Back in the current game, we find ourselves on the map screen, where Chip and Dale are talking to us from the garage in Disney Castle. By the way, before we move on: why does the Gummi Ship still exist? It’s made up of pieces of space-wall that should have been snapped back in place like all the other space-walls!
And yes, Chip and Dale are now talking, as in voiced, and as I said in the KH1 retrospective they’re done by Tress MacNeille and Corey Burton, respectively.
KH2 has learned at least one lesson from KH1: it doesn’t throw the entire Gummi Mode in your in the middle of its three and a half hour intro sequence. Which by the way, we’re still in the middle of. One last mini-world and we’ll be free! Just one more!
The map is a marked improvement over the original. You’re not a cursor hovering over the map any longer (which wasn’t bad, but I prefer the new system). Instead you are the Gummi Ship, flying from world to world. It helps my immersion considerably, especially the free-roaming factor. The free-roaming means you can take shortcuts instead of navigating the menu, you can even dash around in case you’re in a hurry, or save or visit the Journal from this screen, features that were retained in almost every map screen to date. When you land on a planet in this game, there are plenty of available save points instead of the two or three from KH1 (virtually every save point in KH2 is a valid gummi point) and there are little thumbnails to help you tell the save points apart visually instead of with only marginally helpful text. This game is so good at menus! Future worlds are visible, but are hidden under a shroud of darkness, and the cloud is so thick to the left side of the screen that you can’t go that way at all!
There are no Gummi segments to travel to in this instance, so you proceed directly from Twilight Town to the next world (Chip and Dale refuse to let you return to Twilight Town or the Tower). And that new world isn’t very “new” at all: it’s Hollow Bastion, and you’d think that would be ominous, but it turns out there are a few pleasant surprises waiting for you for once!
As you arrive at the Bastion, you get a cutscene where Pete arrives at a new location. The implication is that this is Maleficent’s stronghold, except it’s not Hollow Bastion any longer: it’s a new place called “Villain’s Vale.” The problem is, the game does a rotten job of establishing this, and it’s easy to mistake it for the Bastion itself, which is actually a separate location in the game. The Vale looks nothing like the Hollow Bastion of old, while the other building does, but KH2 makes the mistake of calling the Vale the place “where Maleficent once resided,” even though this is contradicted at other points. What a mess. I can’t say I blame any players if they came out confused. Why would Maleficent have another hideout? How could she have another hideout? I’m not sure where all this land around the Bastion even came from! Wasn’t this whole planet made up of gravity-defying water?
I can’t overstate how poorly Villain’s Vale is set up in this game. We’ll get a more thorough “establishing shot” later on, but let me just say this: remember how I said there are two buildings, one of them the Bastion from KH1 and the other one not? For my first three playthroughs of this game, I thought there was only one building period, being seen from unusual angles! Even though there’s a scene in the game where you walk from Hollow Bastion to Villain’s Vale, I just assumed we had gone in a circle! As it happens, Villain’s Vale is a never visited in-game, something Kingdom Hearts rarely does, so when you end up visiting the Bastion, I just assumed it was the same building as Villain’s Vale! Why wouldn’t it be?
Weirdly enough: no location in the Bastion from KH1 and R/R returns here, which makes it even harder to tell the two buildings apart. There’s no Great Hall, no Library, no Chapel, no nothing. I imagine the devs were trying to avoid the implication of copy/pasting after their disastrous attempt to make a brand new game with new assets in the GBA CoM and choosing to only replicate old locations.
…What are we talking about? Oh! Pete pokes around, trying to see if Maleficent really is dead. Remember, Pete, was hired by Maleficent before the events of KH1, implying this has always been her hideout even though that defies everything in KH1. I would like to have words with this game’s editing team, supposing such a team actually existed. As he searches, Diablo the raven returns.
When you arrive at Hollow Bastion, you first have to deal with the confusion of your… not being in the Bastion. Hollow Bastion in the original floated above the Rising Falls with no sign of there being anything else on the planet, but it seems it recovered after the end of KH1, and you are now in a town adjacent to the Bastion. There is a less ominous remix of Hollow Bastion’s music playing in the background (battle music too), and the vista around town is great. Things look much better than how you left them.
