Kingdom Hearts 2 – Settle Down, Class

kh2-2016-02-05-13h51m11s438Yen Sid tells the group that they’re going to have to go on another journey, something the player knew when they bought the game, but Sora whines about it for several lines, making me regret my decision to keep scripts open when doing my write-ups. The game is just wasting time by dwelling on something the player already knows.  I suppose it would be forgivable if it weren’t attached to a scene that already drags in other parts? Yen Sid then makes a declaration in language that seems stuffy even for him: “Chosen wielder of the Keyblade! You are the key that will open the door to light.” Thanks, Corey, that’s a wrap, we’ll go put that in the trailer right away.

At this point, Yen Sid summons a large book onto his desk, and asks you to read it. This book is more than a little confusing. You should absolutely pay attention to it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read, or dare I even say: decode. The book contains three entries. The first, “The Beginning,” seems to allude to the events of Kingdom Hearts 1, and let me say that I’ve removed half the confusion just by clarifying that. Once you realize this section is about KH1, the whole book becomes a lot easier to read. “The Beginning” talks in poetic language about farewells and journeys being interconnected, and about Riku and Sora’s paths down to light and darkness. Somehow the final line manages to be even more cryptic than the rest: “When you doubt the path trod thus far, when the hand you held is lost to you, gaze anew at the heart that once was… for all the answers are within.”

kh2-2016-02-05-13h51m54s371The second entry, “Interlude,” seems to correspond with CoM, in fact I’d say the connection is rather blatant. Unfortunately, the very title, “Interlude,” implies that CoM was a diversion from the main storyline. Thanks for that, Nomura. We can tell CoM was a diversion because the last three hours of KH2 don’t make a drop of sense without CoM. That’s the sign of an unimportant side story for sure.

The “Interlude” poem talks for a while about Sora’s plot in CoM and also about the “world between” from KH:FM’s Ansem Report pages. It also mentions Riku’s following a new path and the time gap between CoM and KH2. It’s hard to read this as being about anything but CoM, which is helpful because it might clue the player in to the fact that the other two entries are about KH1 and KH2.

The third section is called “The Future Story,” which is at least titled both clearly and appropriately. Unfortunately, it uses a lot of words to say a whole lot of nothing – after all, why would you want to spoil the content of the game? Intentionally. As opposed to the spoilers in the prologue.

kh2-2016-02-05-13h52m27s273The poem does say one profound thing: it asks when the current conflict will end, and says “It is different things to different people.” That’s very true! A conflict doesn’t really have a formal end: it ends when people stop fighting for that specific purpose, and that can be hard to pinpoint. This could be a reference to how the conflict from KH1 didn’t really “end” with the death of Maleficent or Ansem’s Heartless, but carried on with Pete and the Organization.

But then the book goes off into riddle nonsense that I can’t decode even today. The riddling ends with what seems to be a reference to Sora’s awakening from Roxas, so maybe the early sentences also refer to Roxas, but also says things like “memories can be believed.”  This seems to be saying “Hey, Sora, remember that stuff about Roxas?” but I don’t like its phrasing.  Remember: CoM was explicit about not believing memories outright!  Indeed, trusting his memories seems to have led to Roxas’ death! KH2 often throws up a middle finger in the direction of CoM, like right here, and it’s entirely to its detriment. Unfortunately, it’s not just here. I’m going to talk about it more and more as we get towards the end of the game, but in brief: in almost all of the instances where KH2 rejects the lessons of CoM, it suffers for it, and sometimes in more permanent ways than ignoring a warning sign like this. This isn’t going to make sense yet, but later games in the series seem to have gone to lengths simply to correct the mistakes of KH2. I mention this now because it seems like this would have gone down a lot smoother if you had taken your medicine like your middle sister, KH2!

kh2-2016-02-05-13h53m12s226Sora more-or-less ignores the text on the book, which makes me laugh – probably not what the devs intended, but funny all the same. He asks why the Heartless are still around, and Yen Sid says that since the Heartless are made of the darkness in every single person and talking animal in existence but seven, the Heartless will never be gone. Yeah, Sora, haven’t you ever played Warhammer? Chaos can’t die so long as anyone is alive! Put the knife down, Sora, that’s just a bit too much murder.

