Kingdom Hearts 2 – Boom

kh2-2016-06-10-03h23m32s748And as an explosion wracks the Bastion, we leave the tripe behind and come at last to one of the grandest moments in the franchise.

The foursome run out into the corridors to see what’s the matter, King Mickey getting ahead of you at some point. Once you’re in the halls, you find that Leon’s foreshadowing from your first visit has finally come paid in the noisiest manner possible: the Organization and Maleficent have sent their armies after one another, and the people of Hollow Bastion are caught in the middle. Maleficent and Pete are right here, in fact (maybe the Gullwings got her interested in what Leon was doing in Ansem’s office?), though Pete doesn’t stay long. As we watch, he decides that the Organization has the advantage even here at the start of the battle, and he flees. After his repeat failures, the fact that Maleficent keeps this bumbler around is rapidly becoming less a mark against him and more a mark against her.

Maleficent orders her Heartless to fight the lesser Nobodies, at least until she sees Sora and her desire for revenge takes over. She orders the Heartless to fight you instead, and she leaves. You have to fight the two of them in a big mess, one of the very few times in the game where Heartless and Nobodies are mixed outside of the arena (a shame). This fight introduces not one but two new enemies, and they’re both nightmares on Critical Mode.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h24m42s360The newest Heartless is the Crimson Jazz, a huge bell wizard that drops fire-element mines in the air, and drops even more mines – bigger ones – as it starts to die. They’re one of the best reasons in the game to equip Blizzard, since they’re weak to it and you’ll desperately want them dead, but Thunder’s auto-targeting can be helpful in the fireball chaos.

Among the Nobodies is the Dancer, a creepy, twitchy type that serves under Demyx. There’s only one Dancer in this group, and you might very well miss it under a screen full of fire mines, so the game makes sure to ambush you with a whole troupe of Dancers further down the road. And that troupe might very well rip you apart. The Dancers are one of the few enemies in KH2 that are truly dangerous in every difficulty. They skate around the arena (not unlike Wisdom Form), and given the chance they’ll grab Sora and hurl him into a wall, doing massive damage. And because the grapple doesn’t damage in-and-of-itself, I don’t think the grapple can trigger the damaging effect of Reflect, no matter how much you wish they would. Reflect will prevent the Dancers from grabbing you, at the very least.

While Standard players can usually pull through a fight with Dancers by picking on stragglers, higher-difficulty players will want to keep the Dancers away from them as best possible. Thunder is okay at that, but Magnet is the real winner, and Magnet combined with Thunder is a good idea in almost every situation, more-or-less game-breaking. And since Nobodies drop nothing but MP orbs and items, you might as well go to the extra magical effort.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h25m20s079After the battle, the Gullwings show, looking for Maleficent. When Sora tells them that Maleficent “ran away,” the Gullwings pull into a huddle and begin whispering. You can make out some of their individual dialogue, but most of it will be lost and, which I find funny for some reason (in fact the only time in the entire game where you hear Rikku’s name is in one of these huddles – though I don’t believe it’s in this one). Not sure what to do and apparently unwilling to leave them to their own business, Sora suggests the Gullwings join Leon’s side instead. When they ask if Leon has “treasure,” Donald decides to stick his bill in and says sure, lots! You’re an asshole, Mr. Duck, and I love the fact that the game got that right. Sora speaks for the audience and asks who on earth the Gullwings even are, but they’re already leaving to go help rich, generous Leon.

