That’s it for Agrabah, but after you clear the first of the two worlds that follow Port Royal, you’re treated to a surprise cutscene. This scene features Pluto in what appears to be the dark cityscape from Deep Dive in KH1. Huh, okay. He spots Axel there (revealing he’s still alive to Vanilla players) and watches as Axel goes into a dark portal. Just then, another portal appears and Pluto is called through this second portal by a whistle. The scene fades out, and then fades back in on… Kairi! The plot has returned! All hail the true plot!
Kairi is here in her new default costume, which due to model reuse and a certain laziness, has been with her for all appearances to date. Hopefully KH3 will finally break the trend and let her change her clothes, but it’s not the worst outfit to be stuck with. She’s standing on the beach, and finally muses “Maybe… waiting isn’t good enough.” No, no it is not. I get where she’s coming from, and there’s very little she can do, but if proactivity wasn’t one of KH1’s themes (especially when it comes to friends), I don’t know what was. Seeing her moping around, doing fuckall about her friends, hits a sore spot for me, as it underlines how little the games have ever allowed Kairi to do after talking so much about making friends and doing the right thing. Kairi doesn’t get to do anything. Poor Kairi has been so sidelined by the writers that she’s learning a key lesson from KH1 two games too late, and it’s almost being treated as though that’s the reason she hasn’t been around? As though the writers are blaming her for her own absence? Maybe I’m just grumpy today, but in the larger, uglier context…
Just then, Axel arrives, and I suddenly realize just how in danger Kairi is, and how stupid everyone else looks for leaving her there unprotected. With the exception of Alice, all the Princesses of Heart have magic and protectors on their side. Meanwhile, the Organization has already tried to manipulate Sora with a loved one, and even if most of the cast has forgotten this, DiZ hasn’t. DiZ is such a control freak I can’t believe he didn’t try to kidnap Kairi himself for “safety’s sake,” but I’m still shooting an ugly glance at the Hollow Bastion Restoration Committee. Leon and friends know Kairi personally and should have considered asking her to join them for safety’s sake. What’s worse is: I would have never noticed this plot point if Kingdom Hearts hadn’t suggested it itself a few games later. Just like how KH2 makes a fool of KH1 with its better production values, bare minimum design concessions like a functional fucking camera, and better voice direction, later games make a fool of KH2 with competent plotting! The worst part of all is that this revelation that people should be protecting the princesses comes from a game infamous for some of its own plotting issues, so what does that say about KH2?
(As for Alice, KHX provides an explanation for why she’s, personally, is unprotected – it’s not a very satisfying explanation, especially in how it’s belated, but it exists!)
Back in the present, Axel is here to kidnap Kairi and he barely even tries to hide it. I mean, Quinton Flynn is full-on 1980s Stranger Danger here and it’s creepy enough to be out of character. Axel mentions Sora, which gets Kairi’s attention, but just then Pluto arrives, about as excited and happy as a dog could be. It’s totally incongruous with the Stranger Danger scene that led up to Pluto’s arrival and that makes me laugh, because that’s how animals work sometimes. Axel keeps his cool on the surface, but it’s clear Pluto’s sudden arrival has made him panic, and he responds by summoning a troupe of Dusks. Another portal opens with another familiar whistle, and Pluto jumps through it. Kairi decides she’s better off away from the creepy man and his army, and heads through the portal, shouting “You’re not acting very friendly!” …Oh yes. Burn. Or as a Twilight Town friend of mine might say: Super burn. And Axel just stands around, still talking dry and uninterested. I don’t want to sit here giving out kidnapping advice, but were you even trying?
Kairi finds herself in one of the corridors of darkness mentioned in the Secret Ansem reports, which the Organization (pure speculation here) seems to have fashioned into a semi-functional hallway made of irregular space and abstract versions of the Organization’s emblem. I’ll try to include a screenshot because it’s impossible to describe. Kairi walks through to the far side of the corridor, seeing a cloaked figure watching her as she goes, but it’s too late to see who it is. She wakes up in the strangest of all places: on the ground in The Usual Spot at Twilight Town, surrounded by Hayner, Pence and Olette.
Well congratulations, whoever organized that rescue. You just took her from one of the least safe planet in existence to an equally unsafe planet the Organization already knows was being used as a safe house for the good guys. I’m barely spoiling anything when I say that Axel finds Kairi almost immediately, and if I were him, I’d feel insulted that I didn’t think to come here the very next second. It’s true what they say: evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.
Twilight Town reappears on the map at this point. The prospect of seeing Kairi again, even if it means an inevitable refight with Axel, might drive the player to check out Twilight Town right away. Why not, right? I bet we’ll only be there for five minutes outside the fight. It can’t be the start of anything complicated. Kairi’s been missing from the series since the late half of KH1, and the game has something like four major plot threads ongoing (the Organization, Maleficent, Riku’s identity, and DiZ), and has completely ignored three and only skimmed the surface of one since the prologue ended. It would be just plain stupid to start a new plot thread about Kairi’s whereabouts, especially since they’d be recycling a plot from KH1 that we don’t need to see again, turning her into a career Damsel in Distress with less playable appearances than Princess Peach. It would reduce one of Sora’s friends, someone who should have been a central, driving character, to someone who essentially adds nothing to the plot and entire series. That’s obviously what would happen if you did that, so clearly they won’t, and Kairi will be added to the plot as a major NPC that will finally put this meandering, aimless game on the rails. R-right? Folks? No one would willingly ruin a central character like that that… right?
