Pride Lands, Revisited
Sora, who learns nothing from his mistakes at any time, chooses to touch down in the Pride Lands by going back to the elephant graveyard! Well, near the elephant graveyard, near enough that he runs into the three hyenas the moment he steps off the plane. The hyenas are irritated and starving since Scar was deposed, so Sora’s eager “Hiya!” makes me laugh so hard.
But it seems that just because the hyenas aren’t doing well doesn’t mean Simba is. The hyenas even start laughing when you mention his name. Sora and the others go to find out why “Simba” is so funny, discovering that the Savannah is in just as bad a shape as when they left. Well of course it is, the devs would have had to reskin the entire world, and even I don’t expect that. Everyone who’s still upset about Zora’s Fountain being frozen at the end of Ocarina of Time knows that retexturing the entire world just isn’t done in the industry. “What do you think could have happened?” Sora asks. Dragging an unprepared, uninterested slacker onto the throne solely on basis of primogeniture proved to be a poor system of government and an even poorer means of environmental renewal?
When you arrive at Pride Rock, you’re accosted at the entrance by a strange display: out of a patch of darkness comes a dark-tinted vision of Scar, which quickly disappears. Ah, so this is the phantom Jiminy’s journal spoiled us about! The one Pete isn’t actually helping! Donald wonders if it’s a ghost. Donald: at the start of this game you nearly mauled Mushu, someone you knew personally, because you thought he was a Heartless for being shadowy. I hate to return to a complaint from the other side of the Retrospective, but Donald is only saying “ghost” because he read the script.
You speak to a lioness on the way in to see Simba, and it seems Scar’s “ghost” is the talk of the town. She complains that King Simba won’t do a thing. Yes, how dare King Simba not do anything about… ghosts. With his… ghost-busting experience.
What really riles me is that this lioness makes the same points about this being a shitty system of government I made up the page, complaining about making Simba king in the first place, except she backs it up with complaints about Simba not doing… things?… about the supernatural. I know, I know, this is a world where everything is solved by hitting it (also not a very solid form of government) but if you remove yourself from that context for a half-step (and you must, because Simba later acts like he’s not sure how to solve this problem), the lioness’ demands become preposterous. You know, I know the term “strawman” exists primarily in real-world concerns, but I’d like to propose that strawmen can also exist in shitty writing, as a tool to make shitty writing look better in comparison. For example, this lioness: “The monarchy is a failed political idea because they don’t fight ghosts.”
Inside the cave, Sora speaks to Simba, who immediately starts growling and snapping when Scar’s ghost is brought up, because like I said at the outset, the second loop doesn’t mess around with anything that might upset pacing. Just to rub it in, Simba essentially accepts Sora’s first words of advice and changes almost his entire outlook. I know sometimes you have to hear the obvious truth from your friends, but this is ridiculous… which is why I’m happy to say it doesn’t really work, at least not in the long run. For once, KH2 is going to surprise me with a moment of tact… following a tactless scene that implies all is well, but nevertheless.
Sora’s advice is that Simba should be his own ruler, not constantly compare himself to Mufasa. This sentiment is shared by Timon and Pumbaa, who arrive at exactly this second to echo Sora’s advice (wait, didn’t these two make an explicit point of going back to the oasis at the end of the first trip?). Nala then shows up to back them up, and even mentions that she’s pregnant with Kiara. And you thought I was joking about that sex scene! While I’m a fan of Lion King 2 (no, really, I am), Nala being pregnant during this sequence seems somewhat extraneous, as though the game were reaching for an excuse to keep her from following you around like she did earlier. Sure, Kiara (their cub) shows up in the game’s end credits, but Nala didn’t strictly have to be pregnant during the second loop for that to be the case. It certainly does stand in defiance of my theory that Nala was a party member, unless the second loop was created after she was cut as a party member. Oh well, I’ll cop to the evidence against me.
Some minor animation notes: Pumbaa repeats his “Hakuna Matata” animation here for no reason, and it looks completely out of place. But there’s a positive animation note to offset this shitty one: when Nala arrives, she and Simba take position as if like rulers on a throne, showing Simba coming back into his role as king with his mate’s support.