Goofy then eagerly proclaims that everything will be fine if everyone’s hearts are full of light! And Yen Sid just sort of murmurs and nods like “Aw, look, an baby. That’s nice, baby, but the grown-ups are talking.” Goofy, I thought you were more practical than this, certainly more than Sora and Donald, who nod along. I consider this the second slap in the face of CoM, and the first serious one, because for all I joke, I don’t think Yen Sid is supposed to seem sarcastic when he does a strange little swallow and nod. I think the game is honestly treating Goofy’s solution as a utopian ideal… even after CoM has put forth the idea that Darkness isn’t evil and can be used to help people, including the people that are strong with it, so long as they use it towards good. Goofy’s bottom-barrel naivety is essentially saying “Yes, everyone will be pure! Including Riku.”

kh2-2016-02-05-13h53m51s638Yen Sid takes the moment now to explain what Nobodies are for the large, large, very large portion of the audience who didn’t learn about Nobodies in KH1:FM. Remember, that’s everyone who lived outside of Japan, and everyone in Japan who never bought Final Mix or who never got 100% in Final Mix! Yen Sid’s lecture is strangely paranoid, which might suggest that he’s something of a Light Utopist himself. It does leave some wiggle room to deal with ambiguity that’s later introduced to this lecture, but it does seem oddly incongruent. Yen Sid is presented as the wise, ultimate source of accurate information, but for reasons I’ll explain in a few games, his lecture is simply wrong in a few points and so only makes sense if you assume he was meant to be… well… fantasy-bigoted! Geeze, first Mickey and now this! At least Mickey came to realize that what he was doing was negative. Yen Sid, however, has never apologized (or at least he hasn’t to date), and even worse: the games treat Yen Sid like he’s Walt Disney reincarnated as a spotless angel, and it doesn’t take a leap of faith to assume he’s the mouthpiece for the writers. This means when Yen Sid is being fantasy-bigoted, a writer or two probably had his back! At least, they did at the time of Vanilla’s release. In hindsight, it’s clear to me that FM+ retconned more elements of KH2 than I might have initially thought. Things like this. Things that not just should have been retconned, but had to be.

kh2-2016-02-05-13h55m06s759So what is Yen Sid talking about, and being a unconscious asshole about at the same time? Why Nobodies, of course! Yen Sid explains that when someone turns into a Heartless, if they have a very strong heart, the body and soul they leave behind may begin to operate on their own as a Nobody, and that Organization XIII is made up of some particularly intact humanoid Nobodies. This was the moment that I, as a player of Vanilla KH1 with no previous understanding of Nobodies, recognized that Roxas was Sora’s Nobody. I can’t say when the lightbulb moment happened for others, but feel free to speak up in the comments!

Yen Sid insists, very ardently (because, frankly, the game will do an abysmal job of communicating it through action, and so exposition will have to suffice) that Nobodies do not exist, and only pretend to have feelings, as they lack Hearts. “You must not be deceived!” I’ll talk about this more as we meet the other Nobodies, it’s… not handled very well.

Yen Sid concludes that Organization XIII is directing all the “Lesser” Nobodies towards an unknown goal, and that the King has been trying to fight them while you were snoozing. Sora, Donald and Goofy conclude that this means they need to find the King and Riku and – oh, are we just repeating the plot of KH1 but without Kairi? That’s… that’s fine I guess. I was just kidding about that before, but… if you insist.

kh2-2016-02-05-13h55m49s580Yen Sid says that before he goes, Sora should probably get himself some new clothes, as his KH1 clothes are looking small on him. It’s such an everyday sort of thing to say that it almost sounds out of place! Of course the hero of every RPG has to go outfitted, even do things like eat and go to the bathroom like a normal person, but it seems so strange to mention it out loud! And yes, Sora’s clothes are drawn as being a little small on him. I can only assume he stepped out of the pod with awful chafing and was too polite to say anything. Are you sure you want to change, Sora? Hayner, Pence and Olette warmed up to you pretty quickly with your tight pants!

