We start the story of the third floor with a second, more proper, look at the pale artist from the game’s opening. She’s a young, slim girl with white-blonde hair, in a white dress that matches the décor in Castle Oblivion, making her seem to fade away into the environment. We watch her sketching for a while before returning to the group.
Sora and the others are still angry on Jiminy’s behalf. Here, Sora finally clues in to what was obvious to many of us, to the point where I’ve just been saying it outright: he clues in to the fact that the group have been losing their memories. Holy shit, Sora didn’t realize that for two whole floors. Jiminy, my analytic hero, goes one step further, and mentions the cloaked figure’s strange mantra: “To find is to lose and to lose is to find.”
Now, I do keep saying “most of us knew” that the characters were losing their memories, but that may not be true of some of us at a younger age. But that’s a perfect opportunity to point out how cleverly CoM is written. If you’re marketing to a younger audience, you do have to write for them, and that’s different from writing for older age groups. While I don’t think it’s right to always talk down to a younger audience, CoM does it in the right way and for the right reasons: to make sure everyone is near the same base. Not at the same base: near it. The distinction is important because it allows the audience to range at their own pace. Sora, Donald and Goofy spend the rest of this conversation talking about forgetting, so if anyone out there is just now realizing that Sora and friends have been losing their memories, they get to think about the consequences at the same time the characters do. But for those of us in the audience who worked this out ages ago, we have Jiminy Cricket. Jiminy brings up the line about “To lose is to find” so that we can think about that while Sora and the others talk to a younger audience about forgetting to begin with, allowing both age groups to experience the game on a different level.
While I appreciate what CoM is doing with the two audiences idea, Sora and the others are so far behind that they have to draw a large number of conclusions very quickly in this one cutscene, just to make sure all the basics are covered. They realize if they keep going into the Castle, and keep journeying through their memories, they’ll keep losing their memories, which the game has been hinting at since Traverse Town. In fact, they seem to be losing their memories right before our eyes: each time they enter a memory world, they forget everything about the world they’ve come to and seemingly much about Castle Oblivion as well, and they exit the world often discussing the exact same points they were discussing when they came in, like Goofy and Hallow Bastion. It’s as though they forget everything that happened the instant they leave! The Castle acts as a tour through the memory, and what you pass behind seems to go forgotten. In a way, this explains why you have to carry your important memories around with you on cards!
Sora and Donald cut to the worst-case scenarios: what if they can’t remember where they came from, and so can’t go back? What if they forget about the people most important to them, like Riku and Kairi? (Poor Daisy Duck and Donald’s nephews goes unmentioned by name.) But Goofy, resident optimist, says that he’s sure they won’t forget their friends and loved ones – blind to the fact that you already forgot your friends in the last Disney world, a subtlety that takes the wind out of Goofy’s reassurance if you happen to notice it. I’m not kidding you when I said this game has the best writing in the series, there are layers here.
Goofy makes a rather apt point, not that I think it was intentional. He points out that Sora remembered his friends even after he became a Heartless, demonstrated in how he sought them out. The intended point is probably a shmaltzy “when everything’s darkest, you’ll still remember your friends,” but there’s something more fundamental to Goofy’s point that relates to how the series handles the Heart. As a Heartless, Sora should have been reduced to a Heart. That’s what Heartless are, after all. The Heart is composed of memories. As a Heartless, Sora was driven toward his friends because that’s what memories do. Like Sora said in Hollow Bastion, his Heart and his friends’ Hearts are connected… and in a brutal way, that explains the hunting behaviour of the Heartless.
By the way, I’m capitalizing Heart now and you can’t stop me.
One wonders what’s at the centre of the Castle: the true memories discussed Halloween Town? And if the Heart is made up of memories, wouldn’t the true memories be related to the heart-of-hearts that Ansem was looking for, the Darkness or Light in Kingdom Hearts? And if true memories are destructive, what does that say about Kingdom Hearts?
(Did you notice how Sora talked about losing his memories in Halloween Town but only formally acknowledges he was losing them here? Whoops!)
I really don’t recommend you go to Olympus Coliseum on Floor 3 if you don’t know what you’re doing. Hell, it didn’t exactly go well for me, either. Maybe stick Agrabah in here instead. I’m going to stick to what I did in my last playthrough, but try to do as I suggest, not what I foolishly do. You don’t want to go to Olympus Coliseum before you have a supply of 0 cards, certainly more than the one 0 card you start with, because you can use them to block the special attacks used by the bosses. We’re going to have to have a long talk about fighting human-sized bosses before this is over, because it’s a topic that really stumps some players, but we still haven’t finished covering the basics. This poor retrospective’s going to be a little wobbly.
So… it’s Olympus Coliseum time, except… not really? I mean, it’s Olympus, but it’s sure not a Coliseum this time, by any stretch of imagination. At the front door, the gang reads the sign and learns Phil is running an “Obstacle Course,” because god help the poor GBA team, they had no choice but to make the worlds 100% identical and that means even the “Coliseum” had to be a series of rooms just like every other floor. Donald passive-aggressively admits that Sora is going to force them to participate in the obstacle course even though they have better things to do, and it’s good to know that even though you’re losing your memory, you still know Sora to a T, Mr. Duck. The sign says that anyone wanting to complete has to run a preliminary course (the route to the Room of Beginnings), so off you go. Sure, Phil, just let anyone in to fight the monsters.
Behind them, Cloud appears, talking to Hades and doing the exact same “Kill Hercules” deal as before. Isn’t it so exciting to see the exact same crap again? There is a minor difference, but it’s not very interesting. Instead of Cloud looking for Sephiroth, he’s looking for his lost memories, same as Sora. Hades promises to restore them. This plot point will sound doubly familiar, given Cloud’s relationship to memory in FFVII, but sadly the game doesn’t head down that more interesting road.