The party makes it as far as the Postern before more plot interrupts. This time, they’re cut off from their route by the arrival of no one less than Sephiroth. Shit, something is going down. Goofy identifies Sephiroth as “the dark part of Cloud’s heart,” which is certainly one way to read what Cloud was muttering during their last conversation. Sephiroth gets a chuckle out of this, and I suppose you could come up with multiple angles on why he finds this so mockable. He says “Then [Cloud] must understand now.”

kh2-2016-06-10-03h26m13s727Sephiroth here is no longer voiced by Lance Bass, and is now being voiced by the most prominent voice of Superman in the past decade: George Newbern. Naturally, he also voiced Sephiroth in Advent Children, as well as a minor character in X-2. Unlike the other FFVII characters, Sephiroth hasn’t taken on his Advent Children costume. Instead, he’s wearing some variant of his KH1 costume, though he’s now sprouting wings under his cloak for a total of three, ala his more-or-less-final form from FFVII, if the wings were swapped around vertically. This look went on to be used as an alternate costume for him in Dissidia 012.

Sephiroth says he’s not going to “do anything” to Cloud. “Cloud is the one who hungers for darkness.” Nevertheless, Sephiroth seems happy to learn Cloud is looking for him. “That last bit of light is always the hardest to snuff out.”

In FM+, this scene is followed by another, where Sora and the others see the Gullwings passing by and notice that a giant hole has been blown in the side of the Bastion. This hole leads to the Cavern of Remembrance, a new dungeon added in FM+. As is a happy RPG tradition, you can blow off the emergency to go explore this side-quest if you want, but I’m not going to touch the thing for the time being. I’ll be covering the Cavern in its own section during the late- or post-game, but it should absolutely be visited before then. The Cavern is essentially divided into regions, with stronger monsters the deeper you’re able to go. Each section also has its own appropriate prizes, so they’re well worth doing as soon as you feel confident in exploring.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h26m46s206Having chosen to ignore mystery and glory, Sora and the gang are jumped by that troupe of Dancers I warned you about. Assuming you survive, you reach the Bailey and discover the source of the initial explosion: someone has blown out an entire wall of the Bailey, exposing it to the canyon below. This seems to benefit Maleficent more than the Organization, so I blame her for the explosion.  The cutscene that follows looks down to see Maleficent’s Heartless army marching down the canyon, with Nobodies picking at it on the fringes. We see a number of locals battling the enemies: the Gullwings, Yuffie and Aerith, even Stitch, which I guess confirms that Summons in this game really are “summoned” from another location.

We also get a classic scene with Cloud and Leon, standing back-to-back, two Final Fantasy leads surrounded by Heartless on an awkward slope.

Leon asks: “Think you can handle this many?”

Cloud looks at the Heartless and says “Well… Might be tough if one more shows up.”

Leon nods and says: “Then that’ll have to be the one I take care of.”

And Cloud replies: “What, you’re fighting too?”

kh2-2016-06-10-03h27m35s105Awesome. However, they don’t battle long before Sephiroth shows up to confront Cloud. He practically implodes a platoon of Heartless and just casually asks: “I understand that you’ve been looking for me.” Sephiroth implies that he isn’t really Cloud’s dark side, and that Cloud’s attempts to kill his darkness by killing Sephiroth are misguided. “That darkness comes from your own dark memories. Do you think you can erase your past?” Huh, this is intriguing, they’re combining the themes of FFVII with—hey, holy shit, KH2 is talking about plot points from CoM! Did that explosion knock me into a different game?

Back in… whichever game this is, Cloud just gets angry and attacks Sephiroth, just as Tifa finally locates them both. Her arrival distracts Cloud in such a way that Sephiroth can talk to him, announcing that he (Sephiroth) is Cloud. Uh, somehow. We’re not going to get very many details on this subplot, folks, I can only extrapolate so far without having finished the Compilation of VII for the Marathon, you know? Sephiroth teleports, and Cloud ignores Tifa and runs off, leaving her behind when the Heartless surround her.

