Roxas wakes up, musing on how Sora’s promise to Kairi regarding the Oathkeeper. Drawing a connection to his personal life, Roxas reflects on how he just broke a promise to Hayner before heading out to meet the day.
It’s the day of the Struggle tournament, and a man cuts Roxas off part-way to say “You’re gonna be late!” Thanks for making me even later, stranger!
The setup for the tournament is about what you might expect. There’s an arena, Hayner is still cold toward you, and everyone in Twilight Town is nearby, which gives you a chance to see just how many unique NPC models there are in town, and there really are quite a few for a 2005 game! Sadly they’ll be repeated in other towns, but this is pretty good variety for Twilight Town alone!
The organizer calls order and tells us the stakes: we’re down to the semifinals, and the remaining competitors are Roxas, Hayner, Seifer, and surprising even the organizer… Vivi? Whoever wins the tournament also wins the right to fight the reigning Champion, Setzer the Gambler from Final Fantasy VI. This is the first explicit FF cameo from outside of Nomura’s era of Final Fantasy (FFVII, VIII, X and sort-of-IX), reportedly because Nomura was worried about using characters he hadn’t created. Sadly, we haven’t seen any characters from pre-FFVII games since! Setzer, an adult, looks absurd next to all the teenagers supposed to fight, by the way. There’s a Yugioh joke in this.
Setzer is voiced by Crispin Freeman, who will also be providing one of our Disney voices later in the game. Freeman’s an anime and gaming regular, featuring in Naruto, Hellsing Ultimate, and Haruhi, and for a Final Fantasy connection he’s Quinton Flynn’s partner in the Crisis Core, playing the character Rude to Flynn’s Reno.
Speaking of voice actors, there are also two voice actors playing the roles of tournament announcers. The first is the man you see in screenshots, who seems to be in charge here, and the second is the man from the armour shop, who’s called in to introduce the contestants. IMDb credits them both as “Tournament Announcer,” and I’m afraid I haven’t had much luck attaching a specific voice to a specific character. If you can help me pick them out, drop a comment!
In alphabetical order by last name, one of the two announcers is voiced by Kevin Delaney, an unusual example of a near-exclusive video game voice actor! Delaney has played some major roles including an unusual double role as both the protagonist and antagonist of Dracula: Origin, and Captain Marvel in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. He has a few Disney connections, including in Disney Infinity and the Chicken Little video game, and for a Square Enix connection an Additional Voices role in Lightning Returns. The other announcer is Adam Paul, who created and starred in Hollywood Residential, though even his IMDb bio admits that you probably better know him as Mitch from How I Met Your Mother.
You know, it’s kind of funny that they called in two guys to play announcer when they could have just had one of them do the whole thing? I have a suspicion why this may have been done, however. If you shop at the armour store, you’ll discover that the operator is actually recurring Final Fantasy character Biggs, in this case implied to be Biggs from FFVII. The weapon shop owner is likewise supposed to be Wedge, Biggs’ constant companion across the series, and the accessory shop owner is Jessie from FFVII. But darned if the tournament organizer (the guy in the screenshots) doesn’t look more like Wedge from FFVII than the weapon shop guy! I can’t help but wonder if they had Biggs stand up to record a few lines because the other speaker was at one point intended to be Wedge? But that’s just a wild, wild guess.
The organizer then asks you to talk to his assistant to re-learn the rules of the sport you’ve been playing for years and are good enough at playing that you have reached the semifinals. I’m sure this is a major part of every Superbowl and World Cup. The game even has the gall to say “You all know this, but…” Was there no other way to convey this information to the player?
The rules are surreal. You and your opponent are fighting over 200 coloured orbs, and you each start with 100. When you hit your opponent, they drop a certain amount of orbs depending on the strength of your hit, and you pick them up the same way you would any HP orbs or munny. Whoever has the most orbs when time runs out is the winner, though you can also win instantly by grabbing all 200 orbs.
