If I had to point out what I think was the best element of KH2, it would be the User Experience (UX). KH2 plays smooth as butter – no! – smooth as whipped cream, with plenty of transition animations for Sora, special attacks and simple movement that the series wouldn’t even attempt to recapture for the next three games. Even though I’ve lambasted the combat gameplay of KH2 as shallow, that was more of a factor of level and enemy design, as the game plays so well that I didn’t notice the game’s problems for several playthroughs. The UI is an especial high point of the overall UX, since the UI is top-of-the-board across the entire game, with a special prize for the dramatically improved gummi editor. The UI is so good that the only game-wide UI problem that I can think of off the top of my head is the fact that the game only tells you how to level up Drives and Summons in an obscure tooltip, and if that’s all it has going against it, it’s riding high!
On the opposite end of the scale, we come to what I feel is KH2’s lowest point, and despite what you might expect, it’s not the narrative, though that’s probably my #2. It’s also not the developer’s lack of respect for the player, which is more of a design philosophy problem than an element of the game. No, the element I’m thinking of is the game’s simply… wretched editing job, with gaps, disjointed plots, and sometimes simply inadequate fixes riddling the final product. And I say we’re going to take that shoddy editing job! We’ll take it and we’ll use it to try to learn about the earliest plans for KH2, and maybe find out just what they were trying to fix.
I want to list two things I want you to keep in mind while we go over this list. Firstly: evidence is one thing, but my conclusions are just educated guesses and might not hold much weight under close scrutiny, and feel free to apply that scrutiny in the comments. I’m sure that if you showed this list to Tetsuya Nomura in 2005, with his memory still fresh on the details of KH2’s development, he’d laugh it out of the room, but oh well. Second: I want to make it clear that while I have a poor opinion of KH2’s edited state, I very much doubt the original draft was some sort of “better” KH2. True, the revisions did introduce the slapdash feel that the finished KH2 can’t seem to escape, but I have no doubts that the revisions were introduced to fix even bigger problems that we can only guess at, and that most of the revisions in the game have merged seamlessly with their surrounds and improve the game without any additional problems! First drafts are garbage, that’s just a fact, and while revision isn’t always a uniform good, I know I’d put my money on any revised draft over any first draft, KH2 included.
Now, here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to go through the game, outlining major editing faults that might provide us with information about an earlier draft of KH2. At the end, we’ll use this information and mix in some creative flair to compile a hypothetical plot synopsis. Ready? Go!
Twilight Town, Prologue and First Trip
Even though KH2’s prologue has long been seen as infamously “out-of-place,” I have very few doubts that it was always part of the game’s plan, for one simple reason: one of the few facts we can confirm about KH2’s early drafts (that I am familiar with) is the fact that Axel originally died at the end of the prologue, which implies by default that the prologue was always part of the plan.
We start with Day 1, which is a choppy experience, with the Retrospective noting that it’s hard to tell the town’s layout from all of its jumping around. While I might have considered this a sign that the town’s layout hadn’t been finalized at that stage, this seems unlikely: we have a mock-up scene in one of KH2’s earliest trailers showing Roxas chasing the Dusk between the Sandlot and the Mansion, although not exactly on a direct path (at least not in Twilight Town’s current layout). It seems likely to me that Day 1’s edits were cuts made for time, rather than any other problem.
Day 3 is where the editing problems really come out to play, with Olette and Pence out shopping when they should be saving money for the beach, and that half-polished cutscene scripting for the Disciplinary Committee. But the biggest stand-out for me on Day 3 is the “second” (read: actual) character creation segment during the Dive to the Heart. I said it at the time and I’ll repeat myself: I can’t make any sense of the Day 1, “false” character creation segment (where Roxas picks a Struggle bat) unless it was originally the only (real) character creation segment, kept around thanks to Kingdom Hearts 2’s propensity to never let anything hit the cutting room floor. That propensity is a janky trait, but in our case a lucky one, since it makes this entire operation possible.
