Kingdom Hearts CoM – Is that a trident behind your back or are you just… uh…

Floor 7 begins with another scene between Axel and Larxene, this one actually well done. They’re spoiling us! Larxene comes back into the room saying “Whew… Throwing the battle back there really wore me out.” And Axel says: “Really? It looked to me like you just plain lost.” This is hilarious, why can’t they be dicks to one another like this all the time? Also, it’s interesting to see how we’ve gone from Axel definitely throwing the battle at the end of Floor 1 to Larxene only possibly throwing the battle at the end of Floor 6. Sora is getting stronger, and in a few more floors you know that we’re finally going to beat someone fair and square. Also, if Larxene gave you trouble in the boss fight, Axel’s line probably feels refreshing.

Their spat is interrupted by the arrival of a new Organization member, a pale-haired fellow named Vexen, voiced by Derek Stephen Prince of Digimon and Bleach fame (he was also the voice of Elgar and Treacheron on Power Rangers, and of course I’m going to point that out). Vexen is much older than the other Organization members we’ve seen so far, which Axel sees fit to point out later in the conversation (I’d say Axel and Larxene were in their early twenties, but I’ve known Square Enix long enough to imagine they might be in their late teens). Axel asks what brings Vexen “topside,” our second hint that this Castle has a basement, and Vexen says that he’s not sure Sora is worth all this trouble everyone is putting him through. Vexen loudly announces that he is A Scientist and Scientists Do Research. No, no, keep reading off your two-point character description, that’s fine, I don’t have to make you look simplistic if you’re going to do it for me.

It seems that despite the implication that certain Organization members are “topside” and others in the basement, Axel knows Vexen’s ulterior motives as though they’ve been working together every day. Either Vexen is talkative or Axel has snooping around, and I wouldn’t put either past either of them. Axel accuses Vexen of just using Sora as an excuse to test his “valet.” Larxene calls this person a toy. Nevertheless, Axel tosses Vexen another World card, which in 3D versions is clearly the World card for Destiny Islands. In the background, we see Riku step into the picture, back in his dark armour.

Back in the halls, Sora is still so upset about Naminé that he’s running to the next door. And that’s it. It’s like we had this scene just to establish that Sora moved into the next room like he always does. Sheesh, this is two floors in a row!

Okay, so, we’ve got four more World Cards, and yup, they’re the (nearly) only remaining worlds from KH1 that aren’t Deep Jungle. Once again, some general advice:

  1. Don’t be afraid of Atlantica this time around, as there are no swimming controls, or anything else that would make your life difficult for that matter. Atlantica is more tedious than hard, since Atlantica’s HP Sponge enemies carry over without any rebalancing to make up for the change in controls. Ursula is easy in the GBA version, though fairly challenging in Re:CoM.
  2. The opposite for Neverland: Captain Hook is easy in Re:CoM and hard in CoM. Very hard. If you felt you did okay against Larxene, go after Captain Hook now while his stats will be weak. If you didn’t do well against Larxene, put him off, but be careful just how long you put him off.
  3. Hollow Bastion has some solid difficulty without any notable extremes. It’s not too easy or too hard. If you’re wary of all the other remaining worlds, it’s time to knock on Maleficent’s door.
  4. 100 Acre Wood is weird. There are no monsters in 100 Acre Wood and there are tons of prizes, just like in KH1, but by playing the world, you essentially “skip” a floor. This means that floor’s room layout is lost, and (as far as I can tell) Heartless on the next floor will be two floors harder than you’re used to, instead of just one. You’re going to have to got to the Wood eventually, so if you’re feeling really comfortable with your progress, it’s probably time to go visit Pooh.

No matter what world you pick, it’s going to be jarring to see Sora walk out of Castle Oblivion raging about Larxene and then walk into a Disney world as casual as ever. Especially Atlantica, which as you might have noticed, is still underwater.

