Agrabah and Halloween Town have proximate battle levels – 40 and 41 – so you can easily go in whichever order you please. I am, of course, sticking rigidly to the order as-written. Agrabah is probably the busiest of the second loop worlds, though I can’t really say if that’s a plus or a minus.
We start off in Agrabah with an opening cinematic involving the Peddler freeing Jafar from his lamp. Wow, you’d think that’s the sort of thing you’d give a 24 hour guard, but okay! We later learn an off-screen, unknown Organization member got the Peddler to the location. Why they didn’t just rub the lamp themselves is unclear (presumably the Organization is wise enough to not try using Jafar for wishes). The real-world reason the Org member isn’t involved is obvious: the Org member was inserted for much the same reasons as the Dusks in Olympus Coliseum: as a last-second graft to make it look like the plot is still happening. Iago stumbles across Jafar being freed, and we cut to black as he screams.
It seems Jafar didn’t leave the Peddler without granting a few wishes. Sora and the others arrive in his shop to find it lined with gold and treasures. Did the peddler really change his inside décor but keep that ratty curtain in the door? Don’t be silly, that would involve changing both the interior map and the exterior! No one in the party is suspicious about these new treasures, and simply ask the peddler if he’s seen anyone in a black coat until Aladdin barges in looking for the Peddler. Too late; he’s vanished, and Aladdin gives Sora the bad news about Jafar.
Sora and the others respond to Aladdin’s bad news with a series of terrible, awful-looking flashbacks intended to summarize the events of Agrabah in KH1. They’re just out of context and hilarious. I mean: they eventually break down to Jafar cackling as the camera zooms in at his teeth. I think the cutscene team was having a laugh right along with us. Also, Bandit Heartless from KH1 show up in it, despite not appearing in KH2, and that’s interesting. And in one last dose of weirdness, one of these flashbacks ends up in the Album after you clear the world! Remember that in the Japanese versions, Sora and friends write on the album pages and these are probably real in-universe objects. Who took this picture?
Aladdin reveals Iago is with him and that Iago was the one who filled him in on Jafar’s return. Nevertheless, Aladdin confides that he’s worries Iago might be working for Jafar. He threatens Iago, saying that, if nothing else, he’ll shun Iago if it turns out he’s working for the bad guy. It’s not the heftiest threat I’ve ever heard, but Aladdin and Iago are nominally friends at this point, so it wouldn’t make much sense to threaten worse. It seems this pressure convinces Iago to tell everyone that he knows Jafar’s location, but he seems to regret saying it as soon as it leaves his beak. He says Jafar is in some desert ruins, so off you go to the gate.
The split second this cutscene ends, you can turn the camera and see the last of the Absent Silhouettes. No kidding: it is basically lurking over your shoulder, it’s really quite jarring. Also, before you go off to resolve the plot or fight Vexen, I have a note from my retrospective playthrough that I think comes from Donald in the peddler’s safe zone. Here’s the line: “I bet [the peddler’s] on the take with Jafar!” I can’t believe you said that, that’s fantastic. “On the take.” I haven’t heard that expression in years! Amazing.
You make your way to the desert (if you’re like me, we just level this bazaar every time we come here, the invisible shopkeepers must hate us), with Iago acting awfully suspicious in safe zones. Just at the gate, it seems a sandstorm is cutting you off from the ruins, and Iago tries to use that as an excuse to get everyone to turn back. Unfortunately for him, Genie arrives to clean up the sandstorm, and the chase continues (Genie vanishes after this with no explanation for his absence. C’mon KH2 devs, you were clearly aware of later Aladdin canon, couldn’t you have watched a few episodes of the show to see how to fit a Genie into a small plot without upsetting things? Or Jasmine, for that matter?)
When you reach the ruins, you find they exist in what’s either a canyon or a massive sinkhole. It looks like a whole town fell into the ground one day, hopefully long after the town had been abandoned, or ouch, that’s dark. The party isn’t sure how to proceed, but are saved by the arrival of Carpet, who offers to take Sora onto his back. How the rest of the party makes it to the other side is that old RPG mystery, right up there with scuba diving with a single dive helmet. (One of my first full RPGs was Mario RPG. Mario RPG made multiple jokes about this “party members disappear into the lead character” cliché, and as a result, every RPG I’ve played since has looked silly. As I learned when I first watched Thunderball years after first seeing Austin Powers: a good parody can all but destroy the original.)