Ultimately, only Naminé’s introduction has any long-lasting narrative impact after Day 3, and it’s paper thin. The Dive to the Heart is memorable, but nothing really happens in it, leaving you with the subplot of Roxas and Hayner arguing which is wrapped up so quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised if it, too, was a late addition. Long story short, I suspect Day 3 was heavily edited at a later stage in the development process, and in a rough fashion, too. On the other hand, the early trailer linked above confirms that at least one station of the Dive to the Heart (the one with the Twilight Thorn) was around very early. Still: I have to wonder what happened to this Day that put it through such a blender?
We know that Axel was originally supposed to have died on Day 6 (or whatever later became Day 6), and beyond mentioning this in its own right, this raises a number of questions we’re going to have to confront as we go through the rest of the game. The first of these is also one of the most impactful: was Axel always Roxas’ friend to begin with? Remember, Axel’s friendship with Roxas, while dramatically compelling, only serves two direct narrative purposes in the finished game: it prompts Axel to kidnap Kairi (which I will address) and more importantly, it prompts Roxas to wake up when Axel dies before the World that Never Was. Granted, Axel could have easily appeared in flashbacks, but in the end I think I favour the possibility a that the much-beloved Axel and Roxas relationship was only added during the editing phase! It would, among other things, explain why Roxas leaves the Organization and then returns to the Dark City just to be captured, a plot hole so extreme that we needed Days to resolve it. Without any reason to say goodbye to Axel while leaving the Dark City, Roxas would have only been seen in the Dark City during his fight with Riku. Heck, maybe Roxas would have never left the Organization in an early draft!
Sora’s visit to Twilight Town after the prologue shows some serious signs of editing, both in its “Get out! Get out!” design of your first trip and in various design choices that show up on later trips, which I’ll discuss here in one big block. Some examples from the return trip (towards the end of the first loop of worlds) include the underground passages that open up but remain inaccessible while they are open (perhaps the sloppiest edit in the entire game) and the minigames that refuses to play despite them nominally being open, with Struggle R and its dead-ended introductory cutscene being the worst of that lot. And let’s not forget all the game’s references to the synthesis shop, as though it were some kind of central location instead of one among dozens, both in character dialogue and in how we essentially watch the shop be put up for sale, purchased, and renovated, despite it being a throwaway location in the final game! Given this evidence, I think it’s possible that Twilight Town was designed as a “base camp” world that you were meant to return to throughout the game, similar to Traverse Town of the original game. There’s one eensy little problem with that, though. See if you can spot it as we go on.
No particular thoughts on the Mysterious Tower.
Hollow Bastion, First Trip
If you watched the early trailer linked above, you probably noticed that it re-uses areas from the original Hollow Bastion in KH1 for a confrontation between Sora and the Org. Let’s be straight about that: those were probably filler locations being borrowed from KH1 exclusively for the trailer, and not locations that were intended to show up in any part of KH2. Probably because the new Hollow Bastion wasn’t ready yet. Not only have later KH trailers done that sort of thing as well (BBS, for example), but the room the developers chose from Hollow Bastion was not an ideal room for a confrontation. In fact, it’s a puzzle room with moving parts that would ruin the whole scene if they were still allowed to move, and I think that clinches it. But that doesn’t mean that that section of the trailer can’t teach us anything about the design of KH2! After all: it tells us that the developers had barely started work on the new Hollow Bastion at the time the trailer was released, since they had no rooms to film in!
While this first trip to Hollow Bastion is short, I feel confident in saying that it proves Hollow Bastion was edited all the same. The problem? The fact that the world has two scenes that have forgotten that the Organization (and minor enemies) can teleport: first where you defend the Bailey, and later where Xigbar cuts you off from chasing the other members of the Organization. During the Retrospective, I simply said that the writer probably forgot that they could teleport (never ascribe to authorial intent what could easily be explained by accident or if the case must be, incompetence), but for the sake of delving as deep as possible, let’s address both of these problems separately and see if we can draw a conclusion. For starters: why did Leon and friends defend the Bailey when enemies can just teleport past it, and are actively encountered beyond the Bailey? The easy answer is that they probably couldn’t teleport past it in the original draft, suggesting that The Borough (the area around Merlin’s house) was originally in a safe zone with no enemies. It seems unlikely that Hollow Bastion would have two safe zones in a row (The Marketplace and then The Borough) so this seems to imply the town was restructured at some later point, probably with Merlin’s house in the same room as the shops.
