Kingdom Hearts 2 – The Crowning Inglory

Hollow Bastion, Re:visited

kh2-2016-06-04-21h27m45s823Back in the real world, Leon explains the King has left temporarily, so there’s time to mess around with the computer. (It really, really does seem like the King is going to be forced away before he can explain his news about Ansem.) Leon types in the password but then insists he has to leave too? And he’s going to… leave Sora with the computer?? In fact he’s asking him to copy the data himself??? “It’s just a few keystrokes,” but he doesn’t tell him what they are???? Even if Sora did know how to use a computer, this wouldn’t make sense!

Leon wins. That’s it, everybody, Leon has won the World Series of Idiot Ball. Let’s hear a round of applause.

Much to the shock of anyone outside the writing team, Sora doesn’t break anything on the computer, nor does anything happen that Leon would have really needed to see but Sora won’t be able to bring back later, or any other writing cliché. No: Sora doesn’t break anything because as it turns out, the computer is already broken. The files have all been corrupted and he can’t access a thing, and once again Sora’s so invested in Riku and Kairi that, this time, he slumps off without doing an additional jot of work. Goofy has to be the one to get up and be responsible by searching for information about the Organization, but that’s corrupted too. (Or as Goofy puts it: “Ker-scuffled”).

kh2-2016-06-04-21h28m29s564(Despite the data being ker-scuffled, unlocking Ansem’s computer gives you a few character entries in Jiminy’s Journal, especially in Vanilla KH2 where it gives you the profiles of the Organization members killed in CoM. Naturally, those entries are delayed in FM+ until you kill their Absent Silhouettes, but sadly that cost us the tiny bit of worldbuilding they provided by being unlocked “by the computer” in the Vanilla release)

There does seem to be some sort of difference between the data on Kairi and Riku and the data about the Nobodies. Rosalyn Landor says nothing for the former, but when asked about the Nobodies, she says “the data is corrupt.” It seems probable to me that Ansem’s computer never had any information about Riku and Kairi, but did have information about the Nobodies.

And that’s another issue I didn’t go into earlier, and you’ll see why in a minute. Sora is overacting about needing information about Riku and Kairi from this computer, but there was never any real reason to suspect it would even be there. Kairi might be there, given that she lived on Hollow Bastion, but Riku? Ansem has most likely not had access to this computer since Maleficent moved in, and he has been dead for the past year. The game hasn’t implied that the computer is hooked up to some kind of auto-sensor system. Ansem is dead! He can’t have typed Riku and Kairi’s current location into the keyboard! Sora seems to think computers are magic, but worse: the developers seem to think we’ll think they’re magic, too. We’ve got to pick our poison: are the devs unfamiliar with the computers they used to create this, or are they, as I postulated a few entries ago, assuming that the audience are idiots?

At this point Sora beings smashing the computer again, and believe it or not I’m not frustrated by this because now, unlike before, the anger is justified. Well… it’s justified assuming we put ourselves in Sora’s shoes and really did believe the computer was a magic genie. The windows even jostle around the computer screen, which is kind of funny.

kh2-2016-06-04-21h29m19s158Sora’s bashing serves another idiot ball purpose: it calls up an image of a blond, bearded man in a white suit, wearing a long red scarf. It’s at this moment when Mickey returns and… I notice his hood has little ear pockets, that’s adorable! …Urm, right: it’s at this moment that Mickey returns and identifies the picture as “Ansem the Wise.”

Sora is so confused by this that he has to grab Mickey by the hand (“Could you come with me, please?”). After all the reverence Donald and Goofy have shown him, this is absolutely hilarious. He drags the King bodily in front of the painting of Ansem back in the study. Mickey finally explains: the man in the painting – and the man from KH1 – is not Ansem the Wise.