Now that we’re on the Carpet, it seems Atlantica’s new control scheme didn’t go completely to waste, as you use it now to fly around the ruins (sadly, Atlantica’s handy Dolphin Kick is not available). Carpet stays underneath you at all times, so you can never fall off. The carpet isn’t a perfect match with the Atlantica controls, since Sora is functionally on a flying platform, and his combat abilities match up with his situation: if he’s standing, he’ll use standing attacks, if he’s jumping he’ll use jumping attacks. This alleviates a lot of the problems with the KH1 Atlantica control set overall. The game also helps out behind the scenes. For example, if Sora flies too low to attack an enemy, he simply jumps off of Carpet to attack, and if he flies too high, the flying enemies will rapidly automatically fly up to your height to find you. It also helps that Sora will fly around at high speeds if you hold the stick for a while, which isn’t just fun, but it helps you avoid combat entirely if you want to!
The section starts with a brief tutorial “offered” by a water form of Jafar. I want to say up front that I like this section, as it’s a pretty casual tutorial. But I have to wonder why Jafar is even using a water form. Jafar never uses water magic again. The devs just had the effect lying around after Demyx and just felt like they had to use it again, I suppose?
After you’re done with the water elemental, you find a tall, floating tower that’s hovering over a series of sand waterfalls. Very impressive looking room. Atop the tower, you battle some Heartless and activate a series of beacons throughout the runs that have to be triggered by your spells. The beacons form a pattern and colour based on the spell and your timing has to be perfect (for example, you can recognize a Blizzard beacon because it turns blue and that it forms a straight line, just like the Blizzard spell!). However, the beacon is only vulnerable for a second, so you can easily miss your chance, and the section’s still not very fair to the colourblind. Nevertheless, it’s a good use of KH2’s functionally-infinite magic system. I can’t deny that this is a filler section, but it’s a nifty mechanic and I especially like the way you’re shown the beacons’ locations via a sort of camera system and have to locate them based on context cues.
After the last beacon, there’s a senseless race back to the tower just to fill even more time. If you know the race is coming, it’s easy to save the beacon nearest to the tower for last. Thankfully, FM+ gives you an extra 15 seconds to get there (thanks again to dlppictures’ comparison guide). Inside the tower, you find more ruin, the last set of Torn Pages… and nothing else. This place is abandoned.
(It’s not very surprising that you find the Torn Pages here in Agrabah, though you have to have thought about it. Remember that Treasures are listed in the journal? As you might recall, Halloween Town and Pride Lands were emptied during our first trip, and every other world was emptied on the second. We’re basically out of places for Torn Pages to hide. The page sure as hell wasn’t going to be in Space Paranoids, so the odds said “Agrabah.”)
Everyone wonders where Jafar could be, and Iago begs for forgiveness and reveals that Jafar was never here. Instead, it turns out that Jafar threatened Iago into leading the others away from the city so that he could attack Agrabah in their absence. Everyone’s furious at Iago, and their shouting startles Iago into an urn that just so happens to be booby trapped. This triggers a kill-switch on the ruins. Wait, there’s a kill-switch on the entire city? Forget Jafar, I want to know who built this funhouse!
Everyone… merges with Sora again… and you’re off on yet another Agrabah collapse sequence. And this one doesn’t even make sense. There’s a little bit of shaking, and toward the end the game throws a whole bunch of sand in your face like some kind of dirty log flume, but you don’t seem to be in any danger from the moment you leave the tower to the moment you reach “safety.” It’s a giant farce. Sure, a building collapses from time to time, but once you’re in the air, escape should be a simple matter of flying further up. And just like in KH1 (in fact, this is all exactly like KH1’s carpet sequence, except that KH1 had a roof (and health orbs, not that that affects the minigame’s quality), while KH2 makes the mistake of making this a replayable journal requirement), no harm is done to the ruins once you leave on the other side. You have to wonder why they bother, but you don’t have to look any further than the candle-lighting mini-game in Beast’s Castle: they made a mini-game, and by god, they weren’t going to waste it, no matter how stupid it was.
