Kingdom Hearts 2 – Occult Homework

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The cast is back in The Usual Spot and the game is doing that weird “mouths are flapping but there is no sound” thing from Day 1 again. When KH2 finally remembers to turn up the volume, it seems our foursome is talking about a take-home independent study assignment from school. Olette is trying to get the others to do their damn homework, and Roxas keeps trying to change the subject. Not because he doesn’t want to do his homework, but because Roxas is convinced that he fell off the tower and died yesterday, but no one else remembers that. Everyone else just thinks he slipped and regained his footing.

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Look at that glare.  That is a practiced glare.

Olette finally convinces them to do the homework, and thank goodness. If the game didn’t get me out of all these action-combat situations, why, I might just faint! It’s definitely time for us to do homework.

I tease – and the game deserves it for dragging this prologue on as long as it has – but this is probably the best day of the entire prologue and I look forward to it when I replay KH2. But during my first time through? Yeeeugh. It has to be said and put in bold letters, because we’re 16k words into this and the game has yet to start properly.

The teens seem to have the luxury of picking their own topic for their research assignment. Roxas is still off in his own little world and asks if maybe they should investigate the “guys in white” for their homework. His friends’ reason for dismissing this is surprising: they don’t think he’s lying to them, despite all the hints suggesting that this is a cliché gaslighting plot. Roxas’ friends do trust him, at least to some degree, and the reason they don’t want to investigate the guys in white is because they’ve been organizing a posse behind the scenes to help Roxas out the very next day. Sounds like a lot of fun – sadly this won’t play out quite as written, but the idea of a large-scale investigation helped me along when I was first playing, as the tedium of the intro was starting to strain my patience.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h42m51s914The group still doesn’t have a homework assignment, so we get a transition to more of this damnable ice cream. We rejoin them in the middle of conversation, where Pence explains some (milder) weird things that have been going on in town. He calls them the “Seven Wonders of Twilight Town.” He says they’re all urban legends around town, or at least Disney Imagineer-style Easter eggs hidden in the layout, like a staircase that “counts differently” depending on whether you’re climbing or descending. Hayner suggests they look into this for their project. Wow that’s, uh… some pretty loose guidelines you had on that assignment, wasn’t it?

The game does something confusing at this point. It’s blink and you’ll miss it, but screams of another late edit. Rewind a bit. Pence implies that there are multiple rumours in town, saying it’s like “the seven wonders of Twilight Town.” He will later imply he knows about all of them, and that they’re not rumours at all. He will then hand you a map with detailed information on how to get to… five of them. But he still knows all about two more! Okay I could probably explain all of those steps if they were in isolation: the developers were doing this or that, that’s fine. But we’re not done.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h27m39s868But then Hayner steps up in this scene to announce that he and Olette will look for rumours about the wonders, as though Pence doesn’t know about the wonders. And then they “split up” from you as you and Pence go to the train station, meaning they go to the hill leading to the train station, so you functionally don’t split up at all. They then “reunite” with you at the train station, where Hayner and Olette then loudly announce that they’re back (after no time apart) with no information, which is fine because Pence knows everything anyway, even though they left because he didn’t. BUT WAIT. Pence and Olette later act like they’re on top of two of the rumours as though they did find something out about them! Except they didn’t, except they did, except they didn’t need to, except they did, didn’t, don’t, the end.

Actually no, it’s no the end.  In fact this is only going to get worse.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h28m23s834Pence tells Roxas that the wonder they’re looking for is in another part of town that we the players never knew existed until now: Sunset Terrace. Which is strange, because there are hints that some or all of the cast might live out there, or perhaps go to school there. Specifically, Pence says they go that way “every day,” so it’s funny we’re five days into this prologue without any hint that half the town existed. You take the free train to the Terrace, and on the train ride, the teens all take out their crystal orbs to admire them in something of a group moment, only for Roxas to discover his is gone. Based on what we’ve already seen, we can only conclude that Ansem stole it at some point after Roxas’ fall to his “death.”

I have to wonder just why Ansem stole it in the first place. It wasn’t like the munny bag, when he was trying to prevent Roxas from going to the beach. He had a reason to do that, and even Ansem doesn’t seem petty enough to steal candy from a baby. My best possible guess is that Ansem stole the orb so that it can be used… how do I put this without spoilers? The stolen orb is later used for a really, really, abstract way that seems almost unintentional. If that was Ansem’s plan all along, the narrative is asking a lot from me.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h29m18s909At the Terrace, Pence shows you the first wonder: the staircase that counts differently depending on whether you’re going up or down. And while this could have been a neat opportunity for the designers to employ an optical illusion or actual programming trick, the gimmick for this section rears its head: the “wonder” is a fake. It seems Rai started spreading the rumour when he, being the thick-headed sort, miscounted the steps. My best guess was that Pence was just telling a neat story he knew to be false before Hayner got excited and turned it into their homework assignment. But Pence hopes, fingers crossed, that the other “Wonders” will go better.

