After the fight with the Prison Keeper, you get a cutscene that finds Santa Claus lost in the woods of Halloween Town. Mr. Claus, I just talked about how this world is a corridor, and the forest is a mostly wide-open field with one exit, you’re kind of humiliating yourself right now. That said, the game pans exclusively across one patch of trees to hide these obvious facts, so credit to whoever shot this cutscene for doing the best with what they were given.
Just then, Sally arrives from behind a tree, saying “I was hoping I’d find you here.” In the woods, in a dimension not your own, near nothing at all. Sally wants to talk to Santa about Jack, but they’re interrupted by Oogie Boogie, whom Maleficent has sent to kidnap Santa. She adds: “Then begin destroying Christmas Town! […] And in the meantime, I’ll turn Santa Claus into Santa Heartless!” Do you see? Do you see? 80s Christmas Special! And it really seems to be aware of how campy it sounds, so if it weren’t for additional troubles with Maleficent in the rest of the game, I’d probably just give the whole world a pass for being ultra-campy, because it knows it’s here to have stupid fun.
Oogie kidnaps Santa and it’s time for the player to run back to Christmas Town, which means the midboss runs almost flush against the actual boss, Beast’s Castle-style. Along the way, you’ll encounter a new enemy called the Emerald Blues. This is another bell wizard that isn’t really a straight caster like the KH1 bell wizards. This one casts Aero, and has two different spells. Firstly, it can either summon a KH1-style Aero shield and attempt to ram you, which is more effective than you’d expect. It can also summon a huge tornado, one of the largest area attacks in the game, but Jiminy insists it can only do this when the Blues is “alone.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite seem to be the case. Jiminy might mean “alone” as in “the only surviving Emerald Blues,” or it may be that certain enemies don’t “count” (the one time I definitely saw it cast a Tornado while accompanied by another Heartless was in Agrabah, surrounded by irrelevant Icy Cubes). With both of those attacks, Emerald Blues are irritating and dangerous, and not easily taken down with magic, which makes them something of a priority target. That’s pretty surprising for a recolour of a KH1 Paratroopa, don’t you think?
Once you return to Christmas Town, you see some smoke rising from Santa’s workshop, but it’s not a fire: Oogie Boogie is actually messing with Santa’s toy-making machines, turning them into a new death trap lair like he’s so fond of having around. Maleficent is about to turn Santa into a Heartless, but now that Oogie is back on his feet, he’s become so self-centred that he’s forgotten she’s even there and bashes into her (Eamonn suggests he might have antegrade amnesia in the comments). This apparently spites Maleficent so much that she leaves without turning a powerful mythological figure into a Heartless, presumably figuring that Sora will kill him without her help. She’s right.
Sora and the others arrive, and there’s another moment, not unlike Agrabah, where the local characters do everything to resolve the plot while Sora does nothing. This has always been something of a problem but it’s become outright predictable since Port Royal’s over-dependence on photocopying the plot of the film. Long story short: Sally rescues Santa, but Sora and the others fall into the deathtrap.
Oogie’s deathtrap is a lot more complicated on the player side this time around. There are three treadmills, and you’re trapped on them by *nine-second-long sigh* force fields. Do you know what might have been more interesting in a fight against the deathtrap-obsessed sackcloth here? Spikes on the floor between treadmills, instead of force fields. It would have removed the need for an upcoming, boring mechanic while we’re at it. But back to the game that exists instead of the land of imagination. Oogie has rigged the back of the conveyor belts (behind the camera, which is mostly fixed) with spiked grinders like a mulcher, so you don’t want to fall in there. Thankfully the treadmills are usually slow-running, and mostly serve to deliver a number of traps towards the player from the front of the machine. Oogie overlooks the battle from a plexiglass observation platform.
The general flow of battle goes like this. You have to knock gifts being popped out by the toy machine up into Oogie’s platform with reaction commands. This will eventually break the platform, causing Oogie and the force fields to fall, so that you can wail on him. He then gets on another platform that appears from absolutely nowhere. Video games. But before you can knock all the presents up, Oogie will try to make your life difficult, first by mixing in presents that include live Heartless, then by launching attacks with a giant punching glove, his explosive dice from the first two games, and a laser that cuts down along the treadmill, but is locked in position on either the extreme left, extreme right or the centre of the treadmill horizontally. Obviously the constantly-running treadmill makes dodging these a bit trickier than may have otherwise been the case.
