We’re gonna be here a while (oooh, lordy) so it’s best I describe Twilight Town while I have the opportunity. Now that we’re divorced from the threadbare limitations of the Gameboy Advanced, we can see Twilight Town as a relatively fair-sized, homey city, where it is perpetually twilight, giving everything a pleasant orange tinge. The town is built up and around a few prominent hills, one of them topped with the clock tower from the title card, which we see is actually the hub of Twilight Town’s train station. The town is pretty much the largest town in the series, if you discount some dungeon-like “towns” that appear in DDD. The music here is a new version of the GBA theme, lazy and comfortable.
Our new friend heads off into town, hopefully to find someone who will use his name and simplify my job considerably. It’s possible the game drops the name before the characters do, but I wasn’t taking careful note in my last playthrough and am now stuck with allusions. On the streets, our new friend is wearing his usual costume, a white jacket with an X-shaped zipper pull that serves as his symbol the same way Sora’s crown-chain serves as his.
He heads into a back-alley, where we meet that trio of kids who cameoed at the end of Re:CoM. They are all hanging out among a pile of organized junk they seem to have assembled into a clubhouse called “The Usual Spot.” From left to right, there is a lanky boy (with a wooden X-necklace, not unlike Roxas’, oddly enough), a larger boy with a headband, and a girl in orange. We’ll get into time spans later in the Retrospective, but all the teenaged characters in this game seem to be considerably older than the leads were in KH1. I can’t help but wonder if KH1 went on a lot longer than implied – we seem to have jumped from 12 to 14 year old leads to 15 to maybe even 17 year old leads. (Some early, leaked KH1 design documents suggest Sora and friends were supposed to be 15 during KH1, in which case puberty was waiting in ambush and hit them like a truck.) Maybe I’m just underestimating puberty, but I can’t shake the impression that the characters have gained two years in what shouldn’t have been much more than one.
Our new trio is angry about something, especially the lanky boy, who goes on a rant while waving his gargantuan hands. Since we’re talking about talking, I should mention that KH2 seems far less concerned with lip sync than previous games. The lip flaps are often off-mark, but the voice actors ignore it… which in my opinion improves the final product dramatically. I prefer it by degrees over the pauses they introduced into Re:CoM to try to match the existing lip flap. I know the dub and sub debate has raged for decades and my position is uninformed, but this is how I feel.
So like I said, one of the characters is ranting, and he has the gall to drop someone else’s name before the name of anyone in the current scene. This is maddening. I’m just going to give their names ahead of time. The blonde boy under our control is Roxas. The lanky boy ranting right now is his best friend Hayner, who fills the cliché of aggressive tough guy. Hayner voiced by Justin Cowden of Ozzy & Drix. Disney Connection: Guaca from The Emperor’s New School; Final Fantasy connection as Luso, the lead character of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 during that character’s cameo in FFT: War of the Lions.
The dark-haried boy with the bandana is Pence. Cliché: the smart one. Voice: Sean Marquette, another All My Children regular! He was also the voice of Mac from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, alongside Marluxia’s Bloo.
The girl in orange is Olette. Cliché: the responsible one. Voice: Flame Princess herself, Jessica DiCicco. Someone crop together a video of Olette threatening to murder the Ice King and you’ll have made my day. She went on to voice Lumina in FFXIII: Lightning Returns, so if you want to mix some of Lumina’s threats into that video, be my guest. She also has a Disney connection through Emperor’s New School, as Malina. Emmy nominated! I didn’t expect these four to have so many interconnections. It’s like KH2 is some kind of class reunion!
So Hayner is ranting, and he gets to complaining that “Seifer” has been slandering their gang. Final Fantasy fans will be familiar with that name. It seems there have been a series of thefts around town, and Seifer has accusing them of taking whatever has been stolen. As Hayner talks, he makes a lot of broad gestures that make him look far more alive than anyone in KH1. The animations in KH2 are even more improved than the voice acting and get across a lot of character.
For example, when Hayner raves, Olette looks over and Roxas, and you learn a lot about their dynamics in the body language. Without saying a word, we see that Olette wants Hayner to calm down. Olette knows Hayner is more likely to listen to Roxas than to her. Roxas understands Olette enough to pick this up from only a glance. It’s smooth as butter, and I find myself liking these four characters automatically. You get to see the interrelations between them a lot in the early game, you can tell exactly how the friendships work between Roxas and the others and even some of the other three among themselves. We only learned how Riku and Kairi interact at the end of CoM, almost two games after their introduction! KH2 kicks down the door with some startling character efficiency!
