After defeating Luxord, you can once again chat with your friends in a safe zone. Riku confusingly addresses his weapon as the “Soul Eater” here (rather than the “Way to the Dawn”), which has confounded discussion of his Keyblade for years. I personally feel it should be regarded as a gaffe on the writers’ part. Meanwhile, Kairi mentions speaking to Roxas telepathically during the prologue, though Sora seemingly still doesn’t understand that Roxas merged with him. Granted, the evidence is very thin from Sora’s perspective, but what narrative purpose does his confusion serve? We’ll explain things to him in one boss fight, but why not have explained things to him when Roxas was in front of him?
In Saïx’s room, we find the last of Xemnas’ underlings staring off at Kingdom Hearts through a large window that spans from wall to wall. He turns to you, and once again addresses Sora as Roxas. Saïx then summons his own Claymore, the Lunatic, and launches an attack. Riku covers Kairi, and is knocked out of the area and cut off by more damned force fields! This game is so determined to keep these two out of the battle! And just you wait, ladies and germs, because in the next room: Riku is distracted by a butterfly! Thankfully, you still have Donald and Goofy this time around.
Once the battle starts, Saïx follows Luxord’s example by announcing his gimmick. It seems Saïx’s power is directly tied to moons – awfully particular, but certainly grounded in folk tales – and by calling on the power of a moon, he can enter a berserk state and wields his massive Claymore. And he has a hell of a moon shining over him tonight, Kingdom Hearts itself, which he uses to charge a Berserk bar in the corner. This is going to get messy. And even more bad news for you: his Berserk bar is already charged when you enter.
Like the Berserkers, Saïx’s weapon can be stolen from him and used against him. In fact, for some reason, Saïx leaves copies of the Lunatic behind him (they look somewhat different than the one in his hand), so Saïx remains armed even if you have his weapon If you can nab one of his claymores, you can knock most of the Berserk bar out of him, as well as doing some damage. At this point, he reverts to normal attacks, where the biggest threat is his wide reach (he’s Cloud Strifing it up with that club of his). At this point it’s relatively easy to slam him with Final Form, the Boss-Killer, and even if you can’t capitalize, Glide will keep you both out of the way of his Berserk attacks and get you on top of a discarded Claymore as soon as possible. Really, if you’ve gone the extra mile and grinded Final Form up one or two Drive Gauges (which is hardly a chore on Naught’s Skyway), Saïx is already dead.
Saïx dies, pleading to Kingdom Hearts in a way that breaks his game-long unbreakable façade (two games long, if you count Days), asking “Kingdom Hearts… Where is… my heart?” He’s shown dissolving in wide-shot, as though dissolving “into” Kingdom Hearts. This is the game’s way of letting Saïx be consumed by his element like the other Org members. Very clever. In Vanilla, killing Saïx gets you a wonderful prize: a Drive Gauge upgrade. In FM+, this upgrade was arguably moved to Marluxia’s Absent Silhouette, so ambitious players may already have it.
Sora is unmoved by Saïx’s death, and when he reunites with Riku and Kairi, he finally asks Riku about why everyone keeps addressing him as “Roxas.” Riku explains that Roxas was Sora’s Nobody, which prompts Sora to say something that perfectly embodies him as a character. “My… Nobody? But that’s crazy, I never turned into a Heart…… Oh, right.” Ohhhh, my sweet, stupid baby child.
Riku explains about Roxas, but because the audience knows most of this, he cuts most of the story. Instead, he focuses on the part we don’t know: Riku and Roxas’ duel. Namely, their second battle. This is odd word choice. Let’s set aside what Riku is saying for the moment. KH2 makes it pretty clear that Roxas and Riku fought some time after Roxas left the Organization. Roxas was winning, but then Riku recovered and knocked Roxas out, allowing Roxas to be captured. It appears that, for some reason, the game is treating these two phases of the duel as two separate fights! This may be a localization issue, but I don’t believe so. If you think about it, you already know why KH2 would want to treat this one fight as two fights: it’s the only way KH2 could have implied that Roxas won a duel and “defeated” Riku. That’s right: the central pillar of this mystery was poor word choices. This is the writing we have here. If you’d prefer: Days provides an alternate explanation, where it suggests that Riku and Roxas did have a tiny little scrap in the latter half of the game. If you’re bothered by the word choice issue here in KH2, just imagine that Riku is referring to that.
Following Riku’s explanation are a few substantive FM+ additions. Here, we see Riku and Roxas’ duel almost in full, after so many hints and exposition. I feel that in these scenes also introduce an important theme that we’ll be seeing a lot of in the next three games, though I won’t be able to explain quite what I mean for several games to come.
We start off our flashback towards the end of the Deep Dive battle. Blindfolded Riku has seemingly beaten Roxas with the help of the Oblivion (you’ll remember that Roxas tossed him the Oblivion for no obvious reason at the time). Roxas is unconscious. Riku raises the Oblivion to strike, but just embeds his blade in the ground instead, and waits to see what will happen. It doesn’t look so much as though he’s debating killing Roxas so much as hoping for something… else, to happen, but nothing comes. Instead, Roxas gets back on his feet, and recovers the Oblivion. Riku is temporarily unarmed (why he doesn’t draw the Soul Eater, I can’t say), so Riku is forced to come up with a different plan of attack.
Riku decides to fight with words. In English, Riku shouts: “Come on, Sora, I thought you were stronger than that,” a reference to the line he used to call Sora back from the void during the fight with the World of Chaos in KH1 (in the original Japanese, he just calls Roxas pathetic, which is hilarious). Roxas looks confused for a moment, when suddenly he starts speaking in Sora’s voice, saying, “Get real! Look which one of us is winning!” Roxas clamps a hand on his own mouth. This is simultaneously funny and also kind of tragic?