Simba comes up with a plan on the spot: he wants to go talk to Rafiki. You haven’t even talked to Rafiki? He lives twenty seconds away! Downhill! Okay, nevermind, I’m with the straw lioness. If we go to Rafiki and he says “The King just has to roar at it,” I’m deposing Simba myself.
Simba rejoining the party unites you with Lion Sora’s last Ability upgrade, Running Tackle. My truest joy. Running Tackle essentially allows you to attack without coming to a stop, which allows you to carry on with Dash’s out of control, careening speeds while on the offensive. I love it, it completes the whole Lion Sora gameplay ensemble, and is a lot of fun to use.
At this point, you gain access to something interesting, though it may not be very obvious at first glance. I’m referring, of course, to the infamous level grinding spot from the Vanilla version: that damn flock of Rapid Thrusters from Land of the Dragons has now appeared on top of Pride Rock. In the Vanilla version, this flock would respawn whenever you re-entered the room, so with the help of the Gull Wing, Experience Boost and Magnega (or Magnera, in a pinch) you can grind to level 99 in under a half hour. No joke. Not that I recommend you do this prior to the end of the game, since you’d ruin the experience, but if you’re looking for help clearing the post-game content, KH2 has your back, however unintentionally. This method was nerfed in the FM+ release by making the respawn unreliable and the number of Rapid Thrusters to be random.
The party heads off to Rafiki (finally voiced with unique lines!), who explains the ghost was “created when the vile heart of Scar meets the hesitating hear of Simba.” Simba’s brave façade cracks a little to hear this, while the rest of the party debates whether or not the ghost is a Heartless. Sora says “I don’t know,” and Rafiki has an interesting response:
“You’re right, you don’t. But you do know it is upsetting. And it is upsetting the hearts of everybody in the Pride Lands. You may not know what it is, but it still is. This world, it is full of many such things. And these things, a king must face. It is the test that has been set for you, Simba.”
It’s hard not to see this as partially referring to the Nobodies, which are essentially “nothing” but are still impacting the world. In spite of Yen Sid’s label, they still “are.” Interesting.
Rafiki has nothing more to say at the moment, and redirects you to the hyenas in the elephant graveyard. This is more than a little stupid, as there’s no reason to suspect they know anything besides, “I guess Scar didn’t have any other friends.” You head off, Scar’s ghost taunting you as a minor enemy along the way. The ghost is harmless, save in that your party members will attack it, often wasting valuable MP at the start of fights. And it will be a waste: Scar’s ghost has 1 HP, but in FM+, the ghost is blessed with the boss-like ability to only be killed by Sora’s finishing attacks and magic, so nearly everything your allies do will be like throwing gravel into a canyon. I don’t recall the Ghost having the boss-like ability to only die to combo finishers in the Vanilla game, but the upgrade is reasonable. I remember Scar’s ghost dying so quickly in the original that it took me several rooms to make out that it was showing up at all!
One even weirder side effect of Scar’s ghost as a minor enemy is that that Simba will ruthlessly pull the ghost apart the moment it appears, even though the plot insists he’s not willing or ready to confront them. And in Vanilla, he succeeds!
At the elephant graveyard, the hyenas pretend to know something about the ghost even though, as you’ll see, they really don’t. They then lead you on a not-so-merry chase, the Chase Boss to end all chase bosses. The hyenas don’t (or barely even) attack during this battle, simply circling around while you smash into them with Running Tackle and combos. While I appreciate the idea behind the fight, and it can be fun at first, it goes on too long with little-to-no variety.
A funny thing about this fight. It starts off with you facing Banzai. If you chase him around, you’ll eventually cross paths with Shenzi and will end up swapping between the two hyenas as you follow their figure-eight pattern… but you’ll never run into Ed. Unless you find Ed independently, the other hyenas routes won’t overlap his! It’s possible to clear out both the first two Hyenas but then have to track down Ed at full health!
The hyenas reveal they know nothing at all after the battle, calling into question why they just subjected themselves to a one-sided beating just to mildly irritate you (Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy occasionally forget that you’re actually hurting people with heavy sticks and swords). But it all turns out for the best for them, as Scar’s ghost appears they use it to taunt Simba as a “fraidy cat.” The ghost even talks here, finally scaring Simba away.
