Kingdom Hearts 2 – False Start

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This shot is probably intended to mirror the one between Sora and Kairi during the Night of Fate.

Roxas arrives at The Usual Spot, where his friends are all chatting and laughing. Roxas starts to say hello, but they don’t respond, and when he tries to get their attention his hand goes right through, and they vanish. The game returns control of you in total silence, it’s a wonderful moment as you realize the worst. The narrative told you that there was going to be a big hunt tomorrow, that there were two days left in summer vacation, that it was going to be day 6 out of a full week of 7… and they were all misleading you from realizing that the hammer would fall on day 6, instead. And you know—you just know—that the hammer will land the moment you finish saving and step outside the door.  The sense of dread is wonderful.

Sure enough, Dusks appear to block your exit when you hit the street, and Axel appears to cut you off from The Usual Spot (I’m not sure why: it would have been easier to catch you in a dead end!). Axel appears, telling you that the Organization has ordered you dead, and he complains about getting the “icky jobs.” Roxas scours for an escape plan and comes up with a good one: “…We’re best friends, right?”

kh2-2016-01-25-16h12m00s856Axel is excited, thinking Roxas has recovered his memory, but he says he has to confirm. He asks Roxas a test question to be sure: “What’s our bosses’ name?” As others have pointed out before me, this question is a little nonsensical. In the real world, Axel is asking this question because the player will be wondering about the leader of the Organization, as they’re probably going to be the final boss… but is this really the best litmus test for Roxas’ memory? Maybe that’s just me talking as someone with a bad memory for names. And Roxas just stands there with his mouth open! Tell him that your memory’s only coming back in bits and pieces, you nitwit! Surrender!

Having had his hopes raised and then dashed, Axel is understandably upset. But it’s a little too late for Axel. Roxas has used the distraction to grab another stick, which helps him summon the Keyblade the only way he knows how.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h13m03s277Axel just stands around as the Dusks attack you, but they’re not alone this time. A new enemy appears at this point, and we get introduced to an interesting aspect of Organization structure: Axel has his own personal cadre of lesser Nobodies, and so do the other surviving members! These “personal” Nobodies are all named after Final Fantasy job classes, though sadly we don’t see any lesser Nobodies for the Org members that died in CoM. Axel’s Nobodies are named after the Final Fantasy Tactics “Assassin” class. After killing so many traitors, that certainly fits Axel, but wasn’t Marluxia the Assassin?

The Assassins are a nuisance. They appear to be a sort of floating centipede-bird made of swords. They can hover, even fly to a certain degree, and will outright pass through walls and floors to do so. It’s something you could only do in earlier video game generations, when players expected enemies to pass through the walls and floor thanks to clipping issues, so this one enemy who does it intentionally doesn’t seem all that strange! The Assassins have two traits that make them particularly irritating.  The first is the aforementioned sinking into the ground, where they become invulnerable (though they sometimes spread their blades in such a way that you can knock them back to the surface). They can also get on their feet, revealing they are actually bipeds. This is a bad sign, because they only do so when they spawn and if they’re about to explode in your face. You’re supposed to get a reaction command to respond to the explosion, but it only works if you’re on the ground. If you’re busy fighting another Assassin, you might very well be in mid-air, with nothing to do but take an explosion to the feet.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h14m04s773After you clear out Axel’s henchmen he moves to engage you himself, when the world freezes a third time. You know? I’m not sure why I didn’t predict that. Speaking into Roxas’ mind, DiZ orders him to hurry to the mansion. Roxas responds to this the same way he did the last time DiZ gave him orders: shouting out the names of his friends. This time, nothing happens. Of course not. Think about it: last time, Roxas calling out to his friends worked because he was unwittingly supporting DiZ. DiZ wanted him o stay and not go with Axel, and staying with his friends meant staying in Twilight Town, and so it “succeeded.” Now DiZ wants Roxas in the mansion, and what Roxas wants is no longer an option. It’s another CoM-like spit in KH1’s presumptions of friendship uber alles.