In the town are a lot of familiar faces, including Twilight Town NPCs being shamelessly cloned, and also Huey, Dewey and Louie running shops. The inability to talk to shopkeepers really stands out here, as Donald refuses to acknowledge his nephews. How did they even get here? There were in Disney Castle behind the wall at the end of KH1, and they shouldn’t have been able to leave! (BBS indirectly provides an answer for this, by explaining that Merlin the wizard can travel between worlds without any trouble, as he does between space and time in his film. As we’ll soon see, Merlin is also here on Hollow Bastion, so he’s our best guess. But again, this was all retroactive.) Unrelated to this, but the game will begin to treat shops in a weird way after this point (more on that in a moment) so if they were going to put the boys in a shop, I’m confused why they didn’t put the boys on one that needed a proper shop and didn’t already have NPCs running around.
Around a corner, you also encounter another familiar Disney face: Scrooge McDuck, who goes unvoiced. Scrooge is standing next to a giant freezer, trying to make ice cream. Specifically, he’s trying to make sea-salt ice cream, but can’t remember the name of the flavour and so keeps missing the mark. The popsicle he’s got in FM+ is a gross brown-blue gradient, an ugly little bonus. And I do mean “popsicle,” because in spite of the use of the word “ice cream” there’s a giant stack of ice next to scrooge and the gross pop Scrooge is holding seems to be translucent. I had previously assumed sea salt ice cream was one of those ice cream bars on a stick, but it’s really starting to look like they were popsicles all along? I know some regions use “ice cream” to mean all kinds of frozen desserts. If anyone knows, could you fill me in to what sort of treat they were selling as “sea salt ice cream” in Tokyo Disney Land? (Ed: sephy in the comments informs me that the stuff is in fact ice cream, but they suspect that KH2 might not have made up its mind.)
Across the street from Scrooge is another important sight: a Moogle. The Moogles in this game still run the Synthesis system, but in later worlds they set up holograms that work as shops and synth shops combined. As a result of the holograms, Kingdom Hearts doesn’t have to run physical shops from this point on. It really takes away from the world-building in how Moogles essentially prevent NPCs from appearing in upcoming areas that could have really used shopkeepers for the sake of local colour. I’m sad to say the Moogles will be used to do so in every single game of the series to follow.
(Fun fact: all the Moogles are named when you check out their shop, and some of the famous Moogles include Mog from FFVI and Stiltzkin and Artemicion from FFIX.)
Synthesis is a different beast in KH2 from KH1. You still pick up the ingredients from enemies (and they look more distinct, for example the Frost ingredients have icicles hanging from them) but synthesis itself has changed. First off, the Moogle can’t make any synthesis recipe until you’ve earned the recipe, and we’re not necessarily talking about clearing out existing lists this time around. Either you have to find the recipe in a chest somewhere, or you have to upgrade your Moogle. Yes, the Moogle actually levels up as you use its services. Some recipes are unlocked that way (“Free Development”), as is the ability to use advanced synthesis techniques. It’s not clear why the Moogle levels up when each shop seems to be run by a different Moogle (maybe they weren’t supposed to be different Moogles at some point in the game? It would certainly explain the holograms if they were all supposed to be the same Moogle), but you’d better come to terms with that, because it’s not going away.
Because the Moogle relies on you to level them up, the only way you’re going to find the best stuff is if you keep synthing items – even items you don’t need, though as a rule I recommend you shoot for items you haven’t made before, unless you need a dupe of the item for your own purposes. The Moogles will return prizes for completing achievement-style tasks as you synthesize, and will also hold synthesis ingredients for you to keep your inventory clear. These prizes are critical if you plan to do any synthing at all, so it pays to pay attention to them.
Oh, and while it’s petty, I have to point it out: when the Moogle rewards you with synth-related prizes, it gives them to Sora, meaning Sora has to give it back to the Moogle if you want to use them, by leaving the shop and coming back! It’s strikes me that this is some programmer’s way to avoid looping the Moogle’s check routines for whatever reason (since prizes can sometimes unlock other prizes), but shit is that unintuitive and stilted.
Unfortunately, the EXP and prize system combine to form one of the most tedious elements of KH2: Jiminy’s Journal won’t be complete until you’ve finished the Moogle’s tasks, and those tasks involve harvesting synth materials from enemies long after you’ve made every recipe in the game. At first, this isn’t so bad: it’s something to do while training Drive forms or getting to Level 99 in FM+. They’re also not that hard to get in FM+, where there are more Lucky Lucky skills, but more on that later. Unfortunately, even if FM+ is less tedious (sucks to be Vanilla players), it’s still incredibly arbitrary! “I refuse to show you the secret ending until you’ve found a pile of shiny rocks, and I won’t even pretend it’s for a reason.” You’re a pal, Jiminy.
