Pete runs off to the pier, hotly pursued by, uh… himself. This leads to a great bit of dialog. Past Pete says: “I finally found the pipsqueak what stole my steamboat!” Donald: “Yeah! It was you!” Pete: “Right! Me!” He sounds so proud of himself, too.
The past Pete corners the future Pete on the pier, where present-day Pete has set the Cornerstone up in a wooden cage towed behind the steamboat. It seems like Pete has used the Cornerstone as an excuse to get his steamboat back, and thus his past. This is his real objective, but I can’t imagine how he’s going to explain this blunder to Maleficent.
Future Pete knocks out his past self, and makes off with the steamboat and Cornerstone of Light. But like I said, the Cornerstone is the original Idiot Ball, and not only does Pete not leave in a clean getaway, but he simply goes to the opposite shore and starts throwing trash at you, which you can deflect back at him and eventually knock him out. Oh, video games.
Once you’ve knocked Pete out, the ship swerves back to your side of the river, and a hook swings off the tugboat. Your objective is now to break the Cornerstone’s wooden cage, which is best done by using a reaction command to grab the hook. True, the hook will swing back if you don’t hit another reaction commands every few seconds, but bear in mind that Pete is unconscious and there’s no real threat to this half of the battle. In Critical, the cage has such low HP that you’re likely to break it before Pete recovers even once!
The scene that follows is a mess. Let’s get this out of the way first: Pete ends up in the river, and gets away while the heroes once again ignore him. That’s still funny, but… the rest. First off, besides conking Pete on the head, what did we actually accomplish here? The game has you breaking the top of the wooden cage, so the Cornerstone is still 100% secure. Pete could still get away with it. We also haven’t even touched the boat. The Stone is so well balanced and the ship in such good condition that, when the world is cleared, the cast sail away with Cornerstone in its current condition! This fight shouldn’t have stopped Pete at all, and yet breaking an unrelated wood cage seems to have somehow broken the boat? T-temporarily? Or at least, that seems to be the implication of the clacking sounds being made by the ship? I think the development teams aren’t talking to one another again.
But it gets worse. Donald announces with surprise: “It’s the Cornerstone!” It’s the Cornerstone? The cage has giant gaps and it was clearly visible, and even if it weren’t – even if it were in a solid box – ask yourself why we would have been trying to break the cage in the first place? How many re-edits did this part of the script go through? My best guess is that in an earlier draft, you originally attacked the ship, and maybe the Cornerstone was revealed inside the ship as a surprise?
Pete jogs off down the road, and you follow, only to find him once again waylaid by his past self. This starts the second phase of the boss battle, this time with Cap’n Pete on your side (like Leon, he is just running his enemy AI with his target list swapped). The battle with Present Pete is multi-staged, though he varies only a little between the stages. No, it’s the arena that shifts, as Pete will announce “Time for a change!” and cause the arena to take on aspects of one of the four window-worlds, leading to a five-stage battle in all. Pete himself is little changed from Olympus Coliseum, though you don’t have Hercules with you this time around. Now you have to get used to past-Pete, who is generally helpful but can be a liability if he’s knocked on his ass, as his shockwaves will still hurt you (you can accidentally attack past Pete, as well!). You also have to deal with the various hazards that change depending on the arena: live flames from the firefighter segment, the black hole, the Lilliputian cannon towers will shoot you now (and present-day Pete, if you’re lucky) and the Construction Site springboard works more-or-less unchanged, making for a bizarre, trampoline finale.
Pete runs off in pain after the battle, and summons his exit door right in front of you, because if it’s not clear already, he’s not very bright. Sora locks the time door behind him, ending Maleficent’s time travel plot in its tracks. Captain Pete asks you if you want to help pilot his ship, since his deck hand, Mickey, is missing, and everyone gets to ride in a boat. Oh, and Pete apologizes to you for some reason, the person who accused him without evidence and attacked him with a weapon. Whatever you say, Kingdom Hearts 2.
The world officially ends after Donald proves so eager to change the past that they have to drag him out kicking and screaming.
Back in Disney Castle, things also wrap up quickly. The room is clear of thorns (and looks stupidly large without them, but that’s normal for Disney Castle), and Daisy arrives for a cameo. And it seems… Donald never once mentioned Daisy to Sora in all the time they knew one another? Lastly, Merlin just leaves the Timeless River door open, so you can fuck around with the past why not.
By the way, if this attempt into Timeless River really was Pete’s “last chance” with Maleficent’s organization, why is he still working for Maleficent after this? This it makes her look completely toothless. This is the first example of what I meant when we introduced Pete and said he did damage to another character: his boss. I stand by this, though don’t worry: Maleficent will have a chance to do damage to her own character before too long.
And with that the world is complete, and both Disney Castle and Timeless River get their title cards a second time to show everything is done. Huh. That’s weird. We didn’t see that use of a closing title card on any other worlds…
Oh boy, we’ve finally got a good-old fashioned world-clearing bounty. I felt like there hasn’t been much of a reason to do these wrap-up sections the way there was in KH1, but we’re finally sitting on a treasure horde.
