…Hoh boy, here we go.
The Longest Segment of Atlantica
Travelling back to Atlantica may be the first time many players notice the giant shadow looming at the top of the map. Enjoy that ominous moment while it lasts because we’re going to be spending the next fifteen minutes watching cutscenes, followed by a two minute song and three additional minutes of cutscenes, just as a rotten cherry on top (there are a few dialogue sequences / safe zone in the middle, but this seems like a proximate amount of time). Yeah, yeah, I know, fifteen minutes is nothing in the grand scheme of the industry, but have you considered this important detail: it’s Atlantica, so it’s crap? So get your Metal Gear Solid-sized popcorn tub and let’s check out some dreck!
I’m not going to sit here doing nothing but recapping a video you could easily watch yourself, so how about I cut to the chase? The segment opens with the usual title bar on Atlantica naming the upcoming song. In Japan, the title of this song translates to “I’ve Come Back.” In English, this one’s name is “Ursula’s Revenge.” Wait, whose?
Sora and Ariel collect the necklace, just in time for Triton to storm in and destroy the statue, ala the film. And also… exactly like the Crystal Trident from KH1, which was itself built on the film. By the way, no particular reason for me to bring this up, I just thought it was neat, but did you ever hear of the Final Fantasy IV Interlude included in the PSP Complete Collection? I’ve already mentioned it but I’ll go into detail. The Interlude bridges FFIV with its sequel, The After Years. If I had a major complaint about The After Years, it was that it retreads so many elements from FFIV wholesale, but the Interlude made up for that by retreading elements that were in both previous sources instead of just one, so that you can be double-tired instead of just normally tired. That’s why it’s considered an essential element of the FFIV canon to this day, and why the 3D remake of TAY, made after the Interlude was released, doesn’t include the Interlude at all. Just a funny story about repetitive story elements that I felt like telling. No reason.
Ariel and Triton fight, including Ariel saying “You don’t even know him!” You don’t even know him yourself, Ariel? I don’t want to side with your dad on this, but…
Ariel swims out, and is comforted by who else but Ursula the Sea Witch. The game offers no explanation for her return until after you’ve killed her again, 20 minutes from now when you’re reading Jiminy’s Journal, which says something about the power of darkness. Ursula goes straight into her movie shtick. We’re so dedicated to reproducing the Disney plot motion-for-motion in KH2 (KH2’s founding ethos, or so it seems) that we’re repeating something that KH1 replicated in spirit but not in form. It almost feels like they felt KH1 had to be corrected, like how dare it not mindlessly repeat scenes from the film, provide a more unique experience for players, and account for context. The audacity. This feels like the dividing line – this is the point where KH2 goes from simply repeating Disney elements regardless of the presence of armies of demons, and goes into actively attacking KH1 for having the gall to have done something more creative in the first place. And Atlantica is only going to get worse, which is weird, because KH2 is in the middle of its second loop, the more creative loop, making Atlantica not only uncreative, tacky and rude to the previous game, but a canker on the ass of this game, too!
Ariel asks Ursula: “Didn’t my father banish you?” Are you seeing this? Am I seeing this? Am I seeing this? We’re tossing KH1’s plot in the garbage with no aim but to reproduce The Little Mermaid 1:1. She acts like she’s never seen Ursula, not ever, not even that whole time where she took Ariel’s father’s trident and grew to the size of a mountain. The game is so ruthless with continuity and logic, nevermind the massive idiot ball involved (and I’m starting to think that the idiot ball is Atlantica itself). I can’t imagine you would be satisfied with this retcon even if you did want Kingdom Hearts 2 to reproduce plots 1:1! In a later safe zone, Flounder actually does say Ursula was banished “long ago,” not just implying a longer period of time than you’d expect between KH1 and 2, but implying that Sora doesn’t know anything about her either. This is happening exactly as it appears! This is baffling, striking inanity!
Ursula makes her deal with Ariel as per the film instead of KH1, and Sebastian spots it. You have to wonder where Sora was. I mean it’s not impossible he would fall behind Ariel a whole… five seconds behind her, but it’s pretty improbable. In any event, he’s too late: Ariel transforms, and Sora takes the place of Flounder and Sebastian from the original in helping her to the surface.
When the cast reaches the surface, everyone but Ariel is scared away when Eric arrives, but Ariel is able to win his trust by giving him back his pendant. And then… we just sit and watch The Little Mermaid go by, abridged, but only so much. And it just keeps going. If you’re new here, or even if you’re like me and have played the game before with a less than perfect memory, you’re probably thinking: “And now we’ll cut to a song. A song now. A song riiiiiiight……… now.” But it never comes. If you’re a KH2 veteran and also like me, you probably remember: “Wait, isn’t ‘Ursula’s Revenge’ the song that plays near the end of Atlantica?” And the sad answer is… yup. I hate to advocate for additional content in a minigame that I despise, but Atlantica was screaming for “Kiss the Girl” just to break up the pacing. In fact, the “Kiss the Girl” sequence is here in brief, without the music! This sequence goes on so long you get a rest break.
…Actually, I take that last complaint back. I’ll even turn it into a compliment! Cinematic video games need more rest breaks. Metal Gear? Xenosaga? Are you listening? Through your time holes to the future?
Since so much is going on, let’s just reduce the plot of the film and game to their perfectly identical brass tacks: Ariel has lost her voice, but has fallen in love with Eric. Ursula and her eels keep messing things up, and finally Ursula interrupts directly by transforming into “Vanessa” and charming Eric with Ariel’s voice. (“Vanessa’s” model is probably the most effort the devs have put into such a small spot of time, as she’s only on screen for a few seconds. Good effort for what that’s worth – it’s like the KH2 equivalent of those blink-and-you’ll miss them Agrabah NPCs in KH1.)
