Just a heads up: I’ve fallen dramatically behind on writeups for both Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy, and on top of that Kyle and I have yet to clear the next FF game, Final Fantasy Tactics, in this first place. For this and other reasons, the blog will be going on indefinite hiatus after the completion of Birth by Sleep and Dirge of Cerberus, which are the last writeups I have that are complete.
To try to sync up the end dates of BBS and DoC, Dirge of Cerberus will be uploaded at an accelerated pace, with updates on both Thursdays and Sundays. With everything going as scheduled, this means the last KH post will be July 11th, and the last FF post will be July 13th.
Sorry for the bad news, but for now: on with today’s post! Two worlds today!
Aqua arrives at Deep Space and, showing a continued off-screen disregard for locks, is already on-board the ship the moment her visit begins, with no fussy Glider segment leading it off! An alarm begins to sound, and Aqua quickly discovers why: Unversed are on board the ship.
Fight, fight, fight, and after the battle, Aqua spots a strange item lying on the floor. The player probably won’t recognize what they’re seeing at first, so thankfully Aqua clarifies immediately: it appears to be a Wayfinder made of scrap metal and parts. Just as she’s beginning to question it, who should appear but Experiment 626, who jumps in and takes it from her. Or rather, takes it back, as it appears to be of his own creation!
Wait, hold on, so Terra was here first (which is why Stitch is loose and why he’s familiar with the Wayfinder) and Ven will be here next and last, but Aqua came here after her trip to Olympus Coliseum, where Ven was first and Aqua was canonically delayed? Aqua is at Ignis’ Taco Bell, Ven is at Umaro’s Dairy Queen, and no one but Terra is doing their goddamned jobs!
Stitch growls at Aqua for touching his Wayfinder, which startles her into arming, followed by what sounds like an editing mistake in Willa’s next line, where she says, “Where did you get that?” as though the last sound of “Where” and the first sound of “did” seem superimposed. Or maybe it’s just a terrible delivery, I won’t allow my love of her performance on the previous world confuse my judgement in this one, especially when recording could have been done in any order! In any event, 626’s attention is drawn to her familiar Keyblade.
Just then, 626 is scared away by the arrival of Captain Gantu, who’s so wrapped up in his search for the escaped prisoner that he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t recognize Aqua right away, and bear in mind that during Terra’s trip he said he didn’t even recognize Terra’s species, so he’s really distracted here! While Aqua seems to have her doubts about 626 being “vicious” (which is generous of her, because hostility is nearly the only behaviour she’s seen from him!), she does the Lawful thing and tells Gantu where Stitch went, only for Gantu to realize too late that Aqua is a stranger.
As Aqua is unable to provide an excuse for her presence, Gantu arrests her and takes her towards the prisons, only to cross the Grand Councilwoman on the ship’s Bridge, a room that Ven encountered as an empty save point and Moogle shop. Having screwed her head on straight by now, Aqua does what I’m surprised she didn’t do with Gantu (again: a plot driven by poor decisions) and introduces herself to the proper authorities and offers her aid against the Unversed, since her weapon can destroy them and theirs can’t. Apparently Gantu hadn’t explained that last detail, so the Grand Councilwoman insists that Aqua be given free run of the ship to deal with the Unversed so that Gantu can continue searching for Experiment 626 and Doctor Jumba, and if Aqua can find them herself, to capture them on sight. Gantu is not happy about “losing” this particular assignment, but he does what he’s told.
While we’re here, I just want to compliment Aqua on all the doors she just opened by being polite, efficient, open and professional. This scenario isn’t going to end in quite that ideal way, but please compare it to: “Hello King Triton, I’m a suspicious teenaged boy following your teenaged daughter around! During a suspicious monster attack! Please don’t look into my background!” OR “We’re here to join the army! Me, this dog, and this duck, are all definitely, definitely Chinese citizens.” OR “Stop the trial! I stole your memories!” and lest we forget the greatest classic: “Oh hi, I straight-up broke into your castle! Twice!”
