We return to Marluxia and the others in the crystal ball room, where we continue the confusing split between GBA and 3D versions created by the last Organization cutscene. In the GBA version, the Organization members are responding to Vexen giving Sora the World Card to this mysterious new world. It seems this is bad news. Larxene says “The show’s over if Sora finds out about the other side,” but Axel, showing what actually seems like worry, says that things will be fine if Sora “passes through without catching on. […] But if not…”
Marluxia’s response is strange. “Let Naminé handle this.” Huh? Meanwhile, he tells Axel: “you know what to do.” Axel wants to hear Marluxia say it, so Marluxia spells it out: “Rid us of our traitor.” In the remake, Axel then says one of my favourite lines for him: “No taking that back later.”
Besides the last few lines, the remake’s version of this scene is very different. The Organization members don’t mention the new World Card at all, and are still talking about the fact that Vexen might try to kill Sora as a result of Marluxia’s taunts. Axel says: “If Sora disappears, that would mess up the Organization’s plans.” Marluxia then orders Axel to kill Vexen, same as before. While the GBA version is being cagey about it, Re:CoM has put all the pieces down for you to see: Marluxia sent Vexen after Sora in the first place so that he would have an excuse to kill Vexen – that’s why he never gave him explicit orders to kill Sora, but simply provoked him. It’s a bit more obvious with the voice actors, since Quinton Flynn essentially says: “Boy it sure would be bad if Sora died out there,” until finally Marluxia gives the order.
Let’s be clear: Marluxia has the same motivations in both versions (to kill Vexen), the GBA version is just employing subtlety and the remake preferring clarity. The only possible difference is this: in the GBA, it may be that Marluxia was hoping Sora would kill Vexen and Axel was only his Plan B, but in the remake it’s Axel all the way. That’s what they meant when Axel said “[Vexen] has no choice” and Marluxia said “Neither do we.” He wasn’t saying they have no choice but to kill Sora, but that they have no choice but to kill Vexen!
Between these two scenarios, we now have a more complete outline of the villain’s plans in front of us… even though we’re not supposed to have it. The Retrospective format will do that. The new question is: if Vexen wasn’t being executed for giving Sora the new World card (again: Marluxia doesn’t even react to the card in the remake), then why did Vexen need to die in the first place?
For the record, I prefer the GBA scene here on Floor 11, not as a matter of mystery versus clarity, but because of Vexen. Vexen gives Sora the world card in both versions. In the GBA, it’s clearly an attempt to hurt Marluxia’s plans. In Re:CoM this is probably still true, but since Marluxia and the others never react to the new card, it never comes across, and Vexen seems to have no motive for his actions at all!
Back in the main hall, Sora and friends are discussing a card from “the other side of your heart,” and Sora notes that they don’t have any choice but to use it. Sora, I would really appreciate it if you would just grab the door handle and yank it a little. Just to prove to me that it doesn’t open on its own. Please?
Inside the memory halls, you’re introduced to the new world: Twilight Town (although note that only the player learns it’s called “Twilight Town.” Sora and friends do not learn the world’s name). Twilight Town is a pretty humble place, which looks like it’s perpetually setting down for the night. Sora can confirm that he’s never seen the place at all. Donald supposes that Sora may have forgotten Twilight Town like all the other places, which just upsets everyone for how many memories they’ve lost. Sora tries to cheer them up by reminding them of the memories he’s remembered, which is… wow, just egocentric. Donald may very well have forgotten his girlfriend at this point, and he hasn’t remembered a thing in retun!
Sora recounts the time he made his promise to always protect Naminé. He explains that he made the promise during another of those way-too-frequent meteor showers. You know the ones that profess doom for the world because they represent the Gummi wall around it being torn down by the Heartless? But no, go on! You’ve already had two of those and only one actually destroyed your world, so I’m sure three won’t do any more harm!