First off, Mickey explains what close readers may have already realized about KH1: the villain of KH1 was a Heartless, which was never said outright. Mickey later says that the leader of Organization XIII, No. I, is the Nobody of the same man. This gives the series some nice continuity and I like a lot, even if it was spoiled ahead of time by Re:CoM Vexen. But here’s where we slip downhill. Precipitously. Mickey says the man in the painting wasn’t actually Ansem, but someone who stole his identity. Mickey is trying to find the real Ansem the Wise in hopes that he knows something about what’s going on, though he insists that he (Mickey) has seen the fake Ansem at some point in the past, and just can’t put his finger on it.

kh2-2016-06-04-21h30m08s645All this meshes with our reading of the Secret Ansem Reports, implying that the author of the Secret Reports really is Ansem the Wise, deposed by this identity thief, who wrote the reports in KH1. But then, why would this fake Ansem go so far as to fake diary entries claiming to have met with King Mickey under the name “Ansem,” and all sorts of other problems. In fact…

This whole identity theft thing is all very cute and stupid all at once, and we could argue about it for hours, but it’s avoiding the big question, and that is: why change a major’s character’s name this late in the game? Why do it at all? Keep in mind: this undermines a major, fundamental element of KH1. This is like Darth Vader wasting five solid minutes of The Empire Strikes Back announcing that his real name was always Lord Voldemort and everyone kept getting it wrong. What do we gain? Not only would it make re-watches of A New Hope confusing for no real reason, but you have to wonder why they’re waiting so much screen time on such a trite subject! Plus it’s confusing, and it’s unclear why the game is being confusing when, on closer examination, the removal doesn’t change anything but the names!

As we go on, the identity theft just isn’t used in a constructive manner. Based on the Secret Reports, we can tell that fake Ansem was one of the real Ansem’s apprentices. We’re getting into spoiler territory, but I feel that nothing about fake Ansem taking Ansem’s name accomplishes anything not already accomplished by his betraying his master in general.

kh2-2016-06-04-21h31m13s621Consider an alternate universe. In this universe, Real Ansem’s name was Walt, and fake Ansem’s name really had been Ansem all along. Walt the Wise would still hate his apprentice Ansem for deposing him as much as “canon Ansem” hates his apprentice “fake Ansem” in the existing KH2. In the reports, real Ansem barely even seems to take note of the fact that fake Ansem took his name. If new King Ansem (the Ansem we knew from KH1), had deposed old King Walt, the rest of the plot wouldn’t need to change. It doesn’t even damage later plots in the series!

This is the section that had me pacing around after I heard it in my first ever, casual playthrough. They took a major plot element from KH1, said it was useless, and here’s the real kicker: gained nothing from doing so. This is the plot twist of a complete hack. I know my reaction to Sora’s tantrum at the outset was pretty angry, but this big stinking canker didn’t make me angry my first time through. It had me completely befuddled. I don’t think I have ever not cared about a plot point so… aggressively? Powerful indifference. But I was driven to understand why they had done it, so I got up and I paced, and I paced and I paced, all in spite of my natural indifference, simply because of the damage it had done to KH1. I mean, who sets fire to their successful product to set up nothing in the new?

…There’s another George Lucas joke in here.

kh2-2016-06-04-21h31m56s287And before you can open your mouth to say “Maybe he’s planning something down the road,” we take a glance at later games and see they’re still trying to untie this spaghetti. DDD showed the fake Ansem adopting the name, but provided no context for the scene, because none could possibly exist. Even a few days before I wrote the first draft of this entry (some time in 2015), someone was still coming online to ask “Why did he take the name?” and I had to say “We don’t know, there’s no evidence!” A KHI forum-goer suggested that it might have been out of disrespect, but that doesn’t justify it here in KH2, nor does the in-universe explanation justify the out-of-universe audience confusion and damage to KH1. This empty “plot twist” was mocked by professionals and fans alike back in the day (I was largely outside the fandom when I played the games and that was still the impression I got from the periphery), and the fact that the devs saw all that negative feedback and still couldn’t fix the problem six and a half years later just shows how deep the ramifications of this problem really are.