“So how come we can breathe?” Sora asks. I’d like answers too! Would anyone else like to ask why you’re walking along the ground? Have Sora’s clown shoes been filled with concrete all this time? You probably don’t have to be a programmer to figure out what happened: the CoM team brought you back to Atlantica and couldn’t be bothered to implement swimming controls. Or didn’t want to, considering so many people hated those. So they’re just… having you walk along the bottom, without a care in the world. Sora and the gang rationalize it as quickly as possible, run into Ariel (who doesn’t even mention the fact that the others are walking), and everything is hunky-dory. It’s so weird, you’ll be too confused to laugh when 3D Ariel shows up trying to hide her dad’s massive trident behind her back! “I wonder what that was?” Donald says, as Ariel swims away without you, quoting the GBA script where Ariel wasn’t obviously holding a trident the size of flagpole.

Atlantica’s overworld is predictable in the 3D versions, featuring clamshells, bouncy sponges, the works, though few of it is worth mentioning. The clamshells for some reason cough of a whole pile of stuff instead of the usual spread of items. Also, as I said earlier, the GBA dev team did draw a new overworld Heartless for this world (the Sea Neon), and it’s a huge relief, but doesn’t break up the monotony nearly as much as you’d want.

One thing that is strange about Atlantica is that it has two Bounty prizes that you unlock one after another, breaking the pattern form every other floor to date! And no explanation for their doing so, either! A leftover from the days when Deep Jungle was included… maybe?

The plot finally gets going at the Room of Beginnings, which turns out to be Triton’s throne room. There, Sebastian is throwing a fit, since he’s discovered Ariel and the trident are missing. Hey, buddy, don’t worry. Triton can’t catch you if the devs chose not to include him in the game!

Sora and the others decide not to tell Sebastian they just saw Ariel, and since Sebastian says Flounder might know where she is, the player can probably guess that we’ll be talking to him next. One curious note: Sora and the others recognize the mermaid they saw during the intro as “Ariel” even though she never introduced herself! It might be a mistake in the writing, but I don’t think it’s impossible that they worked out her name with the help of a few context cues?

Sora collects a Key to Rewards card in Hollow Bastion.

This is where I’d typically talk about mechanics, so let’s talk about one the game just introduced on this very floor: the Key to Rewards. The Key to Rewards is the fourth kind of gold key, and so will never show up in a Roulette Room. Unlike the Keys to Beginnings, Guidance and Truth, the Key to Rewards is dropped by enemies like any other Map Card, but it’s only ever dropped in the latter half of the game. I have a suspicion that the odds of it dropping may increase the more battles you go without finding it, because I’d swear I always find it within the first two or three fights on Floor 7. And that’s not a bad time to get it, since it makes it easier to leave the floor and go back to an old one. There are Rooms of Rewards on every single floor of the Castle (except the floor you use for 100 Acre Wood), and there are special, high-quality prizes available in each world. You’ll want to get as many as you can, or to check a walkthrough to see which ones are worth your trouble. Just be careful, because the moment you leave a floor, the whole room structure is erased and you have to start over!

Which Rooms of Rewards are worth visiting? Agrabah gives you the Warp sleight in Re:CoM, which is one of only two ways to kill White Mushrooms and potentially get their Enemy Cards, so if you’re going for Card Master Sora, best get started. Where do you get Warp in the GBA version? Unfortunately, it’s on a later floor, well after you get the other White Mushroom-killing Sleight that comes as a mandatory boss reward in that version. As a consequence, Warp is nowhere near as appealing in the original release.

(By the way, the Reward in Agrabah for the GBA CoM is an absurd, GBA-exclusive Sleight called “Blazing Donald” where you set Donald on fire and have him run around the room, catching Heartless on fire in his wake. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.)

Remember when I said the 2D version has a limited set of overworld sprites?

Hollow Bastion has the Mushu Summon, which isn’t valuable on its own, but is an essential component of Sora’s best Heartless-slaying Sleight, Mega Flare, which can easily wipe out multiple waves of Heartless in one use! Mega Flare itself is gained by levelling up to 52/57 (depending on version), so there’s no rush to get the Room of Rewards in Hollow Bastion.

Re:CoM will give you Super Glide on the final floor, which is handy for running around.

In both versions, the big winner is the second-last floor in the game (which is preset), as it gives you the almighty Megalixir card. This card refreshes your entire deck, even cards you’ve lost for the rest of the fight (save for other Item cards). And it refreshes your reload counter back to 1! But that’s a long way off, after this set of World Cards, so don’t be afraid to use the Key to Rewards elsewhere in the interim.