Unlike Terra and Ven, who simply had to cross the world in some fashion or another, Aqua’s trip is more complicated. She actually has to clear out two sets of Unversed, and while the Grand Councilwoman did imply something of the sort, the game makes no attempt to explain how many groups there are or where they’re located. Firstly, she has to fight the Glidewinders on the surface of the ship on her Keyblade Glider. Doing so finally unlocks her much-delayed Air Slide ability, the last character in the game to earn it by default world order. After completing her task, Aqua discovers 626’s Wayfinder floating in the void of space. How it got there is anyone’s guess (Stitch is using some irregular means of travelling about the ship), but Aqua collects it and returns to the room she just entered, unable to use the surface of the ship to skip ahead to the Launch Bay, or at least not at the moment. Indeed, you might be confused into thinking the room only had one exit, which will mess things up down the road!
From here, you can go to the prison block where Terra was imprisoned. Experiment 626 is here, fervently searching for something, obviously the Wayfinder, when he’s attacked by Flood. He’s so distracted, in fact, that his killing instincts leave him ignorant of the Flood until Aqua takes them out moments before they hit him. Aqua puts on a strong show of trying to arrest 626, but crumbles when 626 barks the name “Terra” and then runs off. She instead demands that the two of them have a talk, Willa Holland putting on all her authority, but no luck: the Unversed return with reinforcements. You fight them alongside 626, just like Ven in the fight against the Metamorphosis.
Aqua thanks 626 for the help, but he simply runs away, and Aqua instead goes to report her mission complete to the Grand Councilwoman. This means you’re kicked out of the prison on the spot, with no way to return until you’ve cleared the entire world, even though you haven’t had a chance to explore it and get its treasures! In fact, the only way to explore the prison during your story visit is to go there before fighting the Glidewinders and then to come back for the story events, which is just going to be pure luck in practice, because how would you know? Thankfully, the prison isn’t hiding anything as important as Terra’s High Jump, but it does offer Teleport, which is Aqua’s fancier equivalent to Ven’s Reversal.
Back on the Bridge, the Grand Councilwoman says that 626 and Jumba were both sighted in the Launch Bay. Aqua takes this opportunity to voice some of her concerns about 626, and I really like Zoe Caldwell’s delivery when she replies (the actress’ emphasis added): “We must assume [he’s dangerous],” as it feels like she’s intuited Aqua’s feelings on the matter and respects them, but also recognizes that the both of them know they have to play this safe. Classically trained actors!
Aqua makes her way to the Launch Bay through either route you prefer, the shorter route through the exterior of the ship or the unexplored and treasure-filled route through the low gravity chamber. Once she arrives in the room, she finds Jumba trying to catch 626 so he can “fix” him. Aqua arrives to arrest the others, but when Stitch spots the Wayfinder, he jumps and takes it back from Aqua, and cuddles it when it’s back in his possession. Jumba, apparently not put off by Aqua in the slightest, explains what happened with Terra. Aqua is flattered by Terra’s care of the Wayfinder, and feels that this is a sign that he really is all right.
Aqua is so absorbed into her own metaplot that she’s basically forgotten to arrest either of the two escapees (so much for my celebrated competence), and so who should arrive at just that moment but Gantu. Gantu takes a shot at Experiment 626, saying that he’s decided to execute them instead of taking them alive. Aqua naturally objects and is willing to fight Gantu to put an end to it, Holland once again getting a good, angry but focused delivery with “I guess we have to do this the hard way!”
Rather than fight in the full launch bay, the battle here is confined to the front half by some blast doors. This new arena features an arrangement of crates that Gantu can break as the fight goes on. You do the fight alongside Experiment 626, who has a team-up attack you can use called Astro Shot. This was available in previous team-ups, but it has a special power here, where he clings to Gantu’s face, holding him in place.
Gantu is much larger than you might have expected from the cutscenes (though I’m sure Lilo & Stitch fans already knew that). His attacks include using his weird space pistol, which fires such slow projectiles that it’s basically harmless to you if you’re in the middle of an attack, even when it speeds up later in the fight. Unless you’re off trying to heal or team up with 626 for Astro Shot, the pistol is mostly used to attack Stitch instead of you. Gantu also has both a rush and a close-range attack, which both hit quite hard. Because these attacks make standing next to Gantu dangerous, you have to choose whether to block them, endure them, or risk the pistol to weave in and out between him and your tiny teammate.
