While Sora and Aladdin run off to the Palace gates (once again never entering the Palace), let’s wrap up the one remaining central game mechanic: Sleights. Sleights aren’t hard to understand once you understand Combo Attacks, or at least at the basic level. Out once you try to put them into action, you’ll find things are a little more complicated than they may have seemed.
The easiest way to explain Sleights is probably to talk about spells. If you play one Fire card, Sora casts Fire, right? But if you stock three, he’ll cast Firaga, and god help any poor Blue Rhapsody that fly in front of your Keyblade during that. Two-card sleights are a little more complicated, in that the cards have to be stocked next to one another: Fire -> Fire -> Keyblade means Sora will cast Fira and then swing his keyblade at dead air, but Fire -> Keyblade -> Fire is just a combo attack. This simple Sleight pattern applies to every spell, Friend Card and Summon, so it’s not even something you have to remember. Have two Goofys? Play two Goofys and get an upgraded spin attack from our shield-wielding friend!
The trouble comes when the Sleights get more involved than this simple two/three card matching game. For example: Fire -> Keyblade -> Keyblade is “Fire Raid” (assuming you’ve unlocked it), a Strike Raid variant with extra burning. Aero -> Blizzard -> Fire is Homing Blizzard. There are near a hundred sleights if you count simple repetitions like doubles and triples, some of which are only in the GBA CoM and some only in Re:CoM. (Re:CoM also starts you off with two more Friend sleights to make Donald and Goofy more attractive.) How are you going to keep track of them all?
Well, say my little mantra with me from the previous posts: “Make a deck so you don’t have to think about it.” Unless you have a gifted memory, there are just too many possible Sleight combinations to keep in your head at once. Oh, you’ll remember a few basics, but wait until we get into Keyblade sleights. Keyblade sleights are offered when you level up, and are super exacting. They are very picky about whether or not the Keyblades can be the same type, different type, or any combination at all. They also need to be between particular numbers: Sliding Dash must be three Attack Cards of the same type totalling between 10-15. Good shit. You see why I say you have to plan the deck ahead of time!
On top of it all, there’s the last great chore: you can’t set up Sleights without cards, and that means finding the cards and gaining the CP to use them. This is going to take up the majority of the game. I’m usually satisfied with my deck just in time for the endgame rush, and that’s if I get lucky. We’ll be talking advanced strategies in the second half of the game.
With so many variables in the air, it’s no surprise many players just… give up on Sleights! This is a devastating mistake, though I can’t blame any of them after all this confusion. The game truly does expect you to use Sleights, and if you don’t, the difficulty skyrockets. The funny thing is, once you do have a handle on them, the game can get too easy. Sonic Blade is murder on bosses. Lethal Frame is like putting Organization members in a juicer. If you prep your deck specifically to use Lethal Frame over and over, you’ll mow down most bosses almost without a fight! Elementally weak bosses buckle under –aga spells, which is even simpler!
All you really need to do to win in CoM is prep, and the worst part of that prep is that awkward first step: when the game essentially asks you to go from setting up your deck blindly to setting up your deck deliberately, with no tutorial for advanced strategy. Once you’ve made that step, CoM will become a lot easier and a lot more fun. Even without a deck built to use broken sleights, a good deck means pretty much smooth sailing to the end of the game. And that’s what I’ve been going into all this detail for.
So, okay, I promised you a catastrophe in the Key to Truth room in Agrabah. No problem, I’m as excited as you are!
Sora, Donald and Goofy run into the Castle Courtyard. Jafar is there, and he notes that Aladdin isn’t among the group. But then, without so much as taking a threatening step towards Jafar, Sora puts away the Keyblade in the 3D version and shouts “Aladdin, now!” and Aladdin jumps down from a nearby ledge! In the 2D version, this means Jafar is surrounded and against a wall! Good plan! But in the 3D version, it means that Aladdin is now… standing next to Sora and the gang, and might as well have walked in with them! In fact, he’s actually kind of behind the trio? He probably wouldn’t be able to get into the fight without, let’s say, tripping over Sora?
And Jafar freaks out at their shitty formation and wishes Genie to restrain Aladdin. Just Aladdin, no one else. Oh, and the wish apparently doesn’t last into the boss fight so apparently the wish was only to hold on to Aladdin for the next twelve seconds.
And apparently this was the plan? The good guys got him to waste his wish… somehow… and now he’s down to two. They say this means they either have to wish for Genie to defeat them (yes, their plan was that he would try to defeat them in two separate wishes instead of simply saying “Genie, banish them to the arctic circle”), or he’ll have to defeat them on his own so he can save his third wish to make Jasmine to fall in love with him… which any fan of Aladdin knows Genie can’t do in the first place. Congratulations, writers! Did I mention that Jasmine is unconscious on the ground again to save the GBA team from redrawing her sprite? This is like a beautiful mural of shit.
Of course Jafar wishes to become a Genie, and we return to the lava room from KH1, and Sora calls attention to the fact that this is horseshit by saying “Jafar must be doing this!” Also Iago is here now despite not showing up at any earlier point in the plot. What in the name of the late Howard Ashman happened to this world?
I’ve got to give some credit to the boss fight, for what it’s worth. I actually prefer the CoM Jafar Genie fight to the KH1, even though it’s treading similar ground. In KH1, you chased down Iago over an uneven terrain with a few randomly moving platforms. In this game, you’re still chasing down Iago over only a small series of platforms (1×3 in the GBA, 2×3 in Re:CoM) which move in relatively predictable fashion, but now the platforms are all moving, and they move in responses to cards played between you and Jafar, meaning this is still a boss fight against Jafar, unlike in KH1 where it’s a boss fight against Iago with Jafar in the background. Between trying to control the platforms and surviving when things go wrong, it makes the whole thing more strategic instead of a tepid platforming segment where there’s never any danger in the first place.
