Kingdom Hearts 2 – The Emptiest Grind

kh2-2016-05-16-12h38m34s312Back in the story, Sora declares (in spite of the fact that this is patently untrue) that a new road has opened and he’s certain Riku and Kairi will be on the world he just (didn’t) unlock. This line is curious, since only makes sense if he actually unlocked something. No, really, bear with me a moment, this isn’t the same tangent we just explored. This line must have been written before the game’s current level structure was put into place, or else they’d have realized that nothing was physically unlocked at this point – simply that another event begins once he’s done. Huh. I wonder how long the games’ world structure went undefined?

Hayner, Pence and Olette ask him to return soon, and we cut to a new FM+ exclusive scene in the white room with all the thrones.

kh2-2016-05-16-12h39m49s516Saïx returns to his throne and tells St. Peter that he “passed on the message” to Sora, specifically the line about defeating the Heartless. St. Peter calls back to the conversation Saïx had with Sora, and suggests that Saïx doesn’t just have the power to inflict pain but that Saïx was actually “plant[ing] seeds of doubt” in Sora’s heart. Saïx seems almost ashamed by this, and I wonder if he realizes what’s going on: both that he’s feeling shame, and that he seems to be feeling, at all!

St. Peter goes on about his motivations in doing this for a while… but I don’t quite understand what he’s saying.  Moreover: what scene is this speech trying to fix?  Remember: with one upcoming exception, all of these FM+ scenes exist purely to spackle gashes in the Vanilla game’s plot, so this scene must exist to justify something that went wrong in the Vanilla plot.

kh2-2016-05-16-12h40m19s865Let’s bear in mind that St. Peter is complimenting Saïx’s speech in Twilight Town, which was about two subjects: Sora defeating the Heartless and, as an afterthought, Riku’s whereabouts.  St. Peter says that now that Sora has heard the speech, Sora will be filled with doubt.  Doubt leads to anger (the Star Wars reference is intentional), and anger will lead to Sora inadvertently helping the Organization. I can think of two scenes this patch job might be meant to correct:

  1. A scene in the upcoming trip to Hollow Bastion in which Sora is notably angry (spoilers: Sora attacks Ansem’s computer for not showing him Riku and Kairi’s whereabouts).  Pros: some doubt and plenty of anger.  The scene also has a relationship to Riku.  Cons: The scene doesn’t seem to help the Organization much, and is only tangentially connected to Saix’s speech about the Heartless.
  2. A scene in the upcoming trip to Hollow Bastion that features Saïx (spoilers: Saïx’s big revelation of the Organization’s plans).  Pros: Strong connection to Saïx’s speech in Twilight Town, and to the Organization’s plans.  Cons: Plenty of doubt on Sora’s part, but no anger at all.  No relationship to Riku.

Despite the cons, I’m inclined to think this patch job is meant to fix Scene #2.  Is St. Peter supposed to be misunderstanding Sora’s capacity for anger?  In any event, it’s not exactly a good fix if we can’t place it, is it?

kh2-2016-05-16-12h41m47s919Saïx hesitates (again, showing emotion – it’s always hard to say when this is intentional or bad writing but I err on the side of intent with FM+ on issues like this). When he finds his voice, he asks St. Peter about Axel. St. Peter suggests that Axel has betrayed the Organization in pursuit of a friendship (his friendship with Roxas) which St. Peter feels can’t be real, given that Nobodies have no emotions, and therefore can’t have friendships.

Back with Sora, we find ourselves in a rare gummi ship scene, where Sora complains “The King, Riku—and now I’ve lost Kairi again, too.” Wow, you’ve lost Kairi again too, huh? Funny how that keeps happening to you. And in the middle of this already cluttered plot! It’s almost as though this series has only one plot, which it keeps recycling over and over again, like Mario! …E-exactly like Mario, come to think of it. I was going for a different joke for a second there but the realization just hit me hard. This is… I seriously didn’t intend this when I started making comparisons to the flags at the end of each world, but KH2… really is following the plot of Super Mario Bros, isn’t it? Kairi, Riku and Mickey are all trading places as Princess Peach!