As for Xigbar keeping you from running after the Organization… geeze, I don’t know. Remember that the Organization could teleport as far back as CoM, so whoever scripted the cutscene with Xigbar seems to have made a mistake no matter how I try to explain it. So let’s entertain the possibility that the author really did think the Organization couldn’t teleport, even if it means tossing out the Merlin’s house theory from before, since it’s the only way I can understand the Xigbar sequence. Does this teach us anything? Actually, yes, it might. Picture the scene again in your head: the Organization members are standing on the tall wall that they (or Maleficent) later blow up during the Battle of Hollow Bastion. Sora is far below them, defending the city behind him. He certainly isn’t going to let them past without a fight! Now imagine that the Organization wants to leave the scene and can’t teleport. Which way do they run?
Of course! They would jump behind the wall, where Sora couldn’t pursue them! Just like teleportation, this removes the need for the Xigbar scene, and since I can’t imagine the author made the same mistake twice, this tells us that the wall must not have always been present in the room where this scene originally took place. Between this and the Bailey scene, it’s possible that the entire layout of Hollow Bastion town must have changed at some point in development (or that the scene was written before the level was designed at all!). This doesn’t solve everything (the author really did seem to have forgotten the Org can teleport) but I think we’ve learned something about the game’s original draft nevertheless.
Land of the Dragons, First Trip
As I discussed in my original post on Land of the Dragons, the “New!” icons in Shang’s mission menu make me suspect that there may have once been more missions from Shang, possibly spanning the entire world or even serving as a recurring element later in the game (similar to the Olympus tournaments).
Shang is one of several characters I suspect may have been Guest party members from a “two Guest” system that may have existed in early plans. For more details, see this previous post.
Beast’s Castle, First Trip
Among numerous other lesser editing mistakes (Beast’s Castle trip #1 is a disaster), I suspect that this level originally began in the Courtyard, since it’s the first room listed in the Treasures List. In fact, that may have been a fairly late change to the game, because goodness knows the Treasures List could have been easily fixed. Not a very major change, but an obvious one that I didn’t want to leave out.
100 Acre Wood, All Trips
You’ll probably recall that the scenes with Merlin introducing 100 Acre Wood were so baffling that they somehow managed to warrant an entire post of their own, just for me to gawk at them. To summarize my points: the scenes suggest a great deal of confusion on the part of the writers. At their most extreme, they seem to imply that this scene was originally set in Traverse Town, not Hollow Bastion, and that the scene was transplanted to Hollow Bastion with little care given to its contents. Now, as I said at the time, Traverse Town should never have been in this game, because it shouldn’t exist at this point in the timeline. Still, I have to turn back to my thoughts about Twilight Town up the page. Remember when I said there was an “eensy problem?” Have you figured it out yet? Here’s the problem: if KH2 was originally planning to use Twilight Town as a “base camp” world in the style of like KH1’s Traverse Town, why would it ever include Hollow Bastion as a second base camp? Especially right next door! And it would have been just silly to include Twilight Town, Hollow Bastion and Traverse Town, filling the game up with no less than three “town” worlds? And remember: the early trailer above seems to suggest that Hollow Bastion was always part of the plan, and Twilight Town was inescapable after CoM!
The “Zero District Conundrum,” as I dubbed it, is such a mess that I can’t help but think of it as an outright mistake rather than evidence of an older design decision, so I hesitate to investigate them any further. I wrote a few paragraphs of brainstorming, and while I did remember a number of additional oddities, I wasn’t able to come to any specific conclusions (some of those oddities: isn’t it weird how Merlin tractors you to Hollow Bastion even though KH2 never does anything like that ever again? And remember how you later have to ping-pong from Disney Castle to Hollow Bastion and then back?).
