The never ending shitstorm of convoluted plots continues.
Kingdom Hearts 2, “technically” the sequel to the first game but kind’ve not really, continues the story from Chain of Memories and has upgrades across the board in terms of storytelling, gameplay, and features. I can already tell you that it still holds up today, but sadly my nonexistent contract states that I have to submit a detailed retrospective instead of just writing a two sentence article and calling it a day. With new(ish) characters, new locations (mostly), and a plot that’s oh-so-fucking-mind-numbingly confusing, we’ve got a lot to get into. So, let’s do this before I change my mind and walk out. But quickly before we go, this is covering the Final Mix version on the PlayStation 4.
The story opens with Sor — uh, I mean, Roxas, yeah, that’s is his name — awakening in his room in Twilight Town. He’s the guy we saw in the credits of Chain of Memories (I forgot to mention it last time) and it’s the last week of his summer vacation which he’s looking to spend with his friends Hayner, Olette, and Pence. Anyways, the beginning of the game is basically a seven day tutorial meant to teach you the ins and outs of the new mechanics while introducing you to some key story characters: Roxas, a former member of Organization XIII who is now escaping it but doesn’t remember it; Axel, who we met in the last game, best friend of Roxas and trying to save him; and DiZ, who is running the simulation Roxas resides in (yeah, this seven day thing is all a simulation and yeah, it’s weird). There’s some minor characters here, but they don’t really matter in the long run. Oh, and Ansem is back. Yeah. He’s working with DiZ… kinda. Look, it’s harder to explain in words than I originally thought but just trust me; it’s all a part of the plan. Throughout the tutorial thing we see snippets of the original game’s story, which happens at the same time as “Roxas’ Vacation Simulator 2006”. These snippets are Sora’s memory being repaired after the events of Chain of Memories (which you can read about HERE because I’m a self-promoting whorebag).
After the Roxas tutorial you take over Sora and the gang. The usual fair applies here, go to some Disney worlds and take down the antagonists, who this time are the aforementioned Organization XIII… who are more like the Organization VII now because we killed five of them in the last game and Roxas is on “vacation”. The leader, Xemnas, and his lackeys try to impede Sora every step of the way.
Now, let’s go over Ansem before we continue because it’s related to Xemnas and DiZ. Buckle the fuck up kiddos, it’s about to get crazy! First off, each Organization XIII member’s name is an anagram with an X added. For instance, Axel is Lea but with an X. Why’d they do that? I don’t know. X is a cool letter, I guess? Second, Nobodies like the Organization are people who lost their hearts, but their hearts were strong so not only was a Heartless created but a Nobody too. When Sora lost his heart in Kingdom Hearts 1, the Heartless you played as was made but so was Roxas (Sora with an X).
You following me so far? Good, let’s keep going. Now, Xemnas is an anagram of Ansem with an X, but Xemnas isn’t Ansem’s Nobody. Rather, Xemnas is the Nobody of an apprentice of Ansem named Xehanort. Xehanort lost his heart and became a Heartless and a Nobody. The Heartless version was the Ansem we fought in Kingdom Hearts 1 and the Nobody is Xemnas. Still with me? Sweet. Anyways, Xehanort became obsessed with the heart and all of its secrets, so much so that he went against the real Ansem, stole his name, and lost his own heart, thereby giving us Ansem the Heartless and Xemnas the Nobody. The real Ansem is actually DiZ, also known as Ansem the Wise. He took on the DiZ persona to stay undetected while he went after Xemnas. He then sacrifices himself at the end of Kingdom Hearts 2 in order to stop Xemnas’ ultimate plan.
Now, don’t get comfortable with this because there’s even more backstory to the Ansem clusterfuck but we’ll save that for the Birth By Sleep retrospective. Now, how does Ansem also return to help DiZ? Well, Riku after the events of Chain of Memories decided to use the darkness to help him find Sora and Kairi which causes him to take on the form of Ansem the Heartless, due to Ansem’s latent influence on his heart from the events of the first game. Make sense? Good, it doesn’t to me either. Just roll with it.
So, Sora and the gang go along to each world and take out the Organization members. We’ll go over them in a second, but along the way they encounter Pete (the fat dude from the Disney universe, check him out in Steamboat Willie, which is also a world this time around). Pete is working with Maleficent, who is also back thanks to the power of darkness and the Heartless. They are not only at odds with the Organization, but also with Sora and company but they end up helping in the end, but only to spite the Organization.
Speaking of Organization XIII, let’s discuss the members (and their fates) now. First up is Demyx; a water controlling little shit who is annoying and cowardly. He meets his end in Hollow Bastion after causing trouble in the Olympus Coliseum. Next up is Xaldin, who caused trouble for Beast and Belle and met his end shortly thereafter. Axel is the next death but he didn’t die fighting Sora, instead he sacrificed himself to save Sora when he was looking to travel to The World That Never Was, which is the headquarters of the Organization and final world of the game. Then we have Xigbar, who dies trying to stop Sora. Luxord meets a very similar fate, followed by the second-in-command, Saïx. Next, Sora fights Roxas, who returns to Sora and becomes one with him. And finally, Xemnas, the leader of the Organization. Riku and Sora team up to take him out in one final showdown. Afterward succeeding, Sora, Riku, and Kairi return to Destiny Islands while Donald and Goofy go back to Disney Castle with King Mickey. The gang at Destiny Islands receive a letter in a bottle from King Mickey and the game ends, to be continued in another title. There’s also a secret ending to the game which shows three keyblade-wielding warriors in a desert filled with keyblades. This references Birth By Sleep and we’ll get there soon enough.