Sora and the others are directed into the next room, as Sora talks about “the five of us—I mean, six of us” fighting the Organization. Hey, hold on, that line legitimately went over my head. What does he mean by saying “the […] six of us” so suspiciously? Sora lists himself, “you guys,” (Donald and Goofy) Riku and the King. Who is six? The best possibility is Jiminy but I can’t shake the idea that the developers have forgotten about him. Yen Sid? Could Sora be subconsciously referring to Roxas and not realizing what he’s saying? No one notices anything is wrong with what he’s saying, in any event. Certainly not Jiminy Cricket.

kh2-2016-02-05-13h59m06s298Yen Sid leads Sora to the next room to get changed, where we find a number of mirrors covered by sheets, along with the three good fairies from Sleeping Beauty just hanging around. Wasn’t your world restored at the end of KH1? The three fairies are all voiced, even if it’s only for this one scene, which speaks volumes for KH2’s budget. Flora, the red fairy, is voiced by Barbara Dirickson, who was new to the role. She has not voiced much else, but Flora has been a fairly productive role for her since, thanks especially to Sofia the First. She was also Baroness Dumas in No One Lives Forever! C’mon, everyone loves NOLF, except its rights-holders! The other fairies are familiar voices to this retrospective: blue Merryweather is Daisy Duck’s Tress MacNeille, while green Fauna is Minnie Mouse’s Russi Taylor, both of which began the role of the two fairies during House of Mouse (in fact, MacNeille voiced Flora there, as well!).

The three fairies allow you to look around the room, with the warning that “as soon as you’re changed, you’re off!” This is the player’s warning that they’re approaching the next in a neverending series of one-way gameplay gates, but despite its wording, it’s not a warning that fairies themselves are in any rush. Oh, the fairies pretend there’s a rush, the next few cutscenes are leisurely or even slow, so their hurry-hurry-hurry attitude at the start of the scene seems odd in hindsight.

If you take it upon yourself to examine the mirrors while you’re here, you’ll get a strange series of descriptions. The text tells us that Sora “sees a vision” of him using various aspects of himself in extremes: “Strength,” “Magic,” and “Strength and Magic” combined at the first three mirrors, “the Keyblade’s true potential” in the fourth, and Darkness in the fifth. In FM+, he sees a sixth mirror as well.

kh2-2016-02-05-13h59m49s020Once you’re ready, the fairies gather you up and dutifully repeat a gag from Sleeping Beauty where they all try to use their signature colour in the design of Sora’s new clothes (fun fact: the browser-based KHX uses any and every 3D model they can get their hands on to decorate their attack cards, so even these three-second “costume changes” ended up on cards). At last, the fairies reconcile, combine their powers, and create Sora’s final outfit: a black number that happens to be my favourite of Sora’s costumes to date.

The fairies explain that these clothes have “special powers,” which are used to explain one of this game’s newest mechanics: Drive Forms, a kind of transformation that dramatically alters Sora’s playstyle and capabilities for a set period. The mirrors in the room foreshadow the Drive Forms you’ll accumulate over the course of the game, but you start with only Valour Form, the “Strength” form. I’ll explain Drives and Valour form in detail in another entry, since this entry has been dragged on long enough and an expose on game mechanics is only going to hurt it.

kh2-2016-02-05-14h00m48s581One thing I will explain is that once you transform into Valour Form, you’re able to duel-wield Keyblades like Roxas when activated. Naturally, you can’t dual-wield unless you have two Keyblades, so the game gives you a second Keyblade on the spot: the Mysterious Tower-themed Star Seeker. The Star Seeker is automatically equipped to Valour Form independently from Sora himself – yes, Drive Forms have Keyblades of their own! However: the game won’t let you unequip a Keyblade, only swap them to your inventory with another Keyblade, so you can’t take the Star Seeker for yourself until you have a third Keyblade! Despite the confusion involved, I feel this probably was intentional, since Sora (though not Roxas) hasn’t had much time with the Kingdom Key. At the same time, it honestly looks like an accident, as though the Star Seeker got trapped by an legitimate programming oversight! Accident? Esoteric Design Route? You decide!

kh2-2016-02-05-14h00m22s758

Sora examines a Drive Orb, which are used to recharge your Drive forms.