Moving on to 100 Acre Wood proper, Kanga’s House shows signs of some sort of editing. The place is littered with cardboard boxes, despite the fact that these come from neither the films or the books (if I’ve missed them, or if they’re from the TV show or something, please leave a comment), and you can’t interact with them. It is also suspicious that the game makes a big deal of you retrieving the bottle from Tigger only for him to simply give it to you. Leaning on Occam’s Razor, I suspect the two elements are connected and that Tigger might have hidden in the boxes for some sort of mini-game, but I certainly can’t prove that.
Olympus Coliseum, First Trip
As we’ve discussed, Pete’s addition to a lot of worlds is incredibly shoddy, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn he was added to the game (or at least some of the worlds) part-way into development. Turning to Olympus Coliseum in particular, the way Sora ignores Pete in Hades’ throne room is especially suspect, and Hades doesn’t seem to miss Pete much after he goes. That said, Pete’s battle mechanics seem better designed for Olympus Coliseum’s hostage scenario and subsequent timed battle than they ever were to Timeless River: his invincibility discourages you from fighting him during the fight where you protect Meg, Hercules can break his invincibility (which also introduces you to the idea that Hercules will break Hades’ invincibility during the second loop) and lastly, the Timeless River battle against Pete ends with you fighting Pete in mid-air even though all his attacks are ground based, which is a square peg in a round hole situation if I’ve ever seen one. In short, Pete was probably put on Olympus Coliseum before Timeless River, but the throne room scene makes me suspect that even that was an addition part-way into Olympus Coliseum’s development.
The Curse of the Underworld seems to have gone through some major revisions, with Pete saying it should render you helpless and Demyx needing it to even use his magic, whereas in the finished game it only harms you by limiting your Drives and Summons, which aren’t very good at this stage of the game to begin with. It seems likely it was toned down at a later stage.
Hercules was another prospective “second Guest” party member. If this was the case, note that he would have been alike to Riku in having his own special reaction commands, which was always somewhat peculiar about Riku.
Disney Castle / Timeless River, Only Trip
Interesting theory here from reader dlppictures, suggesting that Timeless River might not have originally been a middle world of the first loop (analogous to the return trip to Traverse Town in KH1 where you reunited with Riku) but might rather have been the closing world of the first loop, more analogous to Neverland in KH1. I’ll let him explain it in his own words (you might want to watch his video, too!), but in short: moving Disney Castle and Timeless River to the end of the first loop game would tidily resolve the anomaly of Maleficent seeming to fire Pete after one mistake and then keeping him on staff for no reason, and also the trouble of Pete vanishing in the game’s second loop. Note also that Pete is barely present during the Battle of Hollow Bastion, which seems to back dlppictures’ theory as Pete would have been justifiably fired after Timeless River. While we’re on the subject, I should also point out how Sora just misses seeing Maleficent in Halloween Town, as though the game were trying to stave off that reunion for a later time. In the current draft, this is all very strange because Sora has already seen Maleficent in Timeless River and Disney Castle, but if you move Timeless River until after Halloween Town…
It’s also just kind of weird how Timeless River, a world from the quarter mark, ended up with the special status of never being revisited in the second loop. If it was distinct from the first loop – say, by being its capping element – it would have made more sense that there was never a second trip! Or maybe something even more complicated that we’ll discuss down the page?
What’s incredibly appealing about this theory is that moving Disney Castle to the end of the first loop doesn’t require any change on the part of Disney Castle / Timeless River themselves. In fact, it almost improves the narrative of the two worlds in every regard, save the one problem that may have killed it: it would have cluttered the middle of the game with too much crap. The Twilight Town revisit, the Ansem’s Computer plot, the Space Paranoids plot, the Ansem-the-imposter plot, the honestly unnecessary Sephiroth bits (which could and should have been put elsewhere), the Battle of Hollow Bastion, and then you want to throw on Disney Castle and Timeless River? Eugh. If that’s what convinced them to move Timeless River to another part of the game, I think I understand!
