Kingdom Hearts 2 – Look at this Photograph

Alllllllrighty. In making our approach to Twilight Town, you could say we are either in the last stage of the middle game or the opening stage of the end-game. One way or another, after a very long trip, we’re finally at the finish line. And the only thing standing between us and there is an ominous Gummi sequence.

Assault of the Dreadnought is the last Gummi mission in the game, and is the only one not paired with a sibling somewhere else on the map. It involves nothing short of an Organization blockade of Twilight Town. I hesitate to treat the particulars of Gummi Mode as full canon (the games so often ignore those same particulars), but it really gets me riled and ready to find out why the Organization is so concerned about you going to Twilight Town that they’d show their hand like this. I’m not going to spoil what happens, but some of the Organization’s actions suggest that they’re aware of what’s about to happen on Twilight Town, but if they are, that just introduces a plot hole. If they know what you’re about to do, why not add a more substantial guard on the ground, or better yet: fix the problem directly? Even if the magical solutions wouldn’t work for whatever contrived magical reasons, I can think of quite a few mundane ones. Demyx could have wrapped this up. And he’s dead!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Assault on the Dreadnought. The Organization has sent a whole fleet of spiky, imposing ships to cut you off, some of which seem to be made of papier-mâché given their garbage hit point total. The biggest ship of all is not so pathetic. For whatever autoscrolling reason, Sora decides the best way to deal with the giant ship is to honeycomb through its bowels to blow up its core, despite the fact that the core has such high HP that most players will never destroy it at all. Implying that Sora could have just… left? At any time? I’m just saying!

The honeycombing involves a lot of automated doors: there are doors that are already shut that you have to blow open by hitting a target, and open ones that try to slam shut in your face. The final battle against the Core involves a whole fleet of snub fighters and a whole 100 000 hit points on the Core itself. If you aren’t fast enough, the ship’s unseen commander will raise a shield around the Core and you’ll be out of luck, but if you blow the Core you get to watch the whole ship blow on your way out, which is a nice finale.

The battle against the Core.

But that’s not necessarily the finale! The Dreadnought has a bonus surprise on Mission 3. Anyone willing to brave Dreadnought’s Mission 3 will be cut off at the exit by a Heartless, the Hunter-X, which will pull you into an alternate dimension. This is Gummi Mode’s superboss, and the game goes full bullet hell the moment you enter the alternate dimension. And a bullet hell experience can be quite startling in over-the-shoulder perspective! If you ask me, the game is screaming at you to use the Drain gummi, a weapon you picked up during Dreadnought Mission 2, but there are a lot of other ways to take on the boss, including the good old fashioned Doughnut Ship, which I’ll describe in the late-game section. Even the Doughnut Ship can be nerve-wracking, as twelve billion bullets fly in your direction, including laser beams that seem to count as Slash weapons and can hurt even the vaunted Doughnut.

After the Hunter-X dies, you see a giant heart fly out of its remains. Yaaay, you just significantly helped the Organization’s plans by freeing a powerful, optional heart that wasn’t hurting anybody yaaaaay.

By the way, I’m going to add a new detail here that was unearthed during some recent discussion. Clearing Assault of the Dreadnought should give you two more gummi models, the Highwind Peak and Invincible Peak, except that sometimes it doesn’t seem to do so. What gives? It turns out that this happens because the game won’t give you the models unless you have the capability to build them by picking up blocks and G+ upgrades (which allow you to build more complicated ships). If you don’t get the models right away, you should be able to get the ships by unlocking the gummis and especially the G+ upgrades. Thanks to VoidGear and Infamita at the KHI forums for helping me unwrap this mystery!

After breaking the blockade, Sora and friends arrive in Twilight Town, where they finally look at a picture Riku gave them. Or at least I suppose they do. Goofy says “Look, I’ll show ya!” and then shows the photo to himself and the camera, which if you’re paying attention means the photo is facing away from Donald and Sora. “Yeah!” Donald says, fascinated by the glossy white back of a polaroid. “Goofy’s right!” And then, making my eyebrow shoot up so high I needed an ice pack, the camera cuts to their perspective, showing that they’re looking at the blank side. This is so poorly shot it has to be intentional. It has to be a joke. We became an open parody at some point, where did I miss the clues? Sora even implies he doesn’t know why they came to Twilight Town. Sora really is just wandering at random, isn’t he? Wandering and shouting at people. There’s been no plot this entire game, has there?

