You return to the ship where Will angsts about being the son of a pirate (one of the interminable cutscenes I mentioned above), when all of a sudden, the Black Pearl is on your ass and you have to repel the boarders. This is a pretty intense battle, with a lot of moving parts, and I like it a lot. Let’s break it down.
You’re still aboard the Interceptor, which means having to deal with all the familiar shadow patches you saw during the previous ambush. Apparently the moon and clouds don’t move in this magic Disney world. But now the Black Pearl is bearing down on you (and also not casting a shadow) and will pelt you with its cannons, all loaded with evil magic cannonballs that can’t cause friendly fire! Funnily enough, the game does have hazards that can hurt good guys and bad guys alike, like the collapsing rocks in Olympus Coliseum, but it’s important for the devs to want you to discourage the cannon fire, even if that meant cannon balls that defy the laws of physics. You see, you can get the Pearl to stop shooting you, by shooting it with your own cannons. Thanks to his protagonist powers, Sora can hit the Pearl with a reaction command attached to the Interceptor’s cannons, which causes the Pearl to back off for a stretch. Unfortunately, Sora’s showy about it and wastes time in a lengthy animation, so you’re going to have to make sure no Heartless are nearby to knock you off your perch.
While you’re at this, you also have to defend the medallion Elizabeth stole from the pirates, which the pirates will steal from Sora simply by landing blows on him, but will hold on to the medallion right until they die! This makes things extra-complicated when they get trapped in shadow, as you can imagine!
Once you survive the game’s timer, the fight ends, though if you’ve seen the film you know that the good guys don’t really “win” this particular battle. In the film it’s a matter of slowly losing the fight from the get-go, but here, Barbossa has captured Elizabeth while you were off defending other parts of the ship.
Will arrives on deck, and is about to reproduce the famous scene where he threatens to kill himself and fall overboard at the same time, a Rube Goldbergian threat that would trap the pirates in their curse forever. This scene always struck me as a little preposterous, even in the original film. Not to be grim, but there’s got to be a parody out there somewhere where Will shoots himself and falls flat on his face to the deck rather than backwards into the ocean. And after Kingdom Hearts 2’s meticulous reproduction of every other scene in the film, I’m taken aback by something surprising: a moment of drastic censorship. In western versions of KH2, Will has a pistol, but even though Will pointed it at his own head in the film (a film most of the audience must have seen, given that it was very recent and explosively popular), western ratings boards balked, and Square Enix had Will standing on the end of the ship with gun casually in hand, not pointed at anything, removing the context for his lines. Oh, there’s a gun, and he does threaten to shoot himself, but it’s like saying “I’m going to press the button!” while walking directly away from the button and casually leaning against the opposite wall. I’m not using that comparison baselessly: Will even jumps down from the rim of the ship as he is threatening to let his body fall into the water, which is true of both of the Japanese version and the international. Wh-what just… happened? The censorship was one thing!
Barbossa agrees to listen to demands, and Will orders everyone but Jack freed, as per the film. He also orders the Pirates to leave. This is a very important part in the film. In the film, Barbossa uses the phrasing of Will’s request against him, exploiting it to maroon the hostages and take control of the whole situation. It’s a great character moment for the antagonist. But here, just moments after one of the game’s most obvious and glaring Disney flubs, KH2 finally does what I wish KH2 was doing all along: it lets the Kingdom Hearts plot influence the Disney plot. Barbossa now proves himself to be an even more capable antagonist by outsmarting Will entirely and winning every piece on the board instead of only some. He bows, and agrees that the crew of the Pearl will leave at once. “…but the Heartless stay!”
The brilliance of this line is that it relies on what’s otherwise a failing of the rest of the game. To make the Heartless a surprise, someone at Square Enix first had to realize that the Heartless were being forgotten in the rest of the game’s plot, and that that was a problem! I don’t know why this only happened on one world, but the Heartless will play a role in the remainder of Port Royal that makes me feel like they were properly integrated into a world for the first time since KH1. There are issues of tedious cutscenes, yes, but between clever mechanics and a rare gleam of an integrated plot, Port Royal is actually in my top five KH2 worlds, in spite of itself. Active, furious spite of itself.
