Today’s entry opens up with Vexen take 2. I am this… I am this close to talking about the danger of CoM’s endgame bosses, but no. I will trust in the cleansing power of Fire. That said, Vexen is much more dangerous than he was at the end of the previous floor. Vexen now has the Air Pirate Enemy Card, which will make his Item cards (Elixirs) unbreakable for the next three reloads, and remember that using an Elixir doesn’t count as a reload! He also has his own Enemy Card, which triggers Auto-Life. This ability will restore his life somewhat if he dies, like an upgraded Second Chance. Just to rub salt in it, he’s gained nearly ten high-value attack cards over his initial set. He also has new Sleights. Firaga, don’t fail me now! If all else fails, advice from later in the retrospective could help you carry through.
Beating Vexen gets you his Enemy Card, which does all of the above, plus makes you immune to Ice but weak against Fire. It sadly won’t be of much use to you since you just defeated the game’s biggest ice boss, but it probably discouraged the use of Ice in multiplayer matches back in the day.
Vexen is surprised by Sora’s strength, “even at the mercy of your memory,” (remember, the strength of one’s heart is tied to one’s power in this universe). In GBA, he actually says that you’re so dangerous that you must be killed, which was probably cut for censorship reasons. Sora demands he fix Riku’s memory, but Vexen laughs at him, and in the GBA version says that Sora just doesn’t understand (perhaps cut to draw that mystery out?). He explains: “The Riku you speak of… has but one fate, to sink into the darkness.” …That didn’t explain anything! Vex, you’re totally at his mercy and are actively trying to hurt Marluxia by giving Sora spoilers. What do you gain by being cagey?
It seems Vexen is still desperately trying to coax Sora to figure out about this “other side of the heart” riddle. He warns Sora that if he keeps trying to find Naminé, “the shackles will tighten, you’ll lose your heart… and end up becoming Marluxia’s pawn!” Well, thanks Vexen, we worked that out a few worlds ago, what we’re wondering is how and why! But okay, fine, Sora has to catch up to the players.
Of course, Sora doesn’t even know what a Marluxia is, and he doesn’t get to find out because just then, one of Axel’s chakrams flies past from off-screen and strikes Vexen. “Yo, Sora. Did I catch you at a bad time?” That’s fantastic, five points to the 3D version. “I came to stop you from talking too much… by eliminating your existence.” That’s terrible, negative infinity points from the 3D version.
Axel gets a few more great lines in the GBA version, which were greatly reduced in the 3D because it’s just so brutal, with Vexen begging for his life. In both versions, Axel does say the following line, finally confirming that a “Nobody” is a thing like a Heartless for GBA players. Gonna combine the better parts of both versions:
“We’re nobodies, Vexen. We’ve got no one to ‘be’ — but we still ‘are.’ But now you can be nothing instead of just being a Nobody. You’re off the hook.”
In the 3D versions, Vexen is still screaming when Axel says “Goodbye,” snaps his fingers, and sets Vexen on fire. In the GBA version he just attacks him again, which isn’t nearly as stylish, so a few more points back to the 3D version. I do wish Quinton Flynn’s casual and cruel “goodbye” had a better sample because it sounds like it got cut off at the start.
When Vexen dies, he fades away, which is… a little disappointing, another let-down caused by copying the GBA version a little too closely. In KH2, dead Organization members are consumed by their elements. It actually got them in trouble with the ESRB in the US with one member in particular, but we’ll get to that later. Seeing Vexen freeze over would have been a fantastic and morbid death, which is exactly what this scene is going for, as you’ll see once Sora gets to react. Sora doesn’t know the term “Nobody,” as far as he knows, he just watched a human being die! Well, sure, he killed Clayton and Maleficent but… uh… no comment. He’s still clearly taken aback, and stammers “What are you people!” And Axel says “You know, I’ve wondered about that myself.” Axel bails.
You’re left to walk out of Twilight Town on your own. At the far side of the Conqueror’s Respite, we see Axel’s return to Larxene and Marluxia. Larxene says “Good riddance to the blabbermouth,” which should tell you a lot about Larxene if you were still looking for a handle on her. Axel asks Marluxia if he was using Vexen to test Sora, but Larxene says it was also a test for Axel. Vexen’s death is actually even more complex than that, but two steps at a time! Marluxia and Larxene wanted to test Axel’s loyalty, because Marluxia is the one in charge of that conspiracy Larxene mentioned a while back! He’s trying to use his power base here in Castle Oblivion to conquer the Organization from within, and with Vexen dead, that’s one loyal member down, and one conspirator gained! Of course, the players know that Axel is a double agent…
Now that he’s in the inner circle, Axel if this is where they try to finally get control of Sora. Larxene and Marluxia agree, and Marluxia condescends to Naminé that the hero she was looking for is almost here. Naminé sounds very upset, but forces herself to say that she’s glad. Marluxia tells her: “try not to do anything to hurt Sora’s feelings. Am I clear?”
He then gives her a strange request: “All you need do is layer the memories, one by one, and bring his heart closer.” Hey, is this railroad we’ve been on for the past 11 floors starting to feel a little wobbly? Something is up, and in the same way it doesn’t match the existing evidence, it starts to fit others. Even the most ardent theory would start to shake at this point, but we’re just getting started.
Marluxia and Larxene abruptly leave, which is pretty arbitrary. Larxene has been in this room for every minute of the game except the fight with Sora, but okay. Naminé is talking to herself, asking what will happen if Sora does come for her. “What then?”