This Struggle seems like it belongs in any town on earth but Twilight Town. Twilight Town is so down-to-earth, so Shire-like, that the suggestion that their favourite sport is tied up in abstract game mechanics like “picking up orbs with your telekinetic money-grabbing powers” breaks verisimilitude in more ways than you’d expect. In the manga, they presented an alternative scenario where everyone is wearing balls Velcro’d to their clothes and they try to grab them with Velcro bats… it’s really as close as you’re going to get!
There are a few other rules to the Struggle you can learn by reading signs posted around the arena, which will be easy to do because the crowd has vanished into thin air. “If you run out of HP you lose” says one sign, but “If your opponent runs out of HP, you get a big opportunity”? Why are you and your opponent governed by different rulesets? Specifically: if your opponent does lose all their HP, they’ll be stunned for an extended period of time. You probably will win at that point… unless you lose your health later.
While Hayner and Roxas promised to both make it to the finals, it seems they didn’t count on the organizer pairing them up in the first round. Hayner remains cold to you until Roxas sheepishly apologizes for the previous day, at which point Hayner acts like he already forgave you! Dude, you’ve been a dick all morning, what the fuck?
The fight begins and we discover that Hayner is terrible at this. He barely attacks, and he seems to have no AI designed to help him pick up orbs. In Critical Mode, thanks to your bonus abilities and the way enemies are weakened at the same time as your character, you’ll almost certainly get your 200 orbs achievement on your first run! Yeah, uh, nice bout, buddy, you did… you did great.
If you look at the chalkboard near the arena, it seems the qualifying rounds consisted of eight competitors. I guess it’s possible that you and Setzer are in separate brackets, and that Setzer defeated three others off-screen, but I get the impression that Setzer was brought in to compete in the final match automatically. Who did Roxas beat up off-screen who was weaker than Hayner? Did not they have no AI at all?
If you do have trouble fighting Hayner and lose (or lose your next opponent, which is more likely), KH2 will get… weird, as it becomes covered in static and seems to rewind to give you a second chance. If you need extra help, you can go find Seifer and his gang in the nearby alley, where Seifer will repeat the tutorial battle for a thin 8 EXP a fight. Olette seems to think Seifer’s gang went to the alley to avoid the crowd. What crowd? The crowd keeps disappearing into time and space! The only one left is Vivi, who’s acting… strangely.
After your bout, Seifer returns to battle Vivi, and seems pissed at Vivi for entering in the first place. Guess your group doesn’t talk much, eh Sei? They fight, and wow does a Struggle look even less impressive in cutscene form. Seifer fails to knock more than a single ball from Vivi, and when he dives for the one ball as though this 1 of 200 balls will save his game. Vivi creams him, and in doing so we discover that Seifer knocking away 1 ball doesn’t seem to have been a stylistic choice, because Vivi knocks out about as many orbs as you’d expect from a normal hit. I guess Seifer just stinks at this?
But worse, it seems Seifer’s been knocked clean out, and because the referee is making rules as he goes, he declares Vivi the winner. Everyone is shocked, and as Seifer storms away from the arena, he takes Roxas aside to whisper “That’s not Vivi. …Thrash him.”
This begins one of KH2’s first long sequences without a checkpoint. KH2 loves these, for better or usually worse. I’m not sure if they were meant to discourage you from losing or if they just couldn’t be arsed to add additional checkpoints. Here’s the deal: if you Continue from a loss at any point to follow, you’ll be dumped back at the front of the Vivi fight, presumably because the only way to grind at this point in the game is to go back to the alley to help Seifer vent off steam. And not only are later fights potentially challenging, but you might very well lose as early as the fight with Vivi! Not because of any lack of combat prowess, but because Vivi is one of the only Struggle opponents whose techniques help him pick up the stinking orbs.
Vivi is giggling all creepy-like. Something is up, and when the fight starts, things get stranger. I haven’t read the unabridged Struggle rule book, but I feel Vivi must be cheating a little when he uses his magic to supersize his bat. Vivi has a few dash and spin attacks, all of which will help him collect a large number of Struggle orbs if you don’t stay on top of them. The spin attack he used to flatten Seifer could very well take you out with HP loss, so avoid that in particular. You’ll get a hang of it fast, but watch out, because you have even more to deal with coming up.