Of course, it wouldn’t be good advice if I just told you the beneficial stuff. The worst Rooms of Reward are Neverland, which just gives you a mild Strike Raid upgrade and an unremarkable Keyblade if you’ve unlocked the Clear Bonuses (see below). Keyblades don’t make very good Room of Reward prizes, since you only get a single copy at first, at which point the game adds them to the general rotation. You’d need to invest piles of Moogle Points to build up a useful collection of them, and as a consequence, unlocking a shitty Keyblade from a Room of Rewards is no news at all. Even worse is Olympus Coliseum, which gives you two Keyblades between the base game and Clear Bonuses. Yikes.

Since I’ve talked about Rooms of Reward and Bounty rooms, I suppose this is as good a time as ever to talk about Clear Bonuses, since they’re our last mechanic to cover… ever! The general idea behind Clear Bonuses is that you have to beat the game to unlock them, after which they’ll be found in Rooms of Rewards or Bounty Rooms. So why mention them here before the game is done? Well, the silly thing is, you don’t necessarily have to beat this game to unlock Clear Bonuses. The KHWiki lists numerous types of Clear Bonuses, and I’ll give you a short list here.

  1. Beating this game adds the Ultima Weapon Keyblade to rotation, and makes it possible to find the Enemy Card of the final boss if you know where to look.
  2. Clearing a major upcoming part of this game gives you the Diamond Dust and One-Winged Angel Keyblades. By the way, the three Keyblade cards I just discussed are exclusive to the top three floors (ie, they can drop from breaking things, Bounty rooms when you’ve already found the unique prize, etc), so it might take you a while to find them. Try a Moogle Shop on the final floor.
  3. In Re:CoM, you can also unlock a number of cards by beating a later game in the series. For real! These include Enemy Cards and Keyblades from that other game. If you’re playing the Japanese PS2 release, you need to have a completed save file for KH2: Final Mix+. In the North American PS2 release, these cards are unlocked alongside the cards in #1. In 1.5, simply “complete” the 1.5 version of 358/2 Days.

By the way: yes, the Keyblades are different if you’re coming over from KH2:FM+ or Days. They’re not even statistically identical!

If this is your first time through the series, I don’t recommend you skip ahead in the story by watching Days or playing KH2 just to get a tiny bonus. Trust me, you’ll just end up confused. No matter how Square Enix has packaged things, KH2 was meant to be played after CoM, and Days was meant to be played after CoM and KH2. But if you you just picked up a new copy of 1.5 and have already experienced every game in the series at least once, by all means finish Days and unlock some cards!

Well, that’s it, that’s the basics. We’re finally done. When I first went into this Retrospective, I figured that I would cover all the basics and then move on to advanced techniques. But you know what? There’s probably no better way for me to cover advanced techniques than to just address them as we come up against the hard bosses. Congratulations folks, we’ve got a nearly game mechanics-free ride from here to the end of this set of worlds! Full steam!

To my surprise, you don’t catch up to Flounder in the Room of Guidance! No, you catch up to Ariel, without Flounder’s help. It turns out there’s a good reason for that: Flounder has gone missing, and Ariel is meeting with Ursula to help find him. Ursula seems to have told Ariel that she needs the trident to “save” Flounder, or something to that effect. The implication is that Flounder has gotten close to humans and is bound to be fished up at some point. Ariel says she needs time to think, since she knows not to trust Ursula. You only have to see so many Disney movies before you’ll realize that Ursula has kidnapped Flounder herself, and Sora’s lived through Disney movies, so even he’s caught on to this scam.

Re:CoM accidentally cuts a line of dialogue around this point where Ariel says Ursula’s name out-loud. As a result, Sora never has a chance to hear it, so when he uses it a few lines later, it seems like he’s plucked Ursula’s name from the ether in this version!

Sora and the others come out, and he, Ariel and Donald all talk about how Ursula clearly can’t be trusted, which is honestly kind of hilarious (and a little cathartic, if you’re coming back to this game from… no, but I shouldn’t get ahead of myself). They decide they should go talk to Ursula together, and Ariel joins as a Friend card. She has a physical attack, something that seems odd after her being a caster in KH1, but is appreciated, since caster Friend cards are awful in this game.