Behind Roxas, Axel recovers, and says he sees how it is. “The Roxas I knew is long gone.”

The game stays quiet the rest of your walk through the ghostly, empty Twilight Town, though the Twilight Town battle theme plays whenever you encounter another group of Nobodies, all the way to the mansion gates. There, Roxas finds himself blocked by the chains that have been blocking the gate since the start of the game. “Don’t call me and then lock me out…” Jesse says through his teeth, which always gets a laugh out of me.

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Bow before Groxdd, Nobody of Grodd!

A number of Dusks appear behind Roxas, and only then does Roxas remember Sora using the Keyblade on a lock, and does the same himself. What was DiZ’s plan if that hadn’t happened? Roxas runs through, and a cloaked figure appears in the gate behind him. The figure does not unhood or speak… but he does draw the Soul Eater, and bars Nobodies from entering the mansion.

So, this is Riku, right? Well here’s the thing. We’re about to start down a plot line revolving around Riku that’s absolutely full of holes and inconsistencies. Within a few scenes, Ansem will arrive on scene implying he was at the front gate, and even young fans seem to have put two and two together that Ansem was actually Riku all along. It seems Riku may have lost the battle for his soul from CoM, and Ansem has taken over. Here’s the trouble (well, the initial trouble, and ignoring some other point I could discuss now but will put off towards the end): 1) the game doesn’t seem confident that the player knows this is Riku, and continues to treat it as a mystery at points, and 2) the game doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with this Riku plot. Much of the game seems to want you to believe Riku has become evil, but “Ansem” never really does anything evil besides work for – and constantly undermine – the morally dubious DiZ.  It seems rather clear that Riku may have changed form, but he’s still in charge.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h18m08s493I don’t really want to loose so many spoilers, but I have to explain these failures ahead of time, as I really want to grind this sham of a plotline in later entries (nevermind that the alternative is that I dump all my complaints about the plotline in one place, at the end of the game!). FM+ seems to have realized how weak this plotline is and an upcoming scene will show us that “Ansem” is a good guy within the next half hour! Unfortunately, this doesn’t even seem to fix things. No, the game carries on as confused as ever, sometimes implying that Riku isn’t evil, he’s dead!

I think I recognize the pattern from my own fiction work: Tetsuya Nomura probably wrote “Riku succumbs to Ansem” in his notebook and then… never wrote anything else, always assuming the plot would carry itself. It did not. At least he acknowledged its failure in FM+, but we still have to put up with its rearing its incomplete head every few hours, begging for attention.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h18m46s492Inside the mansion, the place looks like it was stripped by a mob and then left to decay. Roxas picks through a series of broken models and Pegasus statues dotting the area, fighting the Nobodies as he goes (presumably they teleport to the location of the Keyblade, similar to the Heartless, making Riku’s efforts a little senseless). There’s a lovely garden in back-yard visible through the dirty glass of the mansion’s back door, featuring a Pegasus fountain like the statues in the house. It’s similar to the vista on plaza hill.  This game’s got great backgrounds.

If you search carefully, you can find a few items in the mansion, but your real destination is the white room where you met with Naminé. There, Roxas takes a look at the drawings, and sees a picture of him in a cloak standing… somewhere. This triggers a memory that implies the drawing shows Roxas in the Dark City from the KH1 secret endings, but the drawing looks more like a series of blue crystals. Naminé’s drawings are a little too rough sometimes.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h19m18s259In the memory, Roxas sees himself in a cloak, walking down the streets past Axel, who is leaning against a wall. Axel asks if he’s committed to leaving, and Roxas asks “Why did the Keyblade choose me? I have to know.” Axel shouts that Roxas can’t leave the Organization, and the scene is interrupted. The game’s been interrupting a lot of scenes lately.

