You head to Wildebeest Valley – the southeastern Kokori Village to Pride Rock’s Hyrule Castle – and find yourself at a deep gorge. Nala is able to leap this gorge easily, and wonders why you can’t do the same. “What’s wrong?” she asks, which is a good question, because this game has no fall damage. It turns out the reason you can’t cross the gorge is because you don’t know the Dash technique, which all lions apparently know. Nala fills you in, rounding out your controls considerably. Dash allows you to dart around the Pride Lands at incredible speeds, faster than Sora is at any other point in the series. Sora slides into turns and nearly skids to a stop, and I think it’s great fun, though it’s not fully fleshed out until you get one more technique later on.
Funnily enough, Dash actually allows you to grab every single Puzzle Piece in the Pride Lands, though the plot might get in the way for the time being. You’ll also be able to grab every Treasure Chest and Map. (If you’re having trouble using the Dash technique to get some puzzle pieces, you can attack in mid-air to buy additional air time. Combo Master helps even more in FM+.) Given the limitations of your single form, I think I’m more willing to accept this than I might otherwise have been. Suffice to say, if you take a side trip back to the Elephant Graveyard at some later point, your journal is going to look pretty tidy by the time you’re done the world.
You descend into the valley, which has been given a few rocks to jazz it up for combat. Or… for you to crash into with Dash, as you please. At the end of the valley, you get a cutscene where Rafiki realizes Simba is alive thanks to the SEX cloud, though he doesn’t even say “He’s alive!” or laugh like in the film. You’d think they could have done that with archive audio, don’t you think? Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, but it’s clear that the right tree has termites.
We cut back to the canyon, where Nala is telling Sora why she thought Simba was dead: because Scar told her so. You know, you’d think I’d be upset by all these plot recaps, but I’m actually kind of impressed by how quickly they’re getting an entire missing half of the movie across to the player, while keeping a KH1-style expectation that you’ve actually seen the film. And credit to the animators and Vanessa Marshall for making Nala quietly ashamed when she recognizes that Scar obviously lied to her. Suddenly, Rafiki catches upto the party (that’s one fast monkey!), and guides them toward the oasis with a potential archive quote (“It is time!”), accomplishing absolutely nothing. We won’t see him again until the finale. No joke, Simba even sees the ghost of his father without Rafiki’s help. What on earth was going on with our favourite mandrill?
You’ve got one more room to cross before the oasis, which follows a winding path through the wasteland and into the jungle, where you are ambushed by Living Bones and their allies, the Shamans. The Shamans sometimes ride the Living Bones, which, in turn, sometimes spawn headless in that setup. In a manner of speaking, it creates three separate monsters: the Living Bones, the lone Shamans, and the Shaman / Living Bones duo, who behave less like Living Bones and more like Shamans with a large HP bar. The Shamans are monkey-like Heartless wearing masks and special staves they will occasionally drop for Donald. They’re also fairly dangerous enemies. The unmounted Shamans can turn invisible and invincible and rush you, while all Shamans can summon fire circles that chase Sora, though he can easily use these fire circles in a powerful Reaction Command so long as he’s in Lion Form.
Outside of the Pride Lands, such as in Olympus Coliseum and in a bonus area in FM+, this fire circle is far more dangerous, as you can’t use the reaction command. Reflect is a good response, if you have the magic for it, but I have to underline just how dangerous the fire circles can be. I’ve seen tournament advice online suggesting that you should use Trinity Limit to wipe Shamans out before they can cast anything at all, and it’s not a bad idea. That goes to show how this has almost wrapped around from “challenge” and over to the shallow side of “broken.” You can avoid these attacks, but that clearly wasn’t part of their design. They were designed to be defeated with the reaction command, and the devs never bothered to make the attack work without it!
I should probably talk about those staves the Shamans can drop for Donald, because they’ve got some interesting details you wouldn’t expect. Because the Shamans were recoloured in FM+, the staff they’re carrying was recoloured as well, and the team went so far as to recolour the item, too! Nice touch! Goofy’s Heartless-dropped weapon (which we’ll be seeing next world) was also recoloured, but they went further with Donald’s, actually changing the Staff’s ability. In Vanilla, the Shaman’s drop is called the Shaman’s Relic, and gives MP Rage, same as Goofy’s weapon from the next world. The devs must have figured this was too powerful to give to the actual caster at this point in the game (Donald now gets an MP Haste staff from the Mushroom XIII), and they replaced the Shaman’s Relic with the Spell’s Relic, which only provides Blizzard Boost. Curiously, the staff wasn’t renamed in the English release of 2.5 and is still called the “Shaman’s Relic,” but I suppose there’s no harm in that compared to other localization flubs. Even with the downgraded ability, the Relic is still Donald’s best weapon for the next chunk of the game, supposing you can get your hands on it. In fact, unless you’re doing synthesis or getting quality weapons from the Mushroom XIII, Donald may very well carry the Relic to the final boss.
The Shaman is the last new Pride Lands Heartless, but later in the game, you can find Bolt Towers roaming the Serengeti. If you ever wondered why the Bolt Towers had faces that were partially off the ground but still close to the ground, you can blame Lion Sora, who wouldn’t be able to reach their weak spot if it were any higher up!
Speaking of the jungle, while you’re there you might even spot the termite mound that featured early in “Hakuna Matata.” This is the kind of minor detail that doesn’t really add much to a world mechanically, but nevertheless adds to that “Disney park” feel that KH1 captured so well, I like it a lot. I don’t really feel that’s true of the rest of Pride Lands, but it’s something that’s lacking in nearly every game to follow, and much of this one for that matter. Better still if Sora had been able to interact with it, if only (in fact, ideally) with a text box.