At Ursula’s Lair, the Key to Truth room, Ariel demands Ursula prove she can save Flounder somehow, so Ursula just shows her hand, revealing she’s had Flounder all along. “I knew something was fishy!” Donald, don’t be racist. Ariel reluctantly hands over the trident, and Ursula nearly repeats her awful line from KH1 about sending Ariel to the world of the Heartless like she was some kind of 4Kids villain. Oh, she stops before she gets to the worst of it, but it’s still pretty bad.

Ursula then grows into a giant, gets the crown for no reason again for no reason, and also… did she just destroy her house by Rita Repula-ing herself indoors? How is this supposed to work?

The fight against Ursula is relatively complicated compared to other giant-sized bosses you’ve fought up until this point. It’s not a rehash of the original KH1 fight like some of the others. The idea behind the fight is that you’re supposed to defeat Ursula’s tentacles so that you’ll be able to attack her head. Yes, you’ve got it: the same as nearly every squid or octopus fight in every video game ever made! Like in the Oogie Boogie fight, you can also use Gimmick cards to bring Ursula toward your platform without doing the busy work of defeating the tentacles first. Unfortunately, there’s no way to encourage Gimmick cards to drop this time. Ursula also approaches on her own from time to time, but this is very infrequent, so you’re going to have to rely on the tentacles.

This is probably the first giant-sized boss in the game that is really going to force you to watch your opponent’s cards. If Ursula throws down an 8, there’s almost nothing you can do about it unless you just happen to have a lot of 9s and 0s on hand to play, and she has a lot of 8s (Ed. Oh shit, I just realized it’s a a reference to be her being an octopus!). It’s a slow and measured fight, and if Square Enix could have turned this sort of mechanic into an easier-and-faster-to-kill minor enemy or some other part of the game, we might have all learned to play CoM naturally instead of through walkthroughs and long-winded critical retrospectives.

Beating Ursula gets you her Enemy Card, which grants the Final Fantasy spell Shell to Sora. This halves magical damage. It certainly sounds useful, especially against members of the Organization, but I’ve never used it myself and have never heard anyone recommend it, so I’ll leave the fancy discoveries up to you this time.

Sora and the others return to the real world in Ursula’s (intact) grotto, where Flounder and Ariel reunite, and we learn that Ariel’s biggest concern is that she’ll be “grounded” for taking the trident. And the rest of the ending plays out as though this were a legitimate concern? They even have Sebastian show up calling for her like she was a kid lost on a schoolyard, even though this is the home of an evil sea witch! Are we hitting our grade school PSA quotas, Square Enix? Ariel just stole the Atlanean equivalent of nuclear launch codes, gave them to a terrorist, and then murdered her! And they say “Grounded!”

Of course, this is another poor setup for something tangentially related to Sora’s journey in Castle Oblivion. Sora suggests Ariel lie and say that Ursula stole the trident, and Ariel heroically saved it, but Ariel says while she made a mistake, she made that mistake to help Flounder, and she’s proud of that. “Blaming someone else would mean giving those feelings up.” Wow, that’s… actually very mature. CoM carrying forward with in-depth emotional analysis yet again. The only downside is that I’m not 100% certain how this applies to Castle Oblivion and the main plot? You could say it relates to Sora being willing to do anything to reunite with Naminé, but I can’t help but wonder…

Hm. I might have to let this stew a bit. Long story short, Jiminy Cricket chastises Sora for wanting Ariel to lie (it’s surprising they don’t have him play the role of Conscience more often, honestly), and we return to the castle.

Back in Castle Oblivion, who should be waiting for Sora on the other side of the Conqueror’s Respite but Riku? We all saw this coming, given his partial appearance at world’s start. Sora speaks for all of us when he asks what Riku’s doing here. Please note that when we last saw Riku, he was being sealed in another dimension by the power of two Keyblades and a really big door. Please note this, because Sora will only maybe imply that he remembers this happening. Maybe the Castle’s removal of his memory is at fault, but if Square Enix is trying to get new players up to speed, the fact that Riku shouldn’t be able to be here is important information!

