Beast’s Castle, Revisited
As you arrive at Beast’s Castle, a cutscene with Belle implies that it’s the night of the famous ballroom dance scene from the film, and everyone is getting ready for Belle and Beast’s date. Into this dignified and meticulously planned affair marches Sir Clown Shoes of High Fives with his two court jesters, who are loudly shouting that there are no Heartless or Nobodies anywhere. Wow, I guess that means you’re breaking in again!
Beast is pacing a rut in the entrance hall as he waits for Belle to arrive, and asks Sora what the hell his deal is. Sora replies “The Nobodies’ world has to be out there somewhere. We’re looking for a way in.” Is that what we’re doing? Because I’m pretty sure that a world and several sidequests ago, you had no leads whatsoever! I’m also pretty sure that the last time you did have a stated objective, it wasn’t this. As I recall: you were looking for the Realm of Darkness like a man in the desert looking for specific grains of sand. That’s not to say I don’t like this excuse. If the game had established this new objective, and renewed it frequently, this whole half of the game wouldn’t feel tacked on for the vast majority of the audience! Unfortunately, Sora will only talk about this “objective” once more before the end of the game. They might as well have spray-painted “not an edit” across the screen while he says it.
Sora almost gets it into his head that he should leave, but Donald is a delightful shit and barges in to watch the dancing. The game recreates the iconic chandelier shot, complete with overwrought whooshing sounds to underline how stupid this looks without background music of any kind.
But the happy day is not to be, as Xaldin returns to ruin everything. He declares that he’s come to “take something very dear to [Beast],” and summons his lesser Nobodies to attack. These are Dragoons, designed after the famous Final Fantasy job class. A casual glance might lead you to believe they’re a sort of dragon-like Nobody armed with lances, close observation shows that they’re actually humanoid Nobodies wearing a really elaborate helmet, complete with not just dragon head, but dragon neck! You can even make out their eyes under the bindings that hold the helmet in place.
Here in Beast’s Castle, the Dragoons have stats high above the battle level of the world, as has been typical for story Nobodies at other points in the game. Later in the game, they seem to be statted lower than the other Nobodies in the area, so they’re only really threatening here in Beast’s Castle! They’re the only enemy I feel has this distinction, so maybe I’m just imagining it?
Here in Beast’s Castle at least, the Dragoons are fairly dangerous, thanks entirely to their famous Jump command, which has an area effect. In fact Jump is so famous that Sora’s Reaction Command was also named Jump. You first use the Blue Mage command “Learn” to take Jump commands for yourself. The mechanics are unique and take a little getting used to: you Learn the Jump, and it replaces Attack on the command menu. Once you use it, Jump reverts to Attack, but if you want, you can stack up to 9 Jumps. …Well, you can, but since Jump is so effective and prevents you from using normal Attacks, there’s little reason to horde them.
Beast joins you during this fight, immediately reverting to his default costume. Hm. It was cute how Jack Skellington got a new costume, so it’s too bad Beast didn’t too. I can’t imagine it would have taken that much extra work, but… oh well, sometimes these things are hard to say.
If you’re lucky, after a fight a Dragoon may drop the Nobody Lance, a staff for Donald that’s okay, but tied to some useless abilities (Defender in Vanilla, Item Boost in FM+).
After you clear on the Dragoons, everyone seems safe (Belle and the servants fled to the inaccessible Balcony of Refuge yet again), but this clues the Beast in to what Xaldin was really after, and he rushes off to the west wing without you. After you mow down all the Heartless between here and there, you find Beast pacing in his bedroom, furious. His rose has been stolen.
Being the kind of person the Beast is at this point in the plot, he decides to take his aggressions out on Belle. He’s completely out of line, and Sora sees the need to physically interpose himself between Beast and Belle. Unfortunately, it seems no one has told Belle of the rose’s significance any more than they’ve told Sora, and when she suggests he find another rose, Beast becomes even more furious. After a while, he gives up on fury and sadly banishes Sora, Donald and Goofy, as well as Belle, from the castle. When Belle tries to protest, the Beast makes a brief speech saying he no longer feels able to change, and refuses to speak to anyone any longer.
Out in the hall, Sora talks to the servants about the rose, who fill him in on the rose’s backstory and its role as a “timer” on Beast’s curse. Armed with this information, Sora returns to the Beast, where he makes his own speech about how the Beast gave him courage in Hollow Bastion. Unfortunately, in a misguided effort to be polite to new players, Sora uses the most generic language imaginable and doesn’t seem to be referring to any specific event at all. Remember during KH1 when I talked about Kingdom Hearts rarely making a friendship speech unless it had earned it? Here we see a friendship speech that KH has earned, but entirely removed from its context, and it may as well not have earned it at all. I can at least see what the KH2 staff were going for, but it’s close enough to serve as an example of what not to do. “You were courageous, and that gave us courage.” Thanks, Sunshine Bear.