One last thing to keep in mind with Moogles is the addition of Bright, Energy and Serenity-type materials. These materials are bonuses the Moogle gains access to as they level-up. Bright Materials are very handy, doubling the Moogle’s EXP for a project, and come highly recommended at the start of the game when you don’t need their wares quite so much but will want EXP for later. Energy materials halve the ingredients required to make something, which is very helpful at any point in the game. Lastly, Serenity materials upgrade the item to a “+” version (or in some cases, another item entirely), but Serenity materials can only be used if you’ve already synthed the original recipe, meaning the upgrade cost is secretly double (or thereabouts – an Energy item would help drop the price, for example). Because the Moogle never gains the ability to use all three upgrade materials at once, only two, Serenity items come at the cost of either a full-price item or a less EXP, so it’s a price paid in tedium either way.
Sora and team head down a set of stairs into another ramshackle part of Hollow Bastion’s suburbs, which includes a giant big crane. Here, you run into a strange device. I call it a “device” but it’s more like a magic spell: a sphere that creates a circle of light that fills into a cylinder. As the thing is activating near Sora, Yuffie appears on a nearby building to say hello, and explains the magical device is called a “Claymore.”
Like Sora, Yuffie’s been aged up, if only because she’s been updated to her Advent Children look and outfit. This is more than I can say about most of the Final Fantasy cast, who haven’t changed quite so much. Reader LightUpTheSky pointed out that they have changed costumes (except for Cid) and Leon has a haircut, which is effort in the right direction. Still, the changes to Yuffie are more prominent by far, and poor Cid is just frozen in time: it seems that once you reach the Adult state, your appearance freezes until you reach the Elder state. Should have drank more Cowplant milk. By the way, the gap between FFVII and Advent Children is about two years, which doesn’t seem far off from my character age guesses during the prologue. Yuffie is the only Advent Children character who hasn’t maintained her Advent Children voice actor. She’s now voiced by Mae Whitman, aka Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender, who does a good job with what little she’s given. She would keep the role through Dirge of Cerberus. Unfortunately, Yuffie hasn’t been voiced since.
(So Yuffie was one of only two FFVII/KH1 characters to carry a voice actor over to Advent Children, but was also the only FFVII/KH2 voice actor to not keep her voice actor from Advent Children?)
Just then, you’re interrupted by an attack by Nobodies, though you’re assisted in the fight by the Claymores, which slam enemies into the air at random. There’s a new enemy in the battle, but the fight isn’t very long, so there’s a distinct chance that between Donald, Goofy and the Claymore that the new enemy might die off-screen and you might not even notice it was there! This is the Samurai, a Nobody with double swords. You learn much, much later that it used to be the lesser Nobody under the control of Roxas. The Samurai lacks the famous FF Samurai’s ability to throw money for damage (I guess that isn’t surprising: Final Fantasy Assassins don’t explode, either!). Instead, it has a reaction command called Duel Stance. Hitting the Duel Stance Reaction Command is risky. If you trigger it, everyone else will freeze in place except you and your opponent, who are locked in a standoff. You’ll notice your command menu is now blank. After a pause, the words “The End” will appear in one of the four boxes at random. If you can switch to it and hit the command before the Samurai’s invisible timer runs out, you’ll cause massive damage to it and nearby enemies. If you don’t… the reverse.
By the way, thanks for the help, Yuffie.
Sora and Yuffie exchange greetings, and I’ve got to give both voice actors credit here, they do sound like friends reuniting and rapidly sliding into a familiar groove. Yuffie answers all of Sora’s questions happily-as-could-be, even the ones with negative answers, which is cute. She says they haven’t seen The King or Riku, but that she “had a feeling [she’d] see you guys again.” Sora endears himself to me by putting on a super serious voice and doing an impression of Leon: “We may never meet again, but we’ll never forget each other.” It’s great.
Yuffie leads you off to Merlin’s house here in Hollow Bastion, which is just a normal residence this time… if you ignore the spinning umbrellas on top. KH2 just does this some time: puts detail work into sections of the map you’re not likely to ever look at, sometimes (sadly) when the actual playable area could use some extra treatment. I respect the attention to detail (easter egg details are a signature of the Disney parks’ style) but in this case, I think an establishing shot may have been in order, just so the player understands why they’re breaking into this specific person’s house. Inside the house, you find a number of familiar faces: Leon and Aerith, whose voice actors I’ve already mentioned, and Cid, who is now voiced by Chris Edgerly, a Cartoon Network voice actor, who has had the role since Advent Children. Conspicuously absent is Merlin himself. You’ll notice that Cid is working at a massive computer (which looks far more older and less impressive than DiZ’s computer from Twilight Town) and also that Merlin has somehow brought the entire plinth from the centre of his house from Traverse Town.
