Heyyyyy, WordPress informs me that this is blog post #200!
In one of Square Enix’s wisest decisions, “Mickey Mouse Club March” only plays for a little while before it’s replaced by a tension theme. The March comes back after you’ve cleared the world, but if you’ve played your cards right, you’ll never need to come back to the rooms where it plays for more than a few seconds! I thought you’d want to know that up front. Birth by Sleep, consider this a slap in the face. The March is no “It’s a Small World,” but I’m not a fan when it’s on loop, let me tell you.
You arrive in the Gummi Garage at Disney Castle, dutifully reproduced from the original and looking even blockier in the context of KH2’s graphical improvements. Chip and Dale meet you there and tell you that Queen Minnie needs to see you urgently, and you soon find out why: there are Heartless in the castle.
It seems the Gummi Garage exists directly under the topiary garden where we first saw Goofy in KH1 (nice conservation of space, but a little wacky). The garden has its exit tucked away in a corner, so you might not spot it at first and might very well finish a loop of the room and run into every Heartless along the way. The fighting here is an absolute brawl. Alongside familiar Heartless, there are the new Minute Bombs. These explosive monsters will blow up after a short (visible) timer, but you can use the Reaction Command “Dodge Roll” to get out of the—oh god dammit, KH2, did you get rid of Dodge Rolling so that you could turn it into a shitty one-time Reaction command? (I’m not sure why I feel things proceeded in that order, but it’s what I felt my first time playing KH2. Imagining some developer going “Why are they rolling everywhere? They should be rolling in response to something!” and it ended up being attached to only one foe.) In the Japanese FM+, the reaction command was renamed to “Switch Roll,” but that wasn’t carried over to the English 2.5.
My complaints about Dodge Roll aside, the Minute Bomb’s suicide strategy makes sense for a Heartless. Think about it: they typically just reform after they die if the Keyblade isn’t involved. Imagine an infinitely respawning army of bombs!
After the brawl, you may want to strip the room of its treasure (“Can’t help, your majesty! I need to rob the place!”). I question storing all these Blazing materials on topiaries, but clearly I’m in no position to manage a magical kingdom. While you’re searching around, you might spot a peculiarity: this Minute Bomb-infested room is actually shaped like a cartoon bomb on the map! Since this room originates from KH1, I’m not sure that was intentional, but it’s funny to me all the same.
Once you do make it out of the topiary garden, you’ll enter the hallway where we first saw Disney Castle, with Donald’s entrance and the gigantic door. This room is home to a special and very memorable enemy encounter. From the moment you enter, you and your teammates will be swarmed by Shadows. They clash delightfully with the white stone floors and walls, and they just keep coming in a swarm as you make your way from one end to another. This would be tedious if you were forced to do it more than once, but the game temporarily replaces it with a one-time encounter the next time you’re here, and you’ll have no reason to come back before the room is cleared entirely at the end of the world. It’s essentially a one-time encounter that’s all in good fun. Even the removal shows a flash of genius, because it happens just as you get a new Drive Form that could have used the Shadows to cheese to max level in no time (as I and many others have lamented in the past). Someone was on the ball with what would have otherwise been simple corridor!
That isn’t the only thing of note in the corridor: the giant door to the throne room (from the KH1 opening sequence) now has a force field in front of it, with a Mouse symbol in the middle. I guess the heroes can set these damnable things up as well? You carry on down the hall to the library you might also remember from the KH1 opening sequence, where Queen Minnie is hold up with a number of the magically animated brooms from Fantasia.
By the way, the game’s first set of Torn Pages is waiting in the room (yes, the page items are pluralized this time), so like a good hero, I left the scene immediately. “Can’t help, your majesty! I need to read a children’s storybook!” Like in the KH1 retrospective, I’ll cover 100 Acre Wood segments in the wrap-up.
Minnie is the picture of politeness. The whole series treats the Mouse-regents like saints and it can be a little too much at times. Donald and Goofy introduce Sora, who has no idea how to behave in front of a queen, and it’s cute. Donald asks how the Heartless got here, and to my surprise Minnie is only now realizing that these are the Heartless. I’m surprised she didn’t reach that conclusion on her own, but she must have only heard about them through letters from Mickey. …and, I guess, eye-witness accounts from Huey, Louie and Dewey, if the devs even remembered that those three came back to Disney Castle at the end of KH1. Which I doubt.