Jafar has some high-valued cards during this fight, and will rarely drop all the platforms to fire a laser at you, but he has long pauses between his attacks, so you’ll only want to break his cards when absolutely necessary. Many of his attacks are easy to dodge so unless you’re trapped on a bad platform, you’ll be in good shape. Gimmick Cards will flatten the entire arena at the top, making chasing down Iago even easier. It’s just a satisfying boss battle to me, at least in the remake. In the GBA, there are only three platforms and it’s all too easy to get caught on the left or right staring down Jafar with no room to dodge. That’s a little harder to recommend.
Jafar’s enemy card is pretty handy, preventing enemies from breaking your Keyblade cards, though it doesn’t work in reverse, i.e. it doesn’t allow you to break enemy cards unless the card was already strong enough to do so. (A card that does the opposite – breaking enemy cards but not protecting your own – exists in Re:CoM as a “Clear” bonus for beating the game.) This is still one of the most powerful cards in the game, and deserves a place in any deck that can afford it.
To wrap up the plot, the party gathers by the Palace Gates. There is no sign of Jasmine. Jasmine has walked off the set to yell at her agent. Aladdin wishes for Genie to be free, you get the Genie Summon card, and nothing of surprise or emotional impact happens to anyone. The end.
Just a few steps back into the infinite white halls, and the trio are surprised by the arrival of Larxene. Having had three too many bad encounters with people in black cloaks, they arm immediately. Larxene gets straight to business, and accuses Sora of not remembering his lost friend’s name. She says the girl will be heartbroken to hear it, and when Sora asks if the girl is here, Larxene actually says: “You see, the bad guys are holding her captive somewhere deep inside the castle. And you obviously are the hero, so you have to go save her.” This… tells you a lot about Larxene, doesn’t it?
Larxene uses this as a pithy setup to announce that she is a “bad guy” and she rushes Sora, causing a simple, star-shaped pendant to fall from his clothes. I do mean “simple,” I’m afraid to say that thanks to the pendant appearing in a few of the GBA’s 3D cutscenes, they had to make this pendant as low-poly as possible. It’s clearly just a flat plane with 2D shading, but I believe it’s supposed to be an origami star with depth. Sora handles the prop in 3D as though to imply depth that isn’t there. Unfortunately, the 3D team dutifully replicated the flat star like they have so many other mistakes from the 2D version that shouldn’t have been carried over.
Sora doesn’t seem to recognize the pendant, but Larxene insists that he’s been wearing it all this time. Whether she’s telling the truth or not, it seems Sora does remember the charm to some degree, as he is able to gradually remember the name of his long-lost friend. Unfortunately, Larxene is going full-on villain speech mode in the background, detracting from the moment. It’s a failing shared by both versions. Thankfully Larxene will snap back to normal in a few lines and recover.
Sora hits on the name: “Naminé.” Larxene says that he’s right, but then returns to her schoolyard bully act and says that she’ll tear the charm up since he clearly doesn’t care about the friend. Sora jumps away, insisting the charm is precious to him. Larxene snaps that a minute ago he didn’t even know what it was, and begins a duel. Larxene is in her element being a jerk, it’s nice to see.
The fight against Larxene is a step above what you’ve been dealing with in the first six floors. Unless you did Olympus Coliseum on Floor 6, at the highest possible difficulty, you haven’t seen anything quite like it. Larxene is armed with the power of Thunder and a series of knives that she uses like claws, called the “Foudre.” Like Thunder, she is very fast, and has some big area attacks, so if you aren’t ready in terms of agility and a good deck, you’re going to be in trouble. She also has Yellow Opera Enemy Cards in her deck to boost her spells. The Yellow Opera’s not so bad that I’d bring Parasite Cage to disable it, but it still warrants some extra attention. Like many character bosses, Larxene has her own Enemy Card, but it just makes her run faster, so it’s not much of a threat to anyone.
All that aside, this is a “first half of the game” fight. You won’t find this comforting if she’s grinding you into the brick, but it’s still true: this fight is easier than it could be. If you can set up your deck to use Sonic Blade, or have a number of 0 cards, using them can overcome the worst of Larxene’s attacks. Remember this one good piece of boss-fighting advice: bosses in CoM rarely have alternate phases. The faster you can deal damage to them, the less opportunity they have to damage you. All the more reason for you to get in those Sonic Blades.
Failing all else, that new Jafar card can be pretty handy. And if Agrabah was the last world you were in, any grinding you do there will net you Moogle Points from Aladdin, so it’s not a total loss.
Defeating Larxene gets you the Thunder spell, which seems belated after six floors. It’s pretty much useless on its own, but if you stack it up to Thundaga it becomes one of your better area spells.
After the fight, Larxene admits that Sora is a hero. “A heartless hero!” I’m not sure if the wordplay is intended. Larxene says if Sora’s going to be a baby, he should go play in the next set of World Cards instead, and she tosses them to him and vanishes. Sora is so furious that he starts shouting at the empty room, and Donald and Goofy have to talk him down. It’s actually kind of shocking, and unlike certain other outbursts I’m afraid I’m going to have to describe in the future, wholly believable. Larxene’s hitting Sora in his love for his friends, and for Sora, that’s where it really hurts, and he even seems to be overcompensating his attachment to Naminé just to justify the outburst to himself. When Donald and Goofy do calm him down, he says “I hate her. It’s not fair that she’s the one who made me remember… Naminé is too special for that.”
Wow, this is actually pretty nuanced. What a nice way to wrap up such an awful Disney entry. Thanks Sora! Your suffering is our entertainment.
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).