The Vanilla version of KH2 shipped with only a single Superboss (same as the original Japanese KH1), and we’re going to attend to it now. Yes, it’s that loose thread left over from Hollow Bastion: Sephiroth from FFVII! Unlike most Kingdom Hearts Superbosses, Sephiroth is actually tied to a number of plot sequences, though your rematch is the first step in the process, so getting started is as easy as poking him in the thigh. At any point after you clear Space Paranoids, Sephiroth can be found at the Dark Depths, the room where Saïx told Sora they were using him to complete Kingdom Hearts. He’s looking out over Villain’s Vale, probably wondering why Villain’s Vale was added to the game when you can’t visit it and it adds nothing to the narrative. I know I am.
Sephiroth immediately asks you what Cloud is doing, and his delivery just makes me laugh. In this universe, Sephiroth is some kind of demonic force, emblematic of Cloud’s dark side, and turning Cloud to the darkness is his one obsessive drive. The thing is… it seems he also has to keep on living as a human while he waits. The poor guy sounds a few hours of boredom away from asking Cid to play Monopoly.
Unfortunately for you, bothering the expy Final Boss who was just minding his own business finally piques his curiosity, and Sephiroth asks who the hell you are. This scene really does seem to imply that the fight in KH1 was non-canon, either that or he just doesn’t remember it. Sephiroth points his Masamune at you, which prompts Sora and the others to draw weapons. Sephiroth takes an unfortunate interest in the Keyblade, which can be kind of hilarious if the Keyblade is presently in some stupid form, like a Christmas Town candy cane, or a hunk of wood from a children’s storybook. It seems Sephiroth has heard about the Keyblade, and is wondering if he can earn it by threading Sora’s heel up through his eye socket.
Despite Donald and Goofy taking part in the intro cinematic, the fight against Sephiroth is solo, so you can’t rely on Drive Forms. Sephiroth opens the fight with a reaction command that will all but kill you if you miss it. This damn attack has a way of reappearing when you least expect it. If you land the reaction command, you’ll parry the attack and Sephiroth will be left wide open but it’s not as simple as all that! Unfortunately, this Reaction Command is one of those Reaction Commands that need you to be on your feet for them to appear! This opening use of the Reaction Command is predictable, but after that it can appear without warning, and it’s all too easy to be in mid-air when it happens.
After Sephiroth’s opening attack, the general combos and teleportations begin. Sephiroth is fond of throwing you in the air and attacking you until you land perfectly timed Aerial Recovery to hit him in the face, which later inspired the same attack from Marluxia’s Absent Silhouette. I find Sephiroth’s attack harder to break than Marluxia’s, but not for a good reason: the camera just gets weird during Sephiroth’s techniques! It’s probably just me. Thankfully, you won’t have to put up with these aerial attacks for long, as Sephiroth uses his basic combos less frequently once he moves on to Stage 2. I get the impression that many of Sephiroth’s later stages are generally weaker than his basic combos, but he has two special attacks that will get you every time. One is the reaction command that opened the fight. The other…
Sephiroth’s second ace in the hole is his signature attack, Heartless Angel, which once again drops your MP to 0 and your HP to 1. Sephiroth flies into the air while he uses this attack, and the only way to prevent it is to spring in the air and peg the bastard before he even starts saying the word “Angel” in the phrase “Descend Heartless Angel.” If you manage it, great! You just earned yourself some free damage! Unfortunately Sephiroth is often across the arena when he starts using Heartless Angel, making a satisfactory defence all but impossible, even for the best player. Learning to recover from this attack is the key to survival. You can try to cast Cure with perfect timing, such that it starts before your MP vanishes but heals you after your HP is dropped to 1, but that’s risky. I find it’s better to bring a bag full of hotkeyed items with you instead, even if they’re just Potions. I seriously don’t even bother with Hi-Potions, because Sephiroth just hits that hard and it’s more important to get Once More and Second Chance back into position than it is to have a tiny bit more HP. Even Elixirs don’t excite me here – I won’t deny that the MP restore is nice but I barely even notice the HP. But watch out, because items don’t trigger your trusty Leaf Bracer skill like Cure does!
Sephiroth has a few “easy” attacks during his second phase as well. This includes his Firaga Pillar, which is hardly even a threat, and also an attack where he sends a series of black balls at you that you have to swat away. The orbs can hit you by surprise, but they’re generally not dangerous on their own, especially if you’re in FM+ and have enough area attacks to sink a ship. The real danger of the orbs is that Sephiroth often moves on to another attack while you’re still dealing with them, attacks like Heartless Angel.
Towards the end of the battle, Sephiroth starts going a little extreme with a “silent” final phase that you might mistake for the previous. During this phase, he’ll follow up his Reaction Command attack with a repeat Reaction Command attack while you’re chugging a potion like an idiot. But it’s not that bad. All things considered, Sephiroth’s not the hardest superboss in FM+, and in my opinion is a shade of his KH1 self even in Vanilla.
Fun Fact: in KH1, Sephiroth is actually fighting you with his off-hand, his right (he fights Cloud in KH1:FM with his off-hand as well, but that’s just devs relying on existing resources from Vanilla KH1). In KH2, he uses his left hand or both hands. He’s treating Sora seriously now. This is consistent with other examples of Sora being stronger in KH2 against repeat opponents like Ursula and Jafar, and it’s one of KH2’s nice little touches.
