The game returns control to Sora and the others as they find themselves in the streets of the Dark City from the original KH1 secret ending. Mickey is with them, appearing from nowhere. I guess we shouldn’t even ask where he was. Someone died in his absence, and I’ve already punched so many holes in this game that I don’t want blood to come out of that one. Sora looks up and sees a great, white castle flying over the city, and finally realizes that that’s where Kairi is being held. Thank goodness that’s been cleared up at last. While we’re here, note the giant, heart-shaped moon.
“Then we’d better find a way to get to that castle,” Mickey says, and heads off without you again, because god forbid you work as a team. Find a way to the castle, huh? It’s a good thing this city, which on the map looks to be three or four times the size of a regular world, is only three or so rooms with no branches, huh? Oh yeah, that wasn’t a joke: the big mysterious city from the Deep Dive teaser? A giant red herring and a waste of time, put here simply because we expected it after the KH1 concept trailer. The city is entirely irrelevant to KH2. You’d think with it being such a big mystery, Nomura would realize we’d want to learn more about it, but no! I think this is why the later games gave up on concept trailers: they kept forcing Nomura to do what he seemingly no longer wanted to do, though bear in mind that this was something he was entirely at blame for to begin with.
Despite this apparent lack of effort put forward into establishing the Dark City in KH2, I think I see what they were going for: Twilight Town was created as a contrast to the Dark City. The Dark City is dark, foreboding, anonymous and urban, while Twilight Town is notably frozen on the edge of darkness, pleasant, homey and while arguably urban (at least suburban) it has a pastoral tone to it. Unfortunately, while I can see the themes here, I don’t feel the game really does anything with it, beyond to simply state that one is “better” than the other?
The walk to the castle involves a lot of Shadows, a Wisdom Form blessing if you’re willing to sit around exploiting them. Make sure you do it now if you’re going to do it at all, because FM+ replaces them later in the game. Finally, you make your way to the scene of the big fight from the original trailer: Memory’s Skyscraper. At the sight of the place, and given what just happened to Axel, Roxas finally awakens.
Roxas shows his first inklings of consciousness in a very clever way, maybe one of the most subtle things KH2 does in the entire game: he summons the Samurais, who cut Donald and Goofy off from Sora. The Samurais have only loosely, but somewhat consistently, been seen as Roxas’ underlings here in KH2. The game could have done a better job linking them up, but it wasn’t bad. That’s why it’s so impactful when the Samurai come to Roxas the moment he’s awake and aware of his full power. It’s really too bad how much this moment was undercut by a mistake made by Days. I’ll be riding Days for this later, because we’re talking about a surprisingly thorough oversight. This isn’t even the only part of KH2 this one problem damaged!
Roxas then manifests in the real world. He summons the Oblivion, which was a nice choice, considering Sora doesn’t have the Oblivion yet, making it easy to tell whose weapon is whose at a glance. This scene is shot fairly well, but I can’t help but feel disappointed with it compared to the one that appeared in an early KH2 trailer. I’m surprised I haven’t discussed this early trailer much (though it did come up in The Battle of 1000 Heartless): the trailer was full of mocked-up scenes that didn’t appear in the full game, and it seems that when it came time to create the scene properly, they chose to cut a lot of interesting content. For example, there were a lot more Samurais in the mock-up, there to help you realize this is a serious ambush, and make you really think about why there’s so many Samurais, and just Samurais. In this version, there are two, and because the Nobodies are designed to look “vacant,” these two Samurais look so disinterested that if their swords weren’t out, they had might as well have been here on their smoke break.
Roxas rushes Sora, and Sora blocks the attack, only for them both to be transported into a Station of Awakening from Roxas’ Dive to the Heart. And FM+ players better get ready, because it’s time for this game’s Zexion: the all new boss that wasn’t in the original, and is far, far harder than he should be for this part of the game. Roxas fights you to a new piece of boss music, one of the most unusual boss themes from the era: a remix of his own piano theme entitled “The Other Promise,” one of Yoko Shimomura’s legendary pieces.