Roxas recovers from his sudden memory and finds Naminé sitting around waiting for him to recover. He asks her about “Organization XIII,” and the Organization is finally given its full name for the first time. Naminé says: “They’re a group of incomplete people who wish to be whole. To that end, they’re desperately searching for something. […] Kingdom Hearts.” There’s our premise, so keep it in mind: the Organization, whom we know to be Nobodies, are trying to use Kingdom Hearts to restore their Hearts in some fashion.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h19m55s152Roxas decides this is the time to ask the question he’s been dodging. “What’s going to happen to me now?” But as Naminé is about to answer, she suddenly collapses into computer effects. She really was made of data.

DiZ appears, angrily insisting that it’s not important Roxas know anything, because “There’s no knowledge that has the power to change your fate.” He insists: “A Nobody doesn’t have the right to know.”

If DiZ was going to say more, which I doubt, he’s interrupted by the arrival of Ansem, who says that Axel’s Nobodies are overrunning the mansion.  This all-but confirms him to be the man with the Soul Eater at the gate. And excusing the damage done to Riku’s plotline, if the scene had stopped there, this particular scene might have been okay in isolation.  But the game throws the real Naminé in, walking in with a dark portal! Suddenly there’s too much going on! The screen is now packed with three people who were saying different things (even if DiZ and Ansem shut up at this point, their impact is done), and that portal is still in the background, adding more clutter to the scene.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h20m27s966Naminé insists that Nobodies are only “like half a person. You won’t disappear. You’ll be whole!” Of course, Roxas only cares about “You’ll disappear,” and DiZ and Ansem interfere before more can be said… but then they both stop so she can continue to speak? Holy shit you guys c’mon. First I have to give you murder advice and now kidnapping and thought policing.  This is the Kingdom Hearts retrospective, not 1984 for Dummies! Naminé says she and Roxas will meet again soon, even if they don’t recognize one another. Whatever that means. With that said, DiZ drags Naminé back through the portal with Ansem, at which point she’ll presumably be killed. Except she’s not? We get an explanation for why in FM+, but only barely. DiZ was right there. If he wasn’t so determined to be hands-off, he’d have killed her the moment she was out of Roxas’ line-of-sight, but no.

Now left on his own, Roxas selects Naminé’s most recent sketch from the table: a drawing of a strange emblem. You’re at your liberty to look at the rest of the sketches if you please, and there are some interesting subjects in there. Besides those mentioned above, you can see multiple sketches of Hollow Bastion; a drawing of Riku or the Replica in dark armour with Sora and Naminé, with Naminé scribbled out; Kairi with her heart floating away; Riku finding Sora’s pod, with a simplified gold key floating to Riku’s side; Sora meeting Axel in Castle Oblivion; and more.  You can have a lot of fun trying to make sense of them all.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h24m38s591Armed with Naminé’s sketch, Roxas is able to solve a puzzle in another room, where the crest is drawn on a table, incomplete. Roxas finishes the drawing and the whole floor lights up and vanishes. Shit, DiZ, do you want us to find this place or not? That’s twice you’ve locked us out. By the way: the symbols here are the Heartless emblem, the new Nobody emblem, and Sora’s crown emblem – more than a little symbolic, wouldn’t you say? Especially if you know what Roxas’ relationship to Sora is at this point. In the place of the floor is a metal basement, like DiZ’s computer room, just waiting below the ground. Roxas heads in.

Inside, Roxas finds DiZ’s computer, which if you’ve been staying on top of things might seem more than a little weird… As Roxas looks at the computer, three memories come to him. The first one silently confirms Roxas was a member of Organization XIII, for Vanilla fans who haven’t worked that out themselves.  The second is of Dusks chasing Roxas away from the Dark City after he abandoned the Org, and another shows more of the battle with Riku in the Dark City.  These two scenes are presented together to show you that the battle with Riku took place after Roxas left the Dark City after his talk with Axel, which is an important detail. The battle with Riku is presented as the centrepiece of these three flashbacks, but is nevertheless still incomplete: it seems Riku avoided Roxas’ killing blow and somehow overcame him, at which point the game cuts to DiZ and “Ansem” in the computer room, where Roxas is unconscious.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h25m55s472DiZ and “Ansem” put Roxas under a device that borders the computer, and DiZ explains that if they can “maintain the simulated town until Naminé finishing chaining together Sora’s memories,” all should be well. Roxas, however, will disappear: “he holds half of Sora’s power. In the end he’s going to have to give it back.” DiZ explains that Roxas will need “another personality to throw off his pursuers.” When Ansem expresses sympathy for Roxas, DiZ says: “It’s the fate of a Nobody.” He then uses the device to somehow digitize Roxas into his computer, which you probably shouldn’t question.