Sora decides that that’s the line and fires a laser beam at the shell holding Ariel’s voice! This doesn’t bother some fans but it drives me up the wall. Atlantica has already shown a total disrespect for the rest of Kingdom Hearts, so having Sora firing lasers isn’t exactly unbelievable coming from it. I can only rationalize this by saying he “unlocked” the shell but I’m not sure how believable that is. If not that, and if Sora really can fire lasers whenever he pleases: why didn’t he fire lasers in any other number of places? It would be as if Riku started to fly. We’ve seen him run on walls, jump high, but what if he just started to fly… once and then never again, because it was convenient to the plot? Now imagine that in every other instance where Riku could have benefited from flying, the game just has no explanation for why he doesn’t. It’s the Silver Age Superman problem: Superman has too many powers and you eventually have trouble explaining why he doesn’t use them in a situation that’s tailor-made for those powers. The only reason I’m going to shut up about it is so Atlantica will go away.
Ursula transforms back into her regular self, but grabs Eric and runs into the sea as the sun sets. Again, we return to the basic structure of the film: Ursula convinces Triton to sign over his life instead of his daughter’s, and in return he’s transformed into a polyp, or whatever those black things Ursula keeps imprisoned are supposed to be. All while Sora does nothing. Nothing. No “Flotsam and Jetsam cut him off,” no… anything! Eric free-dives to the bottom of the sea with no tank or weights besides a harpoon, while Sora sits around eating wet Cheetos. DO SOMETHING YOU NINNY.
Ursula turns giant and finally the song starts. Oh right, the whole rhythm minigame thing! I uh… legitimately forgot while I was doing the first pass editing. Ah heh. Heh heh… hah. The new mechanic in this song is a queue to rapidly tap the button, and the objective is to clear a “health bar” of Ursula’s by hitting the right notes. The new rapid-tap seem to be best at clearing the health bar, since you do very little “damage” with the old mechanics. And it really is good at it – I’ve usually cleared the health bar about half way through the song!
Of the three unique songs in KH2’s Atlantica, this one is probably my favourite, even if it’s far from perfect. Most of the quality comes from Pat Carroll, who’s brought all her enthusiasm, especially towards the end. Still, even Pat Carroll can’t save the song from the writing, which is having some special localization problems on top of its other faults. In a few places, Carroll has to sing too fast just to keep up with the song’s original, Japanese-lyric tempo, which just doesn’t match at points. I’m not musically competent enough to bring the rest of this to critique, but the song sounds like something off of an unremarkable DTV movie’s soundtrack. For what it’s worth, even a DTV movie’s soundtrack is better than the ear-wrenching “Swim this Way.”
I do have to touch on the lyrics a little. At one point, Ursula calls Flotsam and Jetsam to her side, and they leave Sora to do so, even though they had very nearly killed him. And when they get to Ursula, she orders them… to kill Sora. Guess you should have been paying a little more attention to the fight, huh Ursula?
There is another bothersome part where Sora kills Flotsam and Jetsam with another laser beam. And this time I almost can’t excuse it: he can’t be “unlocking” a living thing! That’s so gross, I can’t even imag—wait, what’s that? Is that a… is that Keyhole?
It’s a little hard to see in still shots, but it’s definitely there. Oh god, Sora just “unlocked” two living things. He unzipped them alive and let them burst out into the water in a cloud of trapped air and organs. The fuck. The fuck.
Ursula’s “health bar” doesn’t have any direct impact on the battle (Ursula keeps singing and fighting even after she’s “out of health”). After you clear the fight, Eric lands the final blow. Unlike the original, in which Eric killed Ursula by stabbing her with a broken bowsprit, here Sora disarms Ursula and the trident lands in Eric’s dingy. This allows Eric to throw it and kill her. Reader Eamonn tells me this is how Ursula was going to die in an earlier draft of the film script, so good salvage! And hey, they incorporated Sora into the plot without taking away from anyone! I suppose it can be done. Furthermore, this is an elegant compromise for the bowsprit, considering they probably didn’t have a good broken boat model on-hand. And that was one of Disney’s more gruesome deaths, so I didn’t exactly expect it here in a game that refused to keep firearms in a story about pirates. So there you go: a situational but genuine compliment. You got one genuine compliment at the start of Atlantica and one near the end. And in the middle: sludge.
After the song, Ariel reveals to Eric that she’s a mermaid, which is a little hard to believe. It’s worse in the English version where Ursula addressed Ariel as a mermaid and Eric apparently wasn’t listening, but even in the Japanese version, he and Ariel were treading water in a hug during most of Ursula’s Revenge. But in a nice touch (probably intended to keep Atlantica restricted to the zones already introduced), Eric actually seems happy to have a relationship with Ariel as a mermaid, with no implication that she has to leave her family to be with him. Which… actually fixes a moral problem with the original film! We do see that she chose to become a human in the end credits, but her decision to give up her life as a mermaid seems far less impulsive as a result. Wow, way to go out, Atlantica!
Sadly this isn’t the end of Atlantica. Like 100 Acre Wood, the KH2 devs insisted on one last finale segment, even though the plot is over. Since we just went for about ten minutes without interruption, I appreciate this a little more than I did in 100 Acre Wood. This time, you’re going to have to wait until you have the Thundaga spell, as Sebastian insists he needs it for a special effect in his musical. What’s weird is, while the effect does exist during the upcoming song, but it’s not very prominent or interesting!
Like in 100 Acre Wood, clearing the climax gives you a new Keyblade: the Mysterious Abyss, a balanced Keyblade with Blizzard Boost, if you’re into Blizzard. Since I’m not, the Mysterious Abyss is junk to me. I’m glad the reward for clearing the entire world is a little more worth it. But that’s another day.