As I suggested in the Retrospective, I suspect that the battle with Pete on his steamboat originally had you attacking the steamboat, not its cargo. If nothing else, the Cornerstone of Light must have been in a closed box rather than an open-air one since Donald reacts with surprise on seeing it after the open-air box is destroyed. Personally, I maintain my suspicion that it was housed inside the ship somehow, as it would explain why your attacking its “container” somehow breaks the ship.
Atlantica, All Trips
It’s still baffling to me that the programmers gave Sora a revised, highly superior set of swimming controls and then confined him to only one useful room. While there’s no other evidence suggesting that Atlantica was once larger, I can’t help but suspect it was all the same, possibly allowing you to visit the shoreline and the shipwreck as well. Maybe the game would even allow you to use Magnet on Sora’s targets to advance the plot? It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the player needs to upgrade Magnet twice for Atlantica rather than upgrade other spells, so it’s possible the developers may have intended to code a special response to Magnet to let you manually pick up those plot items. But these are just shots in the dark, with no basis in evidence.
Each songs’ paltry Jiminy requirements (“Just replay the song and for all I care quit in the very first second”) suggest that Jiminy was originally going to ask for some kind of high score in each song, though it’s hard to say what sort of challenge he would have used (you can imagine him giving an improved version of the song’s original challenge, or you could just as easily imagine him mixing and matching, or swapping out the score system from “A New Day is Dawning” and applying it to every song).
I don’t have anything to add to this but I just can’t go by without pointing it out a certain localized title card a second time: “Ursula’s Revenge.” Jacob Grimm this game’s editing is terrible!
Port Royal, First Trip
I suspect Will Turner was one of the other Second Guest party members. Otherwise, the world is such a boring, meticulous re-creation of the film that there aren’t any obvious re-writes. The only obvious exclusion is Elizabeth’s exclusion from the plot, and I’ve already discussed why I think that happened…
Agrabah, First Trip
As I suggested in the Retrospective, the first visit Agrabah and Halloween Town trips are extremely under-designed worlds with a rushed feeling about them. As a result, I have very few edits for them, but that may be because the devs didn’t have enough time to edit them!
That said, I’ll repeat that I suspect that the Chasm of Challenges originally had a high-score challenge, since its current Jiminy Challenge (“re-complete the Cavern of Challenges”) is laughable. I also think the fact that you talk to signs is weird and maybe even a little suspicious, but I’ll admit that it just may be weirdness rather than anything else.
Halloween Town, First Trip
The only edit I have for Halloween Town is concerned with the forest. Remember the suspect “tracking” mission, wherein you track down the three imps… down a straight corridor? And later, Santa Claus gets lost in a straight corridor? These two curiosities either suggest that the world (or at least the forest) was supposed to be more complex, or possibly just that the writer thought it would be complex, only for the level designers to disappoint.
Since Axel was dead, I suspect that Saïx kidnapped Kairi in his place. It would at least explain why she’s in Organization custody by the end of the game without an establishing scene, and – if I may – it would explain why Axel’s dialogue seems out-of-character in this particular sequence. Try reading it in Saïx’s voice and see how you feel about it!
Pride Lands, First Trip
Pete was clearly never here. I’m not even sure he’s here in the completed game!
Nala is the last of my prospective Second Guest party members from the Disney worlds.
Hollow Bastion, Space Paranoids, The Battle of Hollow Bastion
As we already know, the Battle of 1000 Heartless originally planned to include Behemoths and Wyverns, or at least it did in the concept and trailer stage. Unfortunately, tech limitations seem to have gotten in the way.