The fight with Roxas can be a nightmare. Remember earlier on when I said the game was 97% easy, excusing the final few bosses? Welcome to your first taste of that final 3%, as the game gets up, cracks its knuckles and transforms into its true, final form. Having reached Roxas, we’ve finally left the point of the game where combat was uninvolved and unimportant. Here in the World that Never was, we’re surrounded by relatively complex lesser Nobodies and extremely complex bosses. The Cow Clicker days have now largely in the past. Like many unfortunate social games, KH2 is designed on the idea that if they can distract the audience from 10 hours of failure for every 1 hour of quality content, the game as a whole will be positively received. Of course, those social games tend to spread out the quality content. KH2 stuffs all its mechanically solid content to the back of the game (alongside much of its true narrative), leaving the mechanically lackluster content in a giant gob in the front and middle. Almost all that follows is praiseworthy as far as mechanics are concerned (with one major exception in my opinion) and as we’ll see, FM+ knows how to throw a post-game party. Too bad we had to get through the rest to get here.
Roxas is dual wielding at this point, and has heavy area attacks as normal swings, so much so that his giant light pillar attacks are almost a relief. A good Reflect-based strategy will do wonders, as is often the case with the new FM+ bosses. One thing that makes Roxas so rough is that his battle almost hinges on you using a certain Reaction Command against him: Duel Attack, which behaves like the Samurai’s Dual Stance. If you catch it, Sora will outright steal Roxas’ Keyblades, after which Sora will go after Roxas with all three, a whole new combat style that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the game. This can tear Roxas apart, especially in Critical, and changes the whole battle. It can be hard to finish the job after Roxas gets the Keyblades back, as he’ll use Duel Attack less and less when his HP is low, but if you’re lucky or have good timing, you can carry your triple-threat straight to his last point of HP.
Clearing Roxas earns you Combo Master, the ability to continue your combos even if you miss, which you might remember from 1.5.
At this point, FM+ rejoins with the original game in a pre-rendered battle sequence. Roxas refuses to identify himself to Sora, and Sora asks if he might be Riku, though he doesn’t seem to really believe it. Hard to blame him, given the aggression, voice and height. Still, Riku is the only other person he knows who can use the Keyblade, so it was probably worth a guess. Roxas remembers the name “Riku,” and muses that he “defeated a Riku once.” Sora is shocked to hear this, but the fight prevents him from asking more.
It seems Roxas wants to know why “he” picked Sora. Roxas never clarifies who he means – hyperion09 explains that this is a translation issue, see the comment below for more. If we have to work with the line we have, I suppose you could say Roxas is referring to DiZ choosing to let Sora live at the cost of Roxas’ life. As the fight continues, Roxas takes to the air, and notices the Station of Awakening in full. There, he notices the faces of Riku, Kairi, Donald and Goofy, and says: “I see. That’s why.”
The fight continues, and Roxas very nearly wins. At one point Sora only survives because Roxas pauses for a moment of gloating. Luckily, Sora recovers thanks to his mastery of the Keyblade (specifically, he calls his back to his hand after Roxas has pinned it) and defeats Roxas. As Roxas staggers to his knees, FM+ introduces a few more new scenes. First of these is a scene at the mansion in Twilight Town, where Xemnas gives Roxas his name, revealing the fact that the Organization’s names are acronyms with giant, glowing Voldemort letters. Xemnas says that the X represents Roxas’ new “purpose.” He then presents Roxas’ name to him… here we go again… facing the camera, so that we can read it even though it’s backwards to Roxas.
A second and more consequential FM+ exclusive is a scene between Roxas and Axel. This scene can be fairly blunt, but it’s blunt about something a little more complex than usual, and still particularly intimate, so I think the bluntness can be excused. Roxas wakes up on the clock tower in Twilight Town, where we saw him often with Hayner, Pence and Olette, and you might be mistaken (especially if you have context from Days) in believing this is a continuation of the previous flashback with Xemnas. You’ll soon discover that this is the present-day Roxas and Axel, who seem to be speaking in a sort of space between life and death.