Pete and his Heartless seize control of the situation, and since the game never established that the Interceptor’s blackpowder stores were in danger (as per the film), Barbossa simply decides to blow the ship up deliberately, throwing everyone but Will into the hold to die in the process. Thankfully, Jack escapes his rope and helps the others out, which leads to a fight on the deck where you have to fight off some Heartless, and knock out several kegs of gunpowder in the process, or risk the Heartless detonating the things. That’s clever! After all, what do they care? They can teleport. Again, great use of the Heartless. Unfortunately for the game this isn’t a very engaging segment: you can just bum-rush the kegs and no one ever seems to stop you. The devs must have realized they had a bomb on their hands (hah!), because this is one of KH2’s few battle gimmicks that isn’t reused even once. Thankfully it doesn’t last long, and wasting time is something you’ll notice tends to drive my complaints. In my opinion, the torch-lighting sequence in Beast’s Castle is the ur-example of a failed KH2 segment so far, and I credit that to its pointlessness, tedium, and lack of challenge. On the other hand, this failed powder keg situation is relevant to the plot, quick-paced, and only fails in that it’s unengaging. Not quite so bad when you look at it like that!
Clearing this encounter wins Goofy his Second Chance ability. Aw that’s so sweet, you knew just what to get me!
As you can see, the Interceptor survives the KH version of events where the film’s will not. As a consequence, it will be playing the place of Commodore Norrington’s Dauntless from the film from this point on. You sail back to the Isla de Meurta, getting ambushed one more time en route (how are these pirates performing these ambushes anyways? Especially without informing Barbossa that you’re coming!). You arrive back at the cove and oh shit. It’s another Absent Silhouette, marked with the Foudre. C’mon, crew, let’s just walk on past. If Chain of Memories taught us anything, it’s that trading pleasantries with Larxene is a poor way to resolve a hostage situation. We’ll be back in the wrap-up.
It’s a good old fashioned slog the rest of the way to Barbossa, including a hallway full of explosive boxes hiding chests and monsters alike, if you’re willing to play risk and reward. After one last battle with cursed pirates, this time in a room with central moonlight but a lot of shadows around the rim, you face off with Barbossa. The gang storms in, Donald suddenly announcing that he’s a pirate? And repeating the “not probable” joke from the film with stilted delivery? Pointless repetition of jokes, everyone’s a pirate now… this is a PotC sequel!
Surprising no one, KH2 spends most of the following scene recreating the film… to a point. It does cut a few things, which makes the sequence of events kind of incomprehensible. You’re off doing one thing, and then suddenly Jack is duelling Barbossa, and then Jack is a skeleton despite having no on-screen time to steal a medallion, that sort of thing. I can’t help but feel we lost a combat sequence in the middle here that was supposed to explain the poor editing? Also, Jack is stabbed (by a censored sword in the west) just as Sora cheers him on, which is about the funniest reaction to Sora’s friend-mongering I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, the dev team recovers its footing by having Barbossa break off the fight shouting “Show yourself, Pete! The tide has changed!” as though he had previously given orders for Pete to stay out of it and let it proceed Disney-normally. Hrmph. I can’t decide whether my love of this use of the Heartless gets over my dislike of unmodified continuity?
Pete’s got a good trick up his sleeve this time. He summons a special Heartless to help Barbossa: an Illuminator, which a sort of gecko that spouts shadow from a lantern on its tail. The Illuminator and Barbossa even get to pose together for a minute, Barbossa dire and the Illuminator goggle-eyed: master and chaotic beast. It underlines how Barbossa is in control here even if he can’t directly control the Heartless. And this is how I like to see the non-demonic Heartless: as tools of the strong and ruthless, not clever enough to do their own damage. This is in keeping with KH1’s outline of light and dark, where darkness is personal strength. Barbossa has used the Heartless to accomplish his aim, turning a major Disney villain into an even greater threat, and that’s how I like to see my armies of shadows being put to use, instead of… not being put to use, as is the case of too many Disney worlds. Or in the case of Shan-Yu: being put to use incompetently.
