Hollow Bastion, Re-Revisited
You might recall that all you need to move on to the end of the game is to clear six Disney worlds’ second trips. But should you clear seven worlds, a new episode begins in Hollow Bastion that you just know will lead back to Space Paranoids. Once that’s done, we’ll head over to Twilight Town, and then it’s off to the final world! And with this game’s infamous, back-loaded narrative, I’d say we’re a good half way through the game! Eh? Eh?
As Sora and the others arrive, a troupe of Heartless appear in front of them, just like last time. In fact, exactly like last time. Is this a Heartless parade ground? Sora moans that he “thought everything was supposed to be under control here!” Sora, Heartless are always on worlds when you get there. It’s an established part of the lore! But just then, something actually notable happens: the Claymore (the automated defence thingamajigger) begins to trigger, and if you squint, you’ll notice something’s wrong about it. The Claymore has been changed from white with a blue tint to white with a yellow tint. If you don’t notice, I’d hardly blame you. I knew it was coming and could barely tell in the HD version. Maybe I’ve got a colour deficiency that I’m not aware of, but couldn’t they have made the Claymore a little less saturated with white?
You won’t get an explanation for the Claymore or Heartless quite yet. On your way into town, a conversation with Scrooge will have him shoving his completed sea-salt ice cream in your face. I finally, finally have a suspicion as to why he’s doing this: it’s to remind you of what the stuff is called before you go back to Twilight Town, where the name of the ice cream is the answer to an upcoming multiple choice question. That seems like a lot of work to accomplish fuckall, but that’s KH2 for you.
When you hit the Borough, you’re attacked, but not just by the Heartless. The Claymore also comes after you, and remains hostile in every fight that follows! To make matters even more confusing, you’re jumped by Strafers, a Space Paranoids Heartless. This is actually quite shocking: even in KH2, which likes to mix up Heartless at random, these neon-dressed Space Paranoids Heartless look out of place in the real world. You get the Space Paranoids battle theme just to drive things home. Yuffie comes for you after the fight, and hurries you inside, implying the whole town is under siege. Goofy asks her: “Didn’t that Heartless look like the ones from Tron’s world?” Goofy, how could she possibly answer that? It may be that he’s talking to Sora, but like the 100 Acre Wood scene between Pooh and Piglet, that’s not the way he’s facing!
Inside Merlin’s place, Yuffie and Merlin are shouting at Cid to finish something on the computer. It seems Tron wasn’t able to handle the MCP on his own, and the MCP has won out. We get a flashback, and see Leon going down the elevator in the computer room to look at that giant machine we saw from the platform. There, he sees the MCP is assembling Heartless. This room is the machine that Xehanort used to create the Emblem Heartless in the first place! Uh oh. We, uh, probably should have accounted for the doomsday machine.
It is kind of laughable that this gargantuan room is the place KH1 addressed as “Ansem’s little Heartless machine,” but I think KH2 is in the right here. True, it seems the Emblems can reproduce in their own way, but I feel more comfortable if the infestation started on a large scale rather than a laboratory scale. Invasive species are one thing, but the Emblems are all over the universe now, not a continent or planet! On a related note, isn’t it funny to think this is an optional world? Let’s be honest, the MCP is now in control of one of the greatest weapons in existence. Disney once made an entire movie out of the threat of this plot: The Black Cauldron. If only for the length of the world, the MCP is arguably a greater threat than the Organization – but given the Organization benefits from your killing Emblems, I’m sure they’re happy to let him run amok!
Cid is writing a program to delete the MCP for good, and he says it’s almost finished, but you’re going to need to rescue Tron, first. The party rushes back to the Bastion, where they check in with Leon and Aerith. Aerith tells Leon to go fetch the program while she defends the study. She’s indignant when he suggests she somehow can’t defend the study, and I don’t blame her. True, she hasn’t been seen fighting in any of the Kingdom Hearts games, but Aerith is a Final Fantasy party member, however infamous she is for… well, you know. Even if she is often portrayed as a White Mage (she’s technically not – if only because no one in FFVII has a dedicated class role), I’d still trust her hold a position against the Heartless before I trusted, say, Merlin.