The discussion about the thefts continues, but as the teens try to say what was stolen, they find the word is… missing. As though they can’t even say it any longer! It’s surreal to see and especially hard for me to describe in text, so check the screenshot below. The audio cuts out and the captions display a long dash. For example: “Our ——— are gone!” Weirder still, the characters all seem to understand the word, and that it is missing. Hayner realizes that no matter how much he hates Siefer, the guy can’t steal words, so they decide to investigate. I’m not sure how one investigates language theft but I guess you have to start somewhere.
As Roxas is getting up however, he becomes dizzy and passes out. And then, to the shock of all present, we hear a legendary voice: Christopher Lee. The late, legendary Count Dooku seems satisfied with something: “His heart is returning. Doubtless he’ll awake very soon.”
Roxas gets back to his feet fast enough that the game doesn’t have to waste time showing his friends asking why he passed out, something that’s fine now but will only get more and more irritating as the prologue goes on and Roxas keeps getting held back by the plot for one reason or another and his friends almost never seem to notice.
Our foursome rush off to the main square of Twilight Town, called the “Tram Common” because all the streetcars operate there. There are a number of shops in the Common, and the game guides you through the rudimentary controls one after another as players like me seethe, because the game once again locked you out of customizing your camera controls during the tutorial.
The tutorial passes you between three stores. It seems the operators of the shops are friends with Roxas, or… were, before they got the impression that he stole from them. The armourer won’t even tell us what was stolen, so you have to pointlessly walk up to the second shop just to continue the conversation. The game drags things out even longer by having you look up at a cat with the camera. There’s shades of Ocarina of Time in all this, but Zelda let you learn these things at your own pace! I can’t believe we’re dedicating nearly two minutes of dialogue to rudimentary camera and movement controls!
The game also uses this section to introduce the fact that it will show you your current objective if you pause during an action sequence, and will later add an insubstantial “Journal” once the menu is restored.
The gang finally decides that even though Seifer didn’t steal the whatevers, he might know something about it, and we meet up at him in a place called the Sandlot. Seifer Almasy is another Final Fantasy regular, archrival of Squal Lionheart (Leon) from FFVIII. In KH2, the two have never met, and Seifer and Squall are now arguably different ages: like the Final Fantasy characters on Destiny Islands, Seifer has been aged down, though he still seems to be older than Roxas and friends by a year or two. The question’s been raised as to how Leon and Seifer got their signature facial scars if they’ve never met, but it’s probably best left unasked. Maybe they’re both just really bad at climbing down stairs.
Seifer is a self-righteous asshole here in Kingdom Hearts, a bully and leader of the self-proclaimed Twilight Town “Disciplinary Committee.” The rest of the committee includes his FFVIII lackeys Raijin, here called Rai, and Fujin, here called Fuu. Rai and Fuu who both appear to be closer to the rest of the cast in terms of age. Also present on the committee is Vivi Orunitia, the black mage from FFIX, who is much younger and seems to be more of a childish hanger-on than a proper member of the team.
Seifer here is voiced by Batman – Will Friedle, the voice of Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond. He was also on Winx Club with Jessica DiCosso, so our Six Degrees of Kingdom Hearts game continues. Rai is voiced by Brandon Quintin Adams, probably best known as one of the child actors in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, though for the Disney connection, he was also one of the live-action Mighty Ducks. Fuu is voiced (in a manner of speaking, considering she only uses one or two words per sentence) by King of the Hill’s Jillian Bowen. Vivi is voiced by Melissa Disney, who was the star of As Told By Ginger – and yes, she’s related to Walt Disney, however distantly. For a Disney connection more immediate than blood, Melissa also voiced in Epic Mickey 2, and while we’re here, she also played alongside Will Friedle in Batman Beyond (as both his classmate Blade and as unrelated supervillain Curaré). Wow, I really didn’t go into this expecting so many ties between cast members!
Seifer is also accusing our foursome of stealing the “———s”, but it doesn’t seem to be out of spite. He claims the group stole a “———” that reflected on them personally, and so they were the only ones with motive. He says… and this has been going around the internet as “The greatest line in the Kingdom Hearts franchise,” so brace yourselves… he says that: “That was undeniable proof that we totally owned you lamers.” Oh. Oh god. I need to sit down.
Fuu insists that they “Replay!” and without any context about what was stolen, it’s hard to tell what she’s talking about. I’ll spoil juuuust enough to explain what she’s getting at: the thing that was stolen was proof that Seifer beat Roxas in a fight, and Fuu is saying they should fight again so that Seifer can win again. It’s more obvious in-game than it is in text. Seifer says that he’ll forgive them if they kneel to him, and Roxas… does? Between Fuu and Roxas, this scene is absolutely perplexing, or maybe “Proof that we totally owned you lamers” sucked all the blood from my brain.