The Illuminator’s darkness doesn’t just give Barbossa the advantage of surprise, but it blocks the moonlight, making Barbossa invincible as well. Thankfully, it’s fragile as a real gecko, but unfortunately it’s not the only Illuminator Pete has in his pocket, and Pete will replace them given enough time.
Barbossa doesn’t seem to be very aggressive in the dark, and you can easily derail him by cutting a bee-line to the Illuminator, so it pays to pay attention to the layout of the room in the previous cinematic. If you’ve gained a level in Quick Run, use its gravity-defying powers every time you have to run off a ledge (or the chest), and it will be all the more humiliating for Barbossa. Once the lights are on, it’s an easy matter to take out Barbossa with Valour Form or even your basic form. The Wiki also recommends a solid Wisdom Form and Limit strategy (your Limit with Jack can be nice), which is also fine. This shouldn’t be a hard fight… that is, if it weren’t for a special and aggravating mechanic.
I don’t know why they decided to do this. If Barbossa kills Jack during this fight, perhaps thanks to… Pete’s magic? (that’s my best guess!)… you get an instant game over. Delightful. To make things even sillier, if we fast-forward a bit, Barbossa will repeat the scene from the film where he insists that neither he nor Jack can die, even though the Keyblade just shredded him to pieces and he had the chance to kill Jack. It’s completely upside-down.
Keeping Barbossa off of Jack can be very hard to do, and sometimes the best you can do is hope they never fight one another! Remember: even though your companions don’t have the same set of AI problems that they did in KH1, they’re still dumb as rocks. You’ll have to rely on Cure’s area effect to keep Jack from dying on you, that or to use a special reaction command that responds specifically to Barbossa’s attacks on Jack. On Standard, Barbossa’s threat to Jack isn’t quite so dangerous, in fact I’ve played the game on Proud and still wasn’t aware of the mechanic until I played on Critical for the Retrospective! But if you are in Critical, watch your partner’s back or you will regret it.
The fight ends, Pete flees, Will and Jack defeat the curse (without Jack explicitly giving his own blood to break the curse, but let’s not dwell on that) and Jack straight-up shoots Barbossa in the chest, killing him. There’s no blood pool like in the film, but I’m shocked the ESRB let this past while denying every other notable firearm sequence in the narrative. Also: Sora! I know Barbossa was a jerk but you threw a fit when Axel murdered Vexen in CoM, are we just tossing that aside now when it’s convenient? I’ve seen the arguments for this this behaviour and I understand them, but I still don’t feel I agree. But what bothers me isn’t so much Sora’s behaviour in-and-of-itself as it is KH2 tossing CoM in the trash yet again. I don’t know when exactly it crossed the line but since I’m getting my hackles up over every time KH2 so much as glares at CoM, I think the breaking point was a while ago.
Winning this fight nets you a Drive Gauge upgrade, wow! Now you have four gauges, meaning you’ll have some left over if you use Valour Form, Wisdom Form or a Summon. You also get the Follow the Wind Keyblade, which is blessed with the Draw abili—ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
All is well, even though Port Royal’s ambient background theme is so dire that things seem almost as dismal as ever. Donald tells Jack to “remember to be good!” and Jack doesn’t even acknowledge that Donald said anything. Hilarious. Also, Will and Elizabeth are united as a couple, which sets Sora to blushing and gets his friends teasing him. Oh, hey, Kairi! I remember Kairi! Wow, that was forever ago, I don’t think she’s been mentioned as an individual (I mean, apart from Riku) since Twilight Town! And that’s… that’s just pathetic!
Oh, and Jack’s compass opens up the gate to the next world apparently. Look, the game doesn’t even care, so why should I? It’s shaving corners off the “gate unlocking” animation because it’s as tired of it as I am! …You know what? Forget it. The game is never going to explain or make it clear what’s going on with these gate keys, and I’m wasting my time bothering. Here’s all that’s going on. Here. That’s it. That’s the whole “gate key” thing once you scrape away the pyrite symbolism.