The team is looking at the photo of Hayner, Pence and Olette they were given by Riku, the one depicting a mysterious boy (Roxas) who could be the answer to everything. Talking to the Twilight Town Trio could solve all the game’s mysteries. Ergo, our intrepid heroes decide… to go look at the building in the background of the photo. Not completely baseless but certainly a plan B in anyone else’s books! And even if we can swallow the idea that they’ve chosen not to talk to Hayner, Pence and Olette (even if that’s like trying to swallow a tub of cinnamon) the building in the background of the photo is the mansion: the building Sora and the others should have explored when they woke up in it. They’re just… it’s… I’m conducting a symphony of monkeys!

Remember my old theory that Sora’s first visit to Twilight Town had been drastically revised? I present to you exhibit Z: asshole only now because curious about the place where he lost his memory and was sleeping for a year.

There’s a good real-world reason the team doesn’t go to visit Hayner, Pence and Olette, but as with so many other instances in KH2, it’s because they read the script. The Other Trio are already at the mansion gates, so it would be redundant to send you to the Usual Spot before the mansion. So off we go. To get to the Mansion, you’ll have to fight your way through Nobodies, who have occupied the town. Well, okay, not really. I wish that was a plot point. The Organization has already supposedly blockaded the town with its ships, so it would have been pretty cool if it was now under military occupation. Sadly there’s no implication that anyone in town is even aware of the army of white demons on the streets. You can see why I’m reticent to even consider the Dreadnought as full canon.

The invading Nobodies include the first normal Gamblers in the game, as well as Samurais for the first time since the attack on the Bailey during your initial trip to Hollow Bastion. Wow, that was forever ago. You even fight Snipers in the woods, where the trees can block your return Warp Snipes, which is quite tactically sound. It’s like the game is finally coming alive mechanically in its twilight hours. You can go exploring if you want, special content and all that, but I’m going to save that for the wrap-up once most of the world is safe from the plot.

Sora finds Hayner, Pence and Olette stunned outside the mansion gate. He wakes Hayner, and Hayner says the Nobodies attacked the three of them while they were looking for Kairi. Huh, these three saw a magic portal and they decided to keep searching town? It sounds silly at first, but it turns out they even have a great reason! Even if it’s partially wrong. You’ve gotta respect their loyalty and their intelligence. Why aren’t these three the heroes?

The Other Trio explain that they put together the clues – like Sora’s copy of Roxas’ crystal, or the digital copy of the hand-made munny bag – and realized that there must be a second Twilight Town with copies of everything. Having no clue the universe actually consists of multiple worlds, they’ve rationalized that the portal they saw must have led to the alternate Twilight Town, and not somewhere else. I could kiss all three of these geniuses for finally advancing the central plot, but they’ve gone above and beyond with a perfectly sound explanation of the circumstances given their perspective (and what great, internally sound writing!). I’ve made up my mind. Sora, hand over the Keyblade.

Just then Dusks attack and Mickey arrives on the scene, giving you a chance to fight alongside the King for the first time in the series outside of CoM’s friend card. The fight that follows isn’t that impressive despite your four-person party (though there are quite a few Samurais involved). You have to wonder why the Organization hasn’t sent an agent to cut you off directly if your being in Twilight Town is such a huge deal. Hell, I think the narrative would hold up better if we saw something as simple as Saïx glowering at us from the distance! Oh well. Clearing this battle gets you Donald’s Lucky Lucky ability. Everybody cheer!

After the battle, Mickey explains why he’s here: he’s somehow tracked Ansem the Wise to the Organization’s HQ (though mind this doesn’t mean Mickey knows how to get to the HQ!). Sora exchanges this news for the Hayner, Pence and Olette’s theory about Kairi being in the alternate Twilight Town. “I’m pretty sure we’re right,” Sora says. Even though it’s not actually my theory, I’m going to take credit for it. Oh, and I didn’t believe the theory a minute ago and had my own baseless theory two minutes ago. Oh, and I was running around shouting about her being in the entire Realm of Darkness, and that was baseless too, but you weren’t there for that, so I guess I don’t have to fill you in.