Keyblades are a little more complicated than they were in KH1. Not only do they provide the usual stat-boosts (which are impressive and not to be discounted), but they give you a free ability so long as they’re equipped. If you already have the ability naturally, you’ll typically get an upgrade! The Kingdom Key’s ability, however, was not that exciting. In Vanilla, it has Defender, an SOS ability that raises your defence when your HP is low. In FM+, you get Damage Control, an SOS ability that doubles your defence when your HP is low… and I’m still not impressed. My issue with this sort of thing is that they’re essentially saying: “We might save you from a single hit if the circumstances are as perfect and pristine as the world’s loveliest work of art, but we’re more-than-likely going to dump you on your ass.” It’s an unfortunately common game design oversight to assume that just because the numbers change, that the change will be meaningful. But they’re trying.

Once you have freed the Star Seeker, you’ll find it has the same stats as the Kingdom Key, but uses the Air Combo Plus ability instead of Defender/Damage Control. It’s the kind of Keyblade I’d give to Valour Form to begin with, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating that it’s stuck there beyond my control. What if I wanted it now?

Sora also notes the second Keyblade, and one of the fairies says “This journey’s going to be twice as difficult as the last!” Hahaha. Merryweather, you’re so funny.

kh2-2016-02-05-14h01m45s973

Oh, definitely a picture.  Definitely.

The fairies tell you Yen Sid also has a gift, but in FM+, as you’re leaving, Sora drops an 2D sprite from his pocket. The 2D sprite makes this cutscene look awful, but what can you do? The scene is meant to introduce Final Mix’s “Puzzle Piece” sidequest, where you collect puzzle pieces lodged in the environment for rewards once you finish the puzzles. The only way to gather all the puzzle pieces is to upgrade your Drive Forms (you’ll see why later), so I understand why the mechanic was introduced right on the tail of the Drive Forms, but that doesn’t it look any less rushed. We never get an explanation for how one of the puzzle pieces fell out the pocket of clothes that didn’t exist a minute ago.

kh2-2016-02-05-14h03m28s371The team returns to the previous room, where Yen Sid reveals his gift: the Gummi Ship! That’s great! I… forgot we didn’t have it! It’s pushed so thoroughly into the background in KH1 (and will be again for the rest of KH2) that I don’t think I can be blamed for forgetting it. It doesn’t feel fully canon, somehow? Yen Sid also has another lecture here, and introduces what is going to turn into one of KH2’s greatest failing points, just you wait. He reminds you that after KH1, the walls between worlds have been sealed, and presumably he doesn’t have the slightest clue how you managed to get from where you were to where you are. But it’s all right! “[T]he worlds have prepared new pathways along which you may travel,” and for no reason but plot convenience, one of those new pathways is already open right next to you! Isn’t that lucky? And not contrived at all! You’re going to have to open the rest by unlocking special gates, but even Yen Sid can’t tell you how to do that. He just figures the Keyblade will murmur-mutter-cough-cough okay, have fun! Goodbye!

He also reminds you that the Heartless and Nobodies can waltz about between worlds via “Corridors of Darkness,” presumably the name for those black portals we’ve been seeing. With that footnote, the team is off, and Yen Sid essentially disappears for the remainder of the game (even when you regain access to the Tower, he’s still gone). Great! We’re finally free! Finally off to do our own… good great Tree of Life they’re still talking. The three Fairies look up at the window and see a raven sitting there: Diablo, Maleficent’s raven from Sleeping Beauty. He is carrying Maleficent’s cloak, which he leaves before the fairies, and this provokes an odd reaction.

kh2-2016-02-05-14h04m09s326The fairies don’t seem to recognize Maleficent’s high-backed garb at first, but once they do it’s with a panic. Flora says that “We mustn’t remember her name!” and they try to flee the room, but it seems to be too late. Maleficent simply manifests in her cloak and starts cackling.