Sora also points out that by giving up on the rose (thankfully Sora doesn’t objectify Belle here), Beast is also forcing the servants to live under the curse as well. This finally riles the Beast, and he vows that Xaldin will be thrown from the castle.
(I don’t want to undo the Beast’s character development here, but I’m not certain he and Sora are understanding the situation as well as they think they are. Some of the dialog implies that the Rose is necessary to remove the curse, but other parts imply it’s a merely sentimental alarm clock. I can’t decide which it is, but I have to ask all the same: are they positive that recovering the rose is urgent? I know the Beast is attached to the rose for other reasons, but I still wonder.)
This cutscene gives you two prizes, three in FM+. The first is the Rumbling Rose Keyblade, an all-Strength Keyblade in the line of the KH1’s Oblivion. It has Finishing Plus, making it even more valuable as a striking Keyblade, and a great Valour Form Keyblade if you’re not going to use it on your main character. The second is the “Castle Walls Map.” …I guess we’re going to the castle walls? Do you see what I mean about the maps being kind of senseless and arbitrary? The third prize is access to an Absent Silhouette, featuring none other than the former final boss himself, Marluxia, probably the most dangerous of the set. As usual, details in the wrap-up.
You run into Xaldin in the entrance hall, who is standing on a platform that can’t… possibly exist for anything but bad guys making speeches. He unhoods and declares that he’s doing this so that Beast will turn into a Heartless and a Nobody, and so fuel the Organization’s march to Kingdom Hearts. Under the hood, Xaldin is a black-haired man with one of those anime haircuts that practically give him tusks. You fight another platoon of Nobodies as Xaldin tries to rile Beast into losing his heart, and then you head out the front door.
Here Xaldin makes his big move. Belle is out on her balcony in her plain-clothes, pouting, when she spots the rose (and its case) just lying on the ground next to her. Not thinking about why it would be there, she picks it up, and Xaldin takes her prisoner as well. Xaldin teleports through the front gate to a bridge just outside the castle, and Beast barges through the gate after him.
This is the point where I often just get up, go back to a save point and scoot over to Port Royal. I rarely regret this decision. But if you insist on going through right now…
You reach the bridge outside the castle, which leads to a barred gate at the entrance. Beast orders Xaldin to leave his castle, and Xaldin has a great little line where he says “With pleasure, but I’d rather travel light…” and he threatens Beast to choose between Belle and the rose. Beast hesitates, but I don’t think he’s hesitating to decide between Belle and the rose. I think he’s just trying to decide if he can tear out Xaldin’s larynx before Xaldin hurts either. Beast chooses Belle, and rushes Xaldin at the same time before Xaldin can anything to scum the deal. In fact I’m not entirely sure that Beast “chose” Belle so much as warned her to duck.
Belle does no such thing. Belle elbows Xaldin in the ribs, and steals the rose while she’s at it.
A lot of people don’t like this scene, going so far as to ascribe Belle’s success to her princess of heart powers. I think a lot of those people haven’t been jammed in the ribs. Beast is bum-rushing the guy so I don’t blame Xaldin for failing to protect himself against Belle. A few years later, Days would arguably provide an incidental bonus explanation for Xaldin’s screw-up: he’s just too obsessed with the Beast and thinks of Belle as a non-factor. Sorry, Xaldin, but when someone slams you in the gut, you go down.
Belle runs past the others, who form a line to cut Xaldin off. The fight is on, but you’re going to wish it wasn’t. Xaldin arms himself with his Lindworm lances, three in the hand and a number of others spinning around him in a sort of shield, thanks to his mastery over the air.
That’s not the only thing Xaldin likes to do with his wind powers. He’ll also summon up an Aero shield you can only break by using Jump on him like you would his Dragoons (many of the other Org members to come have similar traits, letting the lesser Nobodies stand as a sort of ongoing practice. Oh, and by the way, this breaking of an Aero shield with Jump is probably intended as a reference to the Barbaricca battle in FFIV). Xaldin’s sheer mass of lances also make almost all his attacks area attacks. Between the area attacks and the Aero shield, it can be hard to even land attacks on this guy. Waiting patiently for Jump can work, but sometimes the bastard just doesn’t use it on you! Better still you learn how to use Reflect.
Xaldin can also summon a giant wind dragon launch a heavy wind attack at you. About the only protection from this attack is to note where it’s starting its attack and then book it to the opposite side of the bridge, since the attack will cover only 90% of its length. I’ve seen quite a few players – myself included – try to hide behind the crenellations in the wall. That is a mistake. Quick Run’s a lifesaver here.
