Where was I? Oh, right: looks like you got the Olympus Stone just in time, because you’re all out of rooms to explore. The seal is just through the door, next to a worrying save point. The seal itself is eye catching, featuring an eerie engraving of Meg in rainbow light around Zeus’ keyhole. It feels like something taken straight out of Disney even though it really is unique to Kingdom Hearts, a bit of that fairy tale magic KH sadly only tries to capture from time to time. It’s so eye-catching you might not notice the worrying dark pillar in the back, though if you do catch sight of it, you’ll realize how effectively the room was constructed and shot, to make sure you see one before the other, and to gradually draw your attention from the glow in the front to the animation in the back. Very impressive. Sora unseals the rock without question, because Hades has done a pretty effective ruse here, and I don’t think I’d have been any more likely to catch on than Mr. “I Tried To High-Five The Beast,” here.
The seal leaves behind a hole in the ground, so in you go, and you find Hades and Pete waiting for you with Meg in chains. I’m not sure Maleficent would approve of Pete doing Hades this many favours without anything in return but it’s exactly what I expect from Pete himself. Hades explains himself and then leaves you with Pete, who announces that with the curse of the underworld in play (he’s behind on the times) you won’t be able even fight him, and the battle begins.
Minor spoiler, but Pete appears in several other games in the series. Funny thing about that, though: the devs have never fundamentally changed the way he battles! This is weird, because he battles with a bunch of explosive marbles, and unless a Disney historian can explain that one to me, I’m going to have to assume it’s a bunch of malarkey the devs pulled out of their ass, NES-style, and kept around forever. Pete even gets outright associated with a pinball machine in BBS! Where did this connection between Pete and ball games come from? Also he’s… not a very good fighter in later games, which goes to show the limitations of copy and paste. Here in KH2, Pete works just fine. The later games seem to have forgotten that Pete was given this combat style to facilitate gimmick battles, not serious brawls. In summary: we’ve got a weird fight that is a little confusing and a lot of pathetic when taken out of context, and the devs decided to cling to it like a precious childhood toy.
At first glance, you might suspect that Pete would fight like a Large Body. It’s not just his build: his jumpsuit calls to mind the colouration of the Large Body, so if you’re like me, you were probably surprised to learn that you could hit him from the front! As I said earlier, most of Pete’s fights in this game are gimmick battles. In this fight, you have to keep poor Meg from being killed by Pete’s Heartless (Soldiers and Hook Bats) as she hops around the arena in chains. The Heartless aren’t a serious threat to Meg if you mind them, especially since they have powerful Reaction Commands. Don’t try to “win” the fight, just keep Meg alive and learn Pete’s patterns.
Pete will keep himself entertained by tossing his weird explosive marbles and occasionally causing shockwaves across the ground. Both of these might inadvertently hurt Meg, but he doesn’t seem to target her intentionally. Every once and a while, Pete might summon a magical barrier around himself, announcing: “That’s right, lunkheads! Pete’s invincible!” This is just a stall for time, arguably here to remind the player that they’re supposed to be fighting the Heartless, not Pete! Very clever! We’ve got a lot of irregular design competence in this world. Alternately, you could knock invincible Pete around the arena like a game of pool, which can be pretty funny. I recommend one avoid using Drives and Summons here. Another fight is right on this one’s tail and another after that. It’s up to you to decide where to drop the energy – personally, I feel this is the least dangerous of the three battles.
After you beat Pete or an invisible timer or flag exhausts (perhaps you have to kill a certain number of Heartless? As Spazbo4’s playthrough shows, you can’t kill Pete here, no matter how many combos you complete), you… wait, hang on. Where are we just now? Is this the coliseum Hades was talking about? It might have seemed that way but you’ll see later that it wasn’t Hades’ arena. Are we… inside the locking mechanism? This raises so many questions!
Once you win the fight, Hercules arrives and stalls for time while you get Meg away. Thankfully Pegasus has navigated the underground just fine (don’t question it) and is able to take her away, though Meg initially resists escape, reminding you that Hercules is practically dead on his feet. Sora goes back in and sure enough, Herc has nearly died fighting petty Heartless, and worse, the cave is collapsing and you have to start a timed battle. Thankfully Hercules can help you, not just with punches but with a reaction command that will cover you both with a barrier. You also gain a reaction command to break Pete’s invincibility. It shouldn’t be any trouble, but of the three battles (including the upcoming battle), this is where I most recommend depleting your Drive Gauge with Chicken Little or Valour Form. Unfortunately, you’re fighting against a visible timer this time (shorter in FM+ than in Vanilla) and you have to win before it exhausts.
Defeating Pete earns you Trinity Limit, which isn’t the game-breaker it was in earlier games and would be in later games, but is Sora’s very own Limit. That makes it the only one he can use without the help of a partner, and that’s helpful enough on its own. However, if he does use it with both Donald and Goofy in the party, it becomes upgraded.