Olympus Coliseum’s fun in the 3D versions, especially because of all the stuff you can smash. You can knock pillars into one another like dominoes, a shout-out to the original films, and in vertically oriented rooms there are a few statues you have to break down to size to use as platforms. There’s also little Cupid statues pelting Confusion arrows at you if you – they’re a bit more of a pain. In the end, it’s the same here as in most of the worlds to come, so a little noisy destruction is laudable. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Olympus Coliseum, which lacked unique monsters in the original game, is now packing the Deep Jungle Heartless, who would have otherwise been homeless. Everyone wins! The Bouncywild’s banana peels now cost you Moogle Points instead of Munny, which is a lot more harmful.
Back to mechanics. I’m going to talk a little more about Map Cards, and because I’m going to have to drag these mechanics out across every floor to follow, let’s focus on the red cards specifically. You may have noticed I talk about overworld stuff after the opening and combat stuff later, so I might as well keep that up.
As you go through the game, you’ve been getting a few more Map Cards per world, and if you’ve been clearing out every Heartless in the game so far, you might be running out of space, since you can only carry 99 at a time! And if you’re me, things are even worse, because I try to keep one of each number per colour (0-9), gumming up 30 of my slots. You’ll have plenty of the Red cards by now, considering they’re almost all unlocked at the start while the Blues and some of the Greens are only unlocked as you go up the floors. These cards make up a good deal of the game’s content, so we’re going to look at them in at least some moderate detail. It’s like I said a few entries back: in a game like this, mechanics are content.
The basic Red cards are the game’s bread and butter, you use them on the regular to give you a regular stream of EXP and map cards. The Tranquil Darkness card can essentially be considered the “default” card in this game, which you use as a baseline when examining other rooms. A few automatically generated rooms seem to use Tranquil Darkness as a template, so that isn’t an arbitrary comparison. The card produces a small-sized room with two distinct height levels accessed by both ladder and springboard, and has a small number of Heartless troops.
Other red cards include room with weak Heartless (Feeble Darkness, where Heartless have weaker attack cards) and room with strong Heartless (Almighty Darkness, which shows up later in the game). There are even rooms full of sleeping heartless if you want a break – engage them without ambushing them for them to start the fight asleep. If you’re lucky, you may have found the Black Room card, which plays host to Black Fungi. You can find this card as early as the start of the game (at least in Re:CoM), but you’ll want to hold off on using them until at least Floor 2, because Black Funguses are supposed to drop powerful Calm Bounty map cards, but those aren’t unlocked until Floor 2. I’m not sure why the game unlocked one but not the other!
Beyond this point, we’re getting into advanced cards from later in the game. This might be complicated if you’re new to the game, but sadly it’s complicated if you’re playing the game too. One special red card is the Premium Bonus room. Battles in this room drop special P-tokens that can upgrade an Attack Card in your deck to Premium. P-tokens can technically show up anywhere, but are more common in Premium Rooms and from the White Mushrooms in the – you guessed it – White Room. Premium Cards aren’t a universal good: they cost less to put in your deck but can’t be reloaded after they’ve been used, which makes them for advanced players only. Unfortunately, P-tokens empower existing cards from their deck, and they do so via medium-speed roulette. It’s a good way to lose a valuable card! Best you go into the Premium Room with a deck full of junk cards whenever possible.
Another red card is the Roulette Room, available only in Re:CoM. The Roulette Room is a handy Re:CoM addition where R tokens are dropped. These let you pick your winning Map Card from a roulette, rather than receiving one purely at randomly. It’s great for situations where a gold door wants an exact-value card, or if you really want a Save Point. The Roulette Room is an out-and-out advantage of playing the remake over the original, as it can remove a great deal of unnecessary frustration.
Less appealing is the Bottomless Darkness room new to Re:CoM. This is a room full of… nothing. It’s black. And flat. Fights in it are in flat, black rooms. Opponents in them are Shadows. They couldn’t even give us the tedious dignity of Darkballs. Instead you get the tedious indignity of fighting this series’ Goombas over and over until your brain drizzles out your ears. The real advantage of this room is that it gives a good chunk of experience points for no effort, so give it a shot if you can keep awake through it.
That’s it for Red Map Cards. Back in Olympus Coliseum, you reach the Room of Beginnings, where Phil fesses to what I was just joking about: the preliminary course full of monsters was too hard and no one else made it to the starting line, so he was just about to call off the race. But the “good news” keeps pouring in: Hercules is there, and Cloud arrives not long after Sora, so the race continues in a diluted form. Phil explains the rules to the three contestants: win the obstacle course and you win the trophy, but you can interfere with others on the course, and if there’s a tie in the race, the winners will duel for the victory. And since we’ve got two gold rooms left and two rules to play through, we can assume all of that is going to happen.
Fun fact: if you do Olympus Coliseum on Floor 3 (like any player following KH1’s world order would do), the Room of Guidance appears closer to the start of the world than the Room of Beginnings? As a result, the first stretch of the “obstacle course” will have already been cleared of obstacles! Phil’s next obstacle will be a pole vault in this empty field, followed by an archery contest aimed at this empty field.
Next post we’ll be talking about basic deck construction, and coincidentally, why we shouldn’t be talking about basic deck construction.
This retrospective’s 2D screenshots come from RickyC’s longplay of the GBA version of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories at World of Longplays (YouTube), while 3D screenshots come from BlueGator’s longplay of the 1.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories at Temple of the Azure Flame (segmented version).