with her usual paladin routine, we’ve seen it before. But Aqua’s been a lot more tolerant about Chaotic disorder in the past, and it’s only here when we see her finally snap at the sheer torrent of disrespect she’s received since arriving on the world, when Hades bends the rules, that we see her let it all out.
Aqua letting it all out doesn’t look like Terra letting it all out, exploding with darkness, or Sora bashing at a keyboard. Aqua has been nothing but belittled since arriving on this world, and so she reaches out, and tells Zack to sit the hell down. Aqua can handle this on her own, and she tells Zack “no!”
By god, by Walt, by Nomura, by Ralph freaking Baer, I had a favourite character in an instant. And superbosses and decks full of Blizzard be damned, I was going to win this first fight to back up her words or die trying!
Unwittingly, I made the fight worse from the outset. I mentioned this previously during Terra’s final boss: one boss attacks you while the other stands back, in this case the Ice Colossus attacks you but Hades stands back and takes pot shots unless provoked. But I hadn’t cleared Terra’s story yet: I was alternating between characters as I played! As far as I knew, I was about to be flattened by the both of them at once, and rationalized that I should use my Blizzard arsenal on Hades to finish him off first. I was so eager that I missed the game’s obvious clue, where Celebrity Voice Actor James Woods announces, “All yours, Frosty!” and backs away. Serves me right, honestly. If you do attack Hades early, he takes frequent swats at you in a way that he doesn’t otherwise and will do a lot of damage if you come in close do (funny to think that if he just fought like this at all times, you’d probably be screwed!), but I was mostly firing projectiles so I largely survived. After you do him enough damage, Hades’ AI activates in full, and good luck, because now they really are both after you at once! I was able to take Hades out first (you can watch Spazbo4 do the same in the longplay), at which point the Ice Colossus had my complete attention and I had no idea how to proceed but the fundamentals, but like I said earlier on: I play for the fundamentals, and I was able to pull it off.
But you’re not necessarily here to listen to stories about me, so let’s take a look at the two bosses. The Ice Colossus is actually the weaker of the two, the report implying that it’s just a copy made by Hades to hasten his plans against Zeus and to otherwise explain why it’s not a superboss anymore. Still, it fights in a fairly similar fashion, shooting Gatling gun icicles at long range (don’t try to deflect them in this game, though, because it won’t work!) and doing stomp damage and an ice cloud-breath at short range, which is where you’ll typically be as you try to work away at its health. Hades meanwhile will launch deflectable fireballs, can swat at you just like I said at close range, and will eventually start using his flamethrower spinning attack wherever he pleases rather than simply in the middle of the arena, which as minor adjustments go is a lot more annoying than you’d expect!
After the battle, the Ice Colossus is destroyed and Hades complains about it not being the real Ice Titan. With that, he simply leaves while shouting about sequel bait, just like Maleficent has done twice so far.
Outside the arena, Zack tries to get Aqua to celebrate her championship, prompting Willa to read her most natural line reading so far: “That won’t really be necessary.” Zack, true to his character from Crisis Core, tries to invite her on a date. Geeze, what a day to be Aqua. Zack is being a lot more respectful than Phil was being (and doesn’t know about Phil’s actions in the first place), so I can get behind this, if it weren’t for one problem… Zack looks like he’s something like ten years younger than her. Yes, if you weren’t aware, Zack is canonically 16 at the start of Crisis Core, even though that’s pushing it even for Square Enix, home of the Fountain of Youth. And he looks even younger in the Kingdom Hearts’ style, maybe 14 or less! Aqua and Terra strike me as definitely in their mid-twenties. I know, I know, it’s probably just an art thing, but I squirm.
In any event, Aqua is very flattered but flustered, and refuses. Zack nearly accepts this straight away, and even confesses that he’s something of a “work-in-progress” himself, but he blows it my eyes by saying that they should go on a date when he becomes a hero, and runs off.
Hercules returns at this point, and Aqua decides to pass along a caution that strength alone won’t make him a hero, and proving himself to be the only wholly good person here, Hercules admits that she’s right on the spot. Indeed he seems to have been thinking about this after meeting her, and she advises him to focus on the strength in his heart, advice that Hercules would later lead to him becoming a hero eleven years later, a prequel seed that was actually really well set up and I quite admire!
Remember how Terra didn’t get the first-tier Thunderbolt Command Style until he fought Sparky at Deep Space? Aqua doesn’t get the Diamond Dust style until fighting the Ice Colossus! Again, it’s a natural place to get it (doubly so since it shares a name with the Keyblade from KH1 that International and later players got from the Ice Titan), but still annoying that they kept the party mage from an elemental basic.
Clearing this world unlocks Aqua’s second Mirage Arena exclusive match, “A Time to Chill.” This is one of the few arena matches with a midboss, with the Ice Colossus in the final seed but Hades and possessed Zack in the middle! Aqua never ever saw Possessed Zack! This fight is particularly tricky, though one clever piece of advice I saw online was to equip a fast-locking Shotlock and to use it at the start of the fight before Zack can even begin his Limit Break. Like all character-exclusive arena matches, this tricky challenge is unlocked for the other characters once Aqua completes her full game.