When Leon runs off, this conversation that didn’t even involve Sora somehow triggers the arrival of the Sleeping Lion Keyblade. Your guess is as good as mine, folks. The Sleeping Lion is just one point of strength lower than the Decisive Pumpkin and has two points of magic in exchange, but the biggest problem with the blade is its ability: Combo Plus. Remember, in KH2, Combo Plus can be a liability! Sorry, Leon, your Keyblade’s being undermined by the fine print. Hell, Combo Plus even seems outdated: remember, you’ve had the Star Seeker and its Air Combo Plus since the start of the game!
The MCP has also locked the Users out of the computer’s default functions, though apparently didn’t think to prevent them from using the computer to invade the system. Genius. Into the computer we go!
Space Paranoids, Revisited
You aren’t in the computer long before the game returns to the real world for a cutscene. Cid is still working on the program when he insults Merlin and Merlin decides to… attack Cid with lightning! Sure, Merlin, that’s not going to kill everyone on the planet. KH2 intends this as a gag, and will later imply that Merlin somehow added his magic to the code, but it doesn’t look like that’s what’s happening as it’s playing out. To me, this scene always felt like we were about to start one of those cliché comedy plots where a character’s selfishness ruins everything for everyone, but thankfully it doesn’t play out that way. I hate to complain so early into the plot, as the interaction between Hollow Bastion and Space Paranoids makes this one of my favourite Disney worlds, and I do have a few more thoughts on this, but in the short term: c’mon Merlin, people could have died. Leon collects the disc and we return to Sora, who has at this point returned to the game grid.
Thankfully, you don’t have to play another game of Light Cycles. While I suppose KH2’s devs may have hoped to make use of one of Tron’s other famous arcade games (Discs of Tron, perhaps?), or given you a second Light Cycles track, the MCP has instead thrown off all pretence of “games” and is just trying to murder Tron with Heartless. You rescue him in a standard combat, and then fill him in on the situation in the User world. Tron gets sort of existential at the idea of having so many godlike Users fighting at his side in the real world, which is cute.
Your first stop inside Space Paranoids is to return to the I/O Tower to get Cid’s program loaded into Tron. Back in the real world, the MCP has finally locked the users out of the computer like a sensible machine, and Leon can’t get in. Aerith says “let me try,” and puts in the CD. This just works without any extra effort, and she’s so smug about it, too. Aerith, you didn’t do anything. What is even the joke here, that’s she’s lecturing the computer? Or maybe that she thinks she accomplished something, but really didn’t? (Check Leon’s reaction to see where I’m coming from. It’s hard to say if Aerith really is supposed to have accomplished something when the writers that treat computers like witchcraft.)
Tron loads the program into his disc in the iconic shot from the film’s poster, and discovers Cid didn’t just include the MCP-deletion program, but also an upgrade for Tron (Thunder Boost and MP Haste) and “flight controls for the Solar Sailor,” a vehicle from the film.
The party heads off to the Solar Sailor and, oh! Oh, that’s unfortunate. I’m sorry, KH2, you were doing so well, but I’m afraid I just ran out of momentum. As I was walking Sora through this hallway during my Retrospective playthrough, I actually felt a “drop” in my gut marking the exact moment I stopped wanting to play KH2. Just lost my steam, all at once, for no reason I could identify. I know, I know, it’s cruel, and I even like this trip to Space Paranoids a lot, but the weight of so many other straws on my back finally made me cave. So close, KH2. So very close.
(Ed. For the sake of fairness, I kept track of this sensation during later games as well. Days made it through without my getting bored, believe it or not, but I was playing two games of BBS simultaneously (one for the Retrospective and one with Kyle from the Marathon), so it wasn’t really surprising when I got bored of doing that. I’ll see if it happens again during coded or DDD.)
You board the Solar Sailor and head off to the computer’s core. Sora, Donald and Goofy admire the view, but Tron admonishes them for not paying attention when they’re sitting ducks in this open-air, digital boat. Thankfully, the MCP is as bad at sneaking as Sora is at keeping watch, and the Heartless come in right in front of everyone.
