The Key of Guidance cutscene sees Sora and Alice meet up in KH1’s Lotus Forest room in Re:CoM, instead of the dynamically created Lotus Forest one from CoM. This reuse of the room is absolute foolishness, not only because it looks silly (did we even change locations at all?) but is even sillier considering the Mad Hatter and March Hare’s place could have been used for a completely fresh room! In the GBA version, they talk in a generic forest that doesn’t come from KH1 at all, probably in attempt to emulate the film?
The party takes a breather to discuss whether or not they should continue to run like chickens with their heads cut off. Just then, the Cheshire Cat appears, and proclaims that the Queen “won’t forget you till she remembers! […] You should do something, but you don’t have to do anything.” When prompted, he gives a Wonderland nonsense speech (the kind that’s full of oddly phrased truths) about the nature of memory, saying that if you can’t remember something, it never happened, and vice versa. “Try too hard to remember, and your memory might lie to you.”
The cat’s speech comes into play in the Key to Truth room, which you discover to be the Bizarre Room. There, the Queen of Hearts catches you, and that’s just… so weird. Is this oversized kitchen part of her domain? Carroll’s story divides the region of Wonderland into parcels like the storytelling technique of the day demanded, so I find that it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re really part of the same world, much less the same Kingdom under one Queen!
The Queen is about to capture the cast, when suddenly her memory is snapped away a second time by the Trickmaster, who arrives on the scene to make a mess. And now it’s time. It’s time for the boss I’ve been warning you about since the beginning.
Walkthroughs to the GBA version will back me up on this: the Trickmaster never used to be as bad as it is in the 3D versions back there. It’s not just a matter of 2D versus 3D, and there are some details I’ll get into during a later boss fight, but things are way harder here for reasons that are not even tied to the 2D-3D split. There’s something wrong with this fight right now in the 3D versions.
What makes things even stranger is the CoM fight should be easier than the one in KH1, especially in Re:CoM. If you have the Re:CoM-exclusive High Jump from Monstro, you can fight the Trickmaster directly, and can get up on the table without much fuss. If you jump from the table and land a three-hit combo, Re:CoM Tricky will always collapse instead of it being random like the original game, and that’s very helpful. In the GBA version, you don’t need to jump off the table at all if you don’t want to. I suppose the biggest change for the 3D remake isn’t the fact that it’s a remake, but the fact that it’s borrowing AI from KH1, without accounting for the fact that you’re alone. Without Donald and Goofy to distract our least-favourite juggler from smashing you and your precious table into the ground, you’re going to have to deal with all the Trickmaster’s focus, and that’s when you realize that it was never a very appropriate third boss.
Much of the trouble does come from the table. If the Trickmaster squashes it, you can only get the table back with the Gimmick Card, which doesn’t even stun the Trickmaster in the GBA version. Tricky’s also got pretty high numbered cards for this part of the game, to the point where you may find yourself wanting to use combo attacks just to attack him in the first place. Try to resist this urge to use combos just to break his cards, or you’ll just waste precious resources. This is one of the few giant bosses where you’re going to want a handful of 0s to handle defence, and you might not have them at this point in the game.
It should also be said that GBA Sora fights terribly in the air. Maybe it’s just me. This may have had to do with the limited opportunities to jump on the tiny GBA screen with giant sprites, but by and large you’re going to be grounded, and that’s no help against Tricky’s armoured legs. Simba, Goofy and Cloud are nigh-worthless here, although there are ways to use them. Maybe I should give Dumbo another chance, but nothing else is guaranteed to work, to the point where I wonder if I should have recommended you go to Wonderland first so this boss will fucking die.
When the fight ends, you’re still in trouble, since the Queen of Hearts is still nearby with her posse. “Where did that creature come from?” she demands, and Sora replies: “How would we know?” But… you do know! You’ve been dealing with Heartless every second since—oh. Oh dear. There you have it, folks: Sora remembers the Heartless exist but not how they work. We’re in deep shit.
The Queen presumes that Sora and the others are plotting against her, and orders their arrest. It’s here that Alice finally gets to make her move, and I gotta say, it’s nice to see a Princess of Heart bring the results we’ve been told they could bring all along. These six ladies are lead characters from their own films, after all! Alice says that the Queen ordered them to destroy the Heartless on a special mission. Sora and the others back Alice up once they catch her bluff. The Queen, in her pride, refuses to admit that she forgot such a special mission and compliments them on a job well done, and leaves before they remember anything else she hasn’t. It’s a great moment to see, both for Alice and the Queen, and it’s too bad that it’s relegated to a back corner of the franchise, in what was otherwise a repeat Disney plot.