Clearing Sephiroth gives you a Drive Gauge upgrade and 2.5HD achievement on the spot, but there are more prizes to come if you follow the next few plot sequences. Hell, the game doesn’t even give you his journal entry until you’ve finished the plot that follows.
After the battle, Sephiroth is very calm. His dialogue seems to imply Sora might have killed him this time, if it weren’t for Sephiroth’s peculiar connection to Cloud, which appears to be making him immortal unless Cloud kills him (or maybe not even then). Sephiroth orders you to go tell Cloud he’s waiting for him, and returns to pondering plot holes over the ledge.
The game then has you to trudge back to the first room in the world to talk to Cloud and then all the way back to Sephiroth from there. Couldn’t they have parked Cloud at, I dunno, the Bailey, or just cropped this walk entirely by cutting immediately to the next cutscene? At least you can use save points to jump back to the map, but shit. Sora tells Cloud that Sephiroth is at “the Dark Depths,” which just seems so unhelpful. Sora, I don’t think everyone has location names show up in front of them as they walk from place to place. Nevertheless, Cloud seems to know what you mean, so you head back, somehow getting there ahead of Cloud (I guess you did use save points!) and sit back to watch the climactic battle.
Sephiroth opens his polite discussion with Cloud by saying: “Cloud, you’ll never be free of the darkness,” to which Cloud replies “Shut up!” Oh good. This is about the level of quality dialogue I was hoping for here. Notice that this is a repeat of Roxas’ equally awful “Shut up!” during his fight with Riku, which suggests to me that the lines were identical in Japanese, and probably sounded less childish in the original language. The two of them fight, Sephiroth insisting Cloud can’t kill him, because “your darkness keeps calling me back!” I’m of the opinion that this is meant to imply that Cloud defeated Sephiroth in the past (maybe the battle in KH1), but he only came back to life.
Just then, Tifa arrives, assuring that Cloud can defeat Sephiroth, and Sephiroth and Tifa have a sort of debate about Light and Darkness, the implication being that Tifa is Cloud’s Light counterpart to Sephiroth’s dark. It’s got to be said: this scene is trite. People just babbling about darkness and light with no meanings attached, the voice actors bothering on only half their lines, and if you’ll allow me to skip ahead a bit, it ends with Sora pulling an irrational conclusion out of his ass. The “darkness and light with no meanings attached” element is really the worst part. As usual, I appreciate Kingdom Hearts for earning its use of in-universe terms, but this scene doesn’t even bother. I imagine this is one of the few Kingdom Hearts scenes some Final Fantasy VII fans have ever seen, and the bad impression it gives of the series may explain some of Kingdom Hearts’ reputation for… well, talking about light and darkness with no meanings attached.
The trouble is, if I look closely, I think I do know what this scene was intended to do, even though it fails on almost every mark. I feel the scene is meant to be seen as part of Riku’s storyline. The scene seems to match up with worries that Riku might be have become corrupted by the darkness or is perhaps unforgivable. Neverminding that Riku’s storyline was never that substantial or worrying to begin with, the biggest problem is that it’s sitting here after Riku’s storyline is already resolved! Was this scene moved?
Tifa and Sephiroth fight for a bit until Cloud becomes so indecisive that he sort of spaces out. This continues until Cloud recovers his confidence and Tifa somehow gives him magic Light to continue the fight. Sephiroth protests, and suddenly the two of them clash and vanish, ending the scene on the spot. Yup, that’s right, the scene has no payoff, and Sora has to make up an ending. I’m sad to say that the whole scene could be summarized like this without losing a drop of subtlety:
This is all of Kingdom Hearts’ stereotypes, bottled in a single scene. The series includes a strawman parody of itself.
Oftentimes out there on the internet you’ll see casual fans or non-fans of the Kingdom Hearts series giving their opinion on Kingdom Hearts, saying: “Kingdom Hearts is X, Kingdom Hearts is Y.” Except I often find that, on close observation, these casual fans really mean to say: “Kingdom Hearts 2 is X, Kingdom Hearts 2 is Y.” This is because they often don’t want to play the games that followed, or considered them invalid or lesser, or simply because KH2 left a bigger impression on them. After all I’ve written here in this Retrospective, if you’re still reading, I think you can understand why I’m bothered that the internet at large holds up Kingdom Hearts 2 – this rushed, fractured, incoherent, hypocritical game – as the ur-example of the series. To me, it’s like someone saying they hate The Empire Strikes Back because Jar-Jar Binks was irritating and that makes all Star Wars irritating. In spite of impressions, I don’t hate KH2 (hell, I’m not even that bothered by The Phantom Menace), and I’ll gladly replay it alongside the others every single time I play the series. But I hate what it’s done to the series’ reputation.
I do like the parts that follow Cloud and Sephiroth’s disappearance, as Tifa is all ho-hum about Cloud disappearing in a cataclysmic battle. It’s kind of hilarious. She hands Sora something and walks off. It turns out she gave him a Keychain, the first time Keychains have been confirmed as physical objects instead of gaming abstractions, outside of the Oathkeeper. The Keyblade she gives you is the Fenrir, meant to look like a modern vehicle key as a shout-out to Cloud’s motorcycle in Advent Children. It’s the most powerful attack Keyblade in the game, and its ability is powerful, if situational: a second Negative Combo.
Finally! We can clean up trash in Twilight Town! Evil shall fall at last!