After Gantu’s HP is depleted, the fight is interrupted by the Grand Councilwoman. She tells Aqua thank you in such a curt way that strongly suggests she’s being let off just short of punishment. I’m really enjoying Zoe Caldwell here, honestly. In spite of this unspoken warning not to go any further, Aqua presses 626’s case, and the Grand Councilwoman changes her mind enough to say that 626’s exile to an asteroid might be shortened from indefinite if he behaves himself. Aqua then goes over to 626 and introduces herself and also gives him Ven’s name, which will become important when Ven shows up and ruins this tidy arrangement during his storyline.
You get a Deck Capacity upgrade for defeating Gantu.
One interesting note that many players fail to spot is that the sentry cannons in the Launch Bay never fire on Aqua, because she’s got a working relationship with the people on the ship! She can still smash ’em, though.
As you’ll recall, we last saw Neverland when its story was functionally complete, raising the question of what on earth Aqua’s visit was going to entail. Well, whatever it is, we open on Slightly and Cubby, who discover a scroll on the ground in the First Nations’ Camp. They both make a break for it, Slightly shouting “I’m gonna be the leader!” when all of a sudden Aqua appears from around a corner and collects the scroll before them, seemingly ignorant to their very presence even after all the running and shouting!
Peter Pan descends at this point to announce that since Aqua picked up the scroll first, that means she’s going to be the leader and gets to share a paopu fruit with Kairi. Urm… wait, no, just the first thing. He also identifies the scroll as a treasure map, and the Lost Boys say that they’re on an “expatition.” Um number two, I do believe the word is “expotition.” In any event, Cubby catches on to Aqua’s confusion and explains that they’re on a treasure hunt. Oh, good, two of Aqua’s second set of worlds are complete wastes of time.
Aqua agrees with me and tries to pass off the map, but when Peter puts his foot down and threatens to call off the game, she’s bullied into helping out. Aqua tries to work out the map, but the boys are impatient and, despite giving the impression that Aqua learned something from the map, Peter ends up calling all the shots anyways, so it doesn’t really matter. After briefly passing around names, Aqua introduces herself and Peter indicates that he knows her (after Ven’s visit) but he’s a shit and refuses to elaborate, instead dragging everyone off to Mermaid Lagoon.
Of course, this is all just a little bit pointless, so BBS decided to sharpen things up a bit by throwing a single pin onto the pile and then declaring the job done. Captain Hook appears and starts shouting about Peter taking his treasure (Peter shouts “We’re busy, Hook!” which is hilarious). Remember that the treasure was basically erased during Terra’s storyline and we got no explanation for what happened to it, so the game’s continued emphasis on it is more than a little confusing, but reinforces my suspicions that the world saw some editing and corner-cutting! Hook orders Smee to open fire on the good gusy from the ship, and it basically plays out in the same manner as Ven’s mission.
At this point, you might suspect that it’s time to go towards Skull Rock just like Ven, but tough luck! You actually have to go to another nearby room, where the Lost Boys are staring up an incredibly tall waterfall. They tell Aqua that the map leads up here (even though Aqua has the map), and Peter insists they’ll be able to scale it with a little pixie dust. The boys protest that they’ve never flown that high, and Aqua, who has only this limited context to understand what on earth they’re talking about, chides Pan for riding his friends so hard. Hey Aqua? I’m not saying you’re wrong, because the two Lost Boys seem scared to death and Peter forcing them into it is one of the biggest jerk moves he’s done in KH so far (okay, still short of his memory-self leaving Wendy in Hook’s capture in CoM, and also not as bad as outright murdering Lost Boys in the book, but those are different Pans!) but… remember Radiant Garden, Aqua? Pot and kettle, Aqua. Pot and kettle.
