"It looks like my summer vacation is... over."
These are the eight words that broke my heart into a thousand tiny pieces.
After the epic adventure that was Kingdom Hearts, I was unsure as to how the sequel was going to maintain the same level of excitement. When I initially booted up the game, I could tell that things like the combat style were very different; more complex, with even more combinations and options that you would have to remember mid battle. In all honesty when the game first started I was longing for the simplicity that was KH1. It as if I'd just been taught to walk before suddenly being thrown into a steeple chase.
Reece also told me that the game started with a 1-2hr long prologue that introduced a whole new bunch of characters into the mix. As I'm sure anyone would have, I rolled my eyes - I wanted to get back into the main story and go and fight more shadow monsters in different cool Disney worlds. The prologue started and I was ready to mindlessly play through it in order to get to what I really wanted. Then, before I knew it, it felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me, as I began to take a short journey with a character that was destined to change my perspective on this game forever.
His name was Roxas.
As with KH, I'd recommend seeking out a summary article/video of the story line of KH2 if you want to get to know it in full detail. I'll also be talking about end-of-game events in this post, so spoiler warning.
The further I got into the opening of the game, the more its purpose became apparent. Too many times I find that prologues can be too exposition-y (the whole 'telling not showing' issue) but because you are playing as this new character and finding out what was going on at the same time as him, then it became part of the larger journey. Roxas lives a fairly happy life, and is currently in the middle of enjoying his summer vacation with his friends at their hangout spot in Twilight Town. We get to know the gang (Hayner, Pence and Olette) quite well through their interactions with Roxas, as they get up to all sorts of odd jobs and adventures. As time progresses though however, things begin to take a dark turn as Roxas finds out about his true purpose.
Roxas is a nobody, a breakaway part of Sora's 'heart,' who is currently in a deep sleep. Roxas was created by accident - He has no place in the real world and technically shouldn't even exist, as he himself does not possess a heart. The world he is currently occupying is a computer simulation created to keep him safe and away from the mysterious Organisation XIII, before he can be returned to Sora. Naturally Roxas struggles to comprehend this, as did I. After only having the prologue to get to know this character, it is already time to say goodbye to him as he is made to commit the noble act of giving up his physical form in order to reawaken Sora, who's destiny and purpose is within reality. It's certainly difficult to watch him go, particularly as he doesn't fully understand what is going on.
So before we know it Roxas is gone, but not before uttering those eight soul crushing words that almost made me too emotional to carry on with the game. This isn't the last we'll see of him though, but I'll speak more about that later.
And just like that, Sora is back! Soon enough you're reunited with your two best pals Donald and Goofy and off on some more wacky adventures and trying to find out what's happened to your best pal Riku. This time around you get to explore some new Disney worlds like Mulan, (hell yeah!) and revisit some of the classics like Atlantica (kill me now.) Water levels in games are objectively the most annoying, but trust me when I say you've never experienced anything like The Little Mermaid level in KH2. Finny fun. That's all I'm saying. Finny fucking fun.
Besides that, the Disney worlds feel a lot more purposeful and meatier in this game than they did in the first. You obtain a lot more useful items, Keyblades and skills from completing them. You don't however receive much in the way of story (it's very 'cliff notes') but how they're able to mash all these movies/franchises into what they become in this game will forever bring a smile to my face because it's that damn surreal. I genuinely do like this though, as I truly love how KH2 doesn't have to rely on the notoriety of the Disney worlds/characters in order to make this a sustainable game. In the grand scheme of things, they are simply just grinding opportunities so you can level up to face the bigger bosses in the main story. The main narrative is by itself solid, but I'd be wrong if I said it wasn't nice to have that bit of Disney magic.
As mentioned earlier the combat style in this game took me a little bit of getting used to. KH2 introduces 'drive forms;' a series of special abilities that can increase different aspects of your powers, e.g. speed, defence, magic, flight etc. These forms have to be charged, so it's important to know exactly when to use them else you'll be left high and dry. This was very overwhelming to me at first, as I kept accidentally pressing the wrong button and putting myself into these forms and using up all of my charge. This frustrated me for the longest time and I refused to use them, meaning that facing enemies was a lot harder. In the end, Reece decided to teach me how to use them in a kind of training exercise - During large fights he'd keep an eye on the meter and tell me when to press what button etc. Eventually I got the hang of it and it became one of the most invaluable parts of this game for me. I wouldn't have been able to get through many a boss fight if it weren't for this new form of combat; plus it's cool because you're clothes change colour and you wield two Keyblades at once!
Things like the drive forms prove how much the franchise has grown up since KH. Mechanically speaking the game has developed to incorporate all these new and awesome features that allow all fights and boss battles to be even more spectacular than before. Parallel to this is how much the characters and story have developed as well. Naturally the narrative is even more complex than the first (if that were even possible) but this allows for much more character development, emotional growth and, ultimately, player connection. I found myself bonding with these characters on a level that hadn't even been explored within the first game.
