Halloween Town, Revisited
If anyone here is new to the game, you might be wondering if KH2 was going to favour the dignity of giving Halloween Town a new plot, or if they’re going to favour the kitch of having two 80s Christmas specials in the same game. Everyone who guessed “kitch” gets a stocking stuffer. Like, little shampoo samplers or something, I don’t know, I’m not made of money.
We start on a suspenseful moment. Dr. Finkelstein is working on that project from your first visit (one of the only times an element from the first loop crosses over into the second outside of a continuous plot), but it still isn’t working. He blames the imps for picking bad parts, and turns away to work on the artificial heart from KH1, when he hears something moving behind him. He moves carefully to the controls for his wheelchair (this is all very well shot), and turns around only for his face to freeze in a grimace of horror as something attacks him.
Sora and the others arrive in Halloween town to find Christmas presents scattered everywhere. As Jack is walking around still in the Santa suit, they assume he’s back to his old tricks, but he claims to have found them scattered around town, same as them (the suit he can’t explain). Together, you return the presents to Santa, who also blames Jack, saying the presents were stolen. “Oh, Sandy… You don’t think it was me?” he asks. Oh Jack. Darling. Sweet child. Everyone thinks it was you.
Luckily for Jack, the imps break in upstairs and break up this nice kangaroo court we had going. You go to stop them, and once again I’m once again forced to say that Kingdom Hearts has you beating up children and they yelp and protest for you to stop. Ho boy. The Imps are no harder here than they were in KH1, which wasn’t very hard in the first place. The trick here is that you have to capture them under boxes or they’ll revive to wail and beg you to stop hitting them a second time. We’re the heroes.
After the fight, the Imps admit they had nothing to do with the present theft. And that’s the story about how Sora savagely thrashed some children for no reason! They say they broke into the workshop to find more parts for Finkelstein, whose project is apparently “making [them] a friend.” I wouldn’t trust these three with cutlery, much less an evil experiment, but I guess that’s why I’m not a mad scientist.
After this interrogation, Sally runs in to tell you that Heartless have shown up in Halloween Town, and they have a bunch of gifts. Of course, they’re playing with / breaking them, because I can’t underline this enough: unless they’re being guided by a directing will, Heartless are dorky children. You head back to town square, where the Mayor repeats the “only an elected official” joke! This is the third time!
You fight the Heartless, in a battle that for no good reason includes a present recovery mechanic taken from the medallion recovery mechanic in Port Royal. We will never see it again. Accompanying the mechanic is something more interesting: it’s the last new minor Heartless in Vanilla KH2, simply known as the “Graveyard” (though it’s possible that Shamans riding Living Bones with heads still haven’t been introduced, if you want to split that hair). The Graveyard is a very dangerous Heartless, and at the end of the game, its EXP compares to EXP drops on the final world. This is notable, because KH2 doesn’t have a KH1-esque moment where every world is given the same challenge level, so the Graveyard is rated like a final-world enemy despite appearing several worlds before the end of the game! Rough. It’s no Hot Rod, but still: rough. The Graveyard are similar to the Toy Soldier enemy, complete with butcher’s knife and axe, but minus the pop-gun. Not only are they dangerous at any given moment, but they can also transform into a nearly invincible form where they pop a tombstone out of the top and summon a bunch of ghosts. Giant pains, that’s what they are.
After clearing the Heartless, it becomes clear just how little Jack understands Christmas by showing he doesn’t even understand that the toys are presents – he thinks the decorative boxes exist for their own sake (I think this is nearly a unique character insight from KH2, but is undermined by the fact that they manufactured toys in the film. So close!). But there’s no time to dwell on that: Finkelstein informs you of the ambush from the intro, and tells you that his experiment has been stolen as well. Jack and Sora conclude the Heartless must be responsible for that theft as well, though Finkelstein doesn’t agree. He’s the witness, I suppose he knows best. Whatever Finkelstein’s concerns, Jack and Sora decide to trap the present thief, by imposing on Santa and asking him to use his machines to make bait.