Pence offers you a rough sketched map he’s drawn of the Terrace, detailing the seven wonders. Or rather… five of them, as I said. He says seven but there are only five. Don’t… don’t think about it. I’ve already talked about how this day needed another editing pass. You’re at your leisure to explore the Wonders in whatever order you please, which is nice, because it’s first time you’ve been off the leash since the Dive to the Heart, and the Dive to the Heart was a heavily linear experience in spite of your “freedom.” To celebrate your genuine freedom, the game finally scatters some chests around the environment. Like the Dive to the Heart, these chests are all missable, this time because these are replaced by better chests later in the game. Best to do a thorough sweep all the same. Make sure to jump on top of the tram using reaction commands, which allow Roxas to double jump… which he can do here, and nowhere else. As I’ve said, subjective reaction commands blow my suspension of disbelief out the window.

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Aerial Recovery provides you with a brief barrier against attacks, which we see here deflecting two of the balls.

I’ll address the Wonders from nearest to furthest. You find Hayner waiting by an alley, telling you to search in alleys, as he does nothing of the sort despite there being an alley mere steps away. You’re a slacker hero, Hayner. According to Pence, this Wonder has to do with a ball being thrown at people in the alley, despite there being no windows or openings for it to come from.  Okay, I’ll grant that that’s pretty weird, even if it’s not as balls-to-the-wall surreal as stairs that change their number. Sure enough, if you go to the end of the alley, a ball comes out at you… through the wall. Roxas is so baffled that he follows the ball half-way out before realizing he should investigate the wall rather than the ball. The challenge is to get back to the wall as it continues to spit new balls at you like a cannon. This mini-game is much easier if you get to work quickly, since the difficulty ramps up the longer the game goes. If you’re fast on your feet, you can make it to the back of the alley before it gets very hard at all.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h31m22s192Once Roxas tags the back of the wall, the game statics out, and reopens with the alley back to normal and there is only a single ball. Pence shows up at just that moment and sees the ball, saying “Did you throw it? Hey! This explains one of the seven wonders!” I… what? No it doesn’t! And if you check back at the map, Pence has written that it was just a ball someone was playing with. But the wonder wasn’t supposed to be the ball! The wonder was about how it was being thrown! This is like Hercule Poirot “solving” the murder of Roger Ackroyd with: “Yup, that sure is a corpse!” I can’t help but think something was lost in translation. As you walk away from the alley, the back wall ripples like a Mario 64 painting.

Pence relocates after each Wonder so that you can have immediate access to his map. It’s a nice touch – something I wish more games would do rather than nothing – but I can’t help but wonder if they could have put the map in your inadequate “Journal” menu instead?

The next Wonder is inside an underground tunnel that connects all the parts of Twilight Town later in the game. The tunnels are strange, something else that reeks of edits. The game starts with them barred off to keep on-rails in the prologue, which is fine. But later in the game, the gates open… and the game still won’t let you into the tunnel! The open door is apparently not open! What’s going on?

kh2-2016-01-18-14h33m52s092A man outside the tunnel tells you that he’s heard weird voices inside the tunnel, and once you go in, you’ll find Vivi inside practising with his Struggle bat. Vivi mentioned this to you earlier in the day if you found him in the other part of town, so it seems normal enough… until Vivi begins to multiply into a number of Vivi copies, which attack you. The Vivi clones all use the same AI as the original from the Struggle, though these only have a single point of HP. When you hit them, the clone vanishes in a burst of computerized data effects, similar to the way the Keyblade appeared on Day 1 (the Keyblade has since appeared in flashes of light as normal. Hm…). With only 1 HP per Vivi and no orbs to worry about, this battle is hardly as threatening as the original Struggle opponent. If you had no trouble with the original Vivi, his clones won’t give you a challenge. The real value of this scene is the surprise, and I can respect that.