Also, holy crap, the minor enemies are having an impact on the outcome of the plot, as though they aren’t background gameplay decoration to disguise an empty shell. Seriously, what game is this? Because it’s not the KH2 I know! If this teeny, tiny touch had been applied to a larger portion of the game, the quality of the narrative would rise dramatically, at least as far as I’m concerned. Honestly, my only complaint with this sequence is that the cutscene feels like it’s running long!

kh2-2016-06-10-03h28m30s574We cut back to Sora, at least presumably a few seconds after we left him. I say presumably, because the alternative is that he stood there doing nothing for the duration of that extended cutscene while Donald and Goofy kept yanking the pull cord on his back, hoping he’d restart. “There’s a snake in my boot!” Sora resolves to charge in to save everyone, when Mickey drops down from the ruined Bailey to cut him off. In complete, and honestly incomprehensible dissonance with what Mickey had just said about helping friends not five minutes ago, Mickey now insists that the trio should leave! He says they should go find Riku and Kairi, saying there’s “lotsa help here.”

I’m not sure if he’s lying or if he really does think Riku and Kairi are somehow more urgent than the lives of everyone in Hollow Bastion. Sadly KH2 wasted the entire game so far and is going to waste much of the game to follow, so suffice to say, even during my first playthrough I realized that time was no object to the developers, and Mickey was full of shit. It may be that he’s concerned for Sora’s safety (in fact, if I could hint at spoilers for a moment: I could say he probably feels guilty after what happened to Riku, though that’s a stretch as there are no common elements), but this is still hypocritical of him after his earlier speech.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h29m37s114That said, KH2 uses this awful setup for a clever payoff. When Mickey orders Donald and Goofy to take Sora away, we know that they’re so loyal to their King that of course they will, and we know from losing Twilight Town earlier on that we’ll probably be unable to access Hollow Bastion for a period as well. And if we’re in 2005/6, losing out on a cool battle like this is understandable, because video games still often cut corners like that. But to my surprise: character development. Donald and Goofy salute the King and wink to Sora as they loudly announce that he has to “Do as he’s told.” Catching on, Sora mouths what looks like “Thank you.” It’s another rare moment of subtlety and one of KH2’s best scenes. Together, they charge past Mickey and into the canyon.

In FM+, this is followed by another exclusive scene… and a very curious one. Unfortunately, this drags out our already extended cutscene sequence even further. Back in Ansem’s study, we see the reason the Organization chose to engage in this battle: St. Peter’s character is using the distraction to break into the computer room (though you won’t be able to tell it’s him for some time). Briefly we see the security camera watch him before he blinds it. In a cute reference to KH1:FM, the camera cannot identify him and labels him “UNKNOWN.” Yes, St. Peter’s character was the Unknown from KH1:FM! This won’t be fully confirmed until later in the game, but like I said, the game’s being cute.

St. Peter then goes to the computer and inserts a CD, which gives him a single text prompt. He uses it to type in the word “ANOTHER.” Following this, he enters a series of six passwords, and oh hey! They are in separate boxes! I take it back, this scene does fix a plot hole.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h30m31s466You probably aren’t going to be able to work out these passwords at this point in the game (you only see asterisks), but… eh, let’s just spill the beans. At this point, the player may have noticed (and I said so outright earlier in the Retrospective) that “Roxas”‘s name is actually an anagram: it’s “Sora” with an X. At a later point, we’ll see that made explicit. Indeed all the Organization members’ names are their original selves’ names with an X. These six passwords match up with the length of the names of the first six members of the Organization, minus the Xs: it’s the names of Ansem the Wise’s treacherous apprentices! The third slot (Xaldin’s) has five letters (six letters in “Xaldin” minus the “X”). Vexen’s fourth slot has four. Lexaeus’ fifth slot has six, and of course, Zexion’s sixth slot has five. Our mystery members, No.s I and II, have five characters in their birth names each.