Inevitably, this leads to topic of Riku. I like the transition here: the characters just casually bring up Riku at first, only for Mickey to let slip that Riku is “okay.” Mickey doesn’t seem willing to confirm that Riku is okay, which is understandable considering we know exactly what he’s getting at: that Riku is alive but turned into Ansem. Sora manages to weasel out the fact that Mickey made a promise to Riku not to tell Sora what happened to him. Sora – somewhat senselessly, if you ask me – assumes this means that Riku must have been alive and well to request such a promise. It’s clear from Mickey’s reaction that this is the case, but I don’t think Sora is thinking this through. What if it was Riku’s dying wish, kiddo?

The combined party of The Trio, the Other Trio, and Mickey all head into the Mansion. Mickey explains why the Organization is so up in arms about Twilight Town: there may still be a Corridor of Darkness connecting their HQ to Digital Twilight Town. That’s interesting, thinking of the Digital Twilight Town as its own distinct physical location like that – something we’ll be coming back to in good time. Long story short, if you can find DiZ’s computer, you can get to the Corridor.

Actually, I’ve been a little more detailed than the game has been on this plot point. Mickey actually says there’s “a way into the Realm of Darkness” in the alternate Twilight Town. This game really can’t decide if the Realm of Darkness is a universe or not, can it? I don’t really know what to say at this point. It was a universe in KH1, and it will be a universe again in all later games. I’d be willing to accept that KH2 was trying to retcon the Realm of Darkness into being this tiny bubble and the devs changed their mind after KH2, but that’s simply not true, as even KH2 isn’t internally consistent on this point!

Sora continues to harass the King about Riku even after Mickey asks him to respect his promise, and Donald, the jerk of the team, has to pry Sora off! You know, this does convey to the audience that Sora is concerned for Riku in a way that’s more natural than the spontaneous wailing of Hollow Bastion, but in a series dedicated to the strength of friendship, Sora disrespecting Mickey’s promise to Riku also makes him look like a colossal ass. I can’t deny that, for once, KH2 seems to be depicting Sora with genuine emotion, but it’s still so extreme that now I can’t stand him as a person instead of as a character device!

The party makes their way to the basement. There, they discover DiZ’s computer, and Pence takes the driver’s seat. He works out how to use this multi-console assemblage at once, or at least well enough to get to a password screen. What could the password be? Donald and Goofy assume that Riku would have left them a clue about the password, and remember that he left them the ice-cream bar. A bit of an intuitive leap, but not unreasonable. That said, the section that follows is stupid. The password is “sea-salt ice cream,” naturally, and it’s silly that they’re asking because we’ve heard the words a dozen times in this game alone. Like I implied in Hollow Bastion, I think Scrooge’s appearance was supposed to give you one last late-game reminder of the flavour, and I guess I have to credit the game for going so far as to not only have a reminder, but to set it up well ahead of time, but sheesh! Both Mickey and Olette seem to remember it, and Donald even nearly says it (“salty-sweet,” not “sea-salt”), but for some reason, you have to provide the answer. This all seems like a lot of a stretch for one little first-grade riddle. There’s really no other way to look at it than: “Nomura really wanted to hype this damn ice cream.”

After you’ve entered the password, Pence activates a special beam that I guess teleports you into the digital world. You could enter. Or you could ignore it, and go visit Sora’s pod from earlier, and open that chest I was complaining about during Sora’s first visit here. You find it right at the feet of Donald and Goofy’s pods, where Sora would have had to pass on his way out: a chest containing the recipe for the Ultima Weapon keychain. Monkeys! You wouldn’t have been able to make Ultima back then, of course, but it’s the principle of the thing. You can’t make it quite now, either. The recipe involves a number of ingredients, including a number of Orichalcum+s you can’t possibly have yet. Yup, that’s what those Orichalcum+s are for!