I feel like we’re charging through this second trip at the rate of a KH1 retrospective! Let’s keep at it. Santa lets you use one of his present-making machines (in the room where you fought the imps, not the room where you fought Oogie, although if you’re confused at first, I understand). This takes the form of a mini-game. The first time through this mini-game, you can’t clear Jiminy’s high score, so best to use that attempt (or attempts) to learn the ropes. The idea is bizarre: you control a gift-shooting gun (no, really) as three chutes drop gift boxes haphazardly onto the floor. You shoot, and thus fill, the boxes with a number of gifts proportional to their size, and they reward a number of points more-than proportional to their size (i.e. you get a higher reward for filling a large box than you would for filling small boxes with the same number of toys). Continue until you reach a target number, 100 in this story attempt. As you do, the imps show up to wreak havoc. First is Lock, who’s slow and only likely to knock over a few presents at a time. Next comes Shock, who uses her spin attack to become a hazard across the whole board, followed by Barrel who is similar but even faster. You have to peg them with gifts to stun them, though the imps will recover from stun after a few seconds. Ah good. First we beat children, then we shoot children, and I end this post by shaking Satan’s gnarled hand.
When it comes time to replay this game for score (150 gifts in the time limit). While there are a few tricks to this, the minigame is mostly unfair. Like a game of FreeCell, I believe each round of the game is technically winnable, but some rounds are definitely more winnable than others. The random factors, like number of huge boxes dropped total, and especially those dropped before Shock and Barrel arrive, more or less determine how hard it’ll be to hit Jiminy’s high score. One trick is to temporarily leave Lock to his own devices if he’s far away from the larger boxes, as he’s basically harmless. Shock and Barrel are harder to ignore.
Once you’re done making a pile of “fake” presents (what’s so fake about a present in a decorated box with an actual gift inside? I think I’ve given faker gifts than this!), Santa provides you with an empty courtyard to stage your ambush, which seems to be in the Elves’ residential area. Jack reveals his plan: the party will hide out in a giant box in the middle of the pile and wait for the gift thief. Naturally they have to be children about being packed in a small space together, but I’m sure we’d have been disappointed if they weren’t.
Finally, the thief arrives, and the party pops out to discover the thief is none other than Finkelstein’s Experiment, come to life after all and operating on its own. It even has multiple gifts sliding around inside its chassis (which is nice detail work considering Kingdom Hearts doesn’t seem to have a physics engine in the way we’d use the term today, and the presents probably had to be animated manually). Unfortunately, this robot was designed in Halloween Town, which means it was built with an array of senseless weapons, including beams and blades. A fight breaks out, pretty much for no reason.
There’s a lot going on in the battle with The Experiment. Its parts like to float away from the body and attack you individually, though unlike the Guard Armour, you typically can’t hurt these separate parts and have to continue pressing your attack on the torso. As a result, the target area is often in the air, so you might as well just keep using Valour Form like you always have, though this is perhaps the last fight in the game where it’s so clearly the winning move (spoilers, but the Space Paranoids boss doesn’t necessarily apply, the final bosses are better fought with the game’s last Drive Form, and in Pride Lands you’re a cat). Might as well end Valour Form’s illustrious tenure with a bang, yes?
Besides breaking up its pieces, The Experiment also likes restructuring itself (especially after reaction commands), like turning into a UFO of sorts or a giant floating head. Since these new forms are often responses to successful reaction commands (that is to say: they happen when you’ve done something correctly), they’re typically weaker than the Experiment is split up, though you still have to acclimatize to its new patterns. It’s neat how the experiment reconstructs itself, but weird how yet again its head grows and shrinks, something that has become a trend lately for no obvious reason. First the Grim Reaper and now this! It’s like they were so excited for the MCP that they couldn’t restrain themselves!
The Experiment sheds some kind of dark soul as it dies, as though to distract from the fact that you just murdered the Halloween Town equivalent of Pinocchio, for the crime of wanting to have Christmas presents. That’s… not an exaggeration on my part, they practically make the point themselves in the outro. “All that poor puppet wanted was a heart.” “Maybe because… presents are a way to give your heart to someone special.” Dark. Sora’s gone all Dick Tracy in his lethal punishment for mundane crimes thing. Also, why didn’t it take the heart on the table next to Finkelstein? You know, the one from KH1? Was it still broken? I guess that makes sense, but Finkelstein says that Sally has a heart, raising the question of how he failed to make the heart in KH1 in the first place. It strikes me that Finkelstein probably intended to use the heart from KH1 inside the Experiment (I assume that’s what the gap in its torso was intended for) so it’s hard to tell why the Experiment just walked out on what was arguably supposed to be its own heart!