The plot has been pretty good up to this point if you ask me, employing good, subtle emotional work that even incorporates up fantastical elements of, “darkness manifesting in the real world,” like KH does so well (that said, bringing Scar back to do it just seems like lazy reuse of existing assets, and as many have pointed out in the comments to previous pages, undermines Simba’s development at the end of the first trip!). Sadly, things are about about to take an extreme dip. For starters, the hyena’s use of childish insults casts Simba’s personal problems as being childish as well, which they’re not! Simba is having adult problems: vocational problems and taking the role of a lost loved one. Even if those problems were in the hands of a child (as sadly happens in the real world) we’d consider them adult problems. And yet, the writers are treating them childishly. Why? I think it’s an accident, but it’s one that’s going to keep happening across the series. The writers repeatedly do this in later games: take a serious problem and have it crash into the ground before it even took off by treating the characters like six-year-olds. It always gives a plot the feel of an after-school-special, no matter how sophisticated the topic.
Timon and Pumbaa presume that Simba has gone to the oasis, which is implied to be kilometres away in the film. He ran out of the country through an army of monsters. That’s one helluva mope. Rafiki even says he went away to clear his head where he wouldn’t have to think about what others think of him. I think that’s a sign he doesn’t want to be followed. Naturally, the party decides to perform a cross-country intrusion of his privacy.
You cross back to the oasis, dum-dee-dum, you can see why people are bored by these second trips when they use a pinball-plot to bounce you around the map just to fill time. Bad last impressions of the second loop on top of our bad first impressions. At the oasis, Simba confronts the ghost of Scar, and is rescued by Sora, who gives a speech essentially repeating the message everyone gave Simba in the lion’s den at Pride Rock! It’s a better version of the speech, at least, but it’s still the same premise.
But Simba doesn’t want to hear it this time, and the party instead… *sigh*… tries to use shitty ventriloquism to talk from a Scar Ghost. This, uh, “clever” trick of yours relies on Scar’s ghost not talking on its own, you realize. And to my shock, this works. Simba, who during the first trip recognized that his friends were in the bushes even when there were no clues at all, either believes Scar is actually speaking their words, or is so angered by his friends’ words that he attacks Scar anyways. Even though they’re once again making the same point everyone was making in the den, except this time via negative reinforcement instead of positive. Remember kids: friendship doesn’t always help, but threats will never disappoint!
Simba destroys the ghost, and Simba’s friends proclaim that the ghost is gone! For good! Forever! Even though you killed maybe ten of them since you got here! I don’t even know what’s going on anymore! Stuff is just sort of happening because characters say it’s happening!
Just then (the second loop continues its ruthless forward drive), Timon pops in and announces that “a bazillion ghosts of Scar” have showed up in the Savannah. And he’s hardly exaggerating when he says “bazillion.” Even if we assume “bazillion” means “thousand” he might be right, there’s a lot. And they’re… all missing when you run back! And when you reach Pride Rock, and everyone starts talking about what strange things the ghosts are doing in the Savannah, there’s still no sign of the ghosts in the distant vista. Nala is waiting for you when you return. “I evacuated the others!” And left myself behind for no reason! Nala’s braver than me. I wouldn’t stand up to a bazillion ants, much less a bazillion ghost uncles. Simba asks if everyone is with him, and Sora says “Now and forever, Your Majesty!” Until one boss fight from now when we leave!
According to the characters in the safe zone, the ghosts of Scar are coalescing into a giant monster – again, you can’t see anything of the sort on the vista. Actually, a later cutscene shows the monster hasn’t formed yet, even though the safe zone is full of conversations about how the monster looks! I keep thinking “this is the worst example of characters talking about something before it appears,” and then they throw me another.
Finally, everyone charges out into the Savannah… and Donald and Goofy disappear. There’s a good reason for their absence: the boss, the Groundshaker, is the largest moving boss in the entire franchise to date. It must be chewing through the PS2’s limited resources like Pac-Man, and despite heavy scripting to keep Simba near Sora at all times, Simba often gets left behind in the gigantic arena anyways, so what good would Donald and Goofy be? I understand why the devs ditched Donald and Goofy, and they have my full support and sympathy, but that doesn’t make it any less funny when Donald and Goofy swear their eternal loyalty to Simba and then jump ship a moment later. Simba and Leon should get together for a drink someday.
