After three or so hours of not controlling Sora, the game seems reluctant to return control to him. Instead, it shows Mickey Mouse in his black cloak from CoM, arriving at Twilight Town station grim as a ghost, stepping off the cartoon ghost train? Looks like Twilight Town is a real place after all, and we’ve confirmed it with a look at the most preposterous visual I could imagine.
And because we can’t say goodbye to Roxas, we cut to Roxas instead! You can’t keep this kid down, can you? He is facing away from the camera, turns… and Sora wakes up. He finds Donald and Goofy already out of their pods waiting for him, and we get our first introduction to Haley Joel Osmet post-puberty as they jump around and hug in the payoff KH players have wanted for three hours… a reunion that isn’t a reunion at all. Remember, as far as these three know, they were just walking into Castle Oblivion! Wow, I sure missed you on that… walk through a door? I suppose we’re supposed to see this as subconscious memories peaking through to the surface. Aw, who cares? It’s sweet!
Jiminy Cricket wakes up in Sora’s hood, and it seems they do realize they’ve been sleeping, they just don’t know why. While I’m addressing the cast, I should say that every returning character is still using their voice actors from the previous game unless I specify otherwise. Let’s just make that a Retrospective-wide rule. In this case, that includes the late Eddie Carroll as Jiminy. Great to hear from you Eddie! Now get off the set. This isn’t Chain of Memories, you’re not relevant any more.
Okay, okay, they have to ask the one key Jiminy question. Everyone wonders what on earth is going on, and they ask Jiminy to check his journal. Of course, Jiminy finds it empty, and he’s… not upset? Jiminy was nearly in tears over his journal being erased in CoM! And he seems upset again in coded when he talks about it. And then Donald insults Jiminy’s journal-writing skills despite being so supportive in CoM, and that also doesn’t provoke a response! Though it is nice to see Donald being an ass at other parts of KH2 (it’s a great game for asshole Donald, in fact), this scene just isn’t holding together.
Jiminy discovers the “Thank Naminé” message, and of course it’s useless without a Naminé to thank, or to explain things. Wow, it’s almost as though that two-word entry needed a little bit of c.o.n.t.e.x.t. And just to prove they’re the heroes of the universe, they decide to get out and explore the town, and walk past the most valuable chest in the entire game in the process. The mansion will now be locked until last few hours of KH2. And Donald has the gall to blame Jiminy for being forgetful!
Anyway, goodbye Jiminy Cricket, goodbye Eddie Carrol, because Jiminy – I cannot believe this but it’s entirely true – Jiminy does not show up again for the entire game. He’s gone. He’s gone. An entire central character has been erased. Technically he’s still writing the journal, so you could argue he has more lines than anyone else in a manner of speaking, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s dead as a character for the rest of KH2!
After the cutscene, the game shunts you off to a new feature before you have a chance to do anything else. This new feature is the Party Change screen. You’ll be seeing a lot of this screen, because the game changes your party layout more often than Final Fantasy IV. The game then spits you out at the mansion gates. The gates are now open, and you can raid a few chests and talk to Donald and Goofy. This is an interesting thing KH2 does at points where your party splits up to walk around a what I’m going to call a “Safe Zone.” The party members can even seem to talk to one another, observe objects of interest, and turn to face you if you approach. It’s cute!
The strangest thing in this scene is that the world’s musical theme is now “The Afternoon Streets” and not “Lazy Afternoons,” and the battle theme has also changed. Fans initially proposed that “Lazy Afternoons” was the theme of simulated Twilight Town and not the original, but a closer look and later games seems to prove that this is a matter of Roxas and Sora having different themes, end of story.
(You can even tenuously justify Lazy Afternoon’s appearance in CoM. Remember, Twilight Town was just “the other side” of Sora’s Heart – that is to say, Roxas’ Heart. So of course we’re hearing Roxas’ theme. But wait… hmmm… what did Roxas know about Twilight Town at the time of Chain of Memories? We’ve seen a few hints, but how to explain it entirely? Another mystery.)
Returning to the subject of “safe zones,” I find that safe zones tend to be good times to double-check party loadout and maybe catch up on Jiminy’s Journal, so this would be a good opportunity to talk about both.