Also, remember in KH1 when I raised the possibility that the people of Halloween Town didn’t have hearts, somehow? We have to make sense of Sally here. Sally makes sense in the context of the KH1 plot: if Sally is just as real as everyone else in Halloween Town, and Finkelstein can’t make a heart, Sally must not have a heart and so no one else must, either. But now this game is saying Sally does have a heart, and that seems to fit better until we come to the Experiment not having a heart! I’m not sure which game I want to blame here. KH1 for pathetically skirting the issue of its own plot, or KH2 for… pathetically skirting the issue of its own plot?
…Where’s that Road to El Dorado gif where the leads say “Both is good?”
Your prize for murdering an innocent is the Decisive Pumpkin, arguably the best Keyblade in the game. It has the same strength stat as the best late-game strength Keyblades, and is also the only such blade to have a combat ability, Combo Boost (not to be confused with Combo Plus!), instead of a magic or support ability. Jack also gets a reward: Santa lets him fly around in his sleigh for a bit.
Back in Halloween Town, Santa delivers a second gift: a light snowfall. Sally calls this “a nice present,” which confuses Jack thanks to his aforementioned belief that presents are boxes. Glad we’re still using the idiot ball to advance the plot through wordplay, you keep that up. Sally explains that presents are supposed to be about giving gifts so someone else can be happy, and learning this makes Jack so happy about the world that he sweeps Sally up in a dance, and they talk about how happy they are to be together.
Sora and the others watch this for a while until Sora muses aloud that “Maybe I never gave her [Kairi] a real present after all.” Donald and Goofy decide not to egg him about this for once, and tell him Kairi would be happy just to be with him. Actually, they say “Kairi’s like Sally.” A puppet manufactured by her creators with no opportunity to act on her motivations? I respect the maturity it took for the devs to admit that. By the way, if you could, please don’t compare Sora’s love interest to a woman who shares a voice with his mother.
Nah, but seriously, this scene is cute, though if I may, it’s a little jarring how Sora imagines himself dancing with Kairi as he remembers her: a year or two younger than he is now. It really does underline the “everyone seems to have aged three years instead of one” thing I was discussing in the prologue, especially the height difference. Sora looks like a teenager, but Kairi looks like a child.
And that’s… where we leave! I guess that really was a filler ep. In the half of the game I’m trying to defend. Yup. Not… very happy about that. At least they respected us enough not to tag on a five-second reference to the Organization like Olympus Coliseum and Agrabah!
Once you’ve cleared every world on the map but one (be that remaining world the Pride Lands or Olympus Coliseum), you’ll see Chip and Dale chirping about the large blob at the top of the map now being fully visible. If you take a trip, you’ll be repelled by a force field, but can now make out a gargantuan world at the top of the map, four times larger than any world to date. Closer observation reveals that this is the Dark City from KH1’s secret ending, topped by a floating, white castle. Above it, an glowing light that the game still refuses to pan up to show.
Dale also starts chittering that he’s seeing two Twilight Towns. I have no idea what he’s talking about, as even in the HD version Twilight Town just looks hazy. No, what’s more prominent is the fact that fuck, a new gummi gate! A new gummi gate is cutting off Twilight Town from Hollow Bastion. Do I even remember how to play Gummi mode? The label on the gate reads “Assault of the Dreadnought,” that sounds delightful.
Don’t get excited yet. Unless you’re in a rush to put the game out of its misery, there are still two more second trips to complete, and we haven’t even unlocked the second Space Paranoids yet. I’m not going to jump the gun this time. If you’re feeling capable, you may want to clear the way to Twilight Town just so the world and its content are accessible again, but be aware of the challenge level once you get there…
Having already described the Decisive Pumpkin, the only thing left to say about Halloween Town and Christmas Town is the arrival of Xigbar’s Mushroom II, a shooter Heartless that will pelt you with energy beams while you try to deflect them back to sender. You can use Guard, Reflect or even perfectly timed swings to do this, and everyone seems to have their preferred strategy: some use Stitch to get infinite Reflects, while others use the final Drive form in a way I’ll explain in the late-/post-game section.
And that’s all there is!