Leon greets you with “I knew it,” and he sounds quite satisfied. It sounds nice and friendly until he reveals that “A while back, everyone suddenly remembered you guys, all at the same time.” We the players already knew Sora’s friends had forgotten him, but it’s about time Sora got informed. He’s not exactly pleased to hear it. Yuffie asks where you were and Bill Farmer gives this complete, matter-of-fact delivery to say you were sleeping. It’s priceless. “It doesn’t matter!” says Aerith, shutting down what should have been critical exchange of information, because the player already knows all the details and doesn’t need to hear them again. Unfortunately, this implies that the Final Fantasy crew never, ever hears the answer to these mysteries, but their loss is our quick pacing. How polite of them!
Sora asks if the others have seen Riku and the King, they say no, and I hope you took a picture, because Sora will not ask anyone else about Riku or the King for ages. The group then tells him that they’re up to their necks over here as it is. They’re trying to rebuild the town, but there’s something… Leon says it’s better if he shows you. Sora says he’d be glad to help before knowing what he’s being asked – in fact, he practically pledges his eternal fealty, which makes it all the more hilarious when he runs back off-world in about seven and a half minutes.
As Sora is following Leon out the door, Merlin reappears (this may be the cleverest way the series has ever divided you from an NPC that doesn’t join your party. I never notice that Leon’s gone until he and Sora are already apart). Unvoiced in KH1, Merlin is now covered by Jeff Bennett, who you might remember as the voice of the Mayor from Halloween Town and Smee in KH1. He says hello and asks Aerith if she gave Sora and the others “the cards.” Oh god, no, take them away, I’ve had more than my life’s worth of cards in the last game! Luckily, these turn out to be some sort of plastic credit card. “Here… they’re presents for you,” Mena Suvari says, like she’s about to float up into the ether and never return. It seems they’re membership cards that read “Hollow Bastion Restoration Committee” and Sora and the gang almost wet themselves with excitement. I can’t understand the enthusiasm, myself, but maybe I’m missing something. Are membership cards something kids were this excited about in Japan in 2005? I get that these three are dorks, but…
At the door, Merlin stops Sora to ask if he’s up-to-date with his magic, and Sora only now realizes he can’t remember a word of it. Stunning. Merlin “lend[s] you a few spells,” though you only get one – it’s not clear to me if Sora “gets” all his spells at this point and takes the rest of the game to remember/master them, or if that was just a typo on the script. The first spell in this game is Blizzard, which is a single dummy shot instead of a shotgun dummy shot like in KH1 and CoM. It keeps its piercing ability from previous games, but without the shotgun spread, it’s not very remarkable and I find myself leaving it behind once I’ve gathered other spells. Its value among experts is its low, hidden “revenge value.” As brief as I can manage: this means it’s easy to use Blizzard to exploit certain AI flaws against bosses. I was alluding to this system when I talked about Shadow Roxas on Day 5 of the prologue. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be covering revenge values in much depth, since they’re not an open and acknowledged part of the game so much as a carefully studied parcel of the AI. This is, after all, a Retrospective feigning a first timer’s point of view with a few enhancements, not a programmer’s look at AI systems, or for that matter a Retrospective for a game about AI manipulation (Lode Runner, for example, a series that became all about AI-exploiting challenge maps on the Famicom). That said, I felt I had to throw poor Blizzard a bone, since it has so little going for it on a surface glance.
Magic in this game is unusual, though I’m personally of the opinion that it’s one of the series best magic systems, even if the spells themselves can be questionable at times. Everyone’s got their own favourite magic system, it seems, and this one’s mine. In KH2, spells cost a certain number of points as usual, though a key point to understand in this spell system is that once you get Cure, Cure will cost “All” your magic: it doesn’t matter if you have 100 points or 1, Cure will take it and give you healing. I’m telling you this even though we don’t have Cure, because understanding Cure is important in understanding how the magic system works as a whole. Once Sora’s drained his magic, his magic meter begins to regenerate, leaving you defenceless as far as magic is concerned. This means if you ever heal, you’re going to put yourself on the defensive. For that matter, you won’t be able to use magic to kill bosses for a stretch, which is the easiest way to deal with bosses. Later in the game, you can gain abilities that only trigger during that magic regen phase, but you’re still going to be at a loss for healing until it comes back. There’s a lot of rationing risk and reward involved.
That’s enough about mechanics for now, and for today’s post. But stick around, because next update we finally bring KH2’s introduction to a close, after a lucky thirteen posts! Zip-a-dee-doo-dah-a.