Goofy suggests that Sora “Just do what comes natural to ya and we’re sure to find ’em.” Goofy, the last time Sora just did what came natural to him, he nearly lost his free will to Marlu— Oh, wait, I already went on a diatribe about KH2 ignoring CoM in the last entry, and you don’t remember it happening to begin with. Nevermind. Just, nevermind.

kh2-2016-05-16-12h42m26s267The plot ends with Chip and Dale contacting you to inform you that Hollow Bastion has become “covered in darkness!” This is one of several signs that, to me, suggests the Chip and Dale sequences were added to the plot at a later point. For example, while Hollow Bastion could definitely be described as “covered in darkness” later in the plot, but when you arrive thing sactually seem to have calmed down.  I was always bothered by the lack of urgency after Chip and Dale’s frantic hail, even in my original playthrough!

You’ll want to watch out before you go to HB, especially if you skipped a few worlds to get here. Not just because it will be hard, but because the game will soon update the difficulty of all the worlds in the game, ala Hollow Bastion from KH1, and this includes worlds you’ve skipped , so when you go back to them later, they’ll be even harder, bosses included. Are you sure you want to skim past Pride Lands just because you don’t like the controls? Because it’s only going to get worse!

But once you’re ready, hold on to your hats, people, because we’re about to hit the second- or third-longest section of the entire game.


Wrap-Up

kh2-2016-05-16-12h38m13s424Whew, this one is busy, let’s see.

First off, restoring Twilight Town gets you the Oathkeeper Keyblade again. The Oathkeeper isn’t an end-game Keyblade like in KH1, but it is still very valuable because it includes the Form Boost ability, which slows down the Drive Gauge when you are transformed, giving you extra time to use the form and grind EXP. It’s something I find myself using for most of the remaining game just because I use Drives so heavily (though I don’t recommend that for everyone, as the Oathkeeper stinks as a weapon).

In FM+, you also get a new Drive Form that words “with the help of friends faraway.” This seems to represent your connection to Hayner, Pence, Olette… or possibly Kairi, I suppose you could read it either way. I say the first because you get it after you promise to come back to those three, but I say the second considering how the form actually operates.

kh2-2016-05-16-12h38m15s688Limit Form is not like the others. First off it costs 4 Drive Gauges instead of three. It’s the first of only two forms that can use Guard, oddly enough. It also doesn’t require any of your friends to disappear (or even be conscious). Indeed, you can transform solo! Its abilities reflect Sora’s skills from KH1, though that’s not to say it controls quite like Sora did in KH1. Limit Form is still faster and looser than KH1 ever was, even though it’s the slowest of all the drive forms.

Limit Form’s mobility upgrade is Dodge Roll – yes, the real Dodge Roll! – which seems to have a more reliable set of invincibility frames than Quick Run, and lets you recover faster than Quick Run, though it doesn’t cover as much ground. To be trite: Dodge Roll is for dodging and Quick Run is for running. A top-level Quick Run is so long range that it will propel across the room unless you keep it on the shortest leash imaginable. There’s room for both. When you’ve learned both, they mesh in a complicated way: you can tap square to Dodge Roll, and hold square to Quick Run. The difference is subtle and not likely to work as intended in an emergency. Welcome to the pain of 1-button joystick users from across the history of computing. The Commodore Amiga sends its pity.

Limit Form’s secondary ability for normal Sora is even better: Draw (pbbbbbt) and Lucky Lucky (yaaay!). And Limit Form comes with another Lucky Lucky on top of the rest, so when you transform, your drops will be even better!

kh2-2016-05-16-12h46m05s182Besides having killer air and ground combos, Limit Form is defined by its “Limits,” though you shouldn’t really think of these the way Limits work in the rest of the game. I find it’s better to think of Limit Form’s special abilities as unusual spells, especially since they take over the spell menu.  In fact they replace the spell menu, which you should be mindful of, since it means you can’t cast any spells in this form, not unlike Valour Form. The Limits will even take over slots in your quick-fire menu, so long as those slots aren’t already full with an item. Limit Form’s limits represent Sora’s special attacks from KH1… not that the localization team seems to have gotten the memo. The abilities are Sonic Blade, Strike Raid, Ars Arcanum (called “Last Arcanum”) and Ragnarok (called “Infinity”). Each of these use Reaction Commands to add extra hits to the Limit.

