Mar 7, 2019

Keys to the Kingdom Part 1: Birth by Sleep - Aqua

Have you ever wanted to get into Kingdom Hearts but are terrified by the amount of lore? Don't worry, we might have you covered! Keys to the Kingdom is an ongoing series where we play through the Kingdom Hearts games and try to make sense of... everything. We are playing as close to chronological order as possible, so with that let's dive right into Birth by Sleep--the first title canonically, and the sixth title released in the series. A lot of what happens in Birth by Sleep has consequences that won't be seen for games to come, but don't worry, we are still going to have some fun!

Birth by Sleep
Birth by Sleep was originally released in 2010 for the Playstation Portable. Billed as a prequel to the entire series, the anticipation for this game was through the roof because it was originally teased through the secret movie at the end of Kingdom Hearts II. These secret movies have become a staple of the series, akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-credit scenes. Most of these have to be unlocked by finding a large amount of in-game collectables, playing on a higher difficulty, or fighting a secret boss. The original teaser showed three characters in suits of armor standing at a cross roads in the middle of the Keyblade Graveyard with the final tagline "It all began with... birth by sleep".

Those three characters in armor with their own keyblades are the three playable protagonists of Birth by Sleep: Aqua, Terra and Ventus. All three of them go on their own separate journeys throughout the game, visiting a bunch of Disney inspired locals and new worlds created for Kingdom Hearts. These story modes can be played in any order, and once all three stories are completed a series timeline is unlocked in the main menu. They all start in the same spot, go on their own adventures that occasionally intersect, and end up at the same end point.

The Beginning
The story always starts the same for all three characters. Aqua and Terra are taking their final test to become Keyblade masters, dubbed the Mark of Mastery, in front of two masters--Master Eraqus and Master Xehanort. Ventus is there to support his friends in their test, but there are shenanigans afoot. Xehanort uses some dark magic to goad Terra into tapping into his inner darkness, thus causing him to fail the exam. Once all of this happens, the Unversed start appearing throughout various worlds, including all the fun Disney worlds, and the three set off to stop them under different motivations.
Aqua
Aqua's quest is filled with good and hope, as she passed the exam for her Mark of Mastery. Aqua is sent out into the universe to find a wayward Terra. To start, she travels to either the Dwarf Woodland from Snow White, the Castle of Dreams from Cinderella, or the Enchanted Dominion from Sleeping Beauty. Because Aqua is the good character and follows a path of righteousness, she teams up with a lot of the series protagonists. In the Dwarf Woodlands, Aqua investigates the Evil Queen's Castle at the request of the seven dwarfs, and eventually finds and directs Prince Charming to the cottage in the Woods. The Castle of Dreams focuses on Aqua helping Jaq the mouse free Cinderella from her locked room so we can see that the glass slipper clearly fits. And in the Enchanted Dominion Aqua teams up with Prince Philip to defeat Maleficent. These worlds can be done in any order.

At this point all three story lines converge again, with one of the few team-up battles in the game in Radiant Gardens. Before this boss battle though, Aqua runs into a young Kairi, another character that becomes very important in later games, and Aqua's Keyblade becomes bound to Kairi. King Mickey shows up for a second too! Upon beating the Trinity Armor with both Ventus and Terra by you side, Ventus gives Terra and Aqua lifetime passed to Disneytown!
Disneytown is not based off of any particular Disney franchise, but an amalgam of old school Disney TV Cartoons. Heuy, Dewy and Louie are there. Horace Horsecaller shows up. Queen Minnie is there. And the background music is the Mickey Mouse song we all know and love. ♪ M-I-C-K-E-Y! ♫ M-O-U-S-E! ♪ After this trip to mini-game land (none of them are too terribly hard), it is off to more Disney worlds.

Deep Space is based off of the science fiction elements of Lilo and Stitch, and has Aqua chasing Stitch throughout a giant space ship filled with Unversed. The other Disney world to visit at this time is the Olympus Coliseum from Hercules, and a Kingdom Hearts mainstay. Here, Aqua fights through a series of battles in hopes to find Terra after his quick departure from Radiant Gardens. She ends up facing Zach, the kinda-not-but-kinda protagonist from Final Fantasy VII, and then teaming up with Zach when Hades brings the Ice Titan to the arena. The last Disney world we visit is Neverland from Peter Pan. Here, Aqua plays around with the Lost Boys until a confrontation with Vanitas, a being of pure darkness serving Xehanort. Finally, Aqua visits the Mysterious Tower, home to the great wizard Yen Sid, after finding King Mickey floating unconscious through space. Yen Sid has bad news for Aqua though, Eraqus has been killed, and rumor has it by the hand of Terra. The only way to find out if it is true is for Aqua to find Terra and ask him herself.

The Keyblade Graveyard
This is where everything comes to head. I will be going through what happens here in the third part of my Birth by Sleep retrospective, as it ties everyone's story together.

But that doesn't mean there isn't much to discuss here. The Keyblade Graveyard is the final resting place of millions of Keyblade wielders century ago. In fact, this is the presumed final resting place of every player of Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross]To have the finale of Birth by Sleep take place here opens up some really cool visuals, with Keyblades being thrown left and right against every character. Pretty much every key character at this point shows up in this explosive finale.

Up next, we will go through Terra's story!