The servants announce the best way out of here would be to use some back tunnels. I think the term they use is “secret passage,” but in practice, the secret passage isn’t secret at this end: it’s just a big door. It’s the other end that’s secret, and I won’t lie: I got confused my first time through, ignoring everyone and trying to find a secret passage in the Undercroft! As it happens, you have to go to the second floor of the undercroft where another set of statues is standing, and Cogsworth orders them to step aside. Cogsworth implies the statues have turned hostile, presumably because they’re under orders from the Beast, but he’s able to get these two to move.
Inside the tunnel, you’re… ah… “treated” to another mini-game of negligible difficulty and questionable entertainment value. Once again, like the exploration and platforming in KH1, I appreciate the attempt at variety, but I need to question the execution. This one really shows the signs of being rushed to completion and losing elements along the way – in fact, it’s an absolute mess.
Did I mention that I like the art style in this world? It feels like I’ve been nothing but hostile since we stepped down. Okay, art style: great. Sora trying to high-five the Beast: fantastic. The rest…?
Let’s outline the mini-“game.” The Beast’s castle operates on Zelda logic, and the only way to unlock the secret passage is to light some torches. As a gamer, I’ve long since stopped questioning that sort of nonsense, and likewise don’t question the fact that the torches have been possessed by dark flames. Just par for the course, you understand. The servants demonstrate how to go about doing this: Mrs. Potts and Sora will put out the fire with her water and his Keyblade’s light, while Lumiere will light the torch properly and so prevent the darkness from coming back. There are two complications: one, neither Mrs. Potts nor Lumiere is very swift or maneuverable but you still need to get them both to each torch, and two, this whole rigmarole depends on Cogsworth holding down a heavy switch, and his arms will give out after a few seconds.
…So why not let Goofy hold the switch? Goodness’ sakes, devs, you could have had Donald and Goofy say: “The Heartless are coming!” “We’ll hold them off!” There, I fixed your plot hole, don’t thank me. That wasn’t sarcasm, don’t thank me.
Here’s how the “game” plays in brief: you run forward slowly and carefully so that Lumiere and Mrs. Potts can keep up, you break some crates along the way, and if you fail, the crates are remain broken so subsequent attempts will be even easier. Ultimately, you make it to the torches and douse them. The timing may be too tight for a child gamer to do in two passes, but I can’t imagine it stumping any teenagers playing in the E10+ age range this game has stamped on it in North America, much less the PEGI 12 (now, Germany’s 6+…). I’ve already told you it feels like they tossed elements out of this game during development, and I’ll keep on that in a minute, but even at its best this feels like a tutorial for another version of this mini-game that would come later in the castle, maybe with live Heartless, but one never comes!
Don’t believe me that this feels rough? Well there are other signs that this section was rushed, including numerous glitch reports in a game that otherwise doesn’t have that much of a problem with game-stopping glitches. Food for thought.
The cutscene at the end of the mini-game especially odd, though you might not spot what’s odd about it until a later playthrough, as it’s more peculiar once you understand how KH2 typically does things. After you clear the mini-game, the servants say that to open the door, you have to push “that” stone. The camera then sloooowly pans to the wall, and zooms into a particular stone. Playing the rest of KH2 will teach you that those sorts of camera movements are used to give the player directions, telling them exactly what they should do next. But then the game just cuts directly to Sora pushing the stone, removing any meaning from the slooooow zoom, or the servant’s instructions for that matter. It seems like they cut a brief gameplay segment where you would have walked forward and pushed a stone, and sewed the two cutscenes together in its place. I want to be clear: pushing the stone would have been an unnecessary task, and it was better that they cut it out, but wouldn’t it have been better still if the door had just… opened after lighting the torch? It’s the final clue that tells me this whole mini-game segment was undercooked. The task is not challenging, not fun, not involved, only takes place thanks to a plot hole (more on that in a moment), and shows signs of last-minute editing at the very end. But Kingdom Hearts 2, as you’ll learn, refuses to let anything hit the cutting room floor, so here we are with two separate cutscenes of a wall and a boy touching a wall.
The servants run off, talking about getting back to their daily chores. Oh, this is brilliance. RPGs have been over-eager to get rid of hangers-on for ages. But isn’t anyone going to raise the possibility that if they go about their business, the Beast will just arrest them again? You soon learn – not that the game bothered to tell you previously – that the servants and Sora have an unspoken plan to go talk to the Beast’s room to speak with him alongside Cogsworth, but consider this: what if the Beast’s not in his room? What if he’s wandering around and finds escaped prisoners adjusting the drapes? What if the Heartless do?
You emerge from the secret passage back in the west wing, behind the two suits of armour that were blocking the stairs outside the Undercroft. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Why didn’t Cogsworth just order these statues to step aside? This is the plot hole I mentioned earlier. Why did we just go through an entire secret passage? Did Beast give the suits of armour different orders? He gave harsher orders to the suits in the hall than the suits assigned to keep Cogsworth in prison? Beast must not be in the best of ways right now. This goes beyond a complaint against the story: the torch minigame and the entire room holding it are now not just awkward, but pointless. The only good thing I can say is that they’re behind us and thing have to pick up from here!
