Today’s recommended listening: “Lazy Afternoons”, from the KHII soundtrack, by the incomparable Yoko Shimomura.
Yeah, it’s more Kingdom Hearts. What, you thought I’d stop before I got to KHII? This is most people’s favourite in the series, and it’s certainly a toss-up between this and KHIII for me. Kingdom Hearts II has some of my most nostalgic memories – even just sitting here listening to the Twilight Town theme has a little something welling up in my chest. A little background – this is the first encounter I ever had with Kingdom Hearts! A friend was playing it while I was at his house, and we laughed at these weird enemies with, like, bags on their heads? How droll!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. KHII starts with a fan-fucking-tastic intro cinematic, showing Sora’s adventures through the worlds of Disney, and up through the floors of Castle Oblivion. Kairi stands on the beach of the Destiny Islands, before changing into a slightly more grown-up model – clearly some time has passed since last we saw her. It ends, as the KH1 intro did, with a figure falling under the sea, to land on a giant stained-glass pillar (a sequence known as a Dive to the Heart) – but, hold on, that’s not Sora. Who is that?
He goes through a tutorial, much like Sora before him, and awakens to find himself in his bed, in Twilight Town. Just a weird dream for our boy, Roxas. Luckily for Roxas, school has broken up, and he’s in the middle of enjoying his summer vacation with his friends Hayner, Pence, and Olette. They’re hanging out, making plans to go to the beach – but, some weird things are happening. Mysterious zipper-headed weirdoes are stealing pictures of Roxas – and not just pictures, but even the word ‘photo’ has been stolen. Roxas chases them down and picks up a stick to fend them off, when he hears a voice (them?) say “We have come for you, my liege”. This is then followed by the stick turning into a big ol’ key-shaped sword, which we today know as a Keyblade. Strange, but, well, nothing to worry about. The rest of his vacation goes as usual – they participate in a kendo-style tournament (“the Struggle”), do odd jobs to get money for the beach, hang out and eat sea-salt ice cream on top of the clock tower. Roxas, though, is having a weird time. He’s having strange dreams of a boy named Sora, which all end with the phrase “Restoration at [x] percent” – and that [x] is only getting higher. A man with flaming red hair in a black cloak (who we know to be Axel, from the Organisation) insists that they know each other, when he’s never seen him before in his life.
This all culminates when Roxas enters the old mansion near town, while investigating the town’s Great Seven Mysteries. Inside he finds a girl calling herself Naminé. She informs him that he, like her, is a Nobody, and that he needs to meet up with a boy named Sora in order to complete him. She also mentions that, as Nobodies, they were never really meant to exist. He, understandably, is not pleased to hear this, and his day really only gets worse. He keeps going through the mansion, the exposure to Naminé possibly jogging some memories and slowly causing him to remember some of his past. He’s not in the real Twilight Town – this is a simulation, and he was put here by DiZ and a mysterious man in a black cloak. Prepare to hear that description a lot, btw, it’s only going to get worse from here.
In the mansion’s basement he encounters Axel again, and they have a proper fight, with Roxas pulling out not one, but two Keyblades. Roxas remembers his relationship to Axel now – they were friends, best friends, before he left. He defeats Axel soundly, and the redhead starts fading into the darkness. When Axel hopes they’ll meet again in the next life, Roxas agrees, to which Axel chuckles, remarking that only he is actually lucky enough to get a next life. Roxas continues into the mansion to find a red-cloaked, Christopher-Lee-voiced guy calling himself DiZ, and… oh.
DiZ basically explains everything here – he’s digitally recreated Twilight Town in a simulation, and hidden Roxas inside of it so the Organisation can’t get him while Sora recuperates from the damage Naminé did to his memories. The Organisation is also pretty keen to get to Roxas for some other reasons, but… again, we’ll get into it later. DiZ basically doesn’t give much of a shit about Roxas, honestly – he makes a few remarks about how as a Nobody, he’s not supposed to exist, yada yada. Roxas is pretty pissed off, and tries to cut him down with the Keyblade, but it’s just a hologram. The guy’s not even here. Then, the pod opens, and he finally sees the boy from his dreams. The guy everyone seems to be so interested in. Sora. Naminé had explained that, when he met Sora, he wouldn’t disappear, but rather he would be made whole. Roxas, I think, knows that on some level – and yet, he can’t help but still be a little melancholy about the whole thing. So he goes to join with Sora, but not before making one final, crushing remark:
“Sora… You’re lucky. Looks like my summer vacation is… over.”
And so ends the prologue of Kingdom Hearts II.
Yes, that’s right. The game immediately throws you into a 3-hour prologue about a character you’ve never met. On release (and, probably, still to this day) this idea was pretty divisive, with some people loving it, and others thinking it was dumb as hell. Personally, I just adore it. I fucking love Roxas, and being able to hang out and enjoy what he has left of his summer vacation is a joy to me every single time. I don’t think I could ever skip it, even if it was an option.
Honestly this ended up being WAY longer than I expected, and I still feel like I skipped over a TON of stuff that makes this prologue great. I’ll try and be a little more succinct in the next blog – that’s right, KHII Part II baby! Hopefully I can wrap up everything in that, I’d rather not stretch it to a Part III. Thanks for reading.