The password unlocks a door in the computer room (which in Vanilla you later find unlocked for no reason, as doors occasionally are unlocked in this series, like that rotten grave at Halloween Town in KH1). St. Peter heads into the vista below to a large pad, which opens up for him in a way that doesn’t seem to be its original intent, because of course it wasn’t intended to open this way: the pad is from Vanilla KH2 where this scene does not exist! As a result, it feels like it really is a secret passage instead of the obvious “secret” passages that video games usually trade in.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h31m25s430Inside the passage, St. Peter descends down a weird, dark spiral staircase that looks like no other place in the series, Hollow Bastion or otherwise. It’s all quiet, which gives the scene a creepy vibe but as the scene goes on gets a little too boring. Finally, we get a merciful jump cut and return to him as he’s approaching the bottom of the stairs. There, we begin to hear a voice-over from a scene we’re about to see in person, which I hardly need to call an “odd” design decision. Since we’ll be seeing the scene soon enough, I’ll be a little more open about its contents than I might have otherwise been.

At the start of the scene, a younger sounding St. Peter speaks to Christopher Lee – DiZ – addressing him as “Master Ansem.” Master Ansem addresses St. Peter’s character as “Xehanort,” despite the fact that St. Peter’s character must have a five-letter name for the password to make any sense. It seems we can finally confirm DiZ’s true identity as Ansem the Wise, but not just that. While no one likely worked this out in their first pass, we also have our name thief: “Xehanort” stole the five-letter name “Ansem,” and that was the name being used for the password. Okay, okay, it would have been hard-to impossible to work out during your first viewing (as you’d have no way of knowing the passwords were names your first time through the game), but all this information is going to be revealed openly in just a few scenes, so I figured I’d be open about it so we can discuss the rest of the scene without fear of spoilers.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h32m05s381In the flashback audio, Ansem orders Xehanort to cease his experiments, presumably the ones on the heart mentioned in the original “Ansem” Reports. After this section, St. Peter walks past a series of (hopefully) empty cells, which is a striking visual, considering the wretched experiments we know “Ansem” conducted in KH1. At the end of the hall, St. Peter reaches a room marked with Organization symbols on the walls and floor. The designs are linked by images of chains that connect to a throne in the middle of the room. He sits in the throne and the chains and symbols light up. As the light spreads, we see a pile of blue armour, left abandoned in the corner. St. Peter (who recorded this eight years and multiple games later, and sounds even deeper and more imposing today than he did in 2006), speaks to the armour and says: “It has been far too long, friend.” Next to the armour, we see an abandoned, dirty, but unmistakable Keyblade.

After this cutscene, we get another FM+ cutscene, essentially a continuation of the previous. There’s a boss after this slog, can you believe it? Thank goodness for KH2’s scene skipping feature, or this would have been another “There’s no way you’re taking Kairi’s heart!”

In this scene, we find ourselves in a large white-blue building, marked with Organization symbols. I’ll save a lot of fuss and just reveal this is the inside of their headquarters. It’s also a flashback, as is made obvious by Zexion and Vexen walking around it alive. Vexen’s voice actor, Derek Stephen Prince, is great here in his brief appearance, by the way. We’re not long into the scene before we get another big piece of information: the name of St. Peter’s character, Xemnas (an anagram of Ansem, as I implied). Vanilla KH2 is about to make a big deal out of this reveal just a few scenes from now, and it’s going to look prrrrrretty silly after FM+ spoiled it like this!

kh2-2016-06-10-03h32m52s865Vexen is looking for Xemnas and Zexion reveals Xemnas is in “The Chamber of Repose.” It’s not made immediately clear, but they’re referring to the room from the previous cutscene. It may be that that previous cutscene was also a flashback and not taking place during the Battle of Hollow Bastion as I supposed, but it’s hard to say. We learn very little about the Chamber in this scene, save that Vexen doesn’t seem willing to go visit Xemnas there, and that seems to have less to do with the chamber itself and more to do with Xemnas getting him in trouble. Or maybe it’s because the Chamber is all the way over there in Hollow Bastion, which is only reasonable!

As Vexen leaves, Zexion finds himself interrupted a second time, this time by James Patrick Stuart’s character who is perched high above. Stuart implies he just recruited Marluxia, putting these events considerably prior to CoM – possibly even before KH1. Xemnas is pretty cheeky if he’s just sneaking past Maleficent to visit the Chamber!