After you’ve knocked Oogie down for the first time and done a little damage, the force fields will restore and you’ll be knocked back on the treadmill, which will then go into high speed while Oogie jumps to his new magic platform. The game then introduces a new factor to the battle: Oogie will move to a different conveyor belt. Which just kind of seems like he’s not interested in fighting you anymore, if you think about it? If you’re just going to leave, why not actually—oh, right, I’m not supposed to actually think about the force fields that define every other inch of KH2’s gameplay, and if I do it ruins everything.
To follow Oogie, you have to run to the head of the treadmill (a breeze if you’ve levelled Wisdom Form enough to have Quick Run) and hit a reaction command at the mouth of the machine. But you have to be careful, because the lights on the hatch indicate which treadmill you’ll end up in after the switch. I won’t say this isn’t tricky, but getting sent to the wrong treadmill is only mildly irritating rather than dangerous, making you wonder why the developers bothered. It seems like a very shallow way for the devs to get their money’s worth out of the three treadmills concept: “Sora is forced to move to the front of the treadmill, providing a whole two seconds of additional content.” Maybe they could have had different death traps? Maybe if they had spikes between the treadmills and forced you to jump between them instead of use the chutes, like I implied earlier? And a lot harder, I don’t deny that, but maybe I want that, just once or twice!
For what it’s worth, there is a great boss track playing in the background: “The Encounter,” a theme that’s stuck with Disney bosses in several games to come. Perhaps it’s a little overplayed as a result (DDD seems to agree, as it only uses it for a single boss), but it’s great to hear it the first few times.
Oogie dies, and this time Donald squashes one of his bugs like Jack did in the film. “All right, Christmas is safe again!” shouts Sora. Oh, Halloween Town, at least you’re enthusiastic about what you’re doing.
There are a fair number of things to cover in the ending this time around. Sally just walks in and hands Jack his Santa suit without much preamble, and he puts it on, never taking it off for the rest of the game (this feature was introduced Vanilla KH2, an in keeping with Vanilla KH2, Jack doesn’t change costumes when you return to Halloween Town like the trio). Santa sees this and decides it’s time to give Jack a talking to, and essentially repeats the moral of the original film, which is the sort of redundancy Halloween Town was doing such a good job of avoiding until now!
Santa’s speech isn’t even that good. “Seeing the happy faces of little children when they discover the presents I’ve brought them makes it all worthwhile, year after year after year.” And I’m going to deny you that! You’re only allowed to scare kids, and never experience any other kind of human interaction! No, really, that’s how they choose to phrase Nightmare’s original moral, it… kind of casts a shadow on the entire game segment, don’t you think? “What if someone tried to take that from you?” Santa asks. This part might work for the film, but Jack wasn’t trying to take the role from Santa in this plot! He actually wanted to borrow, with permission, and to work alongside you. Santa has every right not to want to give up his job, but the speech still mostly belongs to the film rather than the game!
Just then, again a propos of anything, the Mayor of Halloween Town comes in, saying he’s been looking for Jack “everywhere!” He just crossed dimensions to do it, I’d say he’s not exaggerating! Just then, Jack’s suit starts glowing and apparently it’s a gate key! It’s a sentimental object important to the plot, so that advances an old theory we haven’t seen for a while… but why is it activating now that Jack is less emotionally invested in it? No, no, it just doesn’t work. I’m certain there’s no rhyme or reason for them activating when they do except the fact that the stage is complete and Mario hit the flag.
Before you leave, however, Santa has one last thing to say. He reminds Sora that the person who told him Santa wasn’t real was Riku, which slots so perfectly into their relationship that I just love it. Santa is bringing this up because… uh… the devs realized they forgot to mention this plot again? He doesn’t seem to have a reason. And on that wobbly note, the world ends!