Excusing the Behemoths and Wyverns, I’ll repeat what I’ve said before: I think that this section, minus Space Paranoids, is an absolute, godforsaken, cacophonous ramshackle, even if I like parts of it out-of-context. That said, I don’t think it shows many signs of obvious editing relevant to our list. This may be because, like Agrabah and Halloween Town, I don’t think this segment shows signs of any editing! From Space Paranoids kicking you out of the entire world if you lose a minigame despite a pile of loading screens, to Stitch vanishing into thin air, to the baffling and senseless (if entertaining) inclusion of the Gullwings, to the Ansem identity theft plot (which some readers have defended but I still feel awkward about), to the jarring inclusion of Sephiroth scenes, to the Goofy’s death scene that any reasonable person should have shot down and has actually harmed the series’ reputation, to the black hole of non-chronological scenes that end the world… let’s just move on.
Oh, by the way, I still don’t know what to make of “I’m sorry about the ice cream.”
The Second Loop
First of all: do I think there was always a second loop to begin with? The evidence seems split directly in half. Writing is usually an early design step, but only half the worlds’ narratives properly incorporate the time skip between the first and second visits. For example, some world’s second trip plots are entirely distinct from the first, like in Port Royal, which makes me suspect that those worlds were definitely written after the time skip was part of the plan. If the second loop was added part-way into development, it must have been during the writing phase (and so very early on), or else those distinct plots don’t make any sense! But is there any clearer evidence than that?
I can reinforce this idea of an “early split” via another approach. The very idea of return trips seems to support KH2’s theme of reunion, since you reunite with characters from each Disney world by physically going back to each Disney world. What does that prove? Well, the theme of reunion that we actually have in the final seems to have been heavily damaged by the editing process, which suggests to me that the theme was well-integrated early on in KH2’s design process but was thrown under a bus during the editing stage. As a consequence, I can’t help but suspect that anything that supports the theme of reunion is a survivor from an earlier draft, including the concept of a second loop.
On the other hand, it is only half the worlds that seem to have been written with the second loop in mind, and I won’t deny that some of the second loop trips are really poorly done from a gameplay perspective and just seem to be filling time while their plots burn up (Halloween Town, Pride Lands). The Olympus Coliseum tournaments go for a snooze during the second loop, which suggests that they weren’t spaced out to account for the second loop. Assault on the Dreadnaught also shows up suspiciously late to the party with battleships. And remember when we were talking about Timeless River being moved to the end of the first loop? What if there was only one loop to begin with? The “Timeless River finale” theory would become an even better fit. You’ll have to make up your own mind on the issue!
Moving on to the actual worlds themselves, I found very few obvious patch jobs in the second loop, which suggests to me that there simply wasn’t time to heavily revise them, similar to Agrabah and Halloween Town. This may also suggest that the second loop was done later in the design process, when the developers were already in a rush.
Because there are so few world-specific patch jobs during the second loop, the only one I feel is worth pointing out is how Sora mentions that he’s searching for the Organization’s base in Beast’s Castle, but the idea only occurs to him at Port Royal, which a later world by Battle Lv! It’s reasonable to suspect that Port Royal was forced to come before Beast’s Castle. The question is how? The easiest way would have been to simply change the worlds’ Battle Lvs and not force anything, but that still leaves open the possibility that the player would go to Beast’s Castle first. While that’s a fine possibility, this strange plot progression may suggest that the map was arranged differently at an earlier stage in development, when Sora was forced to go to Port Royal early?
I’ve also mentioned that I think the Chip and Dale sequences on the map screen during the second loop were later additions, since the player ultimately finds their way to The World that Never Was through the portal in Twilight Town, making their scenes largely pointless. Chip and Dale are only there in an attempt to suggest that the second loop has an actual objective (find the Organization’s base), while in practice the second loop has no overarching objective.
The World that Never Was
No major plot complaints in Twilight Town Trip #3, but there’s one thing we have to talk about: obviously Axel didn’t die in the gateway between Twilight Town and the World that Never Was because in earlier drafts he was already dead. I suspect that, in original drafts, there were no scenes between Twilight Town and The World that Never Was at all. The player probably just jumped from the digital world in Sora’s noodle and appeared in the Dark City. It would certainly explain why Mickey goes missing for the duration of the ambush, since in the original version he wouldn’t have gone missing at all!