Thanks to relative competence, there’s not much need to talk about party AI. You can’t order your allies to attack targets any longer (Triangle being used for so many other things), but you do have much better control over their other options. Instead of simply equipping each skill on the Ability menu for party members, and instead of having no control over spellcaster spells, all abilities and spells are now in the ability menu, with the option to increase or decrease the character’s use of the ability in battle. This is miles ahead of KH1’s AI panel only letting you control “Attack Magic” and “Defence Magic” in broad sweeps. Teammates are still garbage with items, though. There’s nothing you can do about that.
One thing you’ll learn while adjusting AI is that Donald and Sora no longer share a spell list. Donald starts with Cure in this game, eliminating the problem in KH1 where they had to put off stronger enemies because you didn’t have access to Cure, without actually giving you access to Cure. I think it’s rather wry. But wait a minute: where did his and Sora’s other spells go, if their memories were restored to before they were ever lost? You’re probably not supposed to question it here in KH2. Unfortunately, since the game made a big deal about Metroiding away your skills in CoM (and will do so again in DDD) some fans have raised questions about Sora’s level drop in KH2, figuring Sora lost his abilities as a result of the erasure and correction of his memory. You could argue that this is a result of merging with Roxas, he’s now at Roxas’ level, with all his abilities and equipment. Personally, I don’t see the need. Sora’s an RPG protagonist. These things happen in sequels. Instances where things like this are explained are the exception to me, not the rule. What is odd to me is that Sora doesn’t seem to notice the Struggle championship belt you’ve strapped to his waist.
As for the Journal, KH2’s Journal is excellent, maybe the best in the series. It covers all your major tasks, including chests you have and haven’t found, characters (in virtually every costume they ever don) and enemies, and it even updates the Story by paragraph, instead of putting it up in one big block at the end of a world, making it easy to pick up where you left off. It also includes two odd additions. The first is the Album, which contains photos from each world you’ve been to. In most releases, this is just a splash of colour, but in Japanese releases the album features scrawled commentary on each photo from Sora, which has never been translated! The second new addition is the perplexing “Character Links” section. This section is just another set of character profiles, organized in a sort of chart, supposedly to show how the characters interrelate. Frankly I find it completely useless for its intended purpose, but we’re going to have to talk about it from time to time just for completion reasons.
Once you leave the mansion gate, Sora and friends hop automatically to The Usual Spot, Sora saying that he remembers the town, but can’t put a name to it. Here we learn that not only is Twilight Town real, but so are Hayner, Pence and Olette. Hayner does not take kindly to you walking into his clubhouse. Earlier in the game, Hayner was described as having “an attitude problem,” but it’s only now, when you meet him as a stranger, that you see it for yourself. Pence and Olette are more agreeable. Olette even puts a socially aggressive foot forward and tries to make friends with Sora under the presumption that he goes to their high school. Pence just “Umms” his way out of the conversation, probably taken aback by the dog and duckmen.
Once Goofy remembers basic social protocol (weeks before Sora and Donald would, no doubt), he introduces everyone. The Twilight Town trio are surprised, as someone just came asking for Sora, Donald and Goofy by name! It seems King Mickey is trying to find them! The trio, especially Donald and Goofy, are eager to find Mickey, but the best Hayner, Pence and Olette can give you is that he might still be at Station Plaza, or that you could check with Seifer’s gang for info.
As you look around, you might notice that trams actually operate here in the real world, a subtle but wonderful touch that implies DiZ was skimping on the details in his simulated town in a similar way to how he couldn’t make a beach (though trams did operate at Sunset Plaza, the residential zone).
Talking to Seifer’s gang as suggested is optional, and for that matter a waste of time. If you go there, Seifer picks a fight with Sora and gang as outsiders, only for the tournament organizer to show up and say that he’s a huge fan of Seifer (who won the Struggle tournament in the real world) and that he wants to see more of Seifer’s “Super Cool” moves. Super Cool.
As a result, he asks Sora and Seifer: “Why don’t you make [your fight] a proper Struggle?” at which point he does not provide you with the option to do so.
This is the strangest detail about this trip to Twilight Town: the game doesn’t want you to be here right now and is just trying to kick you out. The problem is, there are signs all over the place that you were supposed to be able to interact with Twilight Town partially if not outright in full! Hayner, Pence and Olette direct you towards a struggle tournament? Offer immediately retracted. Tunnels to the underground are open? Game still won’t let you in. Characters act like they have mini-game job postings available? The mini-games are shut down at the job board, and only Olette seems to realize! We’ll actually see a few more problems related to this first visit when we come back to Twilight Town on return trips! It’s not just that the game won’t let you do anything, but that it’s so inconsistent. It really does seem like the devs changed their mind a week before burning the master disc!