Sora says that Naminé was afraid that a shooting star would hit them on the islands, and Sora, brazen as ever, promises to hit it back into space with his toy sword. Naminé thanked him, and gave him her lucky charm, and so Sora took that as a lifelong promise to protect her forever for some reason. I may be in the minority with this, I think his present-day commitment to a promise made at the age of six or seven whatever is kind of extreme. I know childhood promise tropes are ancient, and we’re lucky they didn’t promise to get married because I’m pretty sure that’s the childhood promise law, but none of these cliches mean that I turn my brain off.
Just then, a ghostly image of Naminé appears (once again, in Re:CoM, this is behind Sora’s shoulder) and she says “I’m so sorry. All this, because of me…”
In terms of gameplay, Twilight Town is boring. The world exists largely to sequel hook Kingdom Hearts 2, and it looks like Nomura handed the developers at Jupiter maybe two or three sketches and then went off to lunch. There’s barely anything here! Barely any features, barely any Heartless (Shadows, Soldiers, and Air Soldiers, the dross of the dross), and thankfully, barely any rooms. There’s an indication that there’s a clock tower in town via the title card, but you barely see it. It’s an abysmal first impression, and played absolutely no part in my decision to buy and play KH2.
For what it’s worth, Twilight Town’s theme, “Lazy Afternoons,” is a classic, as is its combat theme, “Sinister Sundown.” But those are about all it’s got going for it.
The only interesting thing about the world is that it’s short: Key of Beginnings Room, optional Room of Rewards, and that’s it. There’s no Key of Guidance or Key of Truth rooms this time. Oh, and there’s a dead end path on the map, presumably to mislead GBA players looking for the Room of Rewards. Remember that the Room of Rewards wasn’t marked on the GBA map! In Re:CoM, it just looks silly, because all the rooms are marked on your map and Twilight Town looks like it has a tail for no reason.
Did Re:CoM improve the world now that KH2 was out and Twilight Town was presumably a part of it? Nope! In Re:CoM, the springboard is a really weird retractable manhole cover that didn’t even appear in KH2. That’s… weird, but it’s also all I can say about the entire world!
But do you want to know what’s worst? It’s the fact that once you catch up to Vexen, he’s levelled up as though you’ve been through a properly-sized world, so unless you’ve been grinding you may be behind the level curve! Maybe this is the developers’ acknowledgement that Vexen is Frosty the Snowman and you can melt him in just a few casts of Firaga, but I still think they were planning on a larger world between you and him, and given the low-effort nature of CoM worlds, they should have provided!
You meet Vexen in the Room of Beginnings. This room is the front gate outside a large mansion in the forest, though in the GBA, the terrible camera angle will only let you see the mansion for three seconds before panning to look at the road.
Sora and the gang have this awful conversation where Sora says he’s starting to have déjà vu about this place (either Twilight Town or the mansion/gate, he doesn’t specify), but the game refuses to use the term “déjà vu,” and so talks around the subject like it was a dictionary! I’m not sure why this is happening: does Japanese not have an equivalent term? Or are the localizers just “writing down” to accommodate for child players? This goes on for far too long, in the middle of which Sora insists the feeling of déjà vu is not like his memories of Naminé, which came to him more slowly.
Vexen arrives, asking Sora if he feels nostalgic. He more seriously asks if Sora which feels more real: his memories of Naminé, or his “familiarity” with Twilight Town. Vexen says that memory can be cruel: “In its silence, we forget. And in its perversion, it binds our hearts firmly.” Re:CoM uses “obsession” instead of “perversion,” and both are good for what he’s getting at even if Re:CoM may have been censoring.
When Sora starts getting irritated at the riddles, Vexen explains again that the Twilight Town card came from the other side of Sora’s heart, and the other side of the heart is the part of Sora that remembers. We have no way of knowing what that could mean, but Sora denies it anyways. This means it’s time for Vexen to do a title drop: “If you remain bound by the chains of memory, and refuse to believe your heart… then you may as well throw your heart away. You are not a Keyblade master—just a slave to twisted memories.”
There are a few levels to this title drop that I want to address, though sadly many of them are out of our reach until you know where the plot is going! For the time being, note Vexen’s approach to memories. He considers them binding and restrictive. Vexen is a Nobody – he lacks memories, but also lacks a heart, and seems to hold the idea of a “heart” in a sort of elevated position. He considers memories a burden over the power of instinct, or if not “instinct” then some kind of true nature.