Back on the 11th floor, Sora and the gang return to Castle Oblivion to find Riku waiting for them yet again. “Riku!” greets Sora. “You’ll hurt Naminé if you go further,” says Riku. Well hello to you too! You know, there’s a line in Ryan North’s Choose-Your-Own-Adventure parody of Hamlet, To Be Or Not To Be, where you’re “playing as” Ophelia and Laertes shows up at your door. “Hello,” says Ophelia. Laertes replies: “If you sleep with Hamlet you’re a slut.” Pin-point parody for North, but that’s the problem here in CoM: the line sounds like a joke.
Sora’s shocked, because he was really, really convinced that Vexen was keeping Riku under mind control, even though no one else in the party was espousing that belief at any point, even though it wasn’t based on any evidence, and even only came up with it in a rage almost a floor ago. Sora wants to think the best of his friends that badly, that Riku couldn’t be mad at him without an external factor. A man is arguably dead because Sora wants to think the best of his friends this badly. That’s… that’s great, Sora.
Riku is willing to be rational today. He says in plain English that he’s protecting Naminé from Sora, though he doesn’t say why. Instead, he says that “That’s what’s in my heart,” echoing Sora’s line to Vexen. He then explains that when they were kids, Riku made Naminé a promise that he would always protect her. He explains: there was this meteor shower…
Yup, it’s the same memory Sora had, though note how Riku carefully excises the childish part about batting a star back into outer space. Dork. Riku is just as shocked as Sora when Sora reveals that he has the same memory. Sora, however, can back it up, by showing Riku Naminé’s lucky charm, that yellow star he’s been carrying.
Riku is pretty upset to see this, David Gallagher finally getting to emote instead of react to the dubbing process, thank goodness. In the GBA, a version I vastly prefer in this instance, he pulls out his own charm, saying his is the real one. He could be right, you know! It’s just as flat and boring!
In Re:CoM, there’s a sudden flash of light on Riku’s forehead and he lurches before pulling out the charm. It makes it perfectly clear – entirely to the story’s detriment in my opinion – that something is wrong in Riku’s head, and that his memory of the charm isn’t genuine. In the GBA version, both factors remain ambiguous. You do quickly learn that Riku’s charm isn’t real in both versions, but the GBA still buys something from those few minutes of ambiguity, and the mystery of whether or not Riku’s memory is genuine continues, where in Re:CoM it’s obliterated by that tiny spark. After all: just because Riku’s charm isn’t real doesn’t mean his memory isn’t! Sora took Riku’s Keyblade once – when I first played the GBA, I wondered if he accidentally took his memory and charm in Castle Oblivion, too!
The two boys end up in a scuffle over this debate, and it’s time to fight Riku yet again, fight #3. The biggest change here for Re:CoM players is the introduction of Dark Firaga, which was introduced to the GBA in Riku 2. The GBA version gets nothing so colourful – you can see why the remake shuffled things around to add some variety. In all versions, Riku has more Elixirs and a whole new set of cards linked to basic attacks, on top of a larger number of cards in general. On a side note, trying to use Sora’s sleights to weaken or destroy cards from a late-game bosses’ deck is honestly a waste of time – some of those Sleights really just exist for the GBA multiplayer and look silly in the remake.
This is a tactical explosion for Riku, but it might not be enough for him to topple you. I’ve noticed that most players seem to find him easier than Vexen 2! If you’ve been relying heavily on Firaga to defeat Vexen, that’s not going to work quite so well here, but the tactics that carried you this far through the game will still help you beat Riku 3. I promise, the end-game bosses are coming… but not yet.
Clearing Riku 3 unlocks the Mega-Potion, to keep your Mega-Ethers company.
One interesting detail was added to about this fight in Re:CoM. Before the fight, Riku was saying Sora’s charm was the fake, but in Re:CoM, his defeated voice clip says: “You’re the fake.”
Riku stays in the room for a while, panting, when suddenly he can’t take it any longer and he bolts from the room, dropping his charm behind him. Sora goes to collect it, and it transforms in his hand into the World Card for Destiny Islands. We last saw this card in the middle of the game, when Axel gave it to Vexen. Vexen must have transformed that memory-card into this memory-laden keepsake, but why?
You move to leave, but for the first time in the game there’s a cutscene at the very foot of the stairs. Donald voices the thoughts of the player, saying he just doesn’t get it. Sora says they should keep moving and that it doesn’t matter why things are happening anymore, just that Naminé is in danger. Donald and Goofy team up and put their feet down against their friend, asking why Riku would have the same memory.
Sora is pissed at this, presuming that his friends think he’s lying about having the memory. He says they can talk to Naminé and she can clear it up. (Let’s ignore that if Naminé were here, her memory would probably be flubbed too. True, the Castle doesn’t seem to be affecting the Nobodies, but we’ll hold off that sort of discussion for later. Besides: Sora doesn’t know Naminé is a Nobody or what Nobodies even are). Donald and Goofy then ask the other pertinent question. Why is Sora getting more and more hostile about Naminé? They remind him that he didn’t even remember her when they came to the Castle. “Now Naminé is the only thing you talk about.” Goofy says that they should calm down and take a sit to think this through. I’m glad Kingdom Hearts is letting them be the kind of friends that can point this out, and that they’re doing it at these early signs of Sora’s aggression.
Unfortunately, Sora is not taking this. He seems to think Naminé is in immediate danger, and storms off from the others. I presume they let him go to give him some space, because believe it or not, Sora is alone for the entire length of the next world, the Destiny Islands (recreating the fact that he didn’t know Donald and Goofy when he was on Destiny Islands, a nice touch). You know you trust someone if you trust them to be alone in a monster-infested dungeon!
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).