You may not yet understand everything going on, but a few things are now self-evident. Roxas was a member of the Organization, with the implication that he abandoned them to learn things about himself. He later returned to the Dark City for unknown reasons, where Riku knocked him out. Sometime after that battle, Riku had become Ansem, and handed Roxas over to DiZ, who has sealed him away in a virtual reality world prison. This prison would accomplish two goals: first, it would keep the Organization from finding him (who would look inside a computer?) and second, by giving Roxas a false personality, DiZ ensured that Roxas wouldn’t want to return. Like we saw on Day 4: he called out for his friends, and the world returned to “normal” around him.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h27m07s243If you can handle the suspension of disbelief involved in a virtual reality prison and a false personality, I find it’s a clever plan on DiZ’s part. Of course, not everyone can swallow all that, and it doesn’t help that not everyone will be able to work it out in the first place.  The prologue has lived on in a certain kind of infamy among the gaming world ever since (if you ask me, the inability to say “photo” is the worst of it: in hindsight it’s supposed to be a clue that the data of the entire world has been corrupted, but I only understand that in hindsight when it is no longer valuable, and only as an ex-programmer. For anyone else it’s needless… suspense?… for no real payoff). I managed to understand the whole scenario during my first play-through, and I doubt I’m alone, but I don’t doubt many other fans were completely baffled. We’re just taking our first tumble down a very long and perilous hill that is KH2.

A few questions have been deliberately left behind by the developers. Key among them is this: why does Roxas have this connection to Sora in the first place? You can guess – you’ve got plenty of evidence! – but the game won’t outright say so for a very, very long time.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h29m48s279And perhaps I should explain it? Based on a few clues, this is the moment Roxas recovers all his memories, though the game doesn’t make this quite as clear as it probably intended. Nevertheless, Roxas now understands why he has a connection to Sora, even if the audience doesn’t. It should be self-evident for anyone who played KH1:Final Mix, and I know I worked out what was going on once the concept of Nobodies was explained inside of KH2. So why shouldn’t I explain it?  It’s relatively simple. Roxas is a Nobody with a connection to Sora. And a Nobody is formed when a person transforms into a Heartless.

Oh, hey, it’s those dominoes from KH1!

So Roxas – which is an acronym for “Sora” with the Organization’s signature “X” in the middle – is Sora’s Nobody. He’s a byproduct of his becoming a Heartless to release Kairi’s Heart in Hollow Bastion. This explains his ability to use the Keyblade, and it seems DiZ needed to bring him here so that Naminé could tamper with his memories and retrieve whatever belongs to Sora… or something to that effect.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h30m30s916By the way, did you notice Roxas’ white jacket resembled the “discarded jacket” appearance of the lesser Nobodies? Or that his X zipper pull is part of the Nobody emblem? This would also be a good time to tell you my theory about the Twilight Thorn, which is that it isn’t a separate boss Nobody at all. I think the cloaked figure in Roxas’ heart may have been an embodiment of Roxas himself, and the Twilight Thorn was strictly representative of his past. We never do see another boss-style Nobody who doesn’t look human.