The best example of this is something I'm going to call 'Goofy's revenge,' which takes place about halfway through the game. In summary, you're on a platform in Hollow Bastion with Donald, Goofy and Mickey after just having defeated a member of Organisation XIII. Suddenly a rogue heartless causes an explosion at the top of a cliff that sends a large boulder flying through the air. Goofy's instincts kick in as he pushes Mickey out of the way and takes the impact of the boulder himself before falling lifelessly to the ground. It's an incredibly dramatic scene as you automatically assume that Goofy has been killed. Mickey snaps, throws off his cape and jumps off the edge of the platform to fight (and to this day, is still Reece's most favourite bit of any KH game ever.) Thus sparks what I thought to be the most INCREDIBLE sequence in the entire franchise so far. In a fit of range and vengeance, you run as Sora through Hollow Bastion fighting your way past hoards of heartless and nobodies. NOT ONLY is this the most hyped you've felt all game, joining you in your fight are the various Final Fantasy characters you've met so far, such as Yuffie (FFVII,) Cloud (FFVII) and Leon (FFVIII.) Throughout this whole sequence my jaw was on the floor - I found myself feeling the same emotions as the characters did and wanted nothing more but to fight and kill to avenge Goofy. The battle is draining and all feels lost, before suddenly Goofy comes out of nowhere saying he has a slight headache, in true Goofy fashion! Describing this sequence as an emotional roller coster has to be a contender for understatement of the century, but the exploration of these different feelings in the characters gives them another layer of emotional understanding, allowing us as the players to connect with them more than ever before. In all honesty, I'm planning of saving this as a separate file so I can play it over and over again...
Whilst on the subject of sentimentality, let's go back to talking about Roxas, as I fully believe he is the main focus of this game. We don't see much of him throughout the main bulk of the story, but there are occasional reminders of his existence that are aimed at Sora, namely when fighting members of Organisation XIII and they refer to you as Roxas.
Organisation XIII are a syndicate of nobodies (those without hearts) that aim on unleashing the power of the entity known as 'Kingdom Hearts' in order to make themselves real beings. They are a recurrent enemy throughout the game (usually as a boss at the end of a Disney level) and each member you fight has their own personality, weapon and method of combat. From the very beginning of the game, and even in the prologue, they are posed at the typical bad guys that want nothing more than to wreak havoc and darkness on the world. Upon reaching one of the final levels in the game, The World That Never Was, you begin to learn more about the Organisation as you infiltrate their castle and find out that things are not as black and white as they seem.
Nobodies are lost causes, doomed to a life of emptiness and loneliness. The Organisation was formed in order to build companionship between them, seduced by the darkness and the idea of becoming 'real.' They are not inherently evil, in the way the Disney villains are in the first game, but simply mislead. You fight your way through and destroy each member one by one, but it starts to feel as if it is more of a release for them than a victory for you. Organisation XIII gives KH2 a tragic edge that leaves us wondering whether or not we're doing right by them and the world. It lead me to believe that this game is less about an exploration of good vs. evil, but more about the grey areas in between. And ironically, at the heart of this grey area is ex-Organisation member Roxas.
Roxas was enticed into the Organisation when he was formed and served some time before being 'rescued' so he could be returned to Sora. He becomes good friends with fellow nobody Axel, another member whom we see frequently throughout the game looking for Roxas, and the two of them form a friendship similar to that of Sora and Riku. The parallels are clear; one is a simple soul with a kind heart full of curiosity, the other a more mysterious type that sometimes takes the wrong path to the right goal. It just seems that one pair were destined to save the world and the other were destined not to exist in it. I really liked Axel as a character as, similar to Riku, I enjoy a good anti-hero who's heart is in the right place, and it truly upset me when he had to die. Another heartless we come across is a girl named Naminé. She is not a member of the Organisation, but is tasked with giving Sora back his memories whilst in his deep sleep. Her and Roxas form a friendship, as she was one of the team that helped him out of the Organisation and wants nothing more than him to fulfil his dream. Naminé also bears a striking resemblance to another main female character, but since that particular character is even MORE useless in this game than she was in the first, it bares no necessity to mention her. (Is it worth mentioning however that Naminé and Kairi are bonded in a similar way that Roxas and Sora are.)
Once Sora has arrived at The World That Never Was and fought his way through some heartless enemies, you are suddenly confronted by this hooded figure. Out of nowhere he produces two Keyblades and comes at you, sparking off the climactic battle of this game. It's a tough fight but worth the effort as after this comes one of the most emotional cutscenes I have ever witnessed in my life. I've thrown around the word 'emotional' a lot so far, but if you're looking to find out why I titled this 'Why Kingdom Hearts 2 broke my heart,' then I suggest you watch this:
Via Boss Fight Database
I was not prepared for what this cutscene did to me. Reece found me curled on the sofa in floods of baby tears, and I had to pause the game to calm down before I was able to continue. If you've never played the game the intensity of this scene may be slightly lost on you, but it's hard to deny that even on a surface level that something incredibly sad is happening. Paired with the etherial melody that is Roxas' Theme (which is now one of my favourite pieces of video game music ever) it's hard not to get a lump in my throat even now when I'm just thinking about it.
To me, Roxas is an almost perfect example of a tragic hero, but in this case it was not an active decision made by himself that ultimately lead to his demise. From the get go his situation is a hopeless one - I think what makes it sadder is the fact that there is no closure in death, simply that he is physically gone to become part of someone else and never fulfilling his dream of becoming his own person. The final cutscene of the game is incredibly heartwarming however, which gave me a great sense of hope. Sora and Riku eventually makes it back to their home on Destiny Island where they is reunited with Kairi. Of course they are incredibly happy to see each other, but within Sora an Kairi, we also see Roxas and Naminé who have also been reunited through the other two. You can only see their smiles flash for a split second, but in that moment you know that he is alright and has finally found where he is supposed to be. Roxas is what makes KH2 such an amazing journey for me and I can only hope and pray that he makes an appearance in the next game.
About the game overall, I think KH2 falls into that rare category of a sequel that's more powerful that its predecessor. I adore KH so so much, and of course it makes sense to play them both, but judging by track record of the main games the franchise appears to be going nowhere but up. I sure as hell hope the release date for KH3 is announced soon because I've had the best time writing about my first-ever experiences with these games, and I can't wait to do it again.