As eager as we may be to see Kairi, going straight to Twilight Town may not be such a good idea. The Battle Level on Twilight Town is very high. You’re clearly not supposed to go there until you clear the two remaining worlds on the left branch, but the devs recognized that players might want to cut in early, and so the trip only involves a single, extremely dangerous fight. If you clear it, the game will try to tempt you further by setting a full, even more difficult world. If you take the bait a second time, the game will kick you in the teeth. One of the bosses at that second world has a lethal reputation and I’m convinced part of it came from people going to that upcoming world at the first opportunity, instead of clearing out the left branch. Even the easiest games in this series can be hard if you dart into a world ten levels before you’re supposed to be there!
As a result, I am not going to go Twilight Town at this point in the retrospective, no matter what I did in my original playthrough oh so many years ago. In Vanilla, there is really no advantage to jumping ahead, unless you’re feeling an irresistible urge to replay Cargo Climb. In FM+, there is a far more interesting prize waiting for you if you cut to Traverse Town early, but we’re still going to wait, if only to keep the worlds in their intended order.
Returning to Agrabah, we discover that the trophy is in the merchant’s shop. Well that’s nice of Aladdin and Jasmine to pay the man after all. I guess it was shoved down Sora’s pants in the interim?
Clearing the boss fight at Agrabah in Vanilla KH2 unlocks the Explosion Ability, which quite simply, and in plain words, breaks the entire game. It’s a finishing attack (replacing the attack at the end of your combo), which harms all nearby enemies and causes multiple hits worth of damage, tearing apart even bosses. On Critical, you’ll want Explosion around just to help you survive (too bad for you it won’t show up until later in FM+), but on Standard, I’ve gone so far as to leave Explosion unequipped in the past just to keep it from ruining my experience. The game still isn’t hard without Explosion, but there’s “easy” and there’s “humiliating.” The developers must have agreed with me to a certain degree, and they pushed Explosion faaaaaar back in FM+. No, further. Further. They attached it to the last Disney world in the entire game, in fact to the second-last combat on a Disney world in the entire game, and on an optional world to boot. In its place, FM+ players get Finishing Leap, an ability that’s been pushed almost as far forward in the game as Explosion was pushed back! This isn’t really fair, as Finishing Leap is a perfectly acceptable ability that didn’t deserved to be pushed forward like this, but once they moved one ability, I suppose they had to move several others.
Your immediate prize for clearing Agrabah is the Lamp Charm, which allows you to Summon Genie yet again. Genie is one of the more unusual Summons as he does almost nothing on his own. He will heal Sora infrequently (indeed, all of the Summons will to one degree or another, probably to encourage you to use them even though it means Donald will be absent), but that’s it. The only way to get use out of Genie is to use his Limit, which (typically) costs less than the Limits of other Summons in apology, though how much depends which Limit you choose.
Yes, Genie has multiple limits. With his traditional style of reference and mimicry, Genie appears to Sora dressed up in his own Drive Form and wielding his own “Keyblade” that comes from his tail. As you gain Drive Forms, Genie gains entries in a special “Drive?” menu that appears on your command bar. Genie’s Valour Form Limit is “Sonic Rave” (an inconsistently translated “Sonic Blade”) and is used to attack enemies at short range, while his Wisdom Form Limit, “Strike Judgment” (you guessed it: an inconsistently translated “Strike Raid”) tries to fire projectiles. Unfortunately, Strike Judgment has a bad habit of shooting the floor if you’re on any sort of incline, so I’m not very fond of it. Genie gains additional Drive? Forms as Sora gains new Drive Forms, though he didn’t gain a new one to match Sora’s FM+-exclusive Drive Form.
FM+ also introduces a new Mushroom. Mushroom V hides out in the Cave of Wonders’ treasure room, and yes, the room still has weird collision detection, which is probably why Mushroom V was put there instead of any of the other Mushrooms: it barely moves, so you don’t need to interact with the funny room. Mushroom V imitates Lexaeus’ resilience by going into an HP-restoring trance. This makes it one of the few Mushroom XIII where your stats matter instead of simply your Drive Form levels and personal technique, and as a result you won’t be able to clear it at this point in the game no matter how hard you try (thankfully, there is a surefire technique, it’s just not available at the moment). But that doesn’t make Mushroom V useless. In fact, Mushroom V is a great resource for anyone wanting to restore their Drive Gauge or train Valour Form, since you can wail on it almost in perpetuity by leaving the room and coming back. It almost feels unfair, but when a game gives you hideous, black, fungal lemons, you should make… uh… you know what? Forget this analogy. This analogy was a mistake.