Roxas really does seem to be kneeling, but after they laugh at him for a minute, he sees some toy weapons before him, and it’s not clear if he was supposed to be kneeling in surrender and then noticed the weapons, or if he was kneeling to reach the weapons. Oh, and at this point, the game stops the tension immediately so you can pick a weapon, so it’s artificial either way.
It seems that people in Twilight Town are fans of a game called “Struggle,” which involves clubbing one another with nerf bats. The game wants you to pick a Struggle club, reminiscent of the Dream weapon selection in KH1. Don’t get too worked up about it. I get the impression that this may have been designed to serve as character creation at some point in design, but character creation was ultimately moved to a later section of the game. As a result, this scene is just hanging around like a weird, vestigial appendage. I wonder if maybe they finished scripting the sequence and didn’t want to lose the hard work?
Long story short, you can pick from three bats: a straight club that will give you a permanent +1 to Attack, a sabre-like club with a hand guard that gives you +1 Defence, and a wand-like club that gives you +1 to Magic. Don’t listen to any internet rumours: that +1 is a simple, everyday stat increase that has no bearing on your character creation, and it’s no more or less powerful than any other one-point stat increase in the game. Since stat boosts are relatively common in KH2, you don’t want to agonize over this for more than a few seconds. I recommend you not take the wand, since I feel magic in this game isn’t as useful as the original, but don’t let me slow you down!
Seifer and Roxas get into a fight, and the game provides a few tutorials, even instructing you to counter Seifer’s attacks with your own as a shallow replacement to Guard. This is odd in hindsight, as KH2 will give you Guard very early (after the first proper boss) and will give it to you by default in nearly every game to follow. I know, I know, this game is terrified to let you so much as jigger the camera during the tutorial. I’m sure they were worried that Guard might make the game so complex that it would boil in your CD tray, but shit!
Combat in KH2 is initially reminiscent of combat in KH1, but there are critical differences that become clear with time and new Abilities, to the point where the two games feel only like distant cousins. You’re much faster on your feet in KH2, for starters, though that isn’t pre-eminent at the outset, and your air attacks have a weird way of letting you float and stay in the air even longer than in KH1, or even ascend! You also never receive Dodge Roll in the Vanilla KH2 game, which is the strangest change of all, since Dodge Roll is also in every single other game in the series, including CoM, which makes its exclusion in KH2 even stranger than the delay on Guard!
You’ll probably thrash Seifer since he’s just a tutorial battle. Goodness knows how Roxas lost to him the other day. However, like in KH1, you can lose a lot of these early fights without consequence. If you do beat him, Rai and Fuu are quick to cover for him, Fuu announcing that “Tournament decides!” which won’t make any sense at the moment. Pence whips out a polaroid camera to take a picture of the win, when suddenly something white and grey sweeps past, taking the camera with it.
Roxas chases after the thief through a forest (you get no idea how Twilight Town is laid out with all these tutorial jump-cuts, it’s very annoying). The thief is hard to get a bead on, and even harder to get a look at, but one thing is clear: it’s flying. It leads you through the trees to a clearing, where you find an ominous sight: the mansion gates from CoM. This was where Vexen and the Riku Replica died in the card worlds, so it’s not exactly a happy place.
It’s here where you get your first look at the thief, and it is not human. White-grey, the creature is lithe and almost empty, almost like a flying jacket in rough human shape. Its fingers and toes are so long that they’re practically blades, and it bears a strange symbol, like a distorted fleur de lis mixed with a… oddly familiar cross, which is marked on its head. As Roxas looks at it, he hears a voice in his head, saying, “We have come for you, my liege.” Because of the way this scene is shot, it wasn’t initially clear to me that the voice was coming from the thief, but apparently other fans worked this out a lot easier than me. To me, it seemed like another memory or unexplained voice like Christopher Lee a few scenes ago, but if everyone else understands what’s going on, then far be it from me to chide the game!
Roxas does not understand this telepathic message and we get a close-up of the thing’s mouth: a zipper. That “jacket” comparison didn’t come from nowhere. The zipper slowly opens, to reveal a head with a zig-zag mouth, like those of the Emblem Heartless. The mouth is the only part of a face you’ll ever see. This is clearer in the HD 2.5 release than it ever was on the PS2, and is really creepy, so kudos to the character designer now that we can see all the details in High-Def. This is a “Dusk,” the first of a new kind of minor enemy. The creature attacks.