Vexen is giving us an interesting starting point, but if you think back, the memory-world segments paint a more complicated picture. Let’s look at them by theme. First, several of the Disney worlds seem to support Vexen’s theory. Note that Vexen addresses only “twisted’ memories in his speech. The ghostly Aerith in Traverse Town talked about memories misleading Sora, while Halloween Town and much of the main plot have talked about “true memories” (which, by now, I think we can openly address as “repressed memories”) buried by mis-remembered events. In this segment, Vexen now formally ascribes the memories the structure of a chain: one leading into another, and points out that they can lie to you and bind in those lies. Like Dr. Finkelstein said: memories degrades as a matter of course, and clinging to a false memory…
Vexen also connects Sora’s heart to agency. He claims that if Sora isn’t listening to his heart, being guided by the false memories, he isn’t really tapping into his strength, and so has no agency. Remember KH1: Sora claims his heart is his strength, tempered by his connections. If Sora’s memories were false, it would indeed change his heart and his strength, leaving him helpless. Note where Vexen is coming from. Vexen lacks agency at the moment: he is bound by ties to the Organization to obey Marluxia. Vexen’s ties to the Organization came about because of his status as a Nobody, a being with no heart. It’s reasonable for him to connect a lack of a heart with a state of servitude. We see a similar sequence of events with Cloud, who lost his agency in his quest to recover his memories, and the Queen of Hearts, who maintained personal power but was easily fooled by a lie into believing something different.
There’s another major theme in the memory worlds that agrees with Vexen in a more optimistic way, which is frightening, because it makes it more likely that Vexen is correct. Notice that many of the Disney worlds focus on honesty: that is to say, maintaining true memories. Ariel wanted to tell her father the truth because she did what she did to save a friend. Pinocchio wanted his father to face the truth so that the join of their reunion would continue in the real world. This makes sense with what Vexen is saying: by being honest, you prevent yourself from becoming a slave to the lies.
But there’s one other theme running through the memory worlds that doesn’t seem to agree with Vexen: reunion. There are themes of reunion in Agrabah (however forced), 100 Acre Wood, Neverland and Hollow Bastion as well, not to forget worlds I’ve already mentioned like Monstro, Atlantica, Olympus Coliseum, Traverse Town… most of them, in fact. This doesn’t seem to tie in with Vexen’s warning at all… or does it?
Let’s look back on another definition of “chains.” Chain bind, but chains also link. For starters, if KH1 is correct and one is strengthened by their experiences with others, than that bond too could be considered a “chain of memories.” This chain wouldn’t be binding, but connecting. This is what we see in Atlantica and the other worlds with the theme of reunion. The game has not touched on this angle yet, but it’s coming, and the observant reader will see its early birth in Vexen’s convenient, titular metaphor. We’ll see more of both before this is over.
(Ed. Hey, by the way, did you know the Kingdom Key’s Japanese name is the “Kingdom Link?” Me neither! I just learned that the other day, a year after I posted this! Interesting, interesting…)
We’ll be coming back to the title drop. But for now, Vexen makes things more interesting by saying that if Sora doesn’t escape the bonds of his twisted memories, he’ll become a slave to them: “…Exactly like my Riku.” He then says that Sora’s “existence is worth nothing,” which sounds really stilted, but knowing what he’s trying to say from a post-CoM, post-KH2 perspective, I don’t feel the devs were wrong to phrase it the way they did. Vexen is relating Sora’s value as a slave to Vexen’s sense of personal value as a Nobody, a “nothing.”
Sora is still reeling from Vexen claiming Riku belongs to him, and starts shouting. One weird detail in this is that he seems to have misunderstood Vexen: he says “I’d never throw away my heart,” which Vexen was warning him not to do! Sora, buddy! He’s on your side with this! Sora’s misunderstanding goes a long way to explain some of what happens next. Vexen actually smiles when Sora calls him a liar! For the time being, Sora says that what is in his heart is that he’s going to save Riku and Naminé, and the fight begins again.
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).