Kingdom Hearts 2 – The High Five Heard ’Round the World

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After beating the first of the original two worlds, you actually unlock a third, but we’re going to go strictly in order here in the Retrospective. That means it’s on to the second world, which features a tall, dark castle and nothing else. There is nothing outside the walls from here until KHX, despite this world appearing in multiple games (and even in KHX, we only see forest!). Stop questioning the existence of things outside the walls. We have always been at war with Time Warner.

kh2-2016-02-26-19h31m13s573Sora and the gang enter the castle, which despite the title at the top of this article, they’ve never seen. Remember that Sora’s only encounter with the Beast in KH1 was at Hollow Bastion, where he had gone after this world was destroyed by Maleficent. While I suppose we’ve seen a restored world in the shape of Destiny Islands, you’ve never visited a restored world as a player, so you’ll be reassured to know that everything is in its proper place. Everything, that is, except the Beast’s beloved and feared magic rose, which he has left lying around in a lounge where anyone breaking in through his gigantic unlocked front door could steal or damage it, as Sora nearly does. It’s almost a good thing that the Heartless show up, because I like Sora, but he’s a giant doofus and I wouldn’t trust him with a fragile magical artifact.

A bunch of Shadows show up, and as I’ve already said, Shadows are chaff. You fight off the Heartless and the Beast arrives in a rage. My guess – and this is a pretty grasping guess – is that Beast left the rose here while fighting off some of his castle’s demonic guests in a nearby room. Even this guess makes for an unlikely premise, as I have no idea how the rose got here to begin with, as it would have crossed most of the world to get here. I just have to raise an eyebrow at this whole setup.

kh2-2016-03-15-03h07m50s873Beast storms across the room, and Sora tries to say hello, and… is he going for a high five? I think it’s a wave, but with Sora I just…  Folks, I am happy to present for you today: the King of Optimists. And for your entertainment: the King of Optimists being backhanded into the wall! Isn’t he great? Round of applause.

Beast clutches his rose safe and retreats into the castle without a word. Perhaps unwilling to follow him, Goofy makes up a story about seeing Belle up a flight of stairs, and everyone goes that way instead. I say “makes up” because you don’t actually see anything, a lazy way to avoid animating a split second of Belle at the top of the stairs. Still, I like my cover story. If I were Goofy, I wouldn’t want to follow the Beast right now, either!

You’re allowed to make your way to the East Wing at this point, though you have access to a few other areas if you poke around, including the famous Ballroom, which is empty. Along the way you’ll be attacked by Hook Bats, a flying Heartless that rarely attack, but I find to be unusually dangerous when they do, especially in Critical Mode. Their Reaction Command, Bat Cry, lets you grab a Bat’s hook-foot to use the whole Heartless as an extended weapon, an excellent idea for a Reaction Command.  It’s a good trade-off between dangerous enemy and dangerous Reaction Command.  Oh, and I’ll actually compliment the FM+ recolours here for making the hook-feet metallic instead of red.

kh2-2016-02-26-19h33m48s099In the East Wing, Sora finds Belle’s door and… I don’t really know how to read what happens next? I think Sora signals to Donald that he wants to eavesdrop but Donald mistakes this as a signal that he should ram down the door? Thankfully Belle opens the door so neither of them can get up to any shenanigans. Belle is thrilled to see you and hugs Donald, who squirms and complains the whole time. This really is the best Donald game, and the scene is super-sweet. Belle is now voiced by her original voice actress, Paige O’Hara. O’Hara is best known for this role, though she also cameos in Enchanted with several other Disney princess actresses.

Belle discusses the Beast, and says something strange. Sora asks if something happened here at Beast’s Castle, and Belle says: “Yes. Isn’t that why you’re here?” And… that’s a good question. Sora shrugs. Excellent counterpoint. I’m with Goofy: we’re here now, so we should absolutely help out, but I still have to wonder why we’re here now? The plot certainly didn’t drive you here. There were no Heartless until you already got inside! Walking around outdoors at the Land of the Dragons was one thing, but you three are just pulling a B&E for shits and giggles like a bunch of juvenile delinquents. I feel like I missed the scene where they ding-dong-dashed the Swiss Family Robinson and went cow-tipping at Patch of Heaven.

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Did I mention that text boxes are colour-coded by world in KH2?  Very nice!

But what’s strange about the line is that Belle says something went wrong, but then carries on the rest of the conversation without explaining what went wrong! Belle tries to imply that she knows what’s going on, despite being out of the loop for the rest of the world. Evidence from Days suggests that this trouble started when the Heartless showed up, which fixes some of the problem, but only retroactively.