Pete flees the scene after the fight (and presumably the world), but Hades is on subterranean cloud nine, and arrives at the exit of the Underworld to gloat. Sora tries to take him down, but Hades isn’t having it. Hercules isn’t going to let Hades get away with deflecting Sora, and stands right up to Hades to repeat Sora’s taunt. Herc may not be up there with Jack Skellington and Hades for Kingdom Hearts’ character accuracy, but seeing him stand up with Sora, unilaterally, is one of those heartwarming touches KH can be great at. Hades takes him down a peg, however, by telling him the Hydra’s still alive.
(The game has a safe zone here where you can talk to Pegasus. In a preposterous moment, Pegasus uses a speech bubble that contains only narration, even though the game has code to present unspoken narration in safe zones! As a result, it looks as though Pegasus is saying the words: “Pegasus neighs, urging you to go to the coliseum”!)
The Coliseum is in a bad way when you get there. The entire coliseum, the first and so far only true recurring area from KH1, has been levelled. Hercules is so shocked when he sees it that he nearly drops on the spot, his godly gold glow going away, past his normal colours into a de-saturated colour scheme. He starts sputtering about leaving the invisible ghost crowd unprotected. By the gods, their invisible corpses are everywhere! I shouldn’t be harshing this sequence, as it’s actually pretty good, but I’m not going to let that invisible crowd shit go if Square thinks they can get away with literally using “nothing” for pathos.
Also, not to detract from the scene further, but is it weird to anyone else that Hercules, strongest man in the world, is punching the ground and nothing is moving? It’s sand! We could have easily spawned a canned particle effect here (the game used sand particle effects moments ago for the Hydra’s reveal), and that would have been better than the nothing we get, but I’m not sure that would have been enough. I know, this isn’t going to bother many of you, but for me it’s a pet peeve. Generally speaking, PS2-era games and I get along fine, but there’s something about this Source-engine-styled perfectly-flat floors and walls that riles me in the same way as a smudgy Atari 2600 sprite. You can take your fabric physics and your body hair, but to me, box worlds like this were the The Last Great Unrealism of 3D gaming.
So it seems that Hades has won the long game, and Hercules is in no shape to fight the hydra. As such, his friends are left to fight it without him. The hydra fight has multiple stages, starting with the single-headed hydra. You can go to Meg on the left at any time for power-ups, something the game doesn’t properly explain, but just wait, this fight is so user-unfriendly that one problem has become infamous. During the hydra’s first stage, you simply swat at the Hydra’s face until you get a reaction command called “Vanquish” to cut it off. The Hydra then grows new heads, which it sticks into the ground like an ostrich, causing them come up elsewhere like sandworms. Oh, video games.
You kill and Vanquish each of those heads (or at least you hopefully do: the Vanish prompt takes a while to appear and you may have jogged off to another head without realizing you weren’t done!), at which point we come to Kingdom Hearts’ crowning inglory, one of the most infamous examples of shallow playtesting and poor developer relationships with the player in the entire Playstation 2 era. Everyone say it with me now: “GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK.” Now say it with me again! “GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK.” Let’s get an internet-wide chant going! Let’s worry some neighbours, roommates and parents! There we go! Now we’re simulating the experience!
Yeah, in the original KH2, Phil started shouting that you should GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK over and over again until you did what he said or (unless I’m remembering this wrong) a substantial timer ran out and the Hydra got back up. He would not shut up. There was no variance. GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK. Brief pause. GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK. He wanted you to GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK so that he could toss an urn at you and you could deflect it INTO THE HYDRA’S BACK. This reaction command was called “Urninator.” I hate you, Phil.
This makes KH2 one of three games from that era that I’m aware of that are infamous for this exact audio decision. It’s probably the least annoying of the three. Phil is at least conveying useful information, which is more than we could say about Shadow the Hedgehog, where Doctor Eggman shouted “You know what they say: the more the merrier!” ad infinitum, adding nothing to the proceedings. Of course that’s better than Mega Man X7’s Flame Hyenard (yup, him again) who shouted multiple quotes from a series of four clones, all talking over one another so that none could ever stop speaking before they were interrupted by another clone. But let’s not let two worse examples somehow raise KH2 out of the slop – Phil is still infamous for a reason.
Naturally FM+ tried to do something about this famous problem, though their fix is something I find… also questionable, though certainly not as questionable. In FM+, as far as I can tell, Phil will say the line once. Ever. If the Hydra gets back up and you knock it back down, Phil doesn’t seem to repeat himself. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I circled around for a while just to see what was going on (and this was in Critical Mode, so I hope you people realize the risks I’m taking for you). Worse, if Phil’s in the distance, you won’t hear him – either that or they turned his volume down in general and that’s why I didn’t hear him. This is trouble, because if you’re new to the game, GETTING UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK is completely unintuitive (notice how, contrary to KH1, this is the first boss you can actually climb), and the fight won’t proceed until you’ve done it.