You head off into the nearby hall, where damage from Beast’s rages begins to show. Days will attribute this damage to damage accrued when the Beast battled the Heartless, but since it leads to Beast’s ruined bedroom from the film, I have a feeling the damage in the hall was originally intended to have just the edges of the Beast’s bedroom-destroying tantrum. Down this hall, you’ll have your first encounter with a few new Heartless: Possessors take control of the Beasts’ many gargoyle statues, creating the sword-wielding Gargoyle Knight and the axe-wielding Gargoyle Warrior. You can never be certain if a gargoyle is going to come to life when you pass it (and they sometimes wait until later waves of combat!), though if you come back later in the game, you can more-or-less guarantee that every statue is an enemy waiting to happen. Both varieties of Gargoyle hit hard enough to be a concern, but they’re a fair source of Drive Orbs, so they’re not exactly an unwelcome sight. They can even be killed instantly by detaching the Possessor from the statue with a certain Reaction Command, though the window for doing so is narrow (this RC is a stylistic favourite of mine, as it builds on what we know of Possessors from the Thresholder fight, but I’m not much of a fan from a challenge perspective, since it literally is “Press Triangle to win”).
At the end of the hall you find the Beast in his room, looking at the rose in its proper place. He is not alone: a member of the Organization, David Dayan Fisher’s character, is there with him. They’re having the kind of conversation you’d expect from a shadowy figure in a dark room: coercion, murder, flowers. Fisher is trying to provoke Beast to murder or at least ditch Belle, claiming she’s trying to take over the castle somehow. Given the Beast’s actions, I think Beast thinks that Belle is trying to subvert him by gaining the trust of his servants. Fisher insists that Belle can’t love the Beast, and when he spots Sora’s arrival, he claims this is evidence and that Sora and the others are Belle’s “accomplices.” Perhaps as a show for Beast, Fisher makes a big display of raising a force field between Sora and the rose (although, in the real world, the developers did this to make the upcoming arena a little more square).
Sora approaches, eagerly calling Beast “prince.” Because when you’re trying to endear yourself to someone who thinks you’re trying to overthrow him, you should reveal that you unearthed private information. Beast attacks, so angry that he’s almost steaming with darkness.
The fight with Beast is no trouble at all, and it probably isn’t meant to be, considering it’s wedged in just minutes after Thresholder and not far from the world’s main boss as well. You swat at Beast, he lunges at you, and Cogsworth runs around as a mobile Reaction Command that you can use to cause some damage. If you’re like me, you quickly learn not to trust Cogsworth, because his RC usually leaves you exposed (Beast can even knock Cogworth out, making it even harder to rely on him!). After the fight is done, you get a Reaction Command with Cogsworth to wrap things up. It’s an unusual way to run a fight, but quick and painless all-in-all. I have no complaints, it serves its purpose just fine.
But speaking of descending into your personal darkness…
One mechanic I haven’t had a chance to touch on is a special side-effect of the Drive Forms, which you might trigger any time you attempt to engage some other Drive. This is AntiForm, and it’s a special Drive Form that appears when you’ve been abusing Drive Forms in the past. The mechanics are worth understanding: every time you enter a Drive, you gain a point towards AntiForm. Once you reach your fifth point, a 10% chance kicks in that you might experience AntiForm every time you use a drive (including the attempt that gets you five points). If you make it to 10 points, it becomes 25%. 25% is technically the max, but there are multipliers for AntiFrom triggering at higher or lower rates in specific battles (especially against members of the Organization). Once you finally trigger AntiForm your points total drops by 4, so it can be helpful if you “get it out of your system,” from time to time. Unfortunately, with such low odds on the average fight, it’s almost impossible to get it out of your system deliberately. Odds say you’ll gain 3 points for every 4 you lose! You also get a clean slate every time you unlock a new Drive form.
Entering AntiForm can be life-threatening. First off, it absorbs both party members, even if they’re not Donald and Goofy. It turns you into a hunched, Shadow-like figure not unlike Anti Sora from KH1, but stuck in a stoop (not unlike the quadrupedal Shadows from CoM, come to think of it). You cannot collect HP Orbs or EXP in this form, and can only attack with your claws, which is almost completely ineffective in terms of damage output. You have awful defence, and have access to almost none of Sora’s usual abilities and Reaction Commands, never mind that the Form’s air combo finisher is Dark-aligned and a fair number of Heartless are strong against Dark (despite this being the only Dark attack in the game that I’m aware of? Nevertheless, this is how I’ve seen others describe the attack). Weirdly enough, if it weren’t for these downgrades, AntiForm would be an upgrade: it moves and attacks at high speed (making up for the low damage output at least partially), and has the ability “Anti Glide” to dart behind enemies not unlike the Dusk’s Reversal Reaction Command., but can be used anywhere you want! Just like I said I wanted, but at even further range!
This mix of bonus and penalties leaves the player with a number of strategies. You could attempt to fight your way out, or at least fight until AntiForm’s Drive Gauges exhaust, but your lack of damage will hinder you. You could use Anti Glide and your speed to keep enemies distracted until you run out of Drive energy and revert. Alternately, if you’re in a normal battle you could simply flee the scene: the game will let you revert manually if you’re far enough away and no enemy can see you, the same conditions as reaching the pause menu. Or better yet, you could leave the room! That doesn’t occur to a lot of players, me included, but if you’re not trapped in a boss fight, getting out of AntiForm is as easy as walking out the door! Late in the game, Sora will finally find a way to overcome AntiForm and prevent it from coming back, but for the time being any attempt to gain power by levelling your Drives is going to put you at risk of turning into AntiForm at a bad time. I feel it’s a risk you just have to take. For me, AntiForm is one of KH2’s best ideas and executions.