Like Sora on the Night of Fate, Roxas’ toy weapon is useless against the creature, and sooner or later Roxas will give up. But just as he does, a strange series of lights appear around his Struggle bat, many displaying numbers, like the feed from a Hollywood computer. When the light clears, he is holding the Kingdom Key. The thief continues attacking at the sight of the Kingdom Key, and Roxas is able to fend him off with his new weapon. When Roxas wins, the Keyblade disappears – even the Struggle bat gone from existence. The thief has dropped the camera and a whole pile of photographs.
Back in The Usual Spot, the gang is examining the photos, and it seems these photos were the items stolen from the various shops. The word “photo” is also back in their vocabulary! That’s good because I have no idea how they were going to fix a language theft without it happening automatically. We learn that Roxas has lied to the others about the thief, unable to explain it. Instead, he says that he just found the pictures lying there. They continue to tour the photos. When seeing a picture of Roxas with the cute accessory shop girl, Hayner and Olette tease Roxas, saying “It’s a giiiiirl,” and, “You look happy Roxas.” Roxas says: “Do not!” which is… sadly true. He’s just wearing his default face. Is that how we’re supposed to read Kingdom Heart’s use of fish-face, Olette? As “barely concealed arousal?” This puts a whole new spin on the Riku Replica’s tragic death.
Pence notes that all the photos are of Roxas, which explains why everyone thought their group were the ones who stole them. Well, case closed then! Let’s never ask about the impossible language theft again. Pence raises a stranger possibility instead: “Wouldn’t it be weird if the thief wanted to steal the real Roxas or something?”
After that, everyone decides to head out (hopefully to return the photos and not actually steal them) when Roxas blacks out again. This time he hears the voice of Sora, coming out of the blackness and asking who Roxas is. I feel this is a lot more impactful if you’ve played Re:CoM and are familiar with Haley Joel’s grown-up voice, as you might not be able to identify him if you were coming to KH2 after playing the GBA version of CoM, or coming straight from KH1.
Just then the screen gets staticky again and a computerized voice says “Restoration at 12%.” (Under the distortions, the computer is voiced by Susanne Blakeslee, the voice of Maleficent, who while we’re on the subject was also in Winx Club.) After this static, we cut to a dark room, where a figure in a black coat approaches DiZ, who is sitting in front of a series of bright monitors. In the HD version it’s easier to see past the bloom lighting, which lets you make out a wireframe drawing of Sora’s face on one of the monitors. It’s here that we learn that DiZ is the character being voiced by Christopher Lee! Scaramanga is pissed, saying that “Organization miscreants” have found them.
While I said I’d identify cloaked figures by their voice actors, identifying the cloaked figure that’s talking to DiZ would be a little too telling, so I’ll hold off on it for a minute and just say he has a deep voice. He asks why Nobodies would want to steal photographs, and for those of you waiting in the wings, that means Dusks are Nobodies: specifically a kind of minor Nobody that is not quite as human as the ones we’ve met in CoM. This explains why they look like jackets: the body is like discarded empty clothes without the heart. Clever.
DiZ explains that the Dusk must have stolen the photos because “Both are nothing but data to them. The fools could never tell the difference.” He doesn’t explain what he means by “both,” but you can guess. He insists that “Naminé must make haste.”
We cut back to static, and additional flashbacks. These carries us through Traverse Town in KH1, where we learn that Leon has been overdubbed by Doug Erholtz, the voice of T. K. on Digimon Adventures and a huge number of other anime programs (and later Grumpy Bear in the 2012 Care Bears. I’m not going to let that go past). Erholtz would go on to voice the role of Squall in Dissidia as well. Erholtz is following Boreanaz’s lead with Leon/Squall, which I’m sure is good news for those who liked Boreanaz. If you’re like me and weren’t a big fan of Angel as Leon, Erholtz at least puts in some extra energy, so in the end I prefer him.
Aerith only gets a single line in this scene, but I may as well mention that she too has a new actress, in her case by Mena Suvari of American Pie fame. I’m afraid to say that voice acting is not her forte, or at least it’s not the impression I’m getting. Like most of the FFVII cast in this game, Suvari comes here from Advent Children, but unlike the others (where appropriate) she would not stick around for Dissidia 012.
During these flashbacks, we see the scenes in KH1 where Sora first learns about the Keyblade, and when we wake up with Roxas the next day, the word “Keyblade” is on his lips as well. He seems to think it’s the stupidest name he’s ever heard. Nice inflection, Jesse, I’m legitimately happy you got away with that. And with that, we’re on to the second day.