For now, all you can do is check town for chests. You can also visit shops and buy Donald and Goofy some new weapons, straight out the gate. You may notice while you’re there, that you can no longer chat with the shop-keeps like Roxas could, and simply progress to the shop window instead. This is weird, and kind of sad. These people were Roxas’ friends, and now they’re just window-dressing for a shop menu!
Now that all the shops are open, you learn that Kingdom Hearts assign “owners” to all the shops as I discussed earlier when talking about Biggs, Wedge and Jessie. You also learn that any items found in shops will reappear in any other brick-and-mortar shop across the game, a weird predecessor to the shop system used from BBS onwards.
Sora finally makes it to the Station Plaza, which is empty as it ever was. This plaza is begging for a boss encounter, but one never comes in this game. Sora looks around for the King, when suddenly he is confronted with his first lesser Nobodies: a troupe of Dusks. Sora hesitates, having never seen lesser Nobodies before, but they make their intentions clear by attacking.
This may surprise you, but this is one of the last fights in the game you can lose and still have the game proceed. KH1 stretched that out for a much longer span of time, but wait… KH1 did that for midbosses. What are the odds of losing to minor enemies in the first place? Actually, you can’t even technically win, as the fight cuts out after a certain timer (though it progresses to a fight against Creepers if you kill enough Dusks). The Nobodies are very aggressive as well, and are appearing in huge numbers compared to the three or four Roxas had to fight alone, partially to account for Donald and Goofy, but mostly to nudge you towards a loss. Whether you “win” or lose, Sora and his friends will collapse from exhaustion. And while that’s not really satisfying, Sora and the others being exhausted by a fight that keeps going makes much more sense than them just giving up after a fight that stopped for no reason at all, Agrabah.
Sora, Goofy and Donald are saved the ignominy of a TPK in the first five minutes of their game when who should save them but Mickey, dropping in from above – presumably from the clock tower, but I wouldn’t put it past a video game to have a rescuer drop out of thin air. He destroys the Nobodies, and then reaches back and hands you the munny purse stolen from Roxas in the simulated Twilight Town. Oh, fun, counterfeit munny! The item collection prompt informs us that we have the crystal as well. The King then orders you to board a train and leave town. “The train knows where to go,” he insists, and he runs off down the street.
It’s funny to think, but while DiZ and Naminé succeeded in getting Sora back to the waking world, you aren’t actually safe yet, or able to do any good. You’re honestly quite vulnerable! We’ve gone from this Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia-style operation of DiZ’s where everyone was just trying to get the good guys functioning again even though the cycle of fate was broken, but the Organization still has the upper hand. I’m a big fan of Ecclesia’s approach to a broken status quo, so this short stretch of KH2 appeals to me more than I imagine even the writers expected. Sora needs to get back on the road to the Disney worlds before the status quo is restored, and while that could have been a cool premise, they dragged out the Roxas angle too long, and have to rush this out the door as quickly as possible.
Of course, part of the problem (in a proper setup, this might have been “part of the appeal,” but my patience with this introduction has dried up) is that Sora isn’t aware of the danger, and even though he and his friends just saw a trusted friend and liege lord order them to run for their lives, they stand around in an open, exposed plateau shooting the breeze. It doesn’t have a very serious impact, but the more I think about it the more this starts to look like the single dumbest thing anyone’s done in this series yet. That might sound extreme, but not every stupid mistake has to lead to catastrophe. These three are just standing around, ignoring all signs of danger on a laundry list made of high explosives, and they’re not even discussing the Nobodies. Things aren’t so bad that Sora is discussing the weather, but somehow half the discussion gets tossed out. All I ask is for someone to say: “What were those?”!
What the key-toting clown troupe is actually discussing is the fact that the King is out of the Realm of Darkness, so Riku must be as well. They then continue to avoid running away as ordered and talk about whether or not they should go on “one more adventure” to find Riku. They just can’t escape this stock plot. And having gone on adventures to rescue The King, Riku, Kairi and Naminé, I predict the next three games will be about rescuing Tidus, Wakka, Selphie and… oh let’s sayyyy… Leon.