As Vivi loses the fight, yet again the world freezes around you, but this time Naminé is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Vivi is still moving, and in a few moment, he transforms into a Dusk. Other Dusks transport in, and Jesse McCartney gets a good delivery by reacting with shock to the Dusks, and then transitioning to confusion when his Keyblade jumps into his hand.
You clear out the four Dusks (whoops, three Dusks again!), but this time you meet their boss. A man in a black cloak enters the arena, applauding. When Roxas doesn’t react, the black cloak says “You really don’t remember?” and unhoods, revealing Axel, Quinton Flynn’s debut in the role. Roxas does not know what Axel is talking about, and Axel laments that “even the Dusks aren’t going to crack this one.” Axel summons his chakrams to try to crack this nut himself. I didn’t know how to react to this the first time I saw it. Axel was an early boss in CoM… but he was also an end-game boss, and CoM had taught me to respect the Organization’s agents in terms of gameplay. Was an end-game boss really going to fight me in the prologue?
Roxas wants to know what’s going on, but Axel says there’s no time for answers because “This town is his creation, right?” He resolves to drag Roxas away if needs be, when suddenly the air around Roxas begins to distort. Axel is alarmed by this, but it passes. With more weird shit happening to Roxas without explanation, Roxas spikes the Keyblade to the ground in frustration, but it jumps back to his hand as ever. Axel watches this with interest, and says: “Number 13. Roxas. The Keyblade’s chosen one.” This is really all the clues you’ll need to put most of the puzzle together. I bet you could even fill out the obscure pieces of the puzzle at this point, so long as you came from KH:FM.
Axel decides to fight you at this point. He’s technically going easy on you, but don’t underestimate him. This is no “Leon in Traverse Town” fight, even though it’s taking place at about the same point in the game: if you lose here, it’s Game Over and back to Vivi. Generally Axel’s attacks are predictable (if he crouches low, hit him fast or prepare to Guard, because that’s his strongest attack), but he has a few dodges that he’ll follow up with a combo if you fall for them, and that’s what will probably catch you.
There’s no special prize for beating Axel in Vanilla, but Final Mix players will win the Scan ability. Vanilla players will have to wait on level-ups to earn this fundamental skill, but thankfully only until Level 4.
After you clear out Axel’s HP, DiZ suddenly appears in the arena. Axel says “So it was you,” and attacks DiZ, who errantly deflects the attack. DiZ suddenly announces “Roxas, this man speaks nonsense!” which is… telling, considering Axel has barely said anything at all. Sure, Axel has implied that he knows Roxas, but he hasn’t said anything that Roxas seems to understand. This shows us that DiZ is so worried that Roxas might understand these cryptic statements that he felt the need to step in personally. If you ask me, this tells us more about DiZ’s character than anything we saw of him in CoM: he’s very paranoid, and hypersensitive to anyone interfering with his delicate plans.
DiZ and Axel soon start shouting for Roxas’ attention like children, and Roxas starts shouting for Hayner, Pence and Olette just to shut the others up. And for some reason… this works. Axel and DiZ vanish and the world restarts around him. Believe it or not, this makes sense once you understand everything that’s going on, but since we’re holding off on conclusions at the moment, I’m going to wait until we’re closer to done to talk some more about it. The game will call back to this, so I’ll have a good opportunity.
Roxas finds himself once again holding the Struggle bat, and now the winner of the tournament. Setzer is already getting ready to step into the ring. You don’t even get a breather, which is the game’s way of discouraging you from restarting the game to fight Setzer again if you lose. You see: the game actually branches a little if you lose to Setzer, and the game wants you to have to weigh the consequences of re-fighting Vivi, the Dusks, Axel and Setzer against your reward.
As the fight is about to begin, Setzer comes up to you (mistakenly calling you “Rucksack”) and whispers that he’s like you to throw the fight! A lot has been said about this in regards to Setzer’s FFVI characterization, especially since a key line about his character in FFVI was recently revealed to have been mis-translated, but I’m not going to touch on it. Why? Because Dissidia’s incarnation of Setzer makes a reference to KH2 by saying he’d never rig a tournament fight! It seems Square Enix themselves have conceded that they made a mistake here in KH2!