Minnie asks the trio to come with her so she can so them something, but somewhere in the process the devs realized Donald and Goofy either unbalanced the upcoming scenario or that they couldn’t be included for technical reasons, so Minnie announces that she needs to “warn everyone else in the castle about the danger.” Everyone else who are hiding in rooms that don’t exist. About the danger that must, by now, have flooded to every corner of the world because that’s how Heartless operate. And there is no mundane means to keep Heartless out of any one location, making the value of a warning questionable. To make matters worse, when Minnie is brought to the force field, she says she sealed it “when the trouble started,” implying the trouble started some time after she visited the Cornerstone, but still long enough ago to use that phrasing, but she’s only remembering the others now? No, no, it’s okay devs, I don’t see the seams at all!
(Once again, I suppose we come to the issue of how time passes in Kingdom Hearts, but I honestly do feel there must be a few days of travel between each world. The story doesn’t generally hold together if you assume the events of Kingdom Hearts really take place in the forty/fifty hours of real-world play time!)
This leaves Sora alone with the Queen, and another memorable gameplay section. The walk halfway down the hallway to the Throne Room serves as your tutorial. On the surface, this is an escort mission: Minnie has her own Health bar, and you can order her to follow you at any time. Thankfully, Minnie is much more capable than the average escortee in video games. Not only can she use Pearl, like Mickey, to assist you from a distance, but if you come in close, she can combine her power with yours to use the ability Faith. Faith is essentially Kingdom Heart’s version of one of Final Fantasy’s most powerful White Magic spells, Holy (in Final Fantasy, Faith is typically a buff rather than an attack, introduced in FFT). And hey, remember that Pearl was an old localization of Holy as well? So she has two Holys that work in completely different manners? Try not to too hard about that, but I think it’s a clever use of a limited pool of names!
Of course, it’s my job to think about things too hard. Minnie’s incarnation of Holy is a little less stylish than versions of Holy that appear in later games (or even the one in CoM) but mechanically it’s a blessing from Disney World, with absurd knockback power. This not only makes your escort mission easier than almost every escort mission in history, it makes one wonder about Minnie Mouse herself. Whenever someone wants to play that age-old nerd game of “who’s the most powerful in the series?” I like to throw Minnie’s name on the table. She’s certainly the most powerful White Mage in the series. In Kingdom Hearts, the strength of Light is tied to your connection to others. By teaming up with Sora, who is essentially a stranger, she can cast one of the most powerful White spells in Final Fantasy, as many times as she wants (and by DDD, she’s levelled up enough to cast it on her own). Imagine if she teamed up with Daisy, or Donald and Goofy… or her husband!
Faith makes the escort mission maybe a little too easy, but oh well, it’s still memorable for what happens next. Minnie lowers the force field on the throne room only to discover that the Heartless got in anyway (it’s not clear how, but Heartless are a bit like vermin, rust or rot. Your best efforts are never enough). The cavernous throne room from KH1 is now filled with a battery of Bolt Towers from the Land of the Dragons, and their long-range attacks make them a threat best treated with Minnie’s Faith. Thankfully they can’t use their long-range attacks on the Queen, though they will try to close with her to use their short-range attacks. Her Pearl will be no use fighting off such high-HP monsters, so you’ll want to keep close to continue using Faith. Technically, you finish this challenge by reaching the throne with both characters, but the easiest way through this room is to clear it of enemies. Minnie and Sora use Faith at their destination (here and in the hallway) as though the devs expected a dramatic finish with living enemies, but believe me, it’s not worth the bother.
Just to rub in that the developers expected the enemies to survive, more come in during the next cinematic, and are only defeated when Minnie opens the secret passage to “the Cornerstone.” This passage moves the thrones aside, and a massive burst of light comes from below and clears out the Heartless. Inside, we see where the light came from: a huge white sphere Minnie calls “the Cornerstone of Light.” Donald and Goofy arrive moments later. Together, you discover things are just as bad as Chip and Dale warned: the Hall of the Cornerstone is full of brambles, and if that doesn’t give away who’s responsible, here she is right on cue!
Maleficent appears in a sort of magical hologram to taunt everyone (remember: this is the first time Sora has seen her since her death!). She explains she’s here on “a property venture,” by which she means “siege.” Maleficent is hammy here (it’ll get worse before it gets better), but since things are going in her favour, I can’t blame her for gloating. It seems the Cornerstone is a major repellent for darkness, able to burn Maleficent even through her magical projection, but the thorns are choking it, and it’s only a matter of time until she takes over one of the greatest remaining strongholds for Light and the good guys. She leaves – cackling, of course.