Belle explains the Beast won’t talk to her either, and that the problem is bigger than we think: Beast has locked up all his servants in “the undercroft.” She wants you to rescue them. Will do, ma’am! Of course, I don’t even know what an “undercroft” is, and with these loose directions I’m just as likely to get to the roof, but this is a mid-2000s game, and so we’ll probably trip into it if we walk far enough.

kh2-2016-02-26-19h35m04s076Back in the hall outside Belle’s room, you’re attacked by an old friend: Large Bodies. And unlike most of the other returning Heartless from KH1 and CoM, the Large Bodies actually have had a major AI transplant. They’re still invulnerable from the front, but they’re also more mobile, and are now offensive-oriented, which increases their offence but ruins their defence, which was formerly their signature element. They’re also smaller – or Sora is simply bigger, I can’t decide which is which. They’re easier to get behind in any event, but that owes more to KH2’s speed than anything else. Large Bodies now have two stages: one at full health and one that triggers around half. The first is similar but not identical to KH1, now with a reaction command called Full Swing that can bat the Large Bodies into other enemies for damage. Once they are low on health, the Large Bodies may also begin sledding around on their bellies, forcing you to use a reaction command to deflect them, or to run for the hills! They’re really the poster children for the general sped-up nature of KH2, and its reduction in tactical depth in favour of style. All this speed and full-sized game of pinball just doesn’t replace the giant wall of rubber from KH1 that could completely change the tactical nature of an encounter, but at the same time they’re hardly uninteresting and they can be a lot of fun to bat around.

According to Belle, the Undercroft branches off of the West Wing (Belle’s room was in the East), so you head to the West Wing and… you know, I’m probably the only one bothered by this, but I’m getting really tired of the game starting you off half-way into a room after a cinematic, or skipping rooms entirely during cinematics. It’s like Deep Jungle, except not quite as damaging despite being far more pervasive. I won’t deny it: if I was on the scripting team and had been handed these scenes piecemeal I’d have done the same thing, but taken in sequence, the game has gotten teleport-happy, teleporting you half-way across every room in the world so far. In the opening sequence we skipped the front hall, on the way to Belle’s Room we skipped the East Wing, and now we skipped part of the West Wing… past some chests, might I add, which as a greedy piece of shit I will not abide. It makes it harder to memorize the layout of the rooms (I know I had trouble finding the lounge again – there are four doors leading off of the great hall but three are fake!). And this is not to mention the bridge and courtyard outside. Oh, did I not mention the bridge and courtyard outside? Because the game doesn’t, either… except where it does! The chests page in the journal mentions the courtyard as though you had visited it before the great hall! This is flabbergasting. I guarantee you that this world originally started in the courtyard, not the lounge, and it was changed at a later stage of development. What a mess.

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Not the best screenshot to prove my point, but you can definitely see the gaps if you click to zoom in.

You head through the West Wing to find a short staircase to a pair of suits of armour that block your way onward. “These suits of armour appear impassable.” …No they don’t. They really don’t. Maybe if you were the Beast they’d be impassible, but for Sora, Goofy and especially Donald we have a Boulder of Fireburg situation: there’s clearly enough room to walk past these statues, but they just refuse to do it!

You have no choice but to proceed to the Undercroft, but your way is blocked by Belle’s lady-in-waiting, who if you recall from the film is currently cursed into the shape of a Wardrobe. For some reason, her face is invisible, and it is creepy. I know the visual is from the film but for some reason it’s disturbing to me here. You accidentally wake her when you try to get past, causing a mini-game to begin where you have to push her to the side in without her waking up again. The mini-game is brief but inoffensive. I like how they put the candle on one side of the doorframe to excuse why you could only push her in one direction.

kh2-2016-02-26-19h39m56s778One funny thing about this “game” is that it’s done via reaction commands, and if you’re going to hit the button at the wrong time, the prompt says “Waken!” I had previously assumed that the command menu was written in third person limited, not third person omniscient? That is to say: I thought it represented what Sora was trying to do, not what he was objectively doing? Surely he doesn’t want to wake her voluntarily?

Once you get the Wardrobe out of the way, she wakes up again and for some reason now she doesn’t object to you pushing her, and even urges you to save her friends. Despite this brief appearance, she is voiced by her original voice actress, Jo Anne Worley, who has a number of other Disney roles, including a minor role in A Goofy Movie with Bill Farmer. But hey, while I’m glad to hear the actress, why is the Wardrobe here in the hall? This is never explained. My best guess is that she just happened to fall asleep in the worst possible place, like a godforsaken Snorlax. The Wardrobe wraps up your conversation by starting to tell you about the curse, and then stopping her story right at the beginning as a gag.

kh2-2016-02-26-19h40m30s107You might not be expecting this so early, but just inside the Undercroft door, you run into trouble: a mid-boss. The door to the dungeon is carved with two demonic figures joined at the hip, and when you approach, a black spherical Heartless appears. This is a Possessor, a Pureblood Heartless, which does exactly what you’d expect if you heard its name: it possesses the carving and brings it to life. The new mid-boss, the Thresholder, grasps the door’s keyhole so Sora can’t unlock it (nice touch). The two monsters do a fist bump, and the fight begins.