As you can see, I tried to cut down on the story coverage this time around. I stuck to the most important plot points that I felt needed to be addressed and I probably missed a few things along the way, but fuck it, what are you gonna do? Sue me? The story is still very perplexing, but it (barely) makes sense when you play the game. You just have to trust me on that one, unless you want to not be lazy and actually buy it. Which you should. Right now. I’m waiting.
Gameplay wise, everything is improved across the board. If you were to ask our dear Supreme Leader of Bork Korea, the Gummi Ships in Kingdom Hearts 1 were absolutely terrible. And she’s right. They sucked ass. The Gummi missions this time around are much improved. They’re on rail flight sections with a bunch of enemies, more action, and new missions and objectives. The building mechanic for the ships is updated as well, including new parts for extra shields and power, as well as curved pieces and bulk piece placements. They’re still hit or miss (Mei still hates them… like, really fucking hates them) but I like them now. Take your pick though, I’m not here to dictate your opinions. I’m only here to give you mine, even if I’m right.
Combat mechanics have been greatly improved from the first game, too. The combos are more varied, reaction commands add a nice twist to monotonously tapping the attack button repeatedly, new abilities allow for better combos and finishing hits, and the new Drive Forms allow for multiple approaches to the same battle. Wanna focus on physical attacks? Fuse with Goofy for Valor Form and go all in. Prefer spell spamming? Fuse with Donald and go Wisdom Form for an all-out magic offensive. Want a good balance of both? Take in both your friends and go Master Form. If that’s not enough for you, the final world unlocks the ultimate Final Form which exudes power in both physical and magical ways the likes of which you’ve never seen before. There’s also the Limit Form, which allows Sora to tap into special attacks at the cost of both his teammates, but the attacks are strong and very hard to counter.
But be careful with this newfound power, because relying on this extra strength too much can open your heart to the darkness. In other words, the devs said “don’t fucking abuse this shit or you’ll pay” and added in the Anti Form. Appearing at random when you use the forms too much, this drains your drive completely. You are left alone, vulnerable, and strangely powerful. Uncontrollable at best, the attacks in this form can be some of the strongest in the game if you’re lucky enough to learn how to properly use them when it happens. For a full explanation on how Anti Form works, check out this video from Kingdom Hearts speedrunner Bizkit047.
Finally, there are the new teammate Limit Attacks for even more spice and variety to how you approach each and every battle. Every party member has a unique limit combo with Sora, so you can experiment with them all. That means no more bitching about “Oh it’s too boring tapping X all the time.” because now you have new ways to attack, you crybabies, so shut up.
The last thing I want to touch upon for this retrospective is a Final Mix exclusive. The Kingdom Hearts franchise is a big fan of hidden bosses. Sephiroth, who is actually easier in this game thanks to new abilities and combat mechanics as mentioned earlier, returns for another go around. There’s also the Final Mix exclusive Absent Silhouettes which allow you fight against the Organization XIII members you killed in Chain of Memories. Beating all of them (along with the other members in the main story) allows you to fight them all again in the Garden of Assemblage. These are data battles, and they are really, REALLY fucking difficult. Almost every Organization member has an insane amount of health, their AI has been upped to the highest tier of bullshittery, and they hit like a fucking asteroid. You will be tested, and you will be broken many times. As some game journalists would say, they’re the Dark Souls of Kingdom Hearts.
Well, they would be. But there’s one more optional boss. Known only as the Lingering Will, he is the ultimate boss of Kingdom Hearts 2 and let me tell you, this is the hardest boss fight you’ll have to do. There are very limited windows of attack and every sungle bit of combat knowledge will need to be utilized to take down this keyblade-wielding son of a bitch. Or… You could just stunlock him to death. Yeah, there’s an exploit in the stun mechanic that basically makes this guy easier than killing a Shadow at level 100 on Beginner difficulty. But if you choose to do it the proper way, you will be challenged, and you will fucking hate how unfair and fucking bullshit this guy can be. For a tutorial on the cheapskate way though, check out this video below from prominent Kingdom Hearts speedrunner Bl00dybizkitz.
So overall, how does this game hold up? Well, pretty damn well I might say. The controls are so much more comfortable and relaxed compared to the first game and the replay value is insane with four difficulties to go through, a plethora of sidequests to tackle, and plenty of ways to challenge yourself in every approach to the game’s many fights. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys action RPGs or giving themselves migraines with convoluted plotlines. That’s pretty much it though for this installment of Sea-Salt Recollections. Next time we’ll be heading to the scrappy little handheld that could, the Nintendo DS, for the moronically named Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (which is read as “358 Days over 2″… I’m already irritated and I haven’t even written anything yet). Until then, I will see you later!
– Screaming Rowlet