Minnie has no idea how to subvert Maleficent’s magic – indeed she doesn’t really understand how Maleficent’s thorns even got here in the first place (the game seems to imply the thorns are more of a symptom rather than a cause), so you can’t blame her for being confused. The Cornerstone of Light is the thing that repels darkness, so this is a bit like watching asbestos catch fire before anything else in the house. Thankfully, Goofy and Donald have been klonged over the head by the script, and suggest they talk to Merlin. It’s not an irrational development but it’s a bit obvious that the devs were in a hurry, given how quickly D&G bring Merlin into the picture.
So everyone gets back into the car, and oh hey! For the first time, the map screen gives you the “A new episode has been added!” prompt over Hollow Bastion. It’s time to talk about one of the weirdest structural elements I’ve ever seen in a video game!
KH2, like most RPGs, has you revisiting old locations to find new content. But for some baffling reason, KH2 sees the need to structure these things as “episodes,” even when they’re very brief. So brief that you begin question why they exist as distinct entities at all. …Like this one! What a great introduction to the concept!
You could say “the prompt is just there to show you where new stuff is available,” but KH1 did this generally through dialogue with no problem, and it felt more natural in doing so. In fact, the episode structure seems to have done KH2 a damage, as KH2 often doesn’t supply realistic reasons for Sora to revisit worlds, other than “A new episode has been added!” Sora and friends sometimes act with confusion as to why they returned!
On the other hand, the phrase “episode” does feel appropriate in a different way: parts of KH2 really do feel like they were structured not for a video game, but for a television show. You know: “episodes.” We’re going to be talking about TV’s influence on KH2 before this is over, and the fact that the devs chose to call their story blocks “episodes” is going to seem less like a linguistic accident and more like an statement of intent.
Back to this incredibly tiny “episode” in Hollow Bastion. If you’re like me on past playthroughs, you might see this invitation to visit Hollow Bastion as very convenient. “Oh good, I can go visit the 100 Acre Wood,” you say. Hah! Here’s the whole summary: you start talking to Merlin, he gets impatient, and he teleports you back to Disney Castle. It takes forty-five seconds, and you won’t get a chance to talk to Pooh at all.
Or at least, it should have taken forty-five seconds. The real trouble here isn’t the length of the scene, but the fact that the devs had you go back to Hollow Bastion at all. As a result, the scene actually plays out like this. “Let’s go to Merlin!” Loading screen… A new episode has appeared! Loading screen… Merlin, the castle’s in dange—Long pause on black, presumably concealing a loading screen that is reloading the room you started in and should have never left in the first place. What should have taken just over 45 seconds takes minutes instead! There are so many other ways they could have done this. FudgemintGuardian makes a comparison to the secret door brick in Beast’s Castle: they trimmed that scene down, why not this? That would have made way more sense than this!
And in spite of the scene being forty-five seconds, I still find something to take issue with. It’s certainly not Donald. Donald is hilarious in it, since he’s so invested in the safety of Disney Castle that he’s throwing out all the niceties. No, my issue it’s the fact that Merlin seems to know Disney Castle is in danger without the trio conveying that information, and teleports them back without question! Merlin seems to realize “the castle” is in danger, but that’s not enough information to work with! Which castle? There are two castles in Hollow Bastion alone, and Merlin comes from a world with at least two more! If you were in Merlin’s shoes, wouldn’t you presume they were talking about Hollow Bastion if only for a second? The second where he decides they’re talking about Disney castle? I told you the devs were in a rush, but it’s hard to tell with all these damn loading screens!
(I mentioned/edited this into a previous entry, but Merlin is sometimes said to live backwards in time, which might explain his knowing this, but this has never so heavily implied in Kingdom Hearts, even if it might be in Sword in the Stone. It’s hard to say, but certainly worth bringing up.)
Back at… I dunno, one of these Castles, probably… Merlin says he figured he should check things out himself. By the way, kudos to the sound team for having Donald still babbling on where he left off, there’s something about the way the voice clip is delivered as though it’s fading in from the black loading screen that’s hilarious to me.
Merlin checks out the Cornerstone, and says that things are worse than they may seem. He sets to work by casting a spell that summons a tall white door in the middle of the room, calling it “a gateway to a very special world,” and explaining that the source of the problem is in there. Yes: weirdly enough, the gameplay of Disney Castle largely doesn’t take place at Disney Castle. Of course, that means the process of re-entering the special world involves anot—Loading screen…
Merlin explains this world will be a little more complicated than Sora’s usual slash-and-grab. He says that the bad guys must have their own door to lead to this world, and Sora has to find and lock it so they can’t use it again. And worse, “the nature of that world may tempt you to do something dark. You must resist that temptation at all costs!” Well! Uh. That’s ominous.
Please let me choose a bad ending… please let me choose a bad ending…
With a few more well-wishes, you’re off, and you pop out together on the other side of—