(By the way, this whole scene goes on without Stuart revealing his face, which makes him look really cartoonish, just flapping around in his hood like this. It’s too bad, because Stuart is in a similar position to Quinton Flynn in Re:CoM: he’s been in this role for years now and knows exactly why his character is doing the things he’s doing. As a result, his performance is nearly spot on… if it weren’t for the stupid hood. A few lines slip (perhaps because his character has changed so much between games), but the real problem is that he’s doing all this attached to 3D rendered muppet.)

kh2-2016-06-10-03h33m41s685Stuart plays friendly, but it seems he wants information on “Xemnas’ secret” and is hoping Zexion can point him in the right direction. More Organization backstabbing – we’ve seen this all before. But then he tells a curious story:

“How long ago was it…? When a bunch of warriors wielding key-shaped swords appeared and unleashed a spectacular battle. And when it was all over, all that was left was a man lying unconscious without his memories. Xemnas–Uh, I mean Xehanort, was found by Ansem right around then, wasn’t he?”

Stuart explains that after they got rid of Ansem the Wise, Xehanort was in a damn hurry to reclaim this “Chamber of Repose” in Hollow Bastion, as if the rest of their Heartless experiments were an afterthought. “Ever since then, he holds himself up in that room when he can, and he talks to someone.” Stuart wants to know who he’s talking to and what they’re talking about, and he seems to suspect that Zexion knows something that isn’t revealed.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h34m22s453Zexion won’t crack, so they change the subject: the Organization is prepping Castle Oblivion to be used as a base of operations, and it turns out that’s also relevant to the Chamber of Repose. In trying to buy Zexion’s cooperation, Stuart reveals an important piece of information: even though the were the ones who created the Chamber of Repose, it wasn’t something they invented on their own. The Chamber of Repose was based on another room that Xemnas is looking for in Castle Oblivion, called the Chamber of Waking. This is the thing the CoM Organization members were looking for at Castle Oblivion, if you remember those few throwaway lines from CoM. Stuart seems to know Xemnas didn’t make the Chamber of Waking, but clearly understood it well enough to make the Chamber of Repose, even though he can’t find the damn thing now. I believe it – Castle Oblivion is a pissant that way. Stuart suspects it’s not even the Chamber of Waking that Xemnas wants: he suspects that Xemnas is using the Chamber of Waking to find another “friend.”

While we will learn more about the Chambers in later games (namely BBS), one telling piece of information exists only in Japanese interviews, like a lot of Kingdom Hearts factoids – though I suspect this one will be eventually worm its way into KHIII. According to Nomura, the Chamber of Repose helped Xemnas recover his memories, and when he’s there he can remember things he’s forgotten as a Nobody, and even remember other things he had forgotten before he was rescued by Ansem the Wise. This is how he remembers this “friend.”

kh2-2016-06-10-03h35m11s202We return to Sora (hey, remember Sora?), who is heading towards a ruin part-way down the canyon. There, he’s intercepted by no less than an enemy commander. Urm… well, he’s interrupted by Demyx, in any event. Why Mickey doesn’t catch up to you during this fight goes completely unexplained (he’s not even available as a rescue option). It’s clear he chooses not to follow you at first, but after he realized you were with a dangerous member of the Organization, I’d like to think he’d have stepped in. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really want him to show up after that emotional moment, but couldn’t we have had a scene of him being cut off by Heartless like everyone else, or even better, cut off by Dancers as ominous foreshadowing?