You make your way across the oasis to where you finally find Simba (Nala has disappeared to go eat Timon and Pumbaa, just give her a minute). Simba is being attacked by Aerial Knockers, and whoa hey. This is an interesting situation: Simba is the only person on this world who knows what the Heartless are! The same was true of Mushu, but we caught up to him before the Heartless. I wonder what that must be like for Simba, I wonder what going through his head? There’s a fanfic in this. Well, we won’t get many answers, because he runs into the trio soon after, and soon recognizes them with a little coaxing. He’s thrilled to see them (a nice contrast to how he reacts to Nala, both early and late) and asks how they were transformed, but will never get an answer as Timon and Pumbaa start screaming off-screen. Simba quickly informs Sora that those are his friends, and everyone bounds into action. “We’ll back you up,” says Sora. Right after I’ve finished raiding this room!
And it’s definitely worth the effort, because TORN PAGES. We’ve gone whole worlds without any! Sadly, this breaks the nice tidy thing we were doing across two games, where all the Torn Pages were found in places where you might find reasonably find pieces of paper, but oh well. Picking up all the chests in this room also completes the Treasures list for Pride Lands, just like in Halloween Town, which… groan. Okay, fine, on one hand you have all your mobility upgrades, so there’s little they could have done to keep you from finding all the chests, but couldn’t they have a put the chest behind a tricky jump or something? Oh well…
Ooh, new weapons at the Moogle Shop! JUST A MINUTE, SIMBA.
Once you finally catch up, the scene where Simba and Nala reunite plays out mostly how it did in the movie, except did you ever imagine a meerkat could have fish-face? Well he does, and even when properly animated, I’ve never seen anyone look so insanely happy to be threatened by death and consumption. Also, there’s a pointless addition here where Ernie Sabella rushes out “Call me Mr. Pig!” like he was under contractual obligation to say it. Here’s an interesting example of how pop culture can remove something from its original context (In the Heat of the Night) to put it in a new context lacking all connection to the original. In fact, KH2 has gone so far as to remove this line not only from its original context but from the context of being a joke! First we had “Captain Jack Sparrow,” then “Just an elected official”… are these rushed, repeat lines from the film supposed to be funny just because they said them in the original films? That’s Friedberg and Seltzer logic. To make the Lion King example even worse, the entire cast does a sitcom laugh after this “joke.” That’s so trite, I’m having trouble wanting to defend the product.
After their stage laugh, Simba glances at Nala, and then leans in to his friends and says in a low, almost sultry voice: “Could you guys excuse us for a few minutes?” Hahaha! Wow. …Wow. Whatever you two want! You know, a lot has been said about the infamous “bedroom eyes” shot from The Lion King’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” sequence, and how the film also overshoots its romantic target and accidentally implied sex, but it looks like KH2 is just going to ram it home! Hah! This Retrospective is a serious critical production, right here.
We cut to Nala and Simba, ahem… later, where they have a brief chat, and I mean a real brief chat. “Simba, come back to Pride Rock.” “No.” “Hmph!” “Hmph!” It’s just a summary of the original scene from the film, but I’ve got to give it credit: it manages to hit all the key points. One thing I’ve always liked about the film, which the game captures just fine, is how Simba and Nala only have their talk after their romantic moment, and quickly realize they’re in different places in life right now. It adds to the whole young adult vibe the film is shooting for, full of young adult mistakes. KH2 even puts the more childish characters aside for a minute, which shows that they might very well understand what made this sequence work in the first place.
Speaking of the more childish characters, we return to the trio, Timon and Pumbaa doing the conga line from Hakuna Matata, except no one is singing, just sort of saying, and there’s no music. It’s… it’s actually brushing close to being creepy? I’m trapped between Atlantica and a hard place. Devs, if you’re going to keep referencing it, just license Disney’s music, I can’t take it anymore! Nala stomps past, and the cutscene returns to Simba on his own, where he is having a private moment. Having seen how Sora treats private moments a little bit later in the game, I’m kind of surprised he left Simba alone as long as he does, but all the better.
This scene sees the return of Mufasa, both in flashback and cloud-ghost. The illustrious patriarch is here voiced by James Earl Jones’ tape recorder. Which is to say: entirely out of archive sounds. I guess that’s fair, since nobody else on earth sounds like James Earl Jones. After the visitation, Simba reveals that he knows Sora actually has been spying on him, and he calls the trio, Timon and Pumbaa out of the brush. I like how he’s gotten to know all of them this well, Sora and the gang included, after all their time together. Together, they all set off, with no sign of Nala until you reach Pride Rock and she manifests out of the moisture in the air. This once again makes me suspect she was supposed to be in the party, because the game wouldn’t have had to account for her in every cutscene if she was in the party, but it’s weird either way.
The game gives you a new Keyblade early to commemorate Simba coming into his role as King. This is the Circle of Life, blessed with MP Haste as an ability, making it a really appealing Keyblade for this or any other stage of the game.
Simba joins the party at this point, and he’s pretty much the ideal party member for your situation. He’s infinitely more capable than both small bird Donald and turtle Goofy. If you’re like me, the only reason you’d kick Simba out of the party is because he doesn’t have Lucky Lucky, but at the moment neither do your teammates, so there’s no need to worry about that. Simba even has his own healing spell, perhaps drawing inspiration from our last jungle hero, Tarzan. He’s also got the only working Limit in the entire party (King’s Pride / Wildcat). Considering you’re missing Drives, Summons and your other Limits, I’d almost consider hooking up Auto-Limit just this once, but I still feel it interferes with Reaction Commands. Definitely don’t forget Simba’s Limit during the upcoming boss fight, it’s a winner.