Clearing Timeless River gives you three prizes automatically. The first is the Reflect spell. This is a defensive spell, and is the kind of spell the average player… never really uses. But you should, because it’s easily the most powerful spell in the game! Its use is very particular. Casting the spell causes a shell of magic to spawn around Sora. Should an enemy strike the sphere, not only will Sora take no damage (though this can be tricky with an enemy combo, you may want to cast it more than once), but after the damage stops and you stop casting the spell, the sphere will fire off a spread of reflected damage in all directions. Its range isn’t that great at the “Reflect” level (compared to Reflega), but high-level players rely on this move to survive and cause serious damage, so it’s worth taking the time to consider Reflect during boss fights. Remember! This game has four possible spell-slots if you’re not using items, so unless you’ve got a particular strategy in mind, and since there’s little reason to use both Blizzard and Thunder, you can easily equip most of the spells you’d want at any given time!
The second prize is the Monochrome, a keychain. The Monochrome gives you… Item Boost, one of the least impressive abilities attached to a Keyblade. I’m not even being controversial in saying that: every single party member in the game but Donald starts with Item Boost, and Sora gets it very, very early depending on his setup, so it’s clear the devs thought of it as a basic-level ability. The Monochrome’s real benefit seems to be that it has boosted magic without subtracting from the Kingdom Key’s baseline strength of +3. I feel that if you really wanted a magic Keyblade, the Monochrome doesn’t stack up to the Hidden Dragon’s MP Rage ability, but to each their own.
But to me, the big prize is the long-awaited second Drive form for Sora, Wisdom Form. For starters, your AntiForm points are cleared and your Drive Form max level goes up – congrats. Wisdom Form is magic-focused, requiring Donald for use. It turns Sora’s clothes blue, and this is a bit of a digression, but the drive form clothes change colour because the three fairies couldn’t argue over a colour for Sora’s clothes, right? That’s the joke they’re going for. So we’ve got red Valour Form for Flora, blue Wisdom Form for Merryweather, and green… nothing, for Fauna. None of the remaining outfits are green. Huh.
In terms of capabilities, Wisdom Form is probably the weirdest of Sora’s Drives in that it fundamentally alters the way he moves and attacks. Instead of walking, Wisdom Form… skates! across the ground. It’s as though you’re on roller blades, and it’s one of the fastest ways to move from place to place. Your mobility upgrade, Quick Run, adds to that: tapping Square will have you pirouette forward. Quick Run is sort of this game’s replacement for Dodge Roll, although it seems to have very few fans. One weird thing about Quick Run is that it ignores gravity while in play: Sora will keep moving horizontally if you spin off a ledge, or even down a slope. Even if you don’t like Quick Run much, you might be interested in Wisdom Form’s secondary skills. Wisdom Form’s secondary skills for default Sora are MP Rage and MP Haste, which is a much bigger honking deal than Valour Form’s Combo Plus.
On top of this, Wisdom Form changes the way spells perform when you cast them, generally as a positive, and has enough MP Rages and MP Hastegas to fly the gummi ship all on its own. It’s got a spherical shield when you use Block, so you don’t have to concern yourself with direction. But the weirdest part is yet to come: Sora cannot use the Attack command while in Wisdom Form, as it transforms to a “Shoot” command that has him pelting light from the tip of the Keyblade like an automatic rifle, complete with overdramatic dives and flips if you happen to be in motion at the time. It’s an interesting form of attack to use, especially since it counts as magical and can hurt enemies like Large Bodies from the front, but hardly does any damage and becomes frustrating before too long.
You might think Wisdom Form levels up somehow in relation to “number of spells that hit enemies,” like a magically-aligned Valour Form, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. Wisdom Form doesn’t level up depending on your use of abilities at all. Instead, it cares about how many Heartless you’ve killed. It doesn’t care about the size of the Heartless, leading to Return of the King moments where you kill a boss only to learn that “That still only counts as one!” You also can’t get away with defeating Nobodies or, for that matter, enemies from Final Fantasy or Disney. If that’s got you thinking “Where was the largest, weakest group of Shadows in the game?” then good, that’s the spirit! Later in the game, after enemies are repopulated like in KH1, the answer will be “Timeless River,” but for the time being, Timeless River is at the bleeding edge of difficulty. How about a leisurely skate around Olympus Coliseum for Rabid Dogs and MP-granting wisps sound?
One of the problems with Wisdom Form is that it doesn’t have the option to levelling through casual use like Valour Form and Summons. You must fight Heartless, and not every Heartless is ideal. Instead, it opens the door to “Finding weak enemies and grinding off them because you don’t have any choice.” Long-time Marathon Journal readers will know I hate arbitrary grinding, and this is no exception, though it tends not to bother me as much simply because Drive Forms training doesn’t take quite so long as grinding in Final Fantasy. I don’t like sparing time to grind in a Final Fantasy game because it can take a half hour or an hour, or more. With Drive Forms in KH2, I don’t feel the need to grind for more than ten minutes at a time.