Finally, you return to the machine and approach the beam. Hayner, Pence and Olette say goodbye to you here. “Say hi to Kairi!” Olette says. Well, I will, but Sora won’t. And goodbye to our Twilight Town friends, because this is the end of their line! Yes that’s right, they play no role in the finale! Not only that, but if you go back to talk to them, they’re repeating their generic NPC dialogue from the start of the game, the ones referring you to basic services! These three characters have gone being from the lead’s best friends to being the generic NPCs that say “Use items to heal yourself!” from any other RPG. “Welcome to Twilight Town! Eastmost Peninsula Has The Secret!” They’ve been essentially nullified as characters, and it’s a disgrace. Even the Hollow Bastion crew got updated text! But what really makes me sad is that nothing is coming for them in later games. They play a minor role in Days, and they have essentially not been seen since. It’s this kind of character overload and character discarding that makes me fear for Kingdom Hearts’ extended cast in the upcoming KH3. We’ll be lucky if KH3 gives these three a cameo, and I’m saying that knowing Twilight Town is in KH3!

Inside digital Twilight Town, the music doesn’t change, which I discussed during the first trip but is still really distracting. The game essentially fails to make this short trip to Digital Twilight Town feel like a different place from the real Twilight Town, and the music would have honestly helped. Oh well.

“Let’s split up,” Mickey says, to justify his vanishing over the next few scenes. After this scene, the game gives you Secret Ansem Report 10 (maybe you found it on the floor? in the computer’s hard drive?), as well as Character Links for DiZ, Naminé, and an enemy entry for the Twilight Thorn. Jiminy’s not even going to hide that he’s a god anymore, is he?

Secret Ansem Report 10 talks briefly about the end of Sora’s story in CoM (it seems to have been written in the middle of the events of R/R), though it focuses mostly on Naminé. DiZ remarks on Naminé’s meta-physiology, saying she’s a Nobody, but not a normal kind. His “hypothesis” is the explanation we’re ever going to get for our memory-adjusting witch friend, so listen up. The Scarlet Mummy figures that Naminé is Kairi’s Nobody, but not in the traditional fashion. Kairi has no darkness in her heart, and so couldn’t have created a Nobody when she lost her heart initially. (Ed. A recent discussion at KH13 pointed out to me that this is the reason why the other Princesses of Heart also lack Nobodies after losing their hearts to form the Keyblade of People’s Hearts, which is something I simply hadn’t bothered to question!) The Nobody must have been created when it left someone who did have darkness, which is to say: Sora, when he freed Kairi’s heart from his in Hollow Bastion. Combined with the weird way Sora retained his personality after becoming a Heartless, you get Naminé. It’s the best DiZ can figure.

You head deeper into the basement to the room where Roxas fought Axel, and discover that weird anomaly is still hovering in the corner. Yup, this is the way to the Organization’s HQ: Axel forgot to shut the door, and the Org would rather send a fleet and an army than shut it themselves. Failing that: blow up the real-world mansion! It’s just… easier to pretend Organization isn’t aware the gate. Just pretend everything Mickey said about them knowing wasn’t true, because this plot hole is a mile wide. Yeah: the Organization’s defensive strategy is so lacking that the director’s cut version added a new scene partially to explain their sloppy handling, which we’ll see in a moment. This has been a gem.

You head into the Corridor of Darkness, and Sora starts immediately shouting for Riku and Kairi. Sora, you’re in a hallway. You can see the other end of the hallway. What on earth happened in the writing process that created these “Riku and Kairi are in the Realm of Darkness” problems? At least the Corridor still looks weird and cool, and you even get to play in here, as Dusks attack you, probably drawn here by the asshole shouting at the front of the party. Just Dusks, by the way. If I were an evil organization with plenty of boss monsters at my disposal, I’d probably put a big dog at the front door. This is where the Organization should have kept a Behemoth – that way, even if Sora wins, they win an extra boss heart. But no, it’s crammed with Dusks, and they keep funnelling in as if they were just now arriving on scene. Less of a frightening guard dog and more of a “Whoopsie!”