Roxas reaction to recovering his full memories is… negative. He responds by taking out the Keyblade and breaks the computer apart piece by piece. It’s just the console – a bit like smashing up your monitor and keyboard but leaving your computer intact – so his rage is more directed to DiZ than the virtual world itself (as we’ll see, he still seems attached to Hayner, Pence and Olette). Either because someone is watching him or as a consequence to his actions, a door opens at the far end of the computer room.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h31m18s102Inside the room, a final troupe of Nobodies is waiting to ambush you.  Here you may notice that, either because you’re in the basement or because Roxas realizes he’s in a simulation (as you prefer), the command menu has changed to a computer theme.  After the last of the Nobodies are wiped out, Axel enters, and when Roxas acknowledges him, it seems Axel can tell from his tone that Roxas really does remember him now. But Axel isn’t happy. He growls: “I’m so flattered!” as the room erupts in flames and he summons his weapon. He says it’s too late now, and Roxas replies by drawing not the Kingdom Key, but his weapons from the KH1 secret endings: the Oathkeeper and the Oblivion. It seems Roxas’ ability to do this is news to Axel – who snaps “Two!?” – but the fight is on.

This is the third boss battle in the game, and also the third fight against Axel in the series. It’s also the easiest of both lists. Some have suggested that Axel was somehow weakened prior to the fight, but I have an opposite theory. Backed especially by Days, I believe that now that Roxas has recovered his memories, he has also recovered his combat prowess, and simply outclasses Axel by degrees. Roxas – that is to say, the XIIIth member of the Organization – was a powerhouse.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h32m39s132It sure is a visually expressive fight. Axel’s opening attack to set the floor aflame. The walls of fire around the arena, and Axel will escape into them like Sabor from KH1, but with reaction commands guarding against his return. The battle music is a remix of “The 13th Struggle” from CoM, one of the few times you hear it in Vanilla KH2. Roxas’ new moveset even adds to the sense of power. You have absurd mobility, and incredibly effective attacks. Sad to say you don’t get to play as this dual-wielding Roxas again in the game, but thanks to his powers, the whole fight is going to be a blow-over.

“It sure is a visually impressive thing, but it’s going to be a blow-over.” I sense a disturbance in the Force, as though a whole mass of Kingdom Hearts fans broke out in a really, really long sigh.

As the fight wraps up, Roxas remembers the remainder of his and Axel’s conversation in the Dark City. Long story short, Axel warns him that the Organization will hunt him down for defecting, but Roxas asserts that “No one would miss me.” But as he is leaving, Axel whispers: “I would.”

kh2-2016-01-25-16h35m55s349We return to the two of them in the present, where Axel is—oh, holy shit man, are you pretending to die again? He is! I can’t believe you’re trying to pull this trick three times in a row! Axel says “Hey Roxas, let’s meet in the next life?” Roxas nods, but Axel adds: “Silly. Just because you have a next life…” And he disappears. Axel is missing for half the game from this point in Vanilla, probably because they really wanted to sell that this time he was definitely dead this time (hell, according to interviews, Axel was genuinely supposed to die here in a much earlier draft, which makes their inability to sell it me even worse, in my eyes), but it’s so shallow that the remake throws out all pretence by showing him alive in a new scene, just a few minutes from now.

The game positions your camera toward the next door through the mansion, but if you take a look around, you’ll find a strange aura or cloud floating in one corner, using the same grey and white effects that seem to characterize Nobodies in this series. The game gives you a non-answer about “darkness” to explain why you can’t interact with it, and essentially forces you out the door on the opposite end of the room.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h36m34s262Roxas finds himself in a hallway past the door, where he finds a number of small, narrow memory pods, smaller versions of Sora’s. Inside, he finds Donald and Goofy just waiting to be revived. Seeing them in stasis is just as creepy as it sounds, and almost ominous in how it implies Roxas’ s story is about to end no matter what he does about it. Of course, I being the nitpicker, I can’t help but wonder why Donald and Goofy get such tiny pods when Sora gets one the size of a living room. Ah well.