The Solar Sailor ambush (which is repeatable, if you cared to do it more than once) has some strange mechanics, though the game isn’t entirely honest about how they work. Tron shouts that the solar sailor can only take so much weight, and sure enough, as Heartless appear on the ship, the game adds a “Weight” meter. The longer Heartless are alive on the ship, the more this meter increases, as the ship strains under the pressure. That’s fair, but the meter doesn’t seem to behave the way you might expect. For starters, the presumable weight of the Heartless seems to have no bearing on the meter (Strafers and Devastators appear to be alike) and clearing them out does not clear the meter, even though the Heartless vanish from the boat. It’s such a shame because, even though I suspect your efficiency does influence the meter, the “Weight” meter ends up feeling more like a timer than any sort of weight bar.
Typically, I find the Solar Sailor sequence to be one of the trickier fights in KH2, but when I played it for the Retrospective, I had my best playthrough of the Solar Sailor battle ever. I guess Critical either trained me well, or adjusted my damage output a lot!
Clearing the Solar Sailor ambush in FM+ gets you nothing less than Explosion! That’s it, game’s over, we can watch the rest on YouTube now.
When you arrive at the opposite platform, you find yourself swimming in treasure just for the heck of it (ask yourself the last time you kept your life savings on the front porch), including one of your last AP boosts and an Orichalcum+ as a reward for clearing an optional world, even if it’s not completed!
Inside the CPU, or wherever this is, you find Sark standing around waiting for you. Apparently it’s been so long since Sora locked eyes on this guy (at the start of the first trip) that Sora doesn’t remember him at all! This may be the ultimate insult, because Sark electrocuted Sora’s best friends. The last time someone so much as insulted Sora’s friends, he committed his first murder!
Sark engages you in a pathetic battle. Like the first fight with the Grim Reaper, I hesitate to call it a proper boss battle because it’s just setup for the real fight to come. Sark has a Reaction Command… but I either never knew it existed or certainly didn’t remember it, because the fight ends just that quickly. Tron finishes off Sark in cutscene, and points Sora towards the MCP, which Sora hadn’t noticed considering the MCP is a rather abstract sort of being.
As per the film, the MCP transfers “all [its] functions” to Sark. I’m pretty sure this is a part of the film, so it’s the film I’m criticizing when Sark does what he does next. Of all the MCP’s key functions to scan, manipulate and delete data, Sark chooses to grow like a Sentai monster. This is a personal peeve, but I don’t think there’s been a single instance of a characters growing huge that hasn’t looked ridiculous, from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. I guess I’ve come to expect giant enemies from video games, but this still looks stupid to me.
Now it’s time for the real fight to begin. To do any serious damage, you have to destroy the barriers dividing you from the MCP, which spin around the arena at varying speeds, making it hard to do consistent damage. You also can’t “lock on” to them in the traditional sense, so your combo finisher is especially important here for the sake of area damage. Explosion is particularly valuable here, which is probably why Final Mix+ handed it to you as a reward for the Solar Sailor sequence. Once there’s a gap in the wall, you need to get both Sora and Tron near the gap, which will trigger a Reaction Command that is the only way to harm the MCP. This is the first time in the game you’ve really had to rely on your partners just to progress the game during combat! Because Sora and Tron attack the MCP with a Reaction Command, some players prefer to use the Guardian Soul in this battle to get an extra Reaction Boost. There’s not much harm in it, as you only need your normal Keyblade damage for fighting Sark, and he’s quite weak.
Speaking of Sark and his Allison Hayes impression, you’re going to have to defeat Sark multiple times to take shots at the MCP. You can take Sark out by attacking his head or, preferably, taking out both of his shins to stun him (also a handy time to have Explosion). The MCP will regenerate Sark after a while, but it will take so long for him to recover that you’ll have either landed some hits on the MCP in the interim, or at least ruined the MCP’s shield before Sark can get back on his feet.
This boss battle takes place in a large arena, so the game tries to take account for the possibility that you might try to run away from Sark instead of fight him, though I don’t feel it does a very good job. The plan looks great on paper. Sark uses his disc as a projectile, and can summon walls to block you from escaping. You can even use Sark’s summoned walls to attack him with a reaction command called Needle Dive. This Reaction Command is actually part of the trap, because it re-positions you back next to Sark, and so it tricks you into never running away at all! Sneaky devs! The trouble is: Sark’s aim is terrible, and I’ve seen him put a wall between you and him instead of walling you in with him! And it’s still not hard to run to the far side of the room while he’s unconscious, at which point he’ll keep using the wall, but who cares about a wall when he’s nowhere near you?