It’s up to you whether or not you’re willing to throw the fight. Setzer is pretty terrible at this outside of Critical Mode (in Critical Mode, Setzer can take out your HP with ease). Heck, he’ll sometimes just drop his defences to preen. The game seems to be trying to reinforce the idea that Setzer never earned his title, maybe not even in the first place, and only bribed others to take the fall. As a result, a veteran gamer is at their liberty to choose whether or not to throw the fight. It’s funny if you knock Setzer’s HP to 0: he shouts “This isn’t what we agreed!”
In my opinion, winning the fight is ideal. The prize for winning is armour. Kingdom Hearts 2 divides Armour and Accessories into separate categories, by the way. The Armour you win is the Champion Belt, which boosts your Fire, Blizzard and Thunder resistances by 20%, which is pretty handy later in the game even if it’s not so useful at the moment, since very few enemies have elemental attacks at the outset. If you lose, you get an Accessory instead: a Medal which boosts Strength by 1. Certainly not end-game material but far more useful in the short term. It’s up to you. If you lose, you also get a cute scene where your friends applaud you for trying your best. It’s sweet… unless you did throw the fight, in which case the scene is meant to guilt you! Double duty!
No matter who wins the Championship bout, Roxas wins the tournament trophy, which he and his friends take up the clock tower. The trophy is a twisty metal sculpture topped with four crystal orbs, which Roxas breaks off so that his friends can split the prize, as promised. The implication seems to be that these orbs are a reference to the “Orbs” carried by the original Warriors of Light in Final Fantasy 1 (before remakes started calling the Orbs “Crystals” instead). Olette gets the Wind Crystal, Hayner the Fire, Pence the Earth and Roxas the Water. It’s probably best not to think much on this too much. While I don’t doubt that the crystals were intentionally coloured after the FF crystals, their distribution doesn’t make much sense, though I won’t be able to explain why until later.
The teens admire their new treasures by holding them up to the sun with their giant, giant hands, when Olette remembers that she has ice cream melting in her pants and hands them out to everyone. Roxas gets up to accept it, and is so excited that he slips! It happens so suddenly that even today it takes me by surprise! I suppose a ten-storey drop is something of a Chekhov’s Gun, but holy shit!
As Roxas is falling, the screen statics out before you can react (which adds to the shock), and you find yourself looking at… where are we? Oh wow, it’s the actual town on Destiny Islands! You know: the one that didn’t exist in KH1? Turns out it’s a quaint but expansive village built on an island so large that it’s even sillier that it wasn’t visible in KH1.
We’re watching Kairi and Selphie walking home from school in their uniforms, which seems really strange in a way I can’t explain. Part of it has to do with how we were watching Roxas fall to his death moments prior, but I mean the uniforms in particular. It may be because these characters were wearing the same costumes for two games, and seeing them in this temporary costume seems odd? We only had a moment to glance at Kairi’s new outfit before she got swapped into this one.
Kairi is acting distant and spacey towards Selphie, but Selphie is persistent and asks Kairi if she wants to go hang out on the island from the first game. Kairi says no and then tries to change the subject, asking about “those boys” that used to hang out with them on the island. Selphie asks if she means Riku, though it’s clear to the player that Kairi is referring to Riku and Sora. Selphie treats Riku as though he moved away some time ago. My complaints from CoM about how Naminé couldn’t have physically moved away from Destiny Islands stands here as well, but it’s clear at this point that the developers just weren’t thinking about that in either game. Kairi asks if Selphie remembers “the other boy,” and Selphie draws a blank. Not only does she not seem to remember Sora, she doesn’t remember there being a second boy to begin with!