And beyond the next door, there he is. Sora, still in his white pod in a great, white room. DiZ must have moved him to Twilight Town at some point. But it’s a little worse, because it seems as though DiZ took the whole damn room with him! (I once joked about DiZ saying: “Naminé… lift this.”) Best not to question this, either.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h37m07s300DiZ himself is waiting for Roxas in front of the pod, calling him “The Keyblade’s chosen one” through a mile of sarcasm. Roxas asks who he’s talking to, him or Sora, revealing that he understands or remembers everything now. DiZ explains that he needs the Keyblade wielder for his revenge plan, but can’t use Roxas, as he needs someone who “moves about in the realm of light to destroy Organization XIII.” When Roxas asks why, DiZ just calls himself “a servant of the world” and insults Roxas as a tool “at best.” Roxas is still dragging around that fury from the past few rooms, and attacks DiZ, only to discover that this DiZ is a data-projection, not unlike Naminé from earlier.

DiZ gives Roxas a moment to vent, but then leads him over to Sora’s pod to “introduce” them. Roxas initially refuses, saying how much he hates DiZ, giving DiZ the chance to quip: “You should share some of that hatred with Sora. He’s far too nice for his own good.” Not that that isn’t hilarious, but isn’t it peculiar Roxas would “hate” DiZ, being a Nobody with no emotions? And why would DiZ react to this display of emotions without surprise? The devs came up with a good answer for both, but we won’t get the true answer (especially on DiZ’s side) until long after we’ve stopped expecting to get it.

kh2-2016-01-25-16h38m08s246Roxas tries to claim that he’s his own person, but DiZ has no respect for Nobodies and calls the conversation to a halt. He vanishes, and leaves Roxas alone with the pod, which opens to reveal Sora floating among mist. In a way that I respect, Roxas seems to calm down at the sight of Sora. He’d have every right to be mad at Sora, given what he represents, but Sora has done him no wrong and Roxas seems to understand that. To the sad notes of his own theme, Roxas tells Sora: “You’re lucky. Looks like my summer vacation is…over.” The game fades to white, and the KH2 logo appears.

Oh hey, Kingdom Hearts II! The beat-em-up with the exploring of areas and the fighting of evil, and the continuation of the beloved story! Yeah, I tried to start that game two or three hours ago but somehow I ended up playing this instead, do you think I got the wrong disc?

kh2-2016-01-25-16h38m39s477I really don’t want to harp on this point for long – a point made by so many others over the past ten years that I could hardly add much to it – but it has to be said. We’ve been three or so hours into this game. In terms of hours, we should be around Olympus Coliseum right now. In terms of retrospective word count, we should be moving on Deep Jungle or Agrabah! And yet we are. Our “Destiny Islands” portion has went on three or four times too long, and our “Traverse Town” has yet to even begin, and we’re still a half hour to an hour away from actually hitting the first proper Disney world. Except for Day 5, I’ve been posting “max length” blog entries for this entire prologue (I try to make sure KH blog entries range from 2000-4500 words) just to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, and it’s still taken eight posts – a month! – to cover everything so far!  No matter how pertinent this prologue may prove to the overall story, even if it were the most important event in the entire series (and it’s certainly prominent), we have put off the actual Kingdom Hearts gameplay for too long to let pass without serious complaint.

In the end, it doesn’t even matter whether Roxas’ story was good, bad, mediocre, important or unimportant. It’s just… not what we signed up for. Didn’t we all learn not to do this after Metal Gear Solid 2 did a surprise change of leads?

And at last, it looks like our prologue… is over.

Now, three hours in, we get to go the introduction!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Ghost Train to Nowhere
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Campaign to Leave Twilight Town At Last 2015


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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3 comments

  1. Confession, I had no clue it was Riku, I’m not very observant at times even though I did understand what was going on as the pieces were given, but I didn’t realize Riku even had a signature weapon. I also knew nothing about COM so yeah that didn’t help either

  2. While at the time I did think this was Axel’s death, looking back it sounds like those final words were for roxas not himself, as if he knew what was about to happen next, as if he knew he’d never really see his best friend again.

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