The carpet escape mini-game itself isn’t so bad, but it is unintuitive. Carpet flies around auto-scrolling, looping around the city instead of escaping because of the… I mentioned nothing is actually happening, right? The game makes a huge fuss to keep you from noticing, but nothing is actually happening for the vast majority of the sequence. You are, at least, being attacked by Heartless, and can move on the X and Y planes and bat at any Heartless that show up on-screen. Hook Bats and Rapid Thrusters are generally killed in a single attack, while Fortune Tellers require a combo finisher to destroy them (it’s possible to move yourself along the screen as you attack, destroying normal enemies with the first hits of the combo and Fortune Tellers with the finisher. FM+’s Combo Master makes this even easier). After you defeat an enemy, it goes flying into the background, where at exactly two points during the trip, the enemy might hit a Fat Bandit that’s wandering around in the distance. This is so stupid. Jiminy wants a perfect score, but mind that this will be one of the last mini-games most players will clear, as special abilities are nearly if not outright required.
You make it back to town, where Carpet leaves you at a safe zone. If you talk to him, he gets a zoomed out narrative balloon like you’d expect from a being that can’t speak. It puts Pegasus narrating his own neighs to shame. You return to the city, where you speak to its only resident, the Peddler, who tells you Jafar didn’t give him all that treasure you found in his shop. He claims the offscreen Organization member did it instead (this is, again, the only mention of the Org on the entire world). “Organization XIII!?” shouts Sora. “I knew it!” No, Queen of Hearts, stop the trial, this stranger I’ve never met is innocent! Sure, Jack, I want to see the Heartless dance! Don’t worry, Leon, we’ll help you rebuild Hollow Bastion! Kairi and Riku are in the Realm of Darkness! …This whole series is just a reality show following Sora around as he shouts things, isn’t it?
Back in the room where you fought the Blizzard and Volcanic Lords, Jafar has Jasmine chained to the gates of the palace. This is how determined this series is to not go past those doors, they’re employing a human shield! Jafar insists that he’s going to kill Aladdin and then Jasmine will “weep at my side for all eternity.” Suuuuper creepy, J. He then presumes Aladdin is already dead, which implies that he somehow expected someone to knock over a random jar in the tower, for no reason, triggering a deathtrap that forgot to load the death.
Of course, the heroes arrive at just that moment, everyone in battle stances except Aladdin, who is just fish-facing like someone forgot to turn him back on. This may be because he isn’t really relevant to the upcoming scenes. That role falls to Iago: Jafar shoots Aladdin and Iago intercepts the blast. Iago takes a pretty bad hit: he looks closer to dead than Goofy ever did. Jafar then grows to his genie form, and Carpet comes to fetch Sora for a one-on-one match.
This fight is more flash than substance, which would probably have been more acceptable if Jafar’s health bar hadn’t gone on and on. I guess you don’t want a genie to die quickly, but Jafar has so few attacks that it’s way too easy to come to grips with them, making the extended battle boring. While it’s possible to fight him head on, the ideal strategy is to sock him in the gut, Belle-style. After a few hits to the gut (it has its own HP bar), Sora grabs Jafar’s tail with a Reaction Command, spins him dizzy and then wails on him. This is so easy to do that it’s practically the whole fight: get close, gut, spin, wail. Jafar essentially spends the whole battle stunlocked – if in a somewhat non-traditional manner. In Proud mode, Jafar’s gut will last a little longer and force you to dodge a few more attacks, but Standard and Critical players are laughing.
The attacks soaring past your head are a little strange. Jafar keeps throwing towers from the palace at you. Where does he keep pulling those towers? There are a LOT of towers at the palace but I hardly believe so many that I’m not seeing any damage as he pulls out tower after tower. I think the devs could have just shown the castle missing one or two towers and I wouldn’t be complaining. Unfortunately that’s not just a nitpick I’m bringing up for my own sake, but because the devs all but point it out: Jafar later throws buildings from the city at you (all abandoned, I’m sure) and after the fight you do see damage in the city, but the towers go unexplained!