The boys do what they’re told in the end, but Aqua’s experience will be a little… different. At this point, a strange glowing orb appears on the map that was never there with the other characters. Should Aqua jump into it, she’ll be launched up and be able to move from there to another platform or orb. From there, she’ll find herself in the first of her two unique rooms on this map: a higher section of the waterfall cliff side. Should she fall here, she’ll return to the base, which is incredibly easy to do because so many of the room’s treasures involve falling in the first place!
At the top of the waterfall, Aqua finds herself in the room where Terra started his Neverland trip, and from there back to the room just outside of the First Nations’ camp. It turns out that Peter led them in a circle on purpose. Aqua and Slightly both point out that this is bullshit, but Aqua eventually backs down and compliments Peter on his tough love leadership style, which is where I’m going to have to break from my love for Aqua and say no, you’re still kind of an ass to me, Pete.
Anyways, it turns out that Hook has found the treasure chest before the others, only to discover what we already knew, even if we might not have realized it referred to this specific chest: the treasure has been replaced with the boys’ precious wooden toys, including Ven’s (formerly Terra’s) training Keyblade. Hook swears bloody vengeance, but… ugh, I can’t believe this… he’s chased off by the crocodile once again, which means this is how all three of the three Neverland stories came to a close. This may not be the worst world in the series, but it’s definitely hit a new low of some kind.
That’s it, by the way. That’s honest-to-goodness the end of the Neverland story. This anticlimax is how they chose to end Birth by Sleep’s last Disney world for its designated last player-character. And okay, okay, there’s actually one more thing to go, but it’s a main plot thing, and while I do respect them finally breaking their stupid “main plot on non-Disney worlds only” rule if only this one time, the fact that it comes apparently at the cost of the world having a decent story is a bit of a kick in the pants.
Fun fact: the trailers for this game showed at least one important conversation with Xehanort happening in Olympus Coliseum instead of in The Badlands. This was possibly just a temporary set being used for the trailer, not unlike the KH1 Hollow Bastion appearing in that early KH2 trailer, but I wish they’d have taken a lesson from their lucky mistake and maybe broke down the divide between Disney and original worlds just a little bit more.
Aqua identifies the old training Keyblade, and Peter briefly summarizes that part of the story, adding, “And then he promised to visit us again with even better treasures, maybe enough to fill a hundred treasure chests.” Uh… I don’t think Ven actually promised anything of the sort? Not unlike Hades, Peter has such an ego that I worry he’s going to convince himself that Ven did promise that and be very disappointed. Aqua seems a little upset that she missed Ven yet another time, but suddenly snaps alert and angry and remarks that someone else is here too. The Lost Boys… and for that matter the player… look around confused for lack of any triggering action that might have caused this reaction, but there’s none to be found. I guess she “sensed” something (or smelled it? I mean at this point what other options do I have?) but she never shows the ability at any other point!
Clearing this scene gives you Doubleflight, which is the pixie dust-inspired ability Aqua gets instead of Glide. It introduces the fairly un-Kingdom Hearts idea of a double jump into the game. The double jump goes a long way to explain Aqua’s missing puzzle pieces, especially to a player who couldn’t work out how to get them but just knew that if Kingdom Hearts hadn’t introduced a double-jump in the previous four and a half games, they certainly weren’t about to—why yes, I am talking about myself, why do you ask?
Aqua follows her nose to the First Nations’ camp, where she searches frantically, but needn’t have bothered: Vanitas was already waiting for her. Wait, hold on man, just a… just… time, man, I call time. Let me do a count.
(Mm-hm, yeah, hrm, well, hrmmm…)
According to our records, you fought Terra one time, Ventus three times, and have already fought Aqua once. I’m afraid I have to warn you that if you choose to engage Aqua here at this moment, you will tie Riku Replica for the most boss fights in the Kingdom Hearts series. To prevent that kind of tedium from happening again, we are authorized to employ cartoonishly extreme measures, so don’t it man, for everyone’s sake!
Vanitas actually has the gall to mock the pointless Disney plot, which is no way to get on my good side. Lampshade, still in the room, the usual. He’s carrying the training Keyblade, and never answers when Aqua asks how he got it. Since Peter will show up not long from now with no sign of a bump on the head or even the bad mood you’d expect if he had been openly robbed, I can only assume that he got bored with the treasure chest the moment Aqua turned his back… which is honestly kind of in-character!