Clearing Halloween/Christmas Town earns you the last new spell in the game, Magnet. This spell can be cast long-range (important to keep in mind for any veterans of BBS and coded, where the spell is instead cast at your location) and causes enemies to be drawn to magical vortex, unable to move. It also damages them just a little. It can’t pick up the largest enemies, like Large Bodies, but it can grab the rest of them and leave them exposed to further attacks. It’s especially valuable if used alongside Thunder and Thunder’s limited area effect (and just wait until you upgrade Thunder!). Magnet is nearly useless against bosses in my experience, but it’s one of the most useful minor enemy killing spells in the game.
Clearing the world also unlocks Halloween Town’s skateboard challenge. For some reason, you have to talk to Lock on the hill outside Christmas town to start the challenge, but the challenge itself takes place several rooms away, in Santa’s workshop? (Most challenges only take place one room away at most, but this is three, and I often forget where to begin it!) The challenge itself is a score challenge, and very harshly timed. To me, it’s the hardest one in the game, though that isn’t saying much.
By the way, if you check out the journal, you’ll note that devs must have really liked their work in Halloween Town, because a few non-characters got put into the character section of the journal, including the skeletal reindeer and the bathtub!
While we’re here, I should probably mention that Halloween Town has the last puzzle piece for the “Duality” puzzle in FM+, which can be used to unlock an amazing synthesis recipe: the recipe that unlocks the Lucky Ring. This item is absolutely critical for anyone trying to get 100%, and FM+ lets you synthesize multiple copies! Now, this might not be as easy to get these puzzle pieces as I’m making it sound. One of the Disney Castle “Duality” puzzle pieces (the one in the Engine Room) might be tricky with only Valour Form around to help your jumping. Even worse, one of the ingredients for the Lucky Ring is an equally rare counterpart to the Lost Illusion called the Manifest Illusion, which you can’t get at this point in the game anyways.
And now that you have Magnet… ugh… you can retrieve the statue for Ariel in Atlantica.
Sora retrieves the statue entirely off-screen. The trio and Flounder take the statue to the grotto, where they show it Ariel. She ecstatic, and breaks into song, singing… oh, it’s “Part of Your World!” I like this song! And it’s sung entirely by Jodi Benson, and not Tony Anselmo speaking through a kazoo! No, I take it back, this is okay! I am much happier to be here now, thanks much. And the requirements for the song aren’t insulting this time, even if they are rather low (get five or more Excellents). I take back some of my more recent complaints, carry on.
Even having a good song doesn’t necessarily fix the problems with the mini-game, of course. There’s a new Triangle-based action command to hit in addition to the X-button one from “Swim this Way,” but it functions identically to the X-button icon and doesn’t complicate things as much as the developers probably intended. It’s offset by double actions, where two prompts appear at the same time, with the exact same progress bar, and count double points if you land an Excellent on them, which is just uneven and offset by nothing at all.
There are some bright moments. There is one flip Ariel does that shows how difficult this game could have been, but the “blips” and “bloops” of successful or failed notes bring things back to the ocean floor. The sound effects are just too loud! And yet I can’t find myself hating it. “Part of Your World” shows how much of a mess I’m willing to excuse just to hear a classic Disney song. If they had all been classic Disney songs, this wouldn’t have been a problem! Maybe this mini-game could have worked by showing up on multiple worlds and playing one highlight song from each, with Sora, Donald and Goofy mixed into the visuals and occasionally the lyrics? …Eh, maybe not. I worry the problems with the game would have pulled it down one way or another.
Sebastian spies on this whole musical number, and is worried the King will squeeze the information out of him. This worry leads him to a blunder in the very next scene, when Triton is just talking with Sebastian, and Sebastian panics. Thankfully, he doesn’t reveal Ariel’s secret, but he does over-sell the next musical, promising it will cure Ariel of her obsession with the human world completely. To keep up with his promise, Sebastian writes up something so complicated that Sora, Donald and Goofy can’t sing it. This is our next story cut-off: you’re going to need a Drive Gauge level of 5 to proceed (remember, the player is at 4). Since Sora obviously doesn’t have a “Singing” stat, I feel that’s a fair abstraction of his general ability and works well for this situation. I like it fine. And don’t get any ideas, FM+ players: you can’t get Drive Gauge upgrades from optional sources until you’re already past Drive Level 5 from mandatory sources!