Remember the Shamans riding Living Bones in other parts of the Pride Lands? This is their biiiiig brother. The Groundshaker differs quite a bit in terms of detail: unlike the Living Bones, which best resemble a Kirby-orb with a tail and detached head, the Groundshaker’s main body resembles a large, quadrupedal African mammal, like a rhinoceros or a hippo but not quite either at the same time. Unlike the Living Bones, the Groundshaker’s head is attached to its body, though it has a special trait we’ll address in a moment. Its back is covered in grass and even a tree. The Shaman part of the Groundshaker less resembles a mandrill (like the other Shamans) than a bulky humanoid or ogreish figure, merged at the waist with the hind-end of the quadruped part of the Groundshaker. It’s a fantastic design. My favourite touch: remember when I said Heartless have spirals where they would (but do not) have eyes, like when they wear a helmet over their eyes? The Shaman part of Groundshaker has spirals on its palms. Eerie!
The battle begins with the Groundshaker trying to pancake you and Simba, because that’s what you’d do if you were in its position. The battle opens directly into a reaction command as a result: hit Triangle to dodge the Heartless’ shockwaves and attack it as Sora weaves through its legs. “Jump to dodge the attacks!” says the tooltip. Except don’t! Hit triangle instead, because jumping with the jump button won’t work! Tooltip, you betrayed me!
If you succeed at the right points with the reaction command, the Groundshaker will be stunned (if not, it will jump into a canyon and then come back to start over). At this point, you can attack the quadruped monster’s eyes, but after a few seconds of damage, it will recover and its head will outright spin 180 degrees. At this point, you’ll realize (if you hadn’t already) that the head has another face on its underside! This signifies a change in the boss’ attack patterns. Now it’s time to focus on the shaman.
When the head turns, you can use Reaction Commands to get onto the thing’s back. Yes, for no reason, glad you’re keeping up. Good luck getting Simba to follow you – short of employing your Limit (not a bad idea), he’ll only show up on top if the game’s auto-teleportation system wakes from one of its frequent naps and pops Simba on top of the Groundshaker to join you. Once you’re up top, the Shaman will attack you, which is not so dangerous, giving you plenty of time to hurt it. But be careful: after a time, the Groundshaker will switch back to its original phase, and the Shaman will become a serious danger. You’ll want to get off the quadruped and start attacking the quadruped’s eyes again, and if you don’t, the game may very well knock you to the ground. And so it goes, beast and rider, back and forth. You can only finish the fight by killing the Shaman, but until that point, the back-and-forth is quite workable.
Or at least, that’s the idea. The trouble is that, yet again, KH2 is too easy for its own good, and I didn’t realize the Groundshaker had phases until I played on Critical. That’s not a joke, and I’ve played this game in the neighbourhood of half a dozen times. I just stayed up on the Groundshaker’s back, half-heartedly dodging the Shaman’s juiced-up magic attacks, even on Proud. Maybe I got knocked off a few times but I would have just assumed the fight had gone back to moment one rather than being phase-based. It’s… not very impressive that I could get away with that. I will cop to this: I’m a fan of Lion form, and most people aren’t. I don’t want to brag, but maybe the reason I like Lion form is because I’m just naturally gifted with it, and maybe the average player wouldn’t be able to stay on top of the Groundshaker like that? But looking at the entire game, I think it’s more likely that KH2 is being too easy for its own good than that I’m too good for my own good, so I know where I’ve put my chips.
Clearing the Groundshaker gives you Thundaga, which means we’re going to be able to wrap-up Atlantica once we’re done here.
After the battle, Simba asks Sora when Sora thinks his quest will end, and Sora says: “[…] as long as the Keyblade stays with me… I’ll have to keep fighting.” This was one of the lines that clued me into KH2’s television-like structure back during my initial play-through. Think about it: it sounds like a line from one of those heavily episodic 80s and 90s shows that wanted you to be able to tune in any day of the week and get a standalone episode. It didn’t matter that GI Joe would never defeat Cobra, but it DID matter that your favourite heroes would have to go on fighting the Decepticons forever, lest kids be deprived of their sugary Saturday morning clichés. There often would be a scene where they vowed to go on forever. That specific, narrow slice of television died out around the mid-nineties, making KH2’s use of its trope seems very out-of-place, especially since most would compare KH2 to turn-of-the-century anime rather than half-hour 80s toy commercials.
