Today’s recommended listening: Darkness of the Unknown, from the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMix soundtrack, by – you guessed it – Yoko Shimomura.
So! When last we spoke, Roxas’s summer vacation had just ended, and he’d merged with Sora to complete him. Sora wakes up from his pod, none the wiser, and realises that his clothes don’t really fit all that well. That’s because it’s been a whole year since the events of Chain of Memories! And he’s still a growing boy, so, well, he grew. He explores Twilight Town, meets up with Hayner, Pence, and Olette (who bring a tear to his eye, although he’s never met them. Weird, huh?). They say that someone’s waiting at the train station – when they get there, though, it’s just a bunch of Nobodies, primarily the zipper-headed Dusks we met in the simulation Twilight Town. The gang almost gets overwhelmed, when who should arrive to save them but King Mickey! Complete in a hooded black cloak. Overjoyed, they go to meet him, but he stops them with a finger to his lips, saying that they need to leave, and that the train knows the way. They head through the station and board a train to the Mysterious Tower, where they meet Pete, who’s working to resurrect Maleficent. More importantly than him, though, we meet Master Yen Sid, who taught King Mickey. He explains the situation to the gang, re: their current enemies. Basically, Heartless are born when darkness takes over someone’s heart – ironically, despite the name, they’re actually ALL heart. (The name comes from the way they act, i.e. devoid of emotion).
The new enemies on the block, though, are the Nobodies. When someone of a particularly strong will becomes a Heartless, the body and soul that’s left behind may rise again and act on its own. Of these strong-willed Nobodies, those with the STRONGEST wills can even retain their human forms. This is the case with the main antagonists of this game – Organisation XIII. A group of (you guessed it) thirteen Nobodies, working together to further some mysterious (but undoubtedly nefarious) goal. Sora, Donald, and Goofy will have to venture forth to worlds old and new, in order to stop the threat of the Heartless and the Nobodies. But first, Sora needs some new duds. The fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather whip up a stylish new outfit for him, and the gang heads off once more. First stop – Hollow Bastion.
It’s not the same Hollow Bastion we left, though. We’re more in the castle town this time around, where we meet up with the Final Fantasy gang from Traverse Town. After a quick catch-up Sora and the gang start heading around various worlds – old ones, like Hercules’ Olympus Coliseum, Aladdin’s Agrabah, Jack Skellington’s Halloween Town, Winnie the Pooh’s 100 Acre Wood, and Ariel’s Atlantica – now a rather divisive full-blown musical! New worlds include Mulan’s Land of Dragons, Beast’s Castle, Port Royal (of Pirates of the Caribbean) (yes, it is weird) (no, the Johnny Depp soundalike is NOT very good), Simba’s Pride Lands, Tron’s Space Paranoids, and Timeless River, going back to visit Mickey in the time of the classic Steamboat Willie cartoon. Along the way we run into various Organisation XIII members, all rocking the classic black cloak. There’s a bunch of different personalities, ranging from bumbling goof to mysterious gambler to cold-hearted and serious business. They all have one thing in common, though – they refer to Sora as “Roxas”, and wish that they could get him back on side, much to Sora’s confusion and annoyance.
At one point, while searching Hollow Bastion for answers about this mysterious Organisation, or the whereabouts of Riku and the King, they come across Ansem’s secret laboratory, complete with a massive portrait of the guy. This is the part where King Mickey shows up again, in probably the most hilarious scene in the game:
When King Mickey sees the portrait, he recognises the face – but not as Ansem. Strap in, ’cause this takes a little explaining. See, the guy that we know as Ansem, Seeker of Darkness? Yeah, he’s not really Ansem. He’s actually his apprentice, Xehanort, and took the name when he purposefully made himself a Heartless in order to experiment and learn the true nature of the heart. The real Ansem – Ansem the Wise, for clarity – is just a guy who did a lot of research and such – but forbade Xehanort from experimenting with darkness, although clearly he didn’t listen. Ansem the Wise is currently missing, but we’ll catch up with him later. Oh, and remember what I said earlier about how strong-willed people form Nobodies when they become Heartless? Well, Xehanort – Ansem – was no exception. And his Nobody, of course, is the leader of Organisation XIII, Xemnas.
(Psst – are you noticing anything in common between the name Ansem and the name Xemnas? Are there any OTHER mysterious names like this you can think of?)
Suddenly, peril and catastrophe! A MASSIVE army of Heartless is attacking Hollow Bastion. Sora and the gang rush down there, Goofy dies, and- huh? Oh, yeah, he gets hit in the head by a rock. He doesn’t REALLY die, he gets better not long after, but it’s still pretty emotional (albeit a little funny when you remember this is Mickey and Donald mourning Goofy):
Anyway, just before this huge battle, Saïx, one of the Organisation, reveals their grand plan to Sora. Every time he slays a Heartless with the Keyblade, that heart is released, and the Organisation is using them all to form a massive collection of hearts, and create their own Kingdom Hearts. He goes on to say that they will then use this massive power to get their hearts back and become whole, once again. Which, y’know, is bad. Sora is pretty crushed about this, and he only feels worse when he then has to go fight literally one thousand Heartless. Seriously, there’s a counter and everything. It’s honestly a really cool moment, and while it gets a little repetitive towards the end, I still enjoy the hell out of it.