Wh… what just happened?

People have talked this from Disneyworld and back, and it never, ever makes any sense. The series does not try to explain it. Flora’s line about remembering Maleficent is all we have whatsoever to tell us why the main villain from KH1 just revived from the dead. Did the fairy’s magic revive her? Did she set a failsafe spell? I would be so much more satisfied with the thinnest bullshit than I would with this complete non-answer. Why is she back? This is hack writing at its worst, and we’re not even… we’re not…!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Kame-hame-disturbing-the-peace
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – A Tale of Two Bastions


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

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5 comments

  1. The whole “Maleficent coming back to life out of nowhere with the memories of the three good fairies” could KINDA be explained. I remember hearing somewhere, not sure where, that fairies live and thrive on being recognized and remembered. If no one remembers fairies, or if a fairy is ignored, they’re dead. And Maleficent is an evil fairy (there’s argument over whether she’s just a witch, or an evil fairy, but Disney seems to have settled on the “evil fairy” angle.) Sora’s return brought back everyone’s forgotten memories–which SOMEHOW included the three fairies’ memories of Maleficent. SOMEHOW. And because Maleficent is now remembered, boom. She’s back.
    …Hey, I didn’t say it was a foolproof reason, since this just raises a ton of questions if that’s the case. For one, I’m not even sure if this is a constant thing among fairy folklore or not. Two, how did everyone forget about Maleficent, of all people? Everyone forgetting Sora, that makes sense. Why Maleficent? That…just, how? How does Pete still remember Maleficent is that the case? If he forgot, was he just gathering Heartless and had forgotten why he was even doing it, assumed he must’ve had a good reason, and for a couple of years was destroying whole worlds, killing millions of people, AND DIDN’T KNOW WHY HE WAS EVEN DOING IT? Then one day was just like, “Oh. Oh, yeah, right! Maleficent! I was gathering all these here Heartless for her! How did I forget that? Maybe I should check to see if her plan is goin’ accordin’ to plan?” And stopped by Yen Sid’s Tower on his way over to Hollow Bastion. It just…y’know what? It’s bad writing. Really, really bad writing, either way. I mean, okay, killing off freaking Maleficent of all people like they originally had planned was never going to work out, but…this is the best you could do? Surely there was a better way to bring her back then just…refusing to answer the question? The manga handled this much better. Where she wasn’t really dead. She was just gathering her strength and waiting for Pete to come back. It’s not much, but hey, it’s better than…no answer at all, I guess.

    1. By the way, your comments weren’t “getting eaten,” they just had to be approved by me manually, and I was asleep. They should show up automatically now, so all’s good!

      1. Thank goodness. I was scared for a moment there. All that hard work, thinking up long-winded essays–I mean comments–all that, for nothing to appear? That’s heartbreaking to see. Nice to see it all got sorted out. 🙂

    1. I’m not sure where you’ve got that information from, since Dirickson has a credit in both KH2 and BBS. The Kingdom Hearts credits don’t list the exact role (beyond that it was a Disney role and not a FF role or KH original), but Dirickson has only four Disney roles, so it’s not hard to deduce that they’re talking about Flora. Besides Flora, Dirickson’s other roles are two roles in Sophia the First, and the final as Aurora’s mother, who does not appear in BBS, and even if she did that wouldn’t account for KH2. Even the Disney wiki is only willing to credit Blakeslee as Flora in Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom from 2012, with Dirickson continuing the role of Flora even after 2012 (albeit, Flora has only appeared in Sophia the First products).

      Am I missing something suggesting to the contrary?

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