Meanwhile, Jafar keeps babbling in magic language, the same quote over and over (Eamonn informs me in the comments below that the quote is supposed to be “Abra acadubalah” or something to that effect). GET UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK was always the worst, but as a runner up, I was never fond of Jafar’s generic magic words in this fight, as he’ll repeat that more than enough.
Finally Jafar has enough and uses a desperation attack, where you have to dodge his urban renewal with no way to hurt him back. One of the luxuries of Critical Mode’s low HP bars is that you don’t have to relive these desperation attacks very often, but in other difficulties, you’ll probably have to dodge Jafar’s attacks twice or more.
Clearing Jafar gets you Firaga. Hey, nice touch, we got Fira from Jafar in KH1! The battle also kills Jafar this time. I like that Sora was able to defeat Jafar outright this time around. Even though Sora had to restart this game at “Level 1,” I feel there’s an implications that this is a “stronger” Level 1 than before, or at least that this is a stronger Level 40 than before. In KH1, Sora put Jafar in his lamp with help, defeated Ursula with help, and fought off the Unknown with help. In this game, he’s killed Jafar solo, defeated Ursula in a musical number, and will later fight off the KH1 Unknown single-handed. This power curve continues into later games, we’ll be keeping an eye on it there as well.
After the battle, Iago survives and Genie shows up to ask why no one called him, and Aladdin stammers that “Things happened kinda fast!” Instead, Aladdin asks Genie to fix Agrabah. While Genie offers to improve the town, Aladdin insists he put it back “Just like it was, please.” With all the abject poverty and suffering! The kind I tried to escape at the beginning of my film!
There’s a brief section in the ending here where the characters talk about what friends “do” with one another, and whether or not friendship has certain obligations. This could have been an interesting topic to explore, but unfortunately only exists as a segue to another topic. Aladdin asks Sora about “About that friend of yours, the one you’re looking for?” Who? O-oh right, Riku! I legitimately forgot about him during my Retrospective playthrough. Maybe the game forgot to mention it for a running total of, uh… three? Four? Five worlds? Since Land of the Dragons. Depends on what counts. Aladdin tells Sora he’ll find Riku for sure, and it’s a sensitive, tender little ending, plot holes aside (remember, Sora never mentioned Riku to Aladdin in KH2, he mentioned him to Genie!). The devs probably figured that they’d never come back to Agrabah, so a goodbye was warranted.
Besides Firaga, clearing Agrabah earns you the Wishing Lamp Keyblade, which comes attacked to the Jackpot ability, and is a fairly well-statted Keyblade overall. Jackpot’s okay in this game, if only because it helps you grab extra score orbs from the Coliseum, and Drive Orbs with Drive Converter in FM+.
One bit of miscellaneous trivia I discovered while walking around in Agrabah post second trip is that Jasmine is walking around in front of the palace, and will fill you in on the events of KH1 if you chat with her (plus some stuff from the movie). I imagine she’s been like this since the first loop and I just never stopped off to chat, but how odd! I’m sure we’re all glad for the late recap about stuff Sora already knows, that was also recapped in a mandatory scene at the start of the second loop?
After that, it’s time to check out our new Absent Silhouette, which you can find in the Peddler’s Shop. Vexen appears outside the gate to the Mansion in Twilight Town, and has an unusual way of fighting. He doesn’t even hold his shield in his hands: he uses psychic powers to carry it instead, which is probably meant so that the shield is always facing you no matter the situation. Unlike in CoM, where you had to avoid the shield, the Frozen Pride is now your target: you have to destroy it before you can hurt Vexen. Sadly, it must be destroyed with a finishing attack: magic won’t work here, not even Fire. Once the shield is destroyed, you only have a brief window in which to hurt Vexen. On the plus side, Fire is great here.