All on his lonesome.

As something of a general note, for some reason the remake chooses to remove Donald and Goofy from the scene and several of the others between here and the end of the game! I guess they would have taken away from the dramatic tension, or the devs didn’t know how to animate their reactions? Nevertheless, I shouldn’t have to say how strange it is to see two characters fizzle out of existence at the will of the plot.

Adding to the surreal feeling of your missing teammates, Riku starts going off on a speech that’s extremely similar to the ones he was giving in KH1’s mid-game – that is to say: he’s implying Sora is too busy being a hero to be concerned with him. But before you can start wondering if this Riku is a memory, he clarifies: Sora says he came all the way to Castle Oblivion to find Riku, but Riku points out that whoops! Sora’s been wrapped up remembering Naminé pretty much from Floor 1. Think about it. The whole time we’ve been in this castle, Sora has mentioned Riku something like twice. I’m too busy high-fiving Riku for his take-down to care if he’s a memory or not.

This scene has great lines in both versions, so I’m going to quote it wherever I please. GBA version: “Now it’s Naminé this, Naminé that. You don’t care about me any more than you care about how Naminé feels.” Wow. That was smooth, you went from burn to accusation in one move! Tell me more, you silver-tongued jackass! Re:CoM Riku explains: “Just cuz you want to see Naminé—sorry—doesn’t go both ways. Tell ya the truth, Naminé doesn’t even want to look at your face.” Oh shit! Are you seeing this? This is amazing! Not just the burns, the number of new layers being delivered in every line. Learning about Naminé without Sora’s rose-coloured glasses, some new implications about what Riku knows… it’s fantastic, or at least it is when the Re:CoM script isn’t tripping over its lip syncing issues, but that almost goes without saying.

When Sora asks why Naminé wouldn’t want to see him, sounding truly hurt as he says it, Riku tells him to ask his memories why Naminé disappeared from the islands. Wow, uh… I don’t know how to read that? Did she leave because of Sora? Kids don’t typically get to control where they live… and what about my theory that she’s dead? I surely can’t believe that Sora killed her. This doesn’t make any sense one way or the other! Did Vexen slip Riku a lie?

Riku recovers his armour of darkness and his Soul Eater, two things you’d think he’d have abandoned at this point in his life. Hm. Riku attacks Sora, saying he’s sick of looking at his face. Yeah, this is… not where we left off with Riku. Something is up – the question is, what? Let’s leave that discussion until the start of Floor 8 when the characters will present their own possibilities. In the meantime, we’ve got another boss to fight.

Riku here is not a challenge, which – for me, anyways – adds to the impression that something is wrong. Remember, Riku was always the trickiest boss of the worlds where you found him in KH1! He doesn’t seem eager or able to use his serious dark powers (specifically, he has no Sleights), so if you can beat Larxene, the only thing keeping you from thrashing Riku is the fact that you’re just now getting used to his patterns. Maybe he was toned down just in case you went to 100 Acre Wood as your first floor, and were walking into a boss fight unprepared? I don’t know. Riku was even easier in the GBA version, and I feel silly having dragged out this paragraph as long as I have.

Having beaten Riku, you win the Aero spell, which isn’t the same thing as the KH1 original. Goodbye, friendly shield spell! This Aero is an area attack, not worth writing home about and certainly not worth hiding from the player until the last steps of Floor 7! Thundaga outclasses it in all but knockback. It is, however, a major component of the Warp Sleight and its counterpart, Warpinator, so you’re going to want it if you’re going to hunt any White Mushrooms for Enemy Cards.

Having lost the battle, Riku runs off to the next floor, unable to catch his breath. While we’re on the subject, did else notice that Sora leaves Riku alive but Riku is apparently so pissed that losing gives you a game over as though he murders you? I’m not sure if I should read too much into that, as game overs are weird. Now Sora, c’mere, let’s have a talk. You tried to make it clear to your friend that you didn’t want to fight him, right? Now make it extra clear by running him down while exhausted and doesn’t want to be pursued! Atta boy!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts CoM – Genie, get me a danish!
Next: Kingdom Hearts CoM – What’s Her Name, What’s His Name, and Bob

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).