Back in Castle Oblivion, Donald and Goofy ask Sora if going through another floor of the Castle has helped him remember his lost third friend. He tells them what he’s remembered: he says that she was always drawing… which was something players had probably guessed at this point. I’m sure most players have gathered by now that Sora’s forgotten friend is the artist trapped in Castle Oblivion, and the game will make it more and more explicit with each hint. Sora says she was drawing even when the others were swimming, which gives us a picture that matches up with the faded, thin girl upstairs. She seems almost too wispy and faint to have been an active person. Sora says he and Riku used to fight over who she would draw next. The 3D remake makes a somewhat awkward use of the artist’s present-day, teenaged model against the two child models of Sora and Riku, but oh well, limited assets and all that.
And then Sora says something… very, very surprising. I’m going to reproduce it in full:
“But one day, she was gone. Just like that. I think our parents knew the reason. They might’ve even tried to explain it to me. But I was little. I probably didn’t understand what was happening. I remember crying a little after she was gone. But that’s it. I still can’t remember her name.”
The idea hit me all at once during my first playthrough, like the big clue in an ongoing mystery. The clues the game had been giving just seemed to combine at this exact moment to create this exact response at this exact point… at least for me. First off: remember that up until this point, CoM has carefully catered to members of the audience with different levels of understanding of the story. Sora, Donald and Goofy provide the bare minimum to make sure everyone understands the basics, while Jiminy Cricket stands in for people who are analysing the plot. One of the things that makes CoM remarkable is that the plot is even comprehensible on these levels: even if you’re too young to think ahead on Jiminy’s clues, you’ll still understand the plot based on Sora, Donald and Goofy’s level of comprehension, or at Jiminy’s. But if you think about it, both of these are just starting points. To solve a mystery, we have to pull ahead of them. The plot must be operating on three levels: Sora’s basic level, Jiminy’s intermediate, and the mystery’s advanced level.
I could make the comparison to Hound of the Baskervilles: Holmes and Watson investigate, gathering the basic information, after which they split up and we follow Watson alone. The basic information is clearly wrong (there’d be no mystery otherwise), but Watson’s intermediate-level observations likely have some glimmer of the truth, even if they aren’t the refined, advanced observations of Sherlock Holmes, which we only see in the late novel. CoM doesn’t have a Holmes figure, but I posit that it’s still catering to third viewpoint among the audience. CoM demonstrates this arguably even better than Hound, because intermediate and advanced concepts gradually “trickle down” to lower levels, instead of the basic information being entirely wrong. It creates a system where incomplete information becomes more complete for each separate audience. Let’s try to follow the clues and fill that Holmes role, if we can, by following my original thought process during my first play-through. I know this rubs up against my low-spoiler policy, but my thoughts on it are this: mysteries expect the audience to try to solve them, so to present CoM without an attempt to solve the mystery almost seems less accurate to the experience!
Basic information: Sora is losing his memories, but is restoring new, buried memories (a fact that has only now been “trickled down” from the intermediate level). Jiminy and other characters like Aerith and Finkelstein are beginning to posit that these buried memories may have been buried for a reason. So now we get our newest information: the girl in the castle was Sora’s friend, and one day she disappeared. Why would this memory have become repressed? We’ve seen the girl, yes, and on the basic level that might suggest she’s alive, but how have we seen her? With her white-blond hair, white dress and pale skin, her slight frame and tiny sprite in the GBA and the way the 3D games never focus on her face, they all give a picture of ethereal fading. She blends into the white walls of the castle, the white of her sketchpad and chair. This is a castle of memories, filled with the ghosts of those present and foes gone, and here we have a girl we can’t focus on from shot to shot. She could so easily be a memory, one of the true, repressed memories at the heart of the castle and in Sora’s heart-of-hearts.
Sora’s description of her leads up to this in its own dark way. She was never playing. He describes her as sitting back while the others swam and play-fought, like she was too weak to join in, making me wonder if she had a lingering illness. Sora’s description of the adults’ reaction – adults we’ve never seen and barely heard – also imply that something happened that the adults had to explain why Sora’s friend was gone, “just like that,” but Sora did not grasp the reality. And besides, how can you leave the Destiny Islands? She can’t have moved away. The islands are the size of a hamlet, with water in all directions. The only way off the islands was to have them destroyed in a cataclysm of darkness.
Keep in mind also how the games are perched on that swing from childhood to the teenaged years, and the admiration of both that I talked about in Hallow Bastion. Disney would be hard-pressed to talk about an issue as sensitive as this, but Kingdom Hearts…?
Jiminy Cricket notes how strange it is that Sora is remembering “instead of” forgetting. He then reneges on that statement because of course Sora is forgetting things. C’mon localization team, these lines are one sentence apart! Thankfully he gets to the point: “Maybe you need to forget things to remember?” Yes, Jiminy, I thought you already had a grasp on this. To find is to lose and to lose is to find, you were the one who suggested that. The audience shouldn’t be lapping you except in extremes! Donald and Goofy get excited about this, hoping that they too will forget things so that they can remember things (ugh). With that, we head off to the next floor. They probably wouldn’t be so eager if they remembered Oogie Boogie, having remembered his true memories and proven incapable of accepting them.
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).