Moving on to the Dark City and Castle… do you want to know my most extreme theory? I’m not 100% convinced that the Castle that Never Was was necessarily part of the original draft at all. I think there’s a possibility that early plans were confined to the Dark City, or maybe a fortress built out of the Dark City rather than floating above it. It would better justify the Dark City, for starters, which is almost background decoration in the final game. My main reason for suspecting that the Dark City used to be the whole of the world, however, is the developers’ blatant copy and paste of Memory’s Skyscraper into the battle with Xemnas. It would make far more sense if Xemnas had simply fought you at the original Memory’s Skyscraper rather than some hallucination he pulls out of his hat for seemingly no reason. What with Xemnas being the final boss, it makes more sense to me that the Skyscraper was at the end of the world rather than the beginning, and it just doesn’t make sense for the player to have left the bad guy’s secret base to go explore the City. It makes more sense to me that they simply started in the city and never left. But I admit that this is a fairly big stretch of the imagination, so if you aren’t buying it, I’m okay with that too.
Now, another question related to Memory’s Skyscraper. If Axel was dead at the start of the game (and if he and Roxas were never friends to begin with), what provoked Roxas to wake up in Sora’s heart at just this spot? I suspect that Roxas woke up in response to seeing Memory’s Skyscraper, which would remind him of his battle with Riku. But wait, if we follow my previous theory, doesn’t that put the fight against Roxas flush against the fight with Xemnas? Bear in mind that Roxas wasn’t a boss fight in the original Vanilla game. It’s been silently assumed that Roxas was cut as a boss fight due to time and money, but unless someone has a quote proving that (I say, bracing myself), I think it’s entirely possible that Roxas’ battle was always planned as an animation and never a battle, simply because it would have been followed by an actual boss battle: the one with Xemnas. Imagine: you’d watch the animation with Roxas and then the newly-united Sora/Roxas team-up would run straight into a fight with Xemnas that calls back to Roxas’ fight with Riku, possibly with Final Form at their back.
Moving past the Dark City and into the Castle (or at least, the events that take place in the Castle in the current version). Let’s talk about Maleficent and Pete. While I have no direct evidence of this, the fact that dlppictures’ theory allows for Pete to have been fired after Timeless River suggests to me that he might not have shown up here in the Castle that Never Was, and I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if Maleficent stayed home while he was at it. Their appearance in the Castle is nearly inconsequential and could easily have been removed, simply by eliminating the Heartless swarm as a plot element.
I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of this world, but I can’t really think of any other major edits between here and the final boss. Sure, visiting Luxord and Saïx just to assassinate them after a few trifling lines of dialogue seems kind of arbitrary, and the Ansem the Wise scene is a disaster for other reasons, but these are like the Battle of Hollow Bastion: problems that needed more editing rather than problems that arose from sloppy editing.
As we discussed, I suspect the Phase 1 battle with Xemnas and his Dragon mech was originally against Xemnas and his King mech, both because of graphical evidence and the way that the Dragon mech is unharmed later in the game (indeed, it occurs to me that the King mech might have outright thrown buildings at you with its exaggerated arms, rather than Xemnas using telekinesis?). I have no idea how Kentauros factored into the final boss battle: either it was a part of the Phase 1 battle alongside King, or it was part of a Phase that’s been lost to time.
I’m a little torn about the true final boss against Zebra Xemnas. On one hand, going to the Realm of Nothingness was a crowning failure of buildup and feels like a remnant of an extremely early draft when Nomura still cared about that concept of the Realm of Nothingness. Then again, full-rendered cutscenes, like the ending, are usually ordered very early in the development process because they take a long time to produce. This tells me that the game was always going to end at the Dark Margin where the pre-rendered cutscenes begin, which makes the Realm of Nothingness scene seem like it’s the one that’s out of place. Maybe Xemnas was fought at the Dark Margin, reminiscent of the fight against Ansem Seeker of Darkness at Destiny Islands? The fact that Sora and Riku walk trans-dimentionally into the Realm of Darkness, and the pack of Dusks that manifest straight of Nomura’s ass purely to injure Riku, both seem like incredibly hurried attempts to match up with the pre-rendered ending. What a mess, I’m not sure what to say…
Before we move on to the next step in this process, I want to share a theory from reader Tartarus that I think really holds up, even if it’s not compatible with mine. The theory is simple: What if Kairi was never supposed to leave Destiny Islands during KH2 in the first place? What if she just stayed there for the entire game?