You can only use Limits if enemies are nearby, and Limit Form levels up a single point by landing every available reaction command during the duration of the Limit. As a result, you typically end up killing all the enemies in a group while you’re trying to level! You’re going to have to find a continuous stream of enemies if you want to keep training. That or just use poor Mushroom V again. But be careful! I’ll go into more detail later, but Limit Form can kill Mushroom V very easily. Of course, eventually you’ll want that…

Because getting a new Drive Form reduces your AntiForm points to 0, it can be valuable to skip some worlds to come to Twilight Town early in FM+ just for the sake of restoring the gauge! This is especially beneficial because you’ll be getting your next form very soon. Just don’t go to the world after this if you’re trying that kind of stunt!

kh2-2016-05-16-12h53m38s801Back to the wrap-up. Another benefit of restoring Twilight Town to the main map is that it restores your access to all of Twilight Town’s chests, puzzle pieces, and mini-games (the cheapskates won’t pay you for doing the mini-games anymore, mind!). There is also a new skateboard challenge. While you’re in town, you can also chat with Hayner, Pence and Olette, and Pence has some questionable generic dialogue. He insists you can go visit the Moogle synth workshop, as though that was news. It’s possible this was meant to be seen in the teeny-tiny window after leaving Twilight Town on your first trip but before it’s locked off after clearing Hollow Bastion, which to me just seems like more evidence to my long-ago theory that Twilight Town wasn’t supposed to be accessed and locked off in the way it was in the final. Or maybe as a general reminder to use Synthesis, that is hardly needed when every shop in the game offers it?

You know, that’s an interesting point: why do you need a reminder when every Moogle shop in the game has access to synthing? The synth workshop actually has a building here (there’s some background fuss about the woman who operated the place retiring during the prologue). I can’t help but wonder if this used to be Synthesis’ only location, like in KH1? KH1’s Synthesis didn’t open for ages, either (one world after the return to Traverse Town), but it seems like a stretch (since in this game it took place two worlds, plus Twilight Town, after the visit to Timeless River).

Clearing Twilight Town also unlocks a new mini-game that has associated cutscenes and everything: the Struggle. You remember how that guy asked us to participate in the Struggle, then wouldn’t let us do it? The Struggle is… sigh… so poorly implemented. You start by checking out a sign put up by mister “Super Cool” from before. It seems he doesn’t hold you in very high regard, as he’s still going to refuse to let you fight Seifer until you get “more experience.” This means fighting Hayner in “Struggle R,” which despite the name is exactly the same as normal Struggle.

kh2-2016-05-16-12h47m13s008Hayner has not improved. In fact, now that I’m looking at it again, I think his AI is actively avoiding picking up spheres. Jiminy wants you to win by 100 points for full credit, which you could probably, honestly do with your eyes closed, if you don’t outright get 200. I’m not sure why the game even bothered to ask. And then… and then the Struggle Organizer refuses to let you move on to the next opponent until you’ve beaten Hayner ten total times. By the time you’re done, Sora has spent more time bludgeoning Hayner than he ever has hanging out with him. And this is only the beginning: this will unlock Setzer, who you also have to fight ten times in your sleep, trying to get 150 points if you’re going for Jiminy’s Challenge (and again, you’ll get 200, probably each time). By the way, this is the only way to get Setzer’s character entry in your journal. Only after clobbering Setzer will you be allowed to fight Seifer. This time, Jiminy expects you to get 200 points, at which point you can finally leave. There’s no need to fight Seifer ten times, though I understand if you’re confused.