The only explanations I can offer are these: 1) maybe it was done to distract the reader from Ansem-Riku? That seems like a heavy strain. Without that, all I have left is 2) that Nomura insisted the names be changed just because he liked them better in their new homes, or that he thought this plot up and didn’t think about the consequences, i.e.: the same problem as nearly everything else in KH2. This is it. This is my honest-to-goodness vote for the worst part of the entire game. Not the keyboard slam, this. If only because it embodies the game’s constant, all-consuming lesser problems. It’s not as bad as the problems that run across the game, don’t get me wrong. It’s also not as short-sighted as “We totally owned you lamers,” or quotable as “Super Cool moves.” It’s not a bang, and it’s also not a whimper. It’s just a baffling and complete narrative failure, which I mean in the same way I might say “organ failure.” This is the whole game coming to a dead stop so that we can watch a low-res video of Tetsuya Nomura walking into a concrete beam on loop.

kh2-2016-06-04-21h33m39s478Now that that’s out of the way, the conversation has proceeded in such a way that Sora (and remember, the scenes in the computer room insist Sora so upset about Riku and Kairi that he’s willing to destroy evidence of their location to find them) only now remembers to ask the King where Riku is. Stunning. At this, Mickey gets evasive before finally coming out to say “I can’t help.” Because of the way Mickey says this, Sora mistakes him as meaning “I don’t know,” but it’s pretty clear to the player that Mickey is hiding something. KH2 can be good at from time to time, like right here, so it really upsets me that some other scenes felt the need to go over the top with melodrama. I just… I’m sorry, I really need to get past this world and on with the rest of the game, I know it. This world is getting to me.

Sora asks if Mickey knows anything about Kairi, but it turns out Sora is ahead of the curve on this, and the King is shocked to hear she’s been kidnapped. He apologizes, and gives a short speech about how he’s been working so hard at finding Ansem that he forgot about helping out friends in need, and he promises to help you look for Riku and Kairi. Wow, this is an interesting development! Is King Mickey going to join the party for the rest of Hollow Ba—

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – A Digital Distraction
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Boom


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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10 comments

  1. I will try to keep this spoiler free but I think in terms of the name change, it is possible and maybe even implied that the “fake” Ansem was having an identity crises. Because in the reports and later shown in birth by sleep is how the real Ansem found the fake Ansem in a weakened state with amnesia and had really had nothing in his life until he was found by this wise and kind ruler who helped him. So it is possible that he did it out respect while trying to find his own identity. And the identity crisis is implied later with fake Ansem’s nobody later on for certain reasons… *cough* Birth by Sleep *cough*. But they kind of threw that out the window in DDD but at least this retcon or “revelation” makes more sense than later ones down the line.

  2. My theory on the names is that Xehanort took Ansem’s name to sort of trick the people of Hollow bastion and continue his research, and kind of frame him when his ethics started leaning towards the evil side to get his results.

    I assume that they just keep calling him Ansem for differentiation from the other versions of Xehanort.

  3. I mean. We can probably sit here and come up with all kinds of in-universe theories, buy I’m pretty sure the real reason is that Tetsuya Nomura is a highschooler with oversized margins in his notebook and a larger salary.

  4. At risk of being spoilery as well, I feel like I should note that the whole reason behind taking Ansem’s name seems to be purposefully unresolved. It is by all means huge speculation on my part, but I feel it could be suggested that the events in the time frame of KHX (particularly involving a certain mysterious figure with a certain noteworthy keyblade), and even KH3 as it hopefully reveals more about that “identity crisis” mentioned by Jared, may provide further detail to this name-stealing. Again, huge speculation, but definitely feels like there’s a mystery intentionally left open here.

      1. I will tack on to my previous comment though, after a few more minutes of thought, I still definitely see where you’re coming from. From the standpoint of no future games existing yet, this “plot twist” would by all means be inane. It only (if my theory holds up in the end) functions as a cool detail to slip in from the standpoint of the series as a completed whole.
        Which is to say, I still think your complaint holds up and I by no means wish to discredit it here.

  5. I’m pretty sure the “name plot twist” was caused by Leon in KH1. “Our ruler was a wise man called Ansem”. Nomura probably realised the character wasnt the ruler of radiant garden in his new script, and this was attempt at fixing the background clues we got about ansem in kh1

    1. That’s a reasonable reading, but like I say in the writeup, there was nothing to prevent him from leaving Xehanort as the ruler of Hollow Bastion, so he’s essentially violating his own canon for no reason.

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