Demyx doesn’t seem to have realized he was being sent against the trio, as he startles when he sees you. He then tries to act cool, and does a pretty piss-poor job of it. Sora’s so unimpressed that he even taunts Demyx, saying he probably can’t even fight. Demyx’s attempts to taunt back are even bigger failures, though his lurches from semi-competent to terrified seem artificial, and Sora and Goofy notice. Goofy reminds Sora that Demyx is a Nobody and so can’t be afraid. Ergo, Demyx must just be acting. Demyx tries to insist that he does, in fact, feel emotions, it almost seems to really matter to him for a minute, but when Donald insists, we see him turn away, gather himself, and in an instant go blank and stiff. He rounds back on the party and points directly at Sora, saying “Silence, traitor!”

kh2-2016-06-10-03h35m49s535This is the only time we see a full Nobody cast off the emotional act.  It’s a great moment, and while I wouldn’t have wanted the devs to overplay it, it really should have been done once or twice more. Demyx’s exaggerated “slacker” personality was a perfect contrast for the reveal of an unemotional Nobody, but I feel we should have had an extended run with someone acting completely, literally heart-less for the course of a Disney world or so. As options go, I’d probably have probably selected Robin Atkin Downes’ character myself, as he gets very little to do, as you’re going to see.

Demyx summons his Arpeggio with an impressive display of power over water as “The 13th Dilemma,” begins to play. This is this game’s local Organization 13th battle tune, and probably my least favourite of the Organization’s many battle themes. But there’s no time to focus on the music, because it’s time to “Dance, water! Dance!”

It’s the water clone all over again, and they’re even more trouble than ever. Not only do you have to destroy 50 forms in 40 seconds, more than 1 a second, but later in the fight, Demyx will summon 10 more that have to be destroyed in either 10 seconds (in Vanilla) or 15 seconds (in FM+ – thanks to dlppicture’s thorough version history guide for that!). These segment has ruined many a new player’s first attempts to beat Demyx (second attempts, tenth attempts…). Yes, they still give you an arbitrary game over. Fira is a good idea here (probably why the game gave you the upgrade not long back), as it is strong against Demyx himself. Indeed, Demyx is one of the few boss fights in the game where Wisdom Form is beneficial, since Wisdom Form helps you chase him and boosts your spells.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h36m51s767I’m seeing a strategy on the wiki right now suggesting that after the water forms are cleared, Demyx can be wiped almost down to 0 out by Goofy’s limit, Teamwork. It could be worth a shot. If it works, that will save a whole new generation of gamers from the terror that is Demyx. But for the rest of us, I’ll continue.

Demyx is sort of a chase boss. Unlike the last two chase bosses, he’s not trying to run away from you. It’s more that he’s blowing past you, but you’re running after him all the same. Up until this point, I’ve been saying that KH2 is an easy game, and I mean it because it’s true of 97% of the game, but that last 3% stands out whenever you reach it. The Organization boss fights are a different breed from the Disney and Heartless boss fights. There’s thought put into these battles, and this style of duel, where the player and enemy can both stunlock the other and the trick is to find the perfect opening, would go on to define the rest of the Kingdom Hearts series, albeit in a sometimes modified form. Learning how to even get started with this new “style” of boss fighting is a trick and a half, even if you did just come from CoM where the idea was technically introduced. You could cheese through CoM with Lethal Frame. Not here.

kh2-2016-06-10-03h37m55s447One good strategy for almost all the Org members is Reflect, though Demyx’s hit-and-run combat style is often going to take him out of your range. In this case, the tried-and-true Wisdom Form and Fira strategy really is a winner, and it might even pay to pack a few Ethers, just in case Demyx unleashes the second wave of water forms while you’re recharging! Stitch might also be a good idea, if you’re not a fan of Wisdom Form. Failing all else, Valour Form’s foot speed is still murder on chase bosses, and even AntiForm can catch up to Demyx with its Square button technique if worst comes to worst (though being in AntiForm when the water elementals show up would be instant death). Just don’t make the mistake of trying out Master Form here.  I know you’re excited to use the new form, but don’t. That’s one of the other reasons Demyx kills new players: veterans know Master Form and bosses rarely mix.

Sadly, after that Drive-heavy spiel, I have to announce that battles with the Organization have a 5x odds of triggering AntiForm. Gooooood luck with that!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – The Crowning Inglory
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Tragedy, Clearly

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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