Vanitas then calls the training Keyblade childish and breaks it, getting quite an exaggerated reaction from Aqua. I suppose we do all have our special possessions, and this being Kingdom Hearts and all, I shouldn’t be surprised by a friend acting exaggerated in place of a friend. Vanitas then says that he’s outgrown his need for Aqua, just like Ven did the toy. Note that because Aqua is here at Neverland last, and presumably she arrived some time after Terra and Ven, since Hook had time to lick his wounds and Peter had time to get bored. This means that Terra and Ven have probably run off to get duped by Xehanort already, implying that Xehanort and Vanitas have decided on Ven and Terra for keeps and Aqua is no longer required. This all works from a larger perspective, but it’s got to be said how artificial it seems that Vanitas walks on-stage in mid-game and says “I guess I’ll leave you alive!” and then walks back in late-game and says “You know what, forget what I said last time.” Aqua summons her Keyblade.
Ah, yes, excuse me both of you, but as you do appear to be about to fight. I did warn you, but now it’s too late. As a result, I’d like to introduce you to one of our agents, Mr. Hal Hickel, animation director on Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest. You see, he is here to release the kraken into the adjoining body of water in hopes that it will consume Vanitas and prevent this situation from becoming a record-tying repeat tedium. Please pardon me, I need to get away in a hurry, but do have a lovely, abbreviated day.
Aqua’s fight with Vanitas at Neverland is in many ways closely related to Terra and Ven’s first stage encounters with him at the Keyblade Graveyard. This isn’t surprising, considering that we’re just a few tornados away from Aqua’s own final boss suite. Like Terra’s version of the fight, Vanitas is still vulnerable to a few status effects, and according to the wiki he’s also a few points short in Strength and Defence, but this is still a nearly-final boss experience waiting to kick your ass, quite beyond Ven’s fight with Hook and god forbid the Jellyshade Swarm. It’s also in a surprisingly cramped arena, and it’s incredibly easy to get clobbered simply because you tried to Cartwheel to the side only to crash into a teepee! Still, the fight’s basically the same as it was in four of the past five Vanitas battles (excusing the battle in Ven’s heart). That’s is a lot less variety than you ever saw from Riku Replica, who at least gained cards and Sleights as the game went on. It’s a good thing I find the Vanitas battle to be fairly in-depth and fundamentally challenging to begin with or I’d be a lot more sour about this than I already am…
After the battle, Vanitas seems genuinely defeated for a moment, but this is only so the game can have Aqua collapse from exhaustion, an old and tired Kingdom Hearts trick that they’ve decided to spice up by giving the victorious-but-somehow-losing party some dignity this time around. During her faint, Aqua flashes back to the game’s introduction, including The Worst Line in the Game, and is soon woken by Peter Pan. Vanitas’ body is gone, because Hal Hickel assures me it is now ten thousand leagues under the sea in the belly of a squid, and any further appearances will be considered in violation of causality.
Peter reacts to the broken Keyblade nearby, and Aqua declares that she suddenly has insight into Ven’s thought process and now realizes that he’s grown beyond the Keyblade and doesn’t need it to connect them together anymore. Yeah, we have the Wayfinders for that now! Urm, I mean, our friendship is stronger than that! Peter invites the three of them to come back some day, and Aqua’s tour of the Disney worlds comes to an end.
Defeating Vanitas gives Aqua the Ghost Drive Command Style, an interesting but not quite as effective as it sounds Command Style that has her teleporting around the battlefield, striking out at every enemy in turn. The end result is something of a generally even damage pattern across an entire enemy group, and a less-than-impressive damage output to bosses when compared to Bladecharge… unless, that is, you’re having trouble hitting the boss in the first place, in which case Ghost Drive is just fine! Ghost Drive is, however, kind of useless against the Mimic Master and its duplicates, which I bring up because the Mimic Master is something you might fight twice in the late- and post-game, so that’s hardly irrelevant.