Vexen has some powerful attacks, but the real threat is a strange Organization emblem that chases you along the floor, gradually filling a “Data” bar in the corner whenever you happen to be above the circle. Vexen’s attacks can freeze you, which will trap you on top of the emblem as it does its work. Each time this scanner fills a bar, Vexen will summon a copy of AntiForm Sora to join the fight. These copies become stronger each time the Data bar completes, from Level 1 to Level 9 (at which point the bar cycles on Level 9 for the rest of the battle). If copy Sora is alive when the data bar completes, you don’t need to worry about Vexen summoning another, but the level keeps going up, and eventually, copy Sora is going to die. The Level 1 copy is dust in the wind, but Level 9 is a serious problem, since you have to keep up with both him and Vexen. Because you’ve got to do a lot of running around, mobility upgrades play a critical role in this battle. Still, so long as you’ve been grinding your Drives, you might be able to keep up with Vexen the moment you come to Agrabah,which is a nice change from all these other Absent Silhouettes!
The prize for clearing Vexen is an Armour Slot for Sora, plus a recipe for a Shield for Goofy (we were all expecting that, right?) The normal shield isn’t that exciting, but if you make the + version, it will provide Goofy with MP Hastega, which is perfect if Goofy’s special techniques are your thing.
Vexen’s journal entry is also added at this point. In so many words, it says that says he opposed Marluxia’s betrayal and was killed for it by Axel, which is bound to be confusing to people who didn’t play CoM.
And with Vexen defeated, the Absent Silhouettes are behind us. Congrats! With that side-quest fully detailed, how about we wrap up another?
100 Acre Wood
100 Acre Wood ends in KH2 on the same hill where it ended in KH1. There, Sora finds Pooh with a hunny jar stuck on his head, and you have to play a mini-game to get it off. You have to love the menu that shows up when you approach him. Do you want to get the jar off Pooh’s head? “Yes,” or “Let’s watch him a bit longer.” Sora, no.
This game is purely a formality, and is about the simplest and oldest mini-game imaginable: a timed strength meter. The kind you see in QTEs and golf games. It takes all of ten seconds, making it one of those mini-games where you spend more loading and unloading than you do playing. This is why I feel every game developer on the planet has to play Super Meat Boy, if only to learn the value of a quick restart feature!
If you’re genuinely not familiar with a timed strength meter – or even if you are – you may be surprised to learn they’re actually older than video games, going back to physical arcades. They joined video games as mini-games during the earliest martial arts and sports games, and I mean the early ones. Essentially, a bar fills up and drops down rapidly, and it’s your job to press the button when it’s in the target range at the top of the bar. KH2 then turns it into a game of shot put, as Sora spins Pooh around and you have to time your throw to toss the jar forward. Failing to throw Pooh forward will launch him into a tree… or the invisible wall. Oh yes, an invisible wall can cost you your score here! Stand still, Jiminy, I have to throw a jar and I’d hate to hit you with it.
What follows is – shall we say – another “FFIV: Interlude moment”: a moment that’s from the film, was also in KH1, and now is here again. Pooh wants you to stay, Sora promises to come back, and says he’s in Pooh’s heart. I guess I could relate this to the situation with how Sora is feeling about Riku and Kairi and even Naminé, but since this is a copy and paste from KH1, I don’t want to give the game that much credit.
After the initial scene, the remaining cast members reveal they’re nearby and say goodbye as well. Goodbye Rabbit! Goodbye Roo! Thanks Gopher. We barely ever interacted, except for a single safe-zone before the Expotition, but apparently you’re my closest friend! After you leave, the cover of the book, which was clawed by the Heartless, repairs to show a new, traditionally illustrated picture of Sora and Pooh.
Your reward for clearing 100 Acre Wood is straight from the heavens: Curaga. It also comes hand-in-hand with an “Orichalcum+,” a synthesis ingredient that none of your recipes seem to need, but is clearly important. (The + is actually a new addition to the English version. In Japanese, what we know as a base-level Orichalcum is called an “Orichal” and this item is the proper “Orichalcum.”) So merry Christmas from KH2, just in time for our second Christmas in KH2 over in Halloween Town.