Goofy, always the practical one and the only one on-task at any given moment, remembers the train and we march off. The Ghost Train is waiting for them inside, quite visible. As Sora is paying for the tickets, Hayner, Pence and Olette walk in, saying they felt they should say see you off. I don’t know how they knew you were leaving as soon as you heard about a guy with huge ears, but I can give them a pass on that. The trio seems genuine in wanting to say goodbye!
(One neat detail in the train station is that trains actually move in the background, which they did not do in the simulation.)
As Sora is buying the tickets, he takes out the pouch and Olette is surprised to see it. She then reveals her own: the real-world version of Sora’s simulated pouch. Nothing more is made of this at the moment, but if you talk to Olette during the next safe zone sequence, it’s clear that this is nagging at her. Sora prompts the player that the train is going to take them out of Twilight Town for a long time, so this is a good opportunity to crack open the Journal and make sure you’ve cleared the town of chests.
While you’re at the journal, you might want to check out the strange document you received after the scene with Mickey. It doesn’t seem to have come from anywhere, which is unfortunate, because it’s the first in another series of game-long Reports. KH1 did such a good job of establishing that its reports were all taken by Maleficent’s confederacy that the inconsistency of this game makes it seem like the reports come from nowhere (usually from Organization members, but obviously this one doesn’t count!) – and sometimes there’s no explanation for where you found the pages at all! Maybe Mickey scrunched this one up and shoved it in the pouch, but as the game goes on, it’s going to become impossible to make excuses. By the time we’re done Birth By Sleep, it’s going to be clear that there’s no real way the player characters could have actually read these write-ups, and you have to question if they could have even gotten their hands on them! That last bit is a problem in KH2 as well. Only KH1 treats the reports as something Sora and friends must have read and absorbed, and it’s going to get silly over time.
KH2’s report is called the “Secret Ansem Report,” which is certainly an intriguing title. The page is #2, and the author writes a very curious entry indeed. The Secret Ansem Report has much longer entries than KH1’s, so I’m not going to quote them at length, but the details are still very important. In this entry, the author, claiming to be Ansem, writes that he did not write the original Ansem reports, except for “Number 0.” This is a mix-up between the Japanese and English translations: the Japanese Ansem Reports in KH1 started at 0 and went to 9 (12 in FM), while internationally they went from 1-10 (13). I’ll continue to use the international numbering from this point on, so for our purposes the author is referring to KH1’s Report #1.
We now have two separate authors claiming to be Ansem the Wise, ruler of the land of Hollow Bastion! Do we take this text at face value? The other? The evidence of the first report supports what we know of Ansem in KH1, certainly, but it’s clear someone is committing identity theft. We know so little about the second author, but potential motivations and consequences will build as we gather their paper trail. For the time being, I have no choice but to identify our authors as the First Author (KH1) and the Second Author (KH2).
Obviously the veracity of Secret Report 2 is in question, but let’s discuss its contents as best we can. Secret Report 2 claims that, at the time of writing, several of the “false” (KH1) reports have already been written, but not all (certainly not the last few). The Second “Ansem” writes that he did indeed conduct experiments into the darkness of the heart, singling out an apprentice, “Ienzo,” as being particularly interested in the experiments. However, the experiments eventually came to an end, and Ansem’s six apprentices carried on the research without the Second Author’s permission, documenting them in the KH1 “Ansem Reports.” The Second Author writes that he told the apprentices to destroy their results. Some days later, he describes the meeting with Mickey that was mentioned in the original Ansem Reports. The meeting with Mickey is confusing, since both of the authors describe meeting Mickey in first person. Either our forger (whichever author that is) met with Mickey independently, or he is awfully committed to his lie of being the real Ansem. Why? We’ll talk more about that question later.
The Second Author writes that after talking to Mickey and learning more about the nature of the universe, he decides to see exactly what the apprentices were doing, and searches the lab, finding the existing Ansem reports. He’s furious to learn about the human experiments, and the way his identity was “stolen.” Yeah, if the creating of demons of darkness wasn’t bad enough, the identity theft’s gonna kick it.
At the end of the report, the Second Authors claims to know the First Author, saying that the First Author was the subject of the Second Author’s initial inquiries into the darkness of the heart, alluded to in the only “legitimate” Ansem Report, #1. Hard to say how much of that can be trusted, but we can probably assume they know one another at the very least.