Once you’ve Urninated all over THE HYDRA’S BACK (you’re welcome), the Hydra pulls out all its heads properly and, uh, wow. I’m actually kind of impressed the PS2 can pull this off, each head is a real, active “enemy” with a lot of moving parts and a fair number of polygons, considering the era. God of War would do a hydra around the same period, but this Hydra has more heads on-screen at the same time, and has gone through multiple phases without a loading screen, which means the game may not have flushed its memory. I wouldn’t say outright that it’s more impressive than God of War’s, but I certainly didn’t expect the seamless transition!
The game gets even more impressive once Pegasus shows up (once again, it’s easy to miss the prompt to go to him because sound fades with distance – realistic but sloppy). Pegasus will fly you through the heads in a series of reaction commands, which is also visually impressive, even if it does weaken the general quality of the boss battle. Otherwise you can just jump up swatting at the heads until you get another Vanquish command and Sora finally clues in to attacking the body. All-in-all, this is a snazzy fight ruined by the Phil portion, no matter which version you’re playing. King Mickey is in this fight, but with the battle’s reliance on Reaction Commands, he’s not a huge help. KH2 really front-loads Mickey’s ten encounters (we’re actually on number five, since the Shadow Stalker/Dark Thorn and Cerberus battles also counted), which leads to a setup where he’s often not where you need him but just as often exactly where you don’t.
Winning the fight gets you Thunder. Thunder is now a single-target long range spell that strikes from the heavens, meaning it’s faster and more accurate than KH1’s Fire could have ever hoped to be, so long as you’re not under a platform. Plus it does splash damage, in greater and greater radii as you acquire upgrades. Well, that’s it folks, say goodbye to Blizzard, it had its day but its day has ended and its sun will never rise again. True, Thunder lacks Blizzard’s piercing properties, and like in KH1, you’ll get Blizzards’ upgrades before Thunder’s, but who cares? Hell, it might make you forget Fire, too, depending on how you play!
Hercules is in a bad way after the fight ends, though everyone tries to pass it off as exhaustion, which is… not helping. Now instead of looking depressed and helpless, you look even more physically helpless! Goofy tries to soften the blow by saying: “There won’t be any games for a while, anyway.” Goofy, you insensitive prick! Hundreds of invisible people are dead!
All of a sudden, Sora announces that they “have to hit the road.” Even though we… haven’t found the gate thing and seem to have completely forgotten that that’s important. Was this concept added in post? Thankfully, Sora remembers to return the Olympus Stone (Hercules can barely stand to retrieve it), and it starts glowing and he opens a gate. Then Sora… stops trying to return the stone? Because he still has the damn thing, and keeps it until the end of the game. Look, I don’t know. This is a double mess. Hercules, exhausted, just sort of watches them go.
Well. That was depressing.
Back in Villain’s Vale at Hollow Bastion, Maleficent is talking to Pete. I believe that this is a flashback to when Pete arrived at Villain’s Vale during your visit to Hollow Bastion (I have a few reasons for this, least among them the fact that this conversation arguably leads Pete to Hades in the first place). She asks where the rest of her council of evil is, and I don’t quite understand why she’s asking. She does remember that most of them died, right? Two of them are dead, and one is trapped in a lamp for eternity. Is she just that trumped up on her own ego that they’d come back to life to greet her? Or is she just pissed off at Hades and Hook? …Riku? Weirdly enough, she later will imply that she didn’t remember one of them was dead, but that section is hard to take seriously for reasons that… well, you’ll see. Pete tells her about the Organization (which, if you think about it, doesn’t explain her minions’ absence in-and-of-itself), and Maleficent asks for a recap of what she’s missed while she was dead. Well just go to my blog why don’t you!
Meanwhile, in Disney Castle (oh hey! Disney Castle!), Queen Minnie meets Chip and Dale, who are frantic, and they explain that there are “sharp thorns everywhere” in “the Hall of the Cornerstone.” And this is the height of pedantry for me, but we later learn the Hall of the Cornerstone is behind a secret passage under the royal thrones. Why were Chip and Dale even in there?
Minnie goes to the Hall, though we don’t get to see any details quite yet, just a single large bramble thick as a tree. Minnie calls out to Donald and Goofy of all people, and we soon learn that this isn’t errant: when you return to the world map, Disney Castle is there waiting for you.
One neat touch to the Disney Castle reveal is that the game also does a pan on the map screen to show you’ve completed the right “arm” of the map as complete, and it’s a nice touch of polish. Disney Castle starts off the left arm of the world map, and roughly analogues to the Traverse Town revisit of KH1 before the second set of worlds.