This is probably supposed to be suspicious to you, but you know what? I didn’t see it that way when I first watched the scene. Remember: we haven’t seen Sora during the course of this entire game, and all the other characters seemed to have grown up dramatically. Kairi in particular seems to have aged three or four years! Again, I may be underestimating puberty (Selphie’s barely aged a day), but try to put yourself in my shoes. Maybe it’s not suspicious that Selphie forgets Sora: maybe it was three or four years ago! She and Kairi are both acting like it’s been a long time, and as we already established in the decoy plot of CoM, kids sometimes just forget their childhood friends. Wouldn’t it be sad, but a good subject for a plot, if Sora’s old friends had completely forgotten about him after the natural course of time? As the scene goes on, you learn that Kairi has forgotten Sora as well, even if not as thoroughly as Selphie! During my first viewing, this scene seemed tragic and dramatic rather than suspicious, and by the time it underlines the fact that it’s supposed to be suspicious, it’s wasted half its length!
So why has Kairi forgotten one of her closest friends? You’re going to have to wait on that. Kairi says that she’s made a promise not to go back the island where they used to play until she remembers her missing friend, since she feels so awful about forgetting him. Just then, Roxas’ voice chimes in, and says “Naminé?” presumably seeing that Kairi looks a lot like the blonde girl and wondering if they’re the same person.
It seems Kairi can hear Roxas in her head, and they have a brief conversation. As we cut away from Kairi, we learn that Roxas is presently falling to his death in slow-motion. He’s so wrapped up in talking to Kairi that he doesn’t even seem that put-out! He says: “You’re the girl that he likes!” Kairi is so hopeful that they’re talking about the person she’s forgotten that she puts aside her confusion and asks for Sora’s name. Roxas misunderstands and introduces himself rather than Sora… but all of a sudden, Sora’s voice chimes in, only mildly put-off that Kairi has forgotten him, even playful. He even refuses to give his name when she asks, and only says “Starts with an S!”
Kairi, it seems, has collapsed from this psychic contact, and Selphie has to help her up. Once she is up, she gets a look in her eye, and runs off to the beach. Kairi pulls a message in a bottle out of… I guess her schoolbag, but it must have been nearly empty if that bulky bottle was able to fit in there. She insists she was carrying the message ahead of time, and there are so few possibilities that she must have pulled it straight out of her ass.
Kairi puts the bottle in the water, and Selphie asks what on earth is going on. Kairi doesn’t offer an explanation for her collapse, but does explain the message in the bottle. She says that she wrote a letter to her forgotten friend, telling him that she’ll search for him. This is interesting context once you realize exactly what Kairi wrote, since she’s giving a very compressed summary. She says she remembered that she and her forgotten friend made a promise at the end of KH1, to… uh… do exactly what she wrote in her letter, which Kairi refuses to convey. Kairi doesn’t repeat herself per se, but if you know exactly what she’s talking about, this scene comes off as ouroboric. “I promised I’d find him which helped me remember that I promised to find him and…”
Kairi says she knows that sending this letter will start the process of finding her friend, which is wrong in a very surprising way. Nevertheless, this seems to remind her of his name, as she says: “Starts with an ‘S’. Right, Sora?” Or as Hayden Panetierre puts it: “Right, Soooor…a?” I understand that she’s trying to work the name out as she is saying it but… that’s the delivery you want to go with, voice director?
Bye Selphie! You won’t be seen in several games after this scene, but Riku assures me that you’re one of his closest friends!
Just then, we scramble out to “Restoration at 79%.” This direct transition seems to imply that Kairi recovering her memory is tied to the sudden jump in progress on the computer, which DiZ will confirm in just a moment – I just wanted to compliment the efficient use of a cut! We once again return to DiZ’s computer room, where we see his friend Cloaky putting Roxas’ Water orb into the munny pouch he stole earlier, and hasn’t “deleted” it after all. DiZ explains that Naminé’s meeting with Roxas put Roxas’ heart in contact with Kairi’s, “and that, in turn, affected Sora.”