In addition to all the confusion the Secret Report is raising on its own, we could see all of this as an attempt by the developers to stir the pot in Riku’s plot. Think about it. Sora seemed to receive the Report alongside the purse and crystal, and the crystal was put there by Riku. Did Riku find this report? Or maybe Ansem recovered it after Riku took his form, as either the author of the Secret Report, or the author of the First? Then again, our understanding of Ansem being a Heartless was based on the contents of the KH1 report, so there could be something wrong about that understanding as well – a lot has been thrown into upheaval by the suggestion that the first report might be a fake. My head hurts.
Once you’re satisfied with your progress in Twilight Town, Sora and the others gather at the Ghost Train to say goodbye to Hayner, Pence and Olette. Hayner stops Sora at the door and asks if he’s sure they’ve never met, as it’s becoming clear that the three of them seem to remember Sora, just not how. Considering the real Hayner, Pence and Olette never encountered Sora or Roxas, the only way this makes sense is through the idea that Hearts are interconnected, so Roxas’ buried, forgotten memories of simulated Twilight Town are tying Sora to his friends even though they don’t physically exist. Sora even lets out a tear that he can’t explain, and everyone seems to understand… even if they’re confused as to why.
Sora gets on the train and they’re taken away from Twilight Town, where Sora takes out the crystal orb and looks at it, much like Roxas could not when he was on the train with his friends. Sora then speaks to Donald and Goofy and says “You know… I’m sad,” with as much surprise as pain. Donald and Goofy misunderstand, and tell Sora that they’ll come back to visit someday, which is sweet in how it’s both comforting but not in the right way. It’s a very effective scene, and is capped off by the train suddenly transporting into a magical tunnel, and Sora does not even react. The Disney magic isn’t going to get to him at a time like this and he’s kind of used to it. Remember, KH2 was supposed to partially capture the theme of growing up and reuniting with friends as a changed person, so it’s not surprising it’s poking at these Harry Potter-esque “the magical world has become mundane” themes, but like KH1, KH2 knows that the childhood foundation is important in adulthood – Sora just needs a little pause, is all. This may very well be the best scene in the entire game.
…Welp, all downhill from here!
In FM+, we say goodbye to Twilight Town with an all-new sequence, showing how Naminé and Axel got out of the town alive when by all rights they should have been toast. This is the scene where FM+ surrenders some of Vanilla’s pretensions. There’s no attempt to pretend that Axel or Naminé is dead, and this is also the scene where they reveal that “Ansem” is almost certainly a good guy. I have to respect a work that knows when to say “We messed up,” and with three plots surrendering at once, this is a fairly large concession to the audience.
Axel and Naminé are on Sunset Hill watching the trains as “Ansem” (that is to say, the transformed Riku) stands guard over them. As the scene goes on, it’s clear that Axel thinks he and Naminé are there as Ansem’s prisoners. Axel says that he and Naminé have nowhere to go now, I guess presuming that he can’t return home from a failed mission (though no explanation is truly given). Naminé implies that she’d like to see Roxas – via Sora – again, though she doesn’t say it in words so much as with a glance to her sketch pad. Axel says he’d like to do the same, though it’s not clear whether or not he wants to meet Sora, there’s a sense of ambiguity here to everyone’s intent. He asks if Ansem would consider letting them go, and to his surprise, Ansem is happy to let them go without complication! (Incidentally, this is where Naminé learns DiZ wants her dead, and she’s none too happy about it).
Ansem explains that he somehow owes both Axel and Naminé for Castle Oblivion? “You helped us.” Okay, step back with me again. Even if you had realized Ansem was Riku, this line makes no sense. As you might remember: Axel only helped one person in Castle Oblivion, period, and that was Naminé. Anyone else he “helped” he was really screwing over, and Riku never even encountered Axel. I can only assume he’s trying to say that Axel helped Naminé and so indirectly helped Sora, but the whole hint reads like a red herring. Ansem is facing Namine as he speaks, I’ll grant that, but in that case, why’s he helping Axel? Plus, as you’ll see later on, I have my reasons not to trust KH2 when it has someone face someone they don’t seem to be speaking to. It’s something of a recurring problem, even if this instance is from FM+.
There’s not much to say about the remainder of the scene: Axel opens a portal of darkness, hesitates in case Ansem is going to stab him in the back, and he and Naminé book it together.
Since Vanilla was pretending both characters were dead, we do not see them for much of the remaining game. Bye, you two, have fun!