Roxas asks Axel if this means “it’s time for me to go back to where I belong?” and Axel takes a seat next to him. Axel seems to change the subject at first. I’m going to trim this considerably, but a few of the specifics are important. Axel wants to ask Roxas “about something Naminé said […A]re you really sure that you don’t have a heart? Is it possible that we all have one? […] Or is that just wishful thinking?” Roxas says he has no way to know, though he says if they had a heart, “we’d feel it, right?” But he seems to doubt his certainty even he’s saying it, and tries to set the subject aside by saying Sora will work out the rest from here. It’s a sweet sentiment, but considering it’s an entirely new scene, Sora will do nothing of the sort.
To Roxas’ surprise, Axel then hands him some sea-salt ice cream, and they simply sit and eat for a while. Axel then reminds him of the day they met, saying they did this very same thing. Roxas muses about all the good times he spent here, with Axel and the digital Hayner, Pence and Olette. Axel assures him that he’ll see the Other Trio again someday, though Rox, I’m afraid I was just complaining about that and… oh, forget it. This scene is too sweet and sad for me to be brash around it. It’s easily one of FM+’s best additions. I’d probably care about it a bit more if Roxas’ storyline had been in the game at any point in the past 32 hours, but that just goes to show how good a scene it is!
Roxas finally stands, saying, “Sora’s waiting for me.” The two of them say their goodbyes, and gradually fade into light, and not the darkness Axel’s body faded into in the real world. Back in the Station of Awakening (and back in sync with the Vanilla version), Roxas is now unhooded. He turns to Sora says “You make a good other,” before he fades away, as well. Sora awakens in front of Memory’s Skyscraper.
Roxas’ closing sentiment, “You make a good other,” is an interesting one, especially when viewed in light of the Riku Replica’s dying thoughts in CoM. This game franchise has a lot of thoughts on artificial existence, and a lot of them are good thoughts. It’s too bad, then, that they’re so hard to trace back into real life. This is a problem with a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, but it’s still disappointing when it happens. “You make a good other” isn’t like “My friends are my power!” which relates back to a real-life discussion of sociality versus personal strength. Heck, it’s not even like “Measure of a Man,” the famous Star Trek TNG episode where the sentience of android Data was put on trial, raising issues both of human’s propensity to use other humans as objects, and of the very real possibility of artificial life in the future. With Kingdom Hearts, I find myself carrying strong but entirely non-transferable feelings about fictional issues, like the rights of capital-N Nobodies and capital-R Replicas. There are a few exceptions in the games to come, which like “Measure of a Man” manage to widen the focus away from a fantasy issue to a wider social issue, but other parts of the series aren’t quite so flexible, except as broad statements about human worth. I often find myself leaving parts of CoM, KH2 and later games with a feeling of “that’s great within your own bounds and you moved me emotionally, but now that I’m done playing, so what?”
Donald and Goofy come to Sora, saying they fought off the Samurais after Sora disappeared. Sora tries to explain what happened to him, but he’s can’t get over the fact that Roxas said he defeated Riku. A fellow Kingdom Hearts fan at TV Tropes pointed out exactly what’s going wrong with this scene, so I can’t take any credit for it, but man is it tangled. Okay. Roxas “defeated” Riku. That’s certainly not a pleasant experience but it’s not necessarily lethal. Here’s the problem: Kingdom Hearts 2 also uses “defeated” as a censoring for “killed.” But it’s not simply a censoring for killed. You can’t simply substitute “killed” in your mind and get the intended meaning, oh no. “Defeated” retains its original meaning at the same time, and that’s how we arrived in our current situation. Roxas clearly intended to say: “I defeated a guy named Riku,” and Sora misunderstood him as saying: “I killed a guy named Riku.” The sequence relies on the stupid ambiguity of the censorship to make any sense at all, and we can essentially say that the ambiguity has caused the characters themselves to become confused and upset – so confused and upset that it becomes a plot point. That’s a… that’s a hell of a thing.