The real biggest problem with Wisdom Form is that Wisdom Form itself is questionable. You can cast magic faster, but not one but two later drive forms cast magic arguably better than Wisdom Form, so once you’ve got one of them, you may not go back to Wisdom Form at all. Wisdom Form makes you fast on your feet, but why would you want to be when you’re already fast on your feet as default Sora, and when Wisdom Form levels up by killing tightly-packed Heartless groups, which only happens if you stand still? Square Enix seems to have copped to Wisdom Form’s failings: many of the Mushroom XIII introduced to FM+ seem to rely on Wisdom Form to defeat them, which feels like an admission from the devs that they failed to make Wisdom Form succeed in the normal game.
Speaking of the Mushroom Dorks, No. 11 is hanging out where you fought Pete on his boat. Marluxia’s fanshroom is, in Jiminy’s words, “A poor Heartless that’s always being chased by a mysterious number.” Which is to say, it has a counter over its head that measures the number of times you’ve hit the mushroom in combat (I’ll admit, the Journal joke is pretty funny). You have 19 seconds to empty the counter by hitting the mushroom to win Jiminy’s challenge. This is an ideal place to train Valour Form for FM+ players, although personally, I find grinding Valour Form to be unnecessary, since bosses tend to do the work for you.
Another prize unlocked by clearing the game’s nominal mid-point is the first Olympus Coliseum Tournament. When you arrive at the world, Auron comes to great you, and you talk about the unknown “idiot” who unsealed the Underdrome. Haha! It’s funny because you’re an accessory to the sensationalized torture of souls of all moral backgrounds at the feet of a tyrannical despot! Hilarious! Hades’ servants Pain and Panic announce the tournaments have re-opened at the Underdrome featuring a tournament named in their honour. The Pain and Panic Cup is the weakest tournament in the game, so Hades is actually being backhanded, but congrats all the same. Auron thinks this is stupid. “If you need something to do, go help your friends.” Sheesh. Hit it on the head why don’t you. Ignoring the supposedly urgent main quest is a fault of all video game sidequests, but isn’t it a little disingenuous to condemn them and then immediately open one up?
Tournaments in KH2 are different from KH1. Since Tournaments in KH1 were very similar to the main game (except with extra attrition), KH2 got extra-creative. Each tournament gives you special powers at a particular cost, forcing you to level up all your abilities if you want to beat each one. The Pain and Panic Cup is the simplest: you’re allowed to use your full party (not always the case) and have reduced-MP Limits, but at the cost of sealing your Drive Gauge like when you first arrived at Olympus Coliseum. Also, this and all cups block you from gaining EXP, Drive EXP and Summon EXP while participating, so don’t even think about using the cups to help you train your powers.
(The browser-based KHX actually tried to remove EXP from its tournament in reference to KH2, before realizing that that was silly in its framework! They put EXP back in later updates, though I don’t believe they ever corrected the originals out of fairness.)
Besides the return of Hot Rods and the Rapid Thruster swarm from Land of the Dragons, the Pain and Panic cup is only really notable for its boss: Leon and Yuffie’s return team-up from KH1. To be honest, KH2’s reduced difficulty means that while these two have new moves, most of my advice from KH1 still stands: beat Yuffie first, Leon second, watch out for Leon’s Limit Break. It’s the same as ever, they’re not even really trying this time. Abuse your Limits if you aren’t in a rush for healing. Since Limits are at reduced cost, you can easily use a Limit and then heal if you start at full MP.
I can admire some of the work the devs put in to the tournament. Because the tournament is in set arenas, they get to be a little more… cute, about enemy deployment. For example, one round in the Pain and Panic cup lures you to the middle with a low HP Rabid Dog only to surround you with Aeroplanes once you kill it, putting you almost invariably in the middle of their formation!
The music that plays during Tournaments is “Beneath the Ground,” one of my favourite combat themes in the series.
The prize for the Cup is incredible in Vanilla: the Lucky Ring. This item boosts random drops and should probably remain equipped on a party member from here to doomsday. I recommend Sora so that it never leaves the party. FM+’s treatment of the Lucky Ring is considerably different, so the prize for clearing the Pain and Panic Cup in FM+ is a boring Protect Belt. Don’t feel so bad. The Protect Belt used to be the prize of the second tournament, where it was even more boring. As an additional prize, the trophy goes on display, placed in a boat that looks like it’s going to topple over at any second. Thanks Pain and Panic, I feel real grand about that.
Tournaments also have Jiminy yanking your chain for his usual, inscrutable reasons. This time, Mr. “Dance for my Pleasure” Cricket wants you to collect score orbs in the arena to get a score of 2000. I’ll be honest with you: I’m not clear on what does and does not trigger these orbs to appear. The last spell you earn in the game does a fair job if you’re having trouble, and there’s a Summon that absolutely breaks the bank in tournaments where you can use Summons, but that’s all I can tell you.
And finally, finally, we get to work with that set of Torn Pages.