The Thresholder opens the fight by summoning a group of animated gargoyle statues!  We’ll cover them in-depth in the next entry.  Once those are exhausted, it will summon flocks of Hook Bats, which happens more frequently than you’d expect compared to other KH bosses with minions.  This makes sense: the Thresholder is stuck at the root to the door and can’t exactly chase you around the room, so it requires the Hook Bats to do so (besides, the Hook Bat’s reaction command is just so good that it would have been a shame not to include them in at least one boss fight). When you do get near the Thresholder, it attacks with melee attacks, or some missile attacks at a distance. I find the easiest way to deal with the boss is Valour Form – despite its speed, Valour Form’s greatest weakness are foes that can run away from it nevertheless, causing its meter to deplete. The Thresholder can’t get away from you, so as long as you’re transformed, you’re batting high.

kh2-2016-02-26-19h41m09s621Should you lose, this is another Mickey fight, though this isn’t the best battle for him because of a special mechanic. You see, once Thresholder’s HP is depleted in the usual boss-killing ways, you have to use a reaction command to unlock the Possessor from the keyhole, which will allow you to hurt the Possessor directly. Since Mickey can’t use reaction commands, he can never unlock the Possessor, bringing the fight to a complete standstill. Ultimately, I wish they had moved Mickey to another one of the game’s boss fights, as he’s just no help here. On top of everything else, the Possessor is flighty, so even with Valour Form you’re going to be frustrated, and dlppictures confirmed that it’s guaranteed to return to the door at half health no matter how well you do!

After you kill the Thresholder / Possessor, you’re able to open the door to the dungeon, where we get over the requisite “holy shit, the servants are furniture” scene the game has been building up to. The game has been really excited about this plot “twist,” going so far as to have Belle forget to mention it and by having Sora incapable of absorbing information from the environment. Yes, that’s right: the game still treats this as a plot twist even though Sora has met the Wardrobe. The Wardrobe could have easily been put somewhere else in the world, and maybe was at some previous point in development – the plot doesn’t make sense any other way! That’s twice now that Beast’s Castle has shown signs of revision, and plenty of times it’s shown signs of needing even more revision. Not looking so good, are we?

kh2-2016-02-26-19h42m13s334Most of the central cast from Beauty and the Beast is present in the dungeon, and half of them voiced by their original voice actors. We have the first Kingdom Hearts appearance of one of my favourite voice actors, David Ogden Stiers, as Cogworth. Stiers has a huge number of other Disney roles, including Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas, the archdeacon from Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more, including at least one we’ll be seeing in the future.  Angela Lansbury, another personal favourite, returns to voice Mrs. Potts (hey, while we’re at it, Jo Anne Worley – the Wardrobe – and David Ogden Stiers were both in episodes of Murder, She Wrote!). Lumiere, on the other hand, is voiced by Jeff Bennet (the voice of Merlin), and Chip goes unvoiced entirely. To be fair, Bradley Pierce, Chip’s voice actor, is no longer 9 years old, but his name does appear uncredited on KH2’s IMDb, and it’s ha to say why. All it would have taken was a single archive gasp or shout to get Pierce’s name on the IMDb list, after all.  LightUpTheSky tells me that Haley Joel Osmet did the voice of Chip in Beauty and the Beast 2, and I agree: it’s too bad he didn’t give it another shot here!  He’d have to keep it short to hide his age, but it would have been a nice easter egg.

The former prisoners tell you the whole backstory about the Beast, the Enchantress, and true love, though the rose goes curiously unmentioned. I won’t deny the information is relevant, but it’s a lot to take in in one sitting, most of it in text, and all of that without David Ogden Stier’s narration and Disney’s beautiful opening visuals to charm you through. It might make you wish the Wardrobe had dropped just a bit more of the story just to break things up. This may be the fault of the voice acting: original-language voice acting is sometimes done early enough in the process that you can’t go back and edit it without extra expense. As a result, the game has to be designed around your recording rather than the other way around… or ignored, like Shang assigning you the mountain pass mission a few entries back.  In this instance, since they recorded Cogsworth and the rest of the servants starting to tell the story, they’d have been forced to keep them at the start of the story! And nothing takes away from the general tedium of an exposition dump. Oh well.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Incidental Blackbirds
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Mini-Game Crash of 2005


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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