Donald reassures Sora that “nobody could defeat Riku” and Goofy figures it was just an Org member lying to you for giggles. This is all very nice of them, but the compliments feel a little empty considering the audience knows Riku must have lost the fight, even if he didn’t die. There’s also just something juvenile about Donald and Goofy saying, “Nobody could defeat Riku.” It sounds more like parents consoling their child because Optimus Prime couldn’t be dead because nobody can defeat Optimus Prime. “A black coat means Organization XIII. He musta been tryin’ to trick you!” Again, we know they’re supposed to be wrong and even Sora seems to realize that Goofy is wrong when he said this, but I feel like we just plunged from a high artistic bar in the new FM+ scene to ground level here in the original.
Finishing this sequence gives you two prizes in Vanilla, three in FM+ (four if you count Combo Master!). However we have a few more cutscenes to go, so I’ll put the prizes off for a moment.
The party carries on to the next room, where they find King Mickey staring at a crevasse. It seems the Organization’s fortress, The Castle that Never Was, is hovering over a great crater. Just imagine Ganon’s Castle in Ocarina of Time, because the artists of this game certainly were. Mickey remarks there’s no way over. Gee, if only we had some form of flying device made of malleable material that we could assemble into any form we needed, whenever and wherever we wanted?
Just then, we cut to inside the castle, to a room you’ll never visit, where Kairi and Pluto are being held prisoner behind bars she could easily slip out of. The manga actually makes this joke (it’s hilarious), so I can’t take credit for the observation! Other people keep writing my Retrospective for me!
Saïx shows up, and Kairi demands to know why she’s being held here. He says that “You’re the fire that feeds Sora’s anger” and just… walks off! And in Vanilla, that’s the only explanation you get! Without that FM+ scene from the second trip to Twilight Town – the one where Xemnas ordered Saix to make Sora angry – this is just left in the air! And I’ve already complained about that scene. As a lead character, you’d think Kairi might have deserved to come to the bad guy’s headquarters under her own power this time, but ohhhh well!
But before Kairi can absorb the poor sequence of events that led her to this point, Naminé shows up through a portal. Hey, remember Naminé? Because it’s been something like 32 hours, and in Vanilla the last time we saw her she was being dragged off to be killed. Ugh, this poor scene in Vanilla. And while we’re here, I’ve got to point out that KH2 once again can’t make up its mind as to whether it wants CoM to be important or not. The prologue makes it its business to flip off anyone skipped CoM, before coming to a close and then choosing to cater to everyone who skipped CoM by acting like it didn’t happen until you finally reunite with Naminé 32 hours later, and the events of CoM are briefly summarized in the Secret Ansem Reports you get from the final bosses of the game. It’s not just the one, it’s not just the other, and now no one can understand what’s going on without wild estimations and logical and illogical leaps, since the game isn’t proceeding down logical paths in the first place!
Anyway, Naminé opens a portal into Kairi’s cell and invites Kairi to follow her out, telling her to “Believe in yourself.” Heh, that’s clever. Kairi takes Naminé’s hand, causing a spark of light. This spark is apparently so strong that even Sora and the others see it, not just over great distances through at least once solid wall! The Keyblade responds to this and makes a bridge of light. The art director has never even heard of Ocarina of Time, he is insulted by the very suggestion! By the way, this is where the Keyblade goes from weapon with a logical ruleset to deus ex machina. Congrats folks, we got through nearly three games. Not quite three games. But nearly!
Now that the cutscenes are finally over, you reach a save point and a Moogle Shop, hawking the last of Donald and Goofy’s purchasable weapons (though they’re far weaker than the other items you might have if you got a lucky drop or have been synthing. In fact, they have the exact stats of the weapons dropped by the Shaman and Bookmaster, but without the abilities!). You can also find an Orichalcum+ tucked away in a tight corner, which if you ask me is KH2’s second-best-hidden chest.
Since we’re parked here, how about a wrap-up style pit-stop? Anyone stopping to read the journal will see that Psychic Jiminy is on a roll, describing Roxas despite the fact that he admits in the very next sentence that he didn’t see Roxas! We also have all those prizes we got from the Roxas fight, and they’re going to take a little while to explain.