After the fight, the game statics out, and Vivi walks in from the tunnel. Finding you with your Struggle bat out, he assumes you’re practicing, and tells you about his own routine just in case you missed the chat earlier in town. It’s a cute chat, it seems Roxas and Vivi have no bad blood and could easily have been friends, but sadly the most Roxas and Vivi will ever say to one another. Pence shows up yet again and declares this Wonder solved: the noises were just Vivi practicing. That’s about as reasonable as any of these Wonders are going to get, but as Pence is making his declaration, the “real” Vivi transforms into a Dusk in the distance, and the man at the gate mentions not seeing anyone else go by…

Vivi will never be important to the plot for the rest of the game, and will only show up in a single additional cutscene. I wonder if he was ever real.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h36m02s099Wonder 4 is fronted by Olette. It seems people have been seeing their doppelgangers in a small public space that includes a decorative waterfall. When Roxas steps in front of the waterfall, he sees a reflection that’s so perfect, it’s clearly just a translucent, 3D model of Roxas placed in front of (not behind, in front of) the water. I’ve seen better reflections in Duke 3D, and that game wasn’t actually 3D. Pence will later make it clear the reflection is preternaturally good, but it’s even clearer that the devs couldn’t be arsed to make a reflection effect on the PS2 for a ten-second shot.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h37m30s745Just then, Roxas’ reflection steps out of the water (which, I’ll admit, is all the more reason to have used the inadequate reflection effect). As it steps out into the real world, Roxas’ reflection turns into a shadow Roxas, and another fight begins. Shadow Roxas has even worse AI than Hayner, though its combo attack is a little more dangerous. In Critical Mode, if you equip your bonus Finishing Plus ability, your extended combo finisher might very well trap the poor thing in a corner and never let it get up, so you’re not really in danger in any difficulty.  KH2 has a complicated system designed to stop bosses from being perpetually stunlocked like this, but apparently they didn’t see fit to give that extra polish to your shadow-clone.  Just another sign of this day’s lack of oversight.  Don’t get me wrong, Day 5 is a very creative experience, but it’s a mess.  I’m afraid to say we’ll be hearing that specific critique again.

You know how things go from here: you kill your clone, the game statics out, and Pence walks up saying “Oh, people were just seeing their reflections in the waterfall.” Yes. The waterfall in the extreme corner of this out-of-the-way public space. You’re a genius.

kh2-2016-01-18-14h57m50s063The fifth Wonder is actually in a separate area, a hill with a wonderful view of the town and other hills nearby. This game’s got great vistas that look spectacular in 2.5, though the distant hills around Twilight Town look a little smudgy. On your way up the road, you meet a child looking for his missing dog, and the Wonder you’re looking for this time is a bag that people have seen moving. Let’s be honest with one another: up until now, the “Wonders” have been some form of computer glitches, and make your own theory as to why they’re happening. Maybe even Rai’s staircase was a glitch that since corrected itself. But this moving bag fits the dog so much better than the explanation that we’re about to get that the game’s attempts to make it look like another glitch seem formulaic to the point of error?  In fact, on closer observation (see below), I’m not sure they were trying to make it a glitch at all, in which case… why should we care?

kh2-2016-01-18-14h38m35s407The mini-game with the bag is probably not what you were going to expect. The bag moves around the top of the hill like some kind of early 3D enemy that you’d often find walking into walls. This is because, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s a dog in a bag. This makes it all the stranger when Roxas’ response to this mundane phenomenon is to jump on its back and ride it like a bronco. The bag responds poorly to this treatment (wouldn’t you?), speeding around the arena and trying to ram into trash cans to unhorse you. You have to hit a reaction command to stay on the bag. If you are unhorsed, you’ll lose HP, but as long as you stay on top, you exhaust the bag’s “Stamina” bar in the corner, and you win once it’s emptied. In a manner of speaking, this mini-game is more an exercise in camera control than quick-time events, as the bag spins around the arena so wildly that keeping the camera straight is the real challenge.

The game glitches out, Roxas finds a dog inside the bag, though it transforms into a Dusk the moment your back is turned.  Unfortunately, this happens so abruptly that I never noticed until reader FudgemintGuardian pointed it out to me!  But that raises a new question: why did it bother, and again, why should we care that it bothered?

kh2-2016-01-18-14h39m37s622Now that all five Wonders are accounted for, it’s time for Pence to acknowledge that he only gave you info for five of the seven wonders by admitting that there are… six wonders. Pence, have you not been listening to what you yourself have been saying?  Pence’s treatment of the seventh wonder is funny: the cutscene implies the gang spends I’d say an hour or more just sitting around waiting for the sixth wonder to show up while they do nothing at all about the seventh. This does make a certain amount of sense, but Pence’s treatment of #7 is only going to get weirder.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Nerf or Nothin’
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Ghost Train to Nowhere


This retrospective’s screenshots come from Spazbo4’s longplay of the 2.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: 2 at World of Longplays (YouTube).

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