After a bit of fighting, you’re rescued by, drumroll please… Axel! The Dusks attack him too, and soon we see that even his Assassins have turned on him. Axel tries to rush Sora off to the Organization’s base, but as the Dusks continue to attack them, Sora chooses to stick it out with Axel instead.

The fight that follows does an odd thing right out the gate. Donald and Goofy disappear, which you might think is for technical reasons (there’s a lot of crap on the screen), but for some reason, they vanish for the entire sequence to come, even the cinematic that follows the battle! It’s like the Riku scenes in Re:CoM, and just as surreal. For a second bit of weirdness, Axel seems to be exhausted, which is only explained in the manga and novel adaptation, where he was attacked by Saïx. hyperion09 says the damage was nearly fatal! Says a lot about KH2’s editing that they went to the trouble of putting Axel in that position but not to actually explain it, doesn’t it?

The third weird thing about this fight is that it’s hard to make out the floor in the Corridor of Darkness. Eamonn describes it better than me in saying that it’s a number of Organization Emblems floating about underneath an invisible floor. This visual effect is troubling, because your enemies are Dusks and Assassins, turning on their former master. Those are both enemies that move into the floor! Since you can’t tell where the floor is, you can never tell when they’re doing it and when they’re not!

You and Axel clear out the bad guys easily enough (Axel is, after all, invincible), but the Dusks are apparently still coming after the fight is through, and there is now a whole army of Dusks on scene. Sora teases Axel, but just when it looks like they’re getting chummy, Axel unleashes a massive fire attack… and drops to the ground, dying. I don’t need to tell you that Dusks just aren’t threatening enough to justify a suicide attack, but games and anime do this kind of crap all the time so I can’t really blame KH2 in particular. It’s a trend that should sure as hell stop, but I shouldn’t be surprised by a 2005 example. “Well, that’s what happens when you put your whole being into an attack,” says Axel. Wow. That’s an awful line. Quinton Flynn sells it by trying to make it sound like an overwrought joke, but it’s real close to bad.

Poor Quinton Flynn. It’s clear he’s not sure whether Axel is supposed to be feeling emotions in this scene, despite being a Nobody, or if he’s just joking about having emotions. Axel has lines implying both, and Flynn seems to settle on a performance that implies Axel is sort of on the cusp. Axel opens a portal for Sora to use (wait, if there wasn’t a portal, why were you ordering him to move on?). Axel then explains his actions during the game (namely, kidnapping Kairi) by saying that he was just trying to get Roxas back. It’s clear that Axel was just improvising and not sure if his plan was ever going to work. He says Roxas made him feel like he had a heart. “It’s kind of funny… You make me feel… the same way.” With those words, Axel dies. In the Japanese version, he’s consumed by flames, but like the Undead Pirates in Port Royal, that’s censored outside of Japan. Donald and Goofy pop back into existence, and help Sora through the portal.

Axel’s death seems to spark something in Sora, as it gives him the Bond of Flame Keyblade. The poor Bond of Flame. It’s the best truly balanced Keyblade in the game, at +4 Strength and +4 Magic, but that doesn’t stand out due to the fact that it only has Fire Boost for an ability, and there are much more valuable things to prioritize. Even more humiliating than that is the fact that thorough Vanilla players are awful close to getting Ultima Weapon. Poor Axel.

In FM+, this leads to another throne room band-aid scene. For those not keeping track at home, only Xemnas, Xigbar, Saïx and Luxord are left of the original Organization XIII. They chat about Axel’s death, loosely implying they were trying to kill Axel with the Dusks rather than trying to defend the portal, or at least that’s my interpretation.

Xigbar and Luxord hold an existential debate whether or not Axel “existed” enough to benefit from a heroic sacrifice. In my opinion, Xigbar’s lines here sound out of character, but luckily for English speakers, James Patrick Stuart was recording this ten years after the fact and also recognized that the lines were out of character, so like Quinton Flynn, he also decides to sell the lines as jokes! Saïx argues that the whole debate is missing the point that Axel wasn’t heroic in the first place. “He won nothing and is nothing.” Yikes, these Saix lines are harsh from the perspective of Days. And I bet that perspective was in Nomura’s mind when he wrote FM+!