Heartless defeated, Sora sets his sights squarely on the Organisation, eventually travelling to The World That Never Was, where they’ve set up their home base. On the approach, though, the gang is suddenly surrounded by mysterious Samurai Nobodies, and a figure in a black cloak approaches Sora. We suddenly shift to a Dive to the Heart-style stained glass Station, the same one we saw from Roxas’ perspective earlier. Sora sees this black-cloaked figure wielding a Keyblade (the black Oblivion), and asks who he is. The answer? “Someone from the dark”. How emo – could this possibly be Riku? The figure scoffs, and says he defeated a Riku once. Then, angrily, he demands to know “why he picked you“. He draws a second Keyblade (the light Oathkeeper), and they fight – one of, if not the best in the game, personally – with Sora eventually coming out on top. He drops his Keyblades, and then – we shift to a different cutscene.
We see Roxas, standing in front of the Twilight Town mansion. Xemnas appears before him. “You seek answers.” He waves his hand, and the letters “S”, “O”, “R”, “A” appear in front of him. “You feel nothing. Nothing is real.” He waves his hand, and they spin around and around, faster and faster. “I can give you purpose.” A big “X” appears, and the letters stop spinning.
“R”. “O”. “X”. “A”. “S”.
“Roxas.” “That’s right – the new you.”
Roxas fades – admitting that Sora “makes a good other” – and we return to the World That Never Was. Donald and Goofy never saw any black-cloaked figure, though – it was all fought within Sora’s heart. They head to the Castle, fighting their way through the remaining Organisation members. Along the way they meet up with Riku and Kairi, at last! Riku looks different, though – visually, he’s identical to Ansem, Seeker of Darkness – showing that he’s embraced the darkness within his heart. He’s still the same Riku on the inside, though. Riku explains once and for all the situation with Roxas – he’s not just connected to Sora, he’s his Nobody – born from the brief moment when Sora became a Heartless in the first game. Of course, when he released his heart then, he released Kairi’s at the same time – that was the whole point, after all. And so, she should have a Nobody too, no? Well, she does, and we’ve met her before too – it’s Naminé. We actually run into Naminé here, briefly, and after a few introductions she merges with Kairi, becoming complete. Sora and Roxas already kinda did this earlier, but they do it again just for show. DiZ is also here, too – but there’s no time for that! The Organisation’s Kingdom Hearts is nearing completion! DiZ sheds his red bandages and reveals his true identity – he’s actually Ansem the Wise, and he’s been seeking revenge against the Organisation (his former apprentices) for turning against him, and joining the darkness.
He has a device which he plans to use to encode the Organisation’s Kingdom Hearts, and turn it into data, in order to seal it away. But the mysterious power of the heart is too much for the device, and it explodes, killing him (or so we think) and turning Riku back into his non-Ansem form. Hey, like I said, mysterious. With the other Organisation members taken out, only Xemnas remains – and he drags Sora into a one-on-one fight at Memory’s Skyscraper. But this is Sora we’re talking about, and so we wins handily. Returning to the top of the castle, Xemnas refuses to lose, joining himself with the now somewhat-destroyed Kingdom Hearts to take its power. The worlds grant a door into Xemnas’ “World of Nothing” and Sora and the gang go to fight him. After some gruelling battles – first against a massive dragon, forged of the entire City That Never Was, then against Xemnas in mysterious “Keyblade Armour”, and finally, Sora and Riku versus the Superior of the In-Between himself, for the final battle. This fight, honestly, rules. All of it is pretty great, but there’s a bit near the end where Xemnas sets up this huge dome of lasers, and you have to frantically mash buttons just to stay alive, then Sora gets grabbed by some energy thing, then you get to play as Riku for a bit to get over there and save him, then the two of them execute a perfectly-synced combo to finish the job… God, it’s good.
So, Xemnas is defeated. But wait, if this is his dimension, then… what’s going to happen to our heroes? Well, for a start, they’re surrounded by Dusks. Once they take them out, exhausted, they escape his realm, and end up on a dark beach, overlooking a dark sea. This… is the world of Darkness. The other side to the world of Light that we’re accustomed to. Sora and Riku make peace with the fact that they’re stuck here – “If the world is made up of light and darkness, we’ll be the darkness.” They also have a couple of really sweet conversations that, IMO, mark the turning point from them being rivals, to being full-on best friends.
And then, a message in a bottle floats up onto the shore. I didn’t mention this before, because I kinda forgot about it, but one thing we saw during the prologue was a few flashes of Kairi, enjoying her life on the Destiny Islands, reminiscing about all the time she spent playing with that boy, Riku. And… was there another boy? His name started with an S? As Sora’s memories were pieced back together, the memories people close to him had of him re-forged, too – and eventually, Kairi remembered that boy, and wrote him a letter, sending it off to sea – knowing that it’d find its way to him eventually. And it did! Somehow. Equally “somehow”, upon reading it a Door to Light opens. Sora and Riku enter through it, and splash down in the sea just off the Destiny Islands. They’re back! They’re home.
And that’s – Jesus, that was a lot of words. That’s KHII, though. I didn’t even touch any of the worlds, and I still skipped a TON of stuff, but y’all – I fucking love this game. I could write about it forever, if I had to, but at some point you just have to move on with your weird self-appointed KH summary thing.
Next time, though, a MUCH shorter game (because it was originally only on phones, before smartphones were a thing). Kingdom Hearts coded! Or re:coded, if you like. Thanks for reading.