Riku seems satisfied to hear this, as it confirms that Roxas is indeed Sora’s Nobody and he wasn’t sure until now (this will look so stupid in Days). Roxas is upset to think he’s somebody else. It seems the poor guy already had identity issues at this point, well before he was trapped in a digital prison. Roxas summons the Oathkeeper while shouting that he’s “Nobody else.” Now that he’s dual-wielding against an unarmed man, Roxas wins handily. It’s at this point that Riku gives up on winning a straight fight, and starts talking about having to let out his “dark power […] even if it changes me forever.” Roxas is just sort of stunned by the Riku getting back up after the beating he just gave him. I’d probably be doing the same!
Riku reaches up and removes that blindfold he’s been wearing – the one everyone has been wondering about since they first saw the secret ending of KH1. As he removes it, transforms into Ansem Seeker of Darkness, complete with Guardian. You can only conclude that the blindfold was obscuring Riku from his… uh… dark reality? I wonder. Sora had to close his eyes to see the true Riku, so did Riku have to close his own eyes to see his true self? That’s nice and all, but didn’t CoM imply that Riku’s darkness is his reality, and that he should accept that? Normally I’d complain about KH2 ignoring the lessons of CoM, but remember that this is a FM+ scene. FM+ typically shows CoM more respect than this!
Now that Riku has become the Seeker of Darkness, the fight is over in an instant. I love how quickly and decisively the fight ends after Riku gives in. Shounen has a way of boosting a character’s power when they go through a character moment, but the genre has a bad habit of dragging out the impact for flash value. Since the impact in this duel was a foregone conclusion, FM+ shows a lot of maturity in ending the scene in only a few seconds. Roxas is out like a light, and Riku says, “I have accepted it.”
DiZ arrives, and Riku hides his face partly out of shame, and partly because FM+’s hands were tied by the original canon, which said that DiZ was not allowed to know that Riku had transformed at this point – what else could they do? Riku reports that Roxas “could feel Sora.” DiZ is incredulous. “Oh, he told you how he ‘felt,’ did he? Ridiculous. A Nobody cannot feel anything.” DiZ bigotry is underlined here to make up for the deficiency in KH2, as his bigotry is a theme we’ll be exploring again in Days. By emphasizing it, I believe Nomura was trying to drive an important point home here in FM+, but again, that’s going to have to wait.
Riku says he wishes Sora could have met Roxas. Back in Vanilla, Riku points out that Roxas eventually did “meet” his original self. I’m sure Roxas is thrilled at the circumstances, too.
After this long nested custscene sequence, you get the last of the shuffled secret reports. In Vanilla, this is Secret Report 8, the one FM+ got from Roxas, containing the first half of the CoM recap (again: after picking up the second half, realistic but obnoxious). In FM+, we get Report 12, the report Vanilla players got from Roxas. Secret Report 12 talks about Roxas himself, so you can see why the switch was made: Vanilla gave you this report after you met Roxas at Memory’s Skyscraper, while FM+ preferred to give you the report after Riku wraps up the last of Roxas’ backstory. I prefer it where it is in FM+, because in Report 12, DiZ compares Roxas’ meta-nature to Naminé’s, which was only established in Reports 9 and 10! You can see why these reports were reorganized, as they essentially form a continuous story: the end of CoM, the nature of Naminé, the nature of Roxas, the capture of Roxas. I can only assume they were shuffled in Vanilla to make things more confusing and to force you to think about them, which is valid to a certain degree, but I think it was ultimately too much.
In the report, DiZ first says that Roxas lost all his memories of ever being Sora, and supposes that this happened because Sora was only a Heartless for a short time. DiZ compares Roxas to Naminé, as I said, and goes into detail about the battle between Riku and Roxas that we just saw in FM+. KH2 clearly wanted to animate this battle, but just wasn’t able to do so! Perhaps the budget ran out? The report also includes the detail that Roxas was “born” in Twilight Town, a detail that is also confined to FM+ outside of this report. All-in-all, the biggest downside of putting this report off to last in FM+ is that we just saw most of this stuff!
By the way, now that these reports have outlined a timeline for us, it seems like DiZ jumped to his “convert Roxas to data” plan real quick. He goes from 0 to first degree kidnapping and murder-by-erasure in one line of journal text. …Okay, okay, the next line explains this plan came to him a while back, but before he writes that, the journal was in present tense, so I can’t be blamed for that joke! DiZ also explains why on earth he hid out in Twilight Town, even though that was the first place the Organization would look for their defector. It seems he was hiding there before things started with Roxas and couldn’t move his facilities! Whoops?
The most interesting detail in this report is that DiZ says his simulated Twilight Town was actually constructed inside Sora’s memories. This makes sense in one hand (it’s how Roxas was re-absorbed into Sora, and it maybe even explains why the Org couldn’t close the portal) but is confusing in others (like how Chip and Dale saw a duplicate Twilight Town on the world map, though as I’ve said in the past, I suspect that those Chip and Dale scenes were late additions forced into the game by editors and they may have made a mistake). And of course there’s the part where Sora got to The World that Never Was through his… his own… head…
I’m going to stop thinking about this now.
In the last safe zone before we move on, Goofy asks what this Castle is even for. That’s a really good question! I’m afraid there isn’t an answer. Unless it’s a conductor for the Hearts, I can’t imagine what all this equipment is doing.