While knowing how to dodge the dragon is 100% reliable with a little practice, the rest of the fight is just a giant pain. The collective groans from the fandom backs up my own experience: Xaldin is a nightmare. Some folks have more trouble with Demyx than I do, but Xaldin is my failing point. As I said, I often give up after a few tries, and then skip ahead a few worlds before coming back to him. During my Retrospective playthrough on Critical Mode, I was going to give up, only for Mickey to rescue me four times in a row. This fight is also the last time I feel Mickey is truly useful, so I didn’t feel bad about exhausting his appearance rate. Defeating Xaldin earns you your first Reflect upgrade, which is definitely worth the trouble.
Xaldin dies after the battle, dropping Secret Ansem Report 4 and leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. Belle returns the rose, and Beast thanks her and asks her to stay in the castle once again, to make up for his being a dick. She accepts and, with no prompting, Lumiere instructs his… uh… ghost orchestra to play so that the couple can dance. And the song they play is a brief mix of “Beauty and the Beast!” Wow, and we normally skip the Disney music! Everyone watches them dance together, and the section ends with everyone simply being happy.
Immediately after clearing your second world – whichever world that may be – Chip and Dale will pipe up saying they’re getting a “reading.” Despite them saying it’s probably nothing, if you head up north you can see of a massive indistinct shape forming to the top end of the map, past Twilight Town. The Chip and Dale sequences in this half of the game have a number of faults in them that make me suspect they were written at a different, probably later, stage of the writing process than the second loop itself, and they feel more corrective than additive (they fix the plot rather than being a part of it). It’s kind of hard to explain without spoilers, but we’ll be keeping an eye on them.
Secret Ansem Report 4 was written while Ansem/DiZ was still trapped in the realm of darkness. Ansem notes the darkness eating away at him in the form of rage and intense hatred, and is musing over the “Ansem” Reports from KH1 to try to work out the Organization’s plan. Ansem is still lying to himself here, and within a much shorter span of time. It seems he can say “I’m becoming overwhelmed by hatred” one sentence but not notice himself shifting to the subject of revenge a few lines later. He suggests he may soon succumb to the darkness. This report essentially has a “sequel” in the form of Report 6, but that’s a few worlds away.
Like with Demyx, a Mushroom XIII has come to mourn Xaldin, this one with a very strange challenge. Essentially, it flies around the bridge, dropping collection orbs that bounce once before fading immediately. You need to grab 450 of these. It’s hard to tell how many the Mushroom drops overall, but I’m going to guess it’s 500. Suffice to say, you’re going to need most of them. You’re going to need every Draw skill in the game, plus most of the mobility skills. Good luck with that.
And then… Marluxia.
Marluxia’s is probably going to be hardest of the CoM bosses for the average player, which is fitting for a former final boss. The fight opens with the usual camera sweeps that lead into a KH2 boss, but Marluxia upsets the predictable formula by teleporting to Sora and whispering something in his ear. It’s a great surprise given how much the game has acclimatized you to the camera swoops leading directly into the battle. It seems Marluxia’s whisper causes a form of Doom to kick in for poor Sora. A counter shows up above your head (set to your current level), and it’s going to make your life miserable. Marluxia opens the battle with an attack that strikes so quickly that you’ll almost certainly be hit by it your first time through the fight, and that’s deliberate. The combo teaches you that the Doom counter decreases whenever you take a hit. Just like any other form of Doom, if the counter reaches 0, you will die instantly.
Marluxia has almost more patterns than nearly any other boss in the game. There’s a lot to get used to, and I can’t possibly talk about them all. Only Marluxia’s scythe depletes the counter, and his scythe does no HP damage in exchange. His other attacks do deplete your HP however, so you’re going to have to keep your eyes on both. You’ll want to keep your eye out for Marluxia’s ground combo. If you dodge it (dodge it, not block it), you can approach Marluxia and do one of two Reaction Commands: you can restore your Doom counter if you approach his scythe, or you can harm him if you approach his body. Another of Marluxia’s pesky attacks is one where he tosses you in the air, and the only way to break out is to use Aerial Recovery to hit him as he approaches. The timing can be harsh.
As the fight reaches its middle stage, Marly introduces a real pain: giant pink-black pits that will kill you instantly (or drop you to 1 HP with Second Chance). Once you get used to them, it’s easy enough to dodge, but now you have to fight in a tiny corner of the arena! You have to learn how to dodge the pits, block his attack and do some damage without touching the pits a second time! And it’s critical for you to learn, because Marluxia will eventually stop doing anything else for a stretch, so you’ll have no other way to do damage!
After that, phase three introduces a bizarre pinwheel attack and a long combo that nearly requires Reflect or the last (hidden) Drive form’s movement ability to avoid… better yet, both. Pull through alive and you’ll win a prize worthy of the feat: a Drive Gauge upgrade, and a recipe for an accessory that gives you MP Haste. Hail the conquering hero.