If you ask me, the theory is convincing and elegant: it accounts for all of Kairi’s weird absences in The World that Never Was, including the Sora-Riku reunion scene, and even accounts for Naminé’s long absence from the plot, because Naminé’s storyline would have had to change from the end of the prologue to the end of the game if she was reuniting with Kairi in a different location at a different time. We also know that Axel died early on in an early draft of the script, which means Kairi’s “kidnapping” scene must have been revised to include him as I suggested above… or if Tartarus is right, she was never kidnapped at all. Plus, Tartarus’ theory follows Occam’s Razor in comparison to mine, which is always nice.
If you prefer Tartarus’ theory, I say go with it. Hell, you can even merge our theories by assuming Kairi was never kidnapped in the utmost draft, but was poorly incorporated as per my theory in an interim draft. But whatever theory you go with, it’s pretty clear that what I said earlier is still true: they just didn’t care about Kairi. Oh Kairi. Your poor character arc.
So that’s our evidence. How about we apply some creative flair and see what comes out the other side? What did the original draft of KH2 actually look like?
We turn to a restaurant napkin that I had smuggled over to me by top agents. The napkin is written over in tiny, scribbling handwriting from a Tetsuya Nomura’s leaky pen. I’m told that the kana is a bit of a mess, but roughly decoded, translated and localized with more familiar abbreviations, it reads something like this:
“After the events of Chain of Memories, Sora was left sleeping, not realizing he would be asleep for much longer than expected. We open with a cinematic summarizing the past two games, but see Sora transform into a new, unknown character, who lives in Twilight Town with his three friends.” [doodle of clock tower] “Little does the player know, but this character is actually Sora’s Nobody, created when he lost his heart in the first game. He was also a member of the Organization and also possesses the Keyblade. His name is
“His name is Roxsa, and we play as him for several days. One day, Roxsa meets with Axel and defeats him, only to learn that he’s just a part of Sora and has to return to him. DiZ and Naminé should be involved. Riku is corrupted by evil! Roxsa and Naminé fall in love, connection w/ Kairi? Elaborate l8r
“Sora wakes up in Twilight Town which will be the game’s home base, shops named after FF chars, moogles, etc. Not same town as Roxsa’s, simulation? King Mickey rescues Sora but is v mysterious, no Riku. Sora meets wizard from Fantasia in tower outside town. Learns about Nobodies, gets gummi ship, new outfit!” [stick figure doodle of Sora]
“Ideas for Disney worlds: Beauty & Beast, Lion King, old MM films, Pirates??, TRON,
Jungle Book, Mulan. Aristocats. Prank Yoko – order full soundtrack for Country Bears.” [scribbled in corner: “Ask Disney if can do Mulan w/o Mulan??”]
Maleficent comes back, gets Sora to kill lots of Heartless. Organization appears and reveals that they were using the hearts he freed to do their evil plans (clarify). Huge battle, Goofy dies?? Revisit worlds and fight Nobodies. Riku appears, seems to be member of Organization! Sora is secretly heartbroken, shows it whenever they meet, should happen often.
Sora finds portal to Org base in Dark City. Defeats remaining Org, meets Riku, sees R is corrupted and accepts him anyways. Resolve DiZ subplot by” [extensive coffee stain] “skyscraper, Roxsa wakes up and fights him, but agree to join together. Boss is Nobody of Ansem” (“
Snemax Mansex Xasnem?”) “fights with golems made of empty buildings to contrast living heart theme of Ansem battle. Riku horribly wounded by Xasnem, take to dark beach. Letter from Kairi brings them home. Naminé????
“+fluid gameplay, ++graphics, transform into super sora?
“Development time: 8yrs, 10??”