The first is a Secret Ansem Report (which you apparently won off of Roxas – you know, someone who doesn’t really exist anymore. You can see why I feel these are less tangible artifacts than the ones in KH1!). The report you get varies by version. In Vanilla it’s Report 12, while in FM+ it’s Report 8, the first of three such swaps. I’m going to respect the revision and discuss the one from FM+. We’ll talk about why there may have been a swap once we’ve covered the other swapped papers. Report 8 continues the theme we’ve had lately of dumping old information in your lap, as it summarizes the events of KH1 and the start of CoM with very little commentary or addition. With the preliminaries out of the way, FM+ can move on to more interesting things in later reports, though it comes at a certain cost. Again, I’ll cover that stuff later down the road.
The next prize you get is… secret? The game doesn’t even tell you that you have it, but you do. Now that Sora and Roxas have made their peace, however one-sidedly, you can now unlock your final Drive Form: Final Form. All you need to do now is trigger it… at random. Final Form appears randomly when you turn into another form. The Cerberus Cup can be handy for this. Unusually, the first step in unlocking Final Form is to trigger AntiForm, a process that’s 25% odds at best, and that’s just step one. After you finally roll AntiForm, you have to roll Final Form on its own! In Vanilla, there are 25% odds the first time you trigger AntiForm, then 50%, then 100% on the third and final AntiForm transformation. In FM+, hyperion09 informs me that the odds are 3%, 9%, 27% and finally 75% over and over again until Final Form finally unlocks.
Thankfully, FM+ offers a better solution (or rather, this reward is the reason for the change): the Two Become One Keyblade, which is also your final prize for beating Roxas. The Two Become One has some good stats. I like to equip it to Drive Forms, where its Ability can do no harm. What Ability, you ask? It’s unique: “Light and Dark,” an ability that triggers when you try to engage a Drive Form. Instead of turning into the Drive Form you requested, it forces you to AntiForm, with the usual odds of activating Final Form (thanks to hyperion09 again for the clarification!). It can also be used to speed up the AntiForm-related Trophy in 2.5, if you don’t already have it.
So what’s in store with our new Drive Form? Final Form a white-clothed Form that turns Sora into a hovering, dual-wielding superman, with long, rapid combos, powerful magic, auto-blocking Keyblades in certain circumstances, as well as the Glide ability. Oh, and Form Boost as a secondary ability, which makes your Drives last even longer. Biggest downside: it costs 5 Drive Gauges, and both teammates are required for the transformation, like Master Form. Keeping two teammates on their feet is a lot harder to guarantee in the battles to come. But the best thing? Each time you trigger Final Form, you’ll flush out 10 of your accumulated AntiForm points. If you’re careful, you’ll never have to see AntiForm again.
Final Form can be a real boss killer, and it’s great for a lot of the Mushroom XIII, though it’s not much of a minor enemy fighter. Not awful, but not great either, often missing shorter targets. That’s too bad for you, because you’ll need to kill Nobodies to give it EXP (similar to how Wisdom Form needs Heartless). This means Final Form would rather you hunt Creepers for its experience. You know. Short targets. In fact, the shortest targets in the game!
Because Final Form is so handy against bosses, you might even want to unlock and grind it before you push any further in. Unfortunately, the very next boss is just a few rooms away! That doesn’t give you much room to train!
Once you’ve unlocked Final Form, you also unlock Genie’s version of Final Form. This form’s Limit, “Infinity” (yup, just like the Limit Form limit “Infinity,” this is actually a mistranslated “Ragnorok”). Infinity combines the power of Genie’s single-target Valour Form with the area attacks of his Master Form… while being as good as neither of them. Oh well Genie, at least your Limits kept interesting as the game went on, right? That’s more than I can say about you, Chicken Little.
All right, pull on your big kid pants, things are about to get messy. It’s time for a patch of cutscenes and fighting like you never did see.