This “fight Hayner and Setzer 10 times for no reason” thing is… and I mean this sincerely and to the best of my analytical and critical ability… the single dumbest design decision in the entire franchise to date. It’s not very harmful, there are certainly more harmful decision done to the game’s design. But the criterion here is “stupid” and that it is in spades. If not that, then “baffling” will do. I just can’t believe that in a chain of programmers, designers, testers, more testers, the entire playing audience of the original Vanilla KH2 launch in Japan, the entire international audience of Vanilla KH2, and the entire audience of FM+ prior to the launch of 2.5HD in 2014, and no one at Square Enix said “Do you know what? Fighting a tutorial-level enemy ten times in a row, even though he has all-but-literally no brain? That’s a bad idea, we should change that.” It didn’t happen. And I don’t… I don’t… I… don’t… know… why. It seems like the ideal solution would be to let you proceed just by hitting Jiminy’s goals. “Oh, you beat Hayner by 100 points, you can advance!” Or even better: by not locking you out at all! But… no!

kh2-2016-05-16-12h54m34s800Clearing Twilight Town a second time also unlocks one of the Mushroom XIII… I think. I’m having a little trouble deciphering my notes here, and the Internet’s surprisingly lacking about when the Mushrooms show up. This is Mushroom XII, which shows up at the Old Mansion’s front gates. Larxene’s Mushroom creates duplicates of itself, like her Absent Silhouette, and asks you to destroy 40 of them in 30 seconds. This is best accomplished with Wisdom Form, and frankly you could do it at this point in the game with a little practice, though a few late-game upgrades can simplify the process (it would help to upgrade Wisdom Form to have a few extra drive gauges, for starters). But a point of confusion: a lot of guides I see say you can hurt these Mushrooms with Thunder, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in 2.5? Did I do something wrong (repeatedly?), or is everyone just copying and pasting unsubstantiated evidence without testing it?

kh2-2016-06-07-23h30m43s943Clearing things with Saïx also unlocks a new Absent Silhouette in the sandlot. Yes, just after you get news that Kairi is all right, you can show how concerned Sora is by going off to fight a ghost, instead. This is Lexaeus’ silhouette, and he’s not here to play games. He has a huge HP bar, and can turn invincible by charging up his power, not to forget his ability to summon earth from the ground and throw you into the pillars that surround the arena. He also has a DBZ style power-level bar that rises during the fight, until the point where he can nearly kill you instantly with any attack. And I did mention in CoM that his Skysplitter axe-sword is humongous, right?

kh2-2016-06-07-23h30m48s662Lexaeus is rough, and when I finally beat him in my retrospective play-through, it was more because I was overlevelled than thanks to any degree of skill. As a result, I have virtually no commentary to provide. Lex has a few interesting rewards: an Accessory Slot for Sora, another Lost Illusion, and a recipe to recreate his Skysplitter claymore… as a staff for Donald? This is the Centurion, Donald’s highest Strength weapon, if that’s the sort of thing you’re in to for Donald. I’m not, but as the recipes from the Absent Silhouettes go, it’s probably the most notable, if for however dubious a reason.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – The Visible Substructure
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Pixie Power


This retrospective’s screenshots come from Spazbo4’s longplay of the 2.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix+ at World of Longplays (YouTube).

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6 comments

  1. A little off topic, and I’m not sure if it’s just me, but near the start of the game when it’s replaying the intro from chain of memories’ (where Sora Donald and goofy are chasing pluto.) I saw a scene where pluto was far away, and motionlessly slid up a hill.

  2. Hey! After about 6 months, I’ve returned to read the rest of your KH2 recap and noticed you wrote “Traverse Town” instead of “Twilight Town” both in the 5th paragraph here and in the titles of this and the previous page. Just thought I’d let you know :p

    I love reading these! Keep ’em coming!

      1. …You know, I later mention my trouble telling Traverse and Twilight Town’s names apart when discussing Secret Report 11, and I’m glad to know I’ve done nothing but prove myself right in the most embarrassing way possible since.

        Thanks again!

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