Starting from this point on, the ship you use to navigate Port Royal is the Pearl, not the Interceptor, which means a few minor changes to the layout when you’re ambushed, not that you have any cursed pirates to worry about any longer. What’s strange is how particular the game is about the ship mechanic: the Pearl remains wherever you left it, even if you outright leave the planet. As a result, you can only land the gummi ship at a save point that connects to the Pearl! Any other game would just… move the Pearl, so long as the plot isn’t ongoing! Is preserving the small scale ambushes that take place after you leave the world really that important?
You can also visit the captain’s cabin in the Pearl and find that Barbossa had cannons pointed at the walls of his own cabin – and not at any portholes! “This only proves Barbossa’s hostile intentions.” Against himself?
If you poke around, you may also find a few unusual encounters in post-plot Port Royal. If you try to mess with the cursed chest, Shadows will spawn all over the place, as though in reference to the curse! It’s not a bad place to train Wisdom Form, though it is out of the way and will be lost when enemies are reorganized at a later point in the game, but it’s worth a visit if you need to grind in the near future. You can also encounter the game’s first Tornado Steps if you revisit Port Royal – most players first encounter them in the upcoming Tournament, but you can find them here if you’re willing to go back to Port Royal so soon after clearing it. That’s what’s funny about the Tornado Steps: they practically never show up in mandatory portions of the game, relegated largely to post-plot Port Royal and to Coliseum rounds, though they do show up in a very brief segment of a later part of the plot. The Steps’ reaction command is a good way to plow through enemies, so they’re honestly more of an asset to you than their fellow Heartless. I’ve already talked about how tie-dyed and garish they look in FM+.
If you bump over to Port Royal proper, you can also play a skateboard mission, a time trial to hit a number of checkpoints. That’s all well and good, but what’s really helpful is how you can use the skateboard to grab a number of FM+ puzzle pieces well before you have the jumping ability to do so!
But yeah, it’s time, let’s go poke the hornet’s nest that is Larxene. Larxene is one of the harder Absent Silhouettes for me. I could beat at least one of the later Absent Silhouettes without any trouble before I could beat Larxene by the skin of my teeth. She favours long combos Sora can’t seem to block, and every time I get clobbered, I felt like I was missing a trick. Then I go online to find… nope! She’s just that hard! Anyone coming here without Once More is asking for extra trouble. Hell, even Second Chance plays a critical role.
Larxene’s primary strategy is to split into duplicates. This isn’t like most video game duplicates, however, where one is “real” and one is not. KH2 provides boss hints if you pause the game during a boss fight, and for Larxene it explains that all of the Larxenes are “real” (a phraseology that would baffle anyone not used to gaming gobbledygook). This means that you don’t have to find the real one and can go pell-mell on any Larxene you can reach, while making sure (or praying) that she doesn’t jump you from behind.
If you happen to nab two or more copies of Larxene in the same combo (specifically, the finishing blow of the combo – I’m not certain if you have to hit them both or if they’ve simply got to be nearby), you will be given the option to use the Merge reaction command, which will temporarily force Larxene into a single copy and give you a major advantage. This is so hard to co-ordinate, however, that it may as well be random. This is too bad, because a well-timed Merge can change the outcome of the battle, and I don’t like deciding factors like that to be so random.
Halfway through the battle, Larxene switches things up, summoning huge lightning bolts, a rotating lightning bar attacks not unlike Hades’ fire bar attack from KH1, and swarm tactics that are even harder to avoid. The lightning bolts are so large that I’m convinced you can’t dodge them without Drive Form upgrades, so fighting Larxene at this point in the game may be incredibly ill-advised without at least one level of Quick Run (preferably two).
In Critical Mode, I had trouble with Larxene at level 50 at the end of the game, with every Drive Forms in the game at an average level of 5. I guess what I’m saying is: you might want to watch your ass here at around level 20, with two mobility upgrades at level 2 at best. She’s not even worth it. Sure, you get a Lost Illusion for beating her, but her synth recipe is for a Thunder-biased defence item, which is only really useful against… herself. Her bonus upgrade for Sora is an MP upgrade and an Item slot for Donald. So her only honest reward was the MP upgrade, huh? That’s… that’s good. Good for you, Larxene.