Pride Lands closes out with a shot of Sora, Donald and Goofy’s faces drawn on Rafiki’s tree alongside Simba’s.
To Slay the Beast: Atlantica
Atlantica, like 100 Acre Wood, seems peripherally aware that this final chapter doesn’t need to exist, and cuts straight to the content so that we can get it over with. Thank goodness we’re finally in agreement. And so we go straight to our final song: “A New Day is Dawning.”
Popping up here are two of Ariel’s sisters, singing alongside Ariel, meaning it’s time for me to make the last voice actor bios I’ll be doing in this entire game! *sniff* And so, I’m happy to introduce Andrina and Attina. Fun fact, IMDb can’t tell the mermaid sisters in the original film apart, addressing all six sisters as “Ariel’s sisters.” Fun fact+: If IMDb’s coverage is complete, it seems all six original roles in the film were done by only two women: Kimmy Robertson and Caroline Vasicek! But that was then. Andrina’s singing voice in KH2 is Susie Stevens-Logan, who has sung on the soundtracks of numerous Disney productions including The Lion King, A Goofy Movie, The Little Mermaid 2, The Three Musketeers, and Mulan II. She also has a number of voice credits on other Disney films, like Dinosaur, Tarzan and New Line Cinema’s animated cult classic, the The Swan Princess, though as most of these are marked “Chorus,” I suspect that those, too, may be soundtrack credits that slipped and fell out of IMDb’s “Soundtrack” block. Attina’s voice actress is Christie Houser, a voice actress (and not full-time singer) who has played in a number of incidental roles going back to 1977.
The song they’re singing is trite, simply summarizing the plot of Atlantica and saying “Congrats.” It even has a few spoken word lines from Triton. The Thundaga “special effect” I mentioned was Sora lighting a patch of rocks (or perhaps coral?) to light the stage. Considering this is a game created before proper real-time lighting systems, the effect is about as dull as it sounds.
Your objective this time around is to score 30 000 points (oh, there’s a points system now, arriving a little late to the party). The 30 000 target minimum is fairly low, but you’ll be going up against every mechanic you’ve seen so far. This song will give you the closest look you’re going to get at how complicated this game could have been, but for naught. Atlantica will be over before you know it, and only unforgivably long after it deserved.
Sebastian’s big performance wraps up to mild applause from the invisible audience of Olympus Coliseum refugees. I’m not sure what’s worse, the big fuss everyone made for a performance to an empty theatre, or that Sebastian’s much-hyped “best” song isn’t the Academy Award winning signature tune “Under the Sea,” but rather some pandering grade school musical performance. Also, if there is a ghost audience in those empty seats, I’m sure they’re confused, because the lyrics keep referring to people they don’t know and events they don’t know occure—
Hold it. Hold on, is Sora opening a gate lock? Off of one of those fucking bubbles? They brought back the stupid gate locks, what the fuck. What the… argggggh, this WORLD.
After the plot is cleared, Sebastian seems shocked that you’re all leaving, even though you probably left four previous times. Sora and the others even sing an awful goodbye, which is listed as a separate track on the OST, if you can believe it.
Like any proper world, Atlantica has a plot summary in the journal. Jiminy’s description of the final Atlantica plot segment is pretty bad: he talks about Ariel and Eric falling in love, then digresses about the musical, and then, as though still talking about the musical, says: “And so land and sea came together at last.” Ah yes, they came together through show tunes, which involved no land dwellers, and brought everyone together at last. Tale as old as time.
One last pathetic note is that after you clear Atlantica, the game pans out to show that this “arm” of the worlds is complete. This optional arm with one world.
Your prize for finally putting this shipwreck to bed is Blizzaga, not that anyone cares, and an Orichalcum+, not that anyone understands. Thanks Atlantica. Thanks for nothing.