Should you ignore Queen Minnie’s summons (and sure enough, dialogue at Disney Castle confirms she did, in fact, magically call for you), you’re able to do a few more things at Olympus Coliseum. First off you can go chat with Hades in his throne room, which is awfully cordial of him, not that it accomplishes anything. But hold that thought.
Even though the Coliseum has been levelled, Phil is still able to hold his training mini-game if you talk to him. You can now also find another Mushroom XIII, No. VI. This Zexion cosplayer uses Zexion’s ability to create illusions to duplicate itself around the room, with a target time to clear the dupes in 45 seconds. And speaking of Zexion…
Yes, Demyx’s clues about the Absent Silhouttes were implying that “Absent Silhouette” book contains the lingering spirit of Zexion, and if you challenge it, there’s going to be a fight. It’s not clear exactly what the Absent Silhouettes actually are, as far as the KH mythos is concerned. It’s probably best not to think about it and just to call them “bonus content,” but sadly, something related is going to anchor them at least partially to canon, so if you’re of the sort to theorize, go ahead. Perhaps they’re the remnants of the oft-unexplored “Soul/Mind” part of the “Body-Heart-Soul” trio, but that’s neither here nor there.
Actually getting into the fight with Zexion is hilarious to me. First off, the option you choose from a dialogue prompt to cancel out of fighting him is “Who cares?”! That’s amazing! If you check out the Silhouette, Sora, Donald and Goofy find themselves in Zexion’s illusion of the destruction of Destiny Islands in CoM, and he shows up behind them. He then takes out his Lexicon, and even though Sora and the others have never met him, and no one else has ever tried to murder them with a dictionary, they arm themselves immediately. “He pulled a book on us!” “Kill him!” The boss music is especially nice: “The 13th Reflection,” shared with the other Silhouettes.
It’s probably worth saying not to underestimate the Absent Silhouettes. While they’re not post-game bonus bosses, they’re not necessarily level-appropriate for the time you find them, either. Zexion’s boss battle is no party. He has a special attack that will hit the first person in a straight line and transform them into a book. If that’s Donald or Goofy (and he’ll target them exclusively at first, though you can still get in the way of the shot), all you have to do is free them by destroying the book. And you’d better hope you do, or Zexion will run out of alternate targets and come after you one way or another! Believe it or not: that’s almost all there is to the basic fight with Zexion, besides him running away and doing a few combos. Hayner put up a better fight than this! But once Zexion finally hits you with the book, that’s when things get crazy.
Inside the book, you wake up in a vortex world surrounded by books and your allies. One of the books is actually Zexion, but don’t move too fast, as the books will quickly seal your command bar, and not unlike the fights with Ansem and the Unknown in KH1, if you jam the wrong button, you’ll pay for it. But Zexion is far more complicated than anything Ansem’s Guardian ever did to you. Instead of locking down your command list in the corner altogether, he floods it with… synonyms. The fiend! Some of the commands represent beneficial options, for example “Mend” will cause Sora to spawn HP balls, but most will harm you. It’s your job to dodge attacks from the books while furtively trying to find a command in your menu that will unlock your controls (and/or heal you, if you’re in a pinch). Even then, you still have to fight the books, trying to find Zexion while hoping they don’t seal your commands again. Infuriatingly, the “you must land a critical hit or magic to kill a boss” rule applies to this book-Zexion, so you might end up totally screwed because you have a long combo, multiple times.
All-in-all, you can see why you don’t want to get trapped in the book, but Zexion’s not going to take your petty “dodging” lying down. I’m fairly certain he’s able to snag you into the book automatically at set points in the battle (though I might be mistaken about that). As the real Zexion loses health, the book phase of the battle gets more aggressive by adding what I can only call a “spotlight attack,” wherein the books summon a set of red and blue spotlights and play musical chairs with them, trying to see if you can get safely to the blue one. If you fail, you’ll be electrocuted, probably to death. Later on, the books open the book phase with an area attack that lands all-but automatically when you enter the alternate dimension – I’m not even sure you can dodge it at this point of the game, with only one (in this came useless) mobility upgrade available to you.
That all said, Zexion isn’t able to defend himself, so when you are out of the book, it’s easy to clobber him. Just try to avoid being caught again!
Clearing Zexion removes the Absent Silhouette icon from the game. Your prizes for winning are an item slot for Sora, a ho-hum ability for Goofy, and a Synth recipe for the “Shadow Archive,” an accessory that resembles Zexion’s Book of Retribution. He also gives you a “Lost Illusion,” a synth ingredient required for the recipe, and if you want more, you’re going to have hold your horses, because they’re only available from Absent Silhouettes and – yikes – post-game bosses! The only question is: at what point in the game are you going to feel ready to grab them?