Xemnas has another angle: he wonders if maybe Axel’s sacrifice will finally bring Roxas back to the surface…

Yes, Roxas is indeed about to come to the surface, and it was apparently so poorly handled in Vanilla KH2 that they had to say it loud in the remake. I personally don’t think the upcoming scene is all that confusing, but here’s the evidence from the creators themselves! Huh, this is as blunt as Final Mix+ has ever gotten!


This is something of a messy wrap-up. I want to talk about all the new stuff in Twilight Town, but there’s a problem. You don’t return to the map screen after this sequence, but instead proceed immediately to the next world, and can only go back to Twilight Town by walking back through the Corridor or by using a save point. Still, Twilight Town is clear for all intents and purposes (excusing the Mysterious Tower), so let’s take a look at the impressive treasure trove we’ve unlocked.

From the moment you arrive at Twilight Town after the gummi sequence, you’ll discover that the godforsaken tunnels that have been taunting you since the first minutes of the game are finally open. I didn’t talk about them during the main Twilight Town writeup because the plot was right in front of us, but you could have explored the tunnels instead of going to meet up with Hayner, Pence and Olette. Nobodies hang out in the tunnels even after the world is cleared (even though the other Nobodies are gone), and there are a few treasure chests to grab. Heading south through the maze-like tunnels will lead back you to Sunset Terrace (remember Sunset Terrance?), which is good because the inter-city tram is apparently no longer running. An Orichalcum+ is waiting for you at that end of the city. A group of people in the area bring up the 7 Wonders while you’re there, so DiZ must have pulled that part of his virtual world from real life.

This is the room that houses Mushroom VII, seen here just before clearing Twilight Town.

There’s a new Mushroom XIII ready for you upon clearing Twilight Town. This brings our total up to 10. The new Mushroom is Mushroom VII, which waits in the southern tunnels where you fought digital Vivi. Saïx’s fanshroom doesn’t fight like Saïx at all. Mushroom VII charges you like Quick Man, knocking you around the room on contact. Killing it isn’t that hard – the catch is the time trial Jiminy wants you to achieve: ten seconds. I’ve seen a mix of strategies out there on the internet, but the most reliable strategy I know of will involve the last of the Drive Forms, so I can’t discuss it quite yet.

If you visit the Album after clearing Twilight Town, you will find a picture of Roxas discovering Sora in the pod. This picture is marked: “Recorded Data.”

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Warning! Incoming Game
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Spiky-Haired Inner Demons

This retrospective’s screenshots come from Spazbo4’s longplay of the 2.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix+ at World of Longplays (YouTube).


  1. Let’s see…

    It’s funny knowing they actually sold sea salt ice cream at Japanese Disney world, it makes that entire plot point and part seem like advertising XD.

    Floor is actually a bunch of transparent emblems flowing from one end to the next.

    the ass hole Sora parts make me hope that people who work on the game are able to see this retrospective.

    And in recent news they found a treasure planet related thing in Dream Drop Distance code.

  2. “Axel seems to be exhausted, which is only explained in the novel adaptation (or so I’m told) where he was attacked by Saïx, or something to that extent.”

    It was in the manga as well, and taking into account knowledge of the later games, I personally consider that scene the single most brutal* part of the manga series. The same scene indicates that the injury(ies) Axel suffered at Saix’s hands were fatal beyond recovery, and so his final attack was basically his way of going out with a bang instead of a whimper. (All this is my personal interpretation of the sequences in question, of course…)

    *probably not the best descriptor, but I couldn’t think of anything better at time of writing

  3. So, funny thing, Hayner says “those white things attacked us”, presumably Nobodies, yeah? The journal entry, in the Story section for Twilight Town, says that you come upon the Twilight Town Trio after they had been attacked by Heartless.

    *breathes deeply* I am seriously tempted to gather a small group of KH fans to try and write a “what if KH2 was written cohesively and less stupidly and maybe even something closer to the designers’ original intent before things went wrong while still meshing with the other games as we have them” sort of thing. Maybe not even a full script, but at least a general outline. It would sure be a challenging puzzle, but hey, some of us love that. I’ll consider maybe posting a thread for that on KHInsider when I’m less preoccupied.

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