Cloaky is complimentary toward Naminé, and DiZ indulges us with a bit of her backstory. “She wasn’t born like other Nobodies.” He explains that she can affect the memory of Sora and “those aligned with him.” This is a little different from what CoM seemed to be implying, i.e. that Naminé could modify everyone’s memories. That said, it fills a plot hole: it explains why she never modified Marluxia’s memory so that she could escape! Cloaky asks whose Nobody Naminé is supposed to be, but DiZ doesn’t answer. Instead, he tries to get something from Cloaky in exchange. He asks (once again very similar fashion to St. Peter’s cloaked figure at the dark beach at the start of the game), whether or not Cloaky remembers his “true name.” Cloaky pulls back his hood and reveals that he is… Ansem?
Yes, Ansem is back, and he’s strangely docile, friendly and forgiving. What’s going on? We’re not the only ones surprised: DiZ breaks down laughing, and finally says “It’s an honour, Ansem!” There’s a lot of depth in this line that’s not immediately apparent, and it makes me glad that a veteran actor delivered the line.
And then, what do you know, we reach our first exclusive FM+ scene. These new additions are important in that they’re like spackle, or plot bandages, designed to fill in plot holes from the original. I approve of all the new scenes that fill plot holes. Vanilla KH2 has problems. It shouldn’t be contentious for me to say KH2 had problems when the creators themselves added half an hour of video just to fill plot holes. It is often possible to understand or guess at what was going on in the Vanilla release, but I feel we’re much better off with the clarify of the remake.
In the original Japanese release of FM+, all of these new scenes were left silent, like the scenes in KH:FM. You could get voice acting if you watched the cutscenes in Japanese-language “Theatre Mode,” which was unlocked after beating the game, but during the main game they were subtitled silence, and that’s really weird. Thankfully this is corrected in all regions with 2.5, as all scenes are properly voiced in all available languages.
In this scene, we revisit the white throne room from Re:CoM’s ending. Again, this room is lined with thrones at varying impossible heights – thirteen thrones, to be specific. Here, Axel is being given new orders from his superiors on how to deal with Roxas now that he’s “resisted arrest,” so to speak. We come in in the middle of the conversation, and it seems Axel has just been given orders to have Roxas killed. (The game doesn’t actually name Roxas at any point in the scene, but it’s very obvious.)
You hear a new Organization member here, despite not seeing his face. This voice actor is David Dayan Fisher, who many may recognize as CIA agent Trent Kort from NCIS. Fisher is primarily a live actor, and this is one of his few-to-only voice acting roles. Fisher asks Axel why Axel – the guy who executed two traitors and one “traitor” to the Organization in CoM – is so reluctant to execute this fifth traitor. This is why Roxas isn’t specifically named in the scene: because the scene makes it explicit that “the traitor” used to be a member of the Organization, and the game is trying to delay the revelation that Roxas belongs to the Organization until later in the scene. While there were hints before now, the Vanilla game wasn’t quite as explicit about Roxas belonging to the Organization at this early point. I have to conclude that the remake is willing to sacrifice that one mystery for better overall clarity. The remaining mysteries are why Roxas doesn’t remember working for the Organization, and what DiZ has to do with this.
Axel tries to say that Roxas can’t return (though he doesn’t say why) but Fisher insists that Axel was given an order, and threatens him with an Organization-themed lance. These lances of Fisher’s are called “Lindworm” after the British monster (the “Lindwyrm” would eventually become a Final Fantasy monster in FFXI and XII). Fisher chucks the lance at Axel, taking off some of his hair, but Axel doesn’t flinch. After all, he is a Nobody, with no emotional capacity for fear. You have to wonder why Fisher bothered, but I suppose it’s a handy cliché that villains threaten one another.
The cloaked figure on the highest throne orders Fisher to stand down with a gesture, and then threatens Axel himself with an orb of black-and-white light. Axel sees this as a threat to “turn me into a Dusk,” which worries him enough to give in and accept his orders. Yikes, who knew you could be downgraded to one like that? Axel sounds pretty resentful nevertheless… which is funny for someone with no feelings.
There are no computerized flashbacks on Day 4. Instead, Roxas finds himself waking up in bed, and wondering what actually happened and what he just dreamed. You might want to hurry to the sandlot, buddy, are you sure the Struggle Tournament took place at all?