Your prize for deleting the MCP is Reflega, no small trifle, as it upgrades Reflect with a much stronger dispersal with wider range.
Tron is so excited to defeat the MCP that he even gives a fist pull. When Sora confronts him on this, Tron claims he “learned it from you.” This is cute, but Sora’s response is to tell him he’ll reprogram Tron to get him to sing and dance. Ha ha! It’s so funny to talk about taking away someone’s free will! (That said, Tron’s follow-up is hilarious: “Okay, okay, fine. But before I crash…”)
Tron actually has a short speech, one that, as it’s coming from a little computer man, I can’t help but imagine as being partially directed to the player, not unlike that “We’ll always be there” speech of Pooh’s in KH1. But this seems even more openly directed at the player, take a look:
“Sora, Donald, Goofy… and all the Users out there… Thank you… You really helped me. You made me so much stronger. You taught me what friendship is truly all about. And, I’ll never forget it. As soon as I met you, I knew we were going to defeat the MCP and free the system.”
There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about the speech, but Tron follows it up by pulling Sora into a hug, saying it’s what Users do when they’re sad to say goodbye. Goofy tries to cheer Tron up by saying they’ll see him soon, “it’s like a promise,” and Bruce Boxleitner really sounds wrenched to say: “I promise.” At first it seems he’s still just sad to say goodbye, but to the shock of the trio, he pulls a Desch and dives into the core of the computer, with no sign that he survives… whatever he’s doing here. (Ed. To clarify: I actually believe this to be a deliberate FFIII reference, as it plays out in a highly similar fashion!)
Sora and the others return to the real world under the impression that their friend is dead, or close to it. As censored fake-out deaths go, this is at least better than Goofy’s. Sora chokes out: “He just disappeared!” as he looks more distraught than Roxas did in the face of his own death. Of course, all is well: Tron soon speaks through the loudspeakers, having merged with the operating system.
There’s a silly moment here with Sora and the others “tickle” Tron on the keyboard, but it’s interrupted with an announcement. There’s a tonal shift between the two sequences, and it’s a little striking. Tron explains he found “something” in the archives, saying “You can see the town back when it was first built.” The implication seems to be that Tron found a photo or illustration in his databanks, but that’s not the case. To everyone’s surprise, beams of light begin to shoot up around town, specks of light falling around town like rain. It’s not entirely clear what Tron… did, exactly… but the Final Fantasy characters seem nostalgic and touched to see this phenomenon. Merlin wonders how on earth the world “got such a dreadful name as Hollow Bastion,” and Aerith (a few cuts later) explains that the town used to be named “Radiant Garden.”
The world gets a new title card to close out, and is addressed by “Radiant Garden” for the remainder of the game. Naturally, this explains Ansem’s mention of being the ruler of “Radiant Garden” in his Secret Reports.
Renaming Hollow Bastion makes a lot more sense to me than the “Ansem” identity theft. “Hollow Bastion” sounds like the name of the Bastion, not the world, and I think the fact that the residents were calling the whole world “Hollow Bastion” was a red flag for me the moment I first arrived here in KH2. Remember, the residents themselves were handing out membership cards called “Hollow Bastion,” so it wasn’t just a game artifact. Something was wrong right from the get-go. And like Merlin said, what a dire name! KH2 implies that the residents didn’t remember the original name, and that’s… stupid… but since there was a grounding for a name change goes back to KH1, it doesn’t seem nearly as baseless as Ansem’s identity theft. The game also established the name in the Ansem Reports. All around, a better example of how to do a name change. And with that prominent impact on the main plot and an excellent performance from Bruce Boxleitner, Space Paranoids still stands out as one of best of the Disney worlds in the franchise.
Clearing Space Paranoids unlocks the first of the game’s superbosses (the only one in Vanilla KH2), but as in KH1, I’m going to be addressing those in the post-game.
Now you might be thinking, “wait, didn’t you cover all the superbosses in KH1 before going to KH1’s final world?” Yes, and I will be doing things differently this time around. I think the difference here is that KH2 is still unlocking things up until the Final Bosses’ doorstep, meaning there’s a visible, hard break between the late-game and the true end-game. As a result, I too will get all the way to the final bosses’ doorstep before we talk about the superbosses! Strap in, it’s time for the beginning of a long, long, very-long end sequence.