There’s no setup cutscene for Floor 13. You can talk to Donald and Goofy as NPCs if you want to, like on every other floor, but that’s it. The door is wide open, so there’s no need to even use a card to open it. These breaks in tradition are all signs that the game is finally coming to an end. On the other side of the door there is no memory-world: only the bare walls of Castle Oblivion.
The Thirteenth Floor lacks all level design nuance. All nuance whatsoever. It’s just a one-way horseshoe loop with a tail and the gold rooms sticking off of it at odd angles, creating the longest tunnel in the game. And yes, even though we’re now inside the physical structure of Castle Oblivion itself, we’re still making the rooms out of memory cards. I suppose I could come up with a headcanon as to why this is happening (the Castle is simply consuming his memories but doing nothing with them?), but nothing has ever satisfied. I can’t see it as anything but a design artifice. Likewise: why the hell are Donald and Goofy still trapped on Friend cards?
In the opening cinematic, Sora, Donald and Goofy promise not to be dicks to one another again and to make it through to the other side. They rationalize that since Sora has stuck to his “childhood promise,” then promises must be strong enough to overcome any forgetfulness. …You all know the promise wasn’t real, right? This “All for one and one for all!” moment restores the Trinity Limit sleight. Trinity Limit is much more useful in this game than it was in the original, where it cost you all your MP. Here you just need is a Keyblade, a Donald card and a Goofy card – you can even put them in any order (well, nearly: in the remake, the new “Wild Crush” Sleight uses Goofy->Donald->Keyblade). If you use Trinity Limit, every minor enemy on the screen will die. Just like that. With that happy note, and we’re off to the final floor.
At this point in the game I’m usually too tired to drag on for room after room after room of Heartless when the ending is so close and I know from experience that if you can beat Riku and Larxene, you can beat the game. You’ll see me throwing down Blue Card after Blue Card: all enemy-free rooms I can skip through to get to the ending. Two Moogle Rooms, three Save Points and a Calm Bounty or four. Naturally, the thirteenth floor is the best floor in the game for EXP, it’s just kind of hard to care.
The biggest reason this floor is great for EXP is the newest enemy, the Neoshadow. While the Neoshadow isn’t quite the beast it was in Final Mix, it’s not the blow over it will be in every game to come as it comes backed with high cards and fast attacks. They’re a little less impressive in the GBA version, though their card values are just as high. Thanks to the Neoshadows’ high cards, they’re the most dangerous Heartless in the game, and enemy groups on this floor are usually three waves thick. I like to use Trinity Limit on the final wave just to get on with life (or Mega Flare on the first wave, since that spell lasts so long that you might take out the second wave, too!). A few Shadows and Neoshadows may survive by shrinking into the ground, but it’s better to fight just them than the dozen or so Heartless that used to be there.
Accompanying the Neoshadow are Hollow Bastion Heartless, mixed with… generic start-of-game Heartless? Hell, in Re:CoM you see Red Nocturnes used to represent enemy groups the overworld. It’s not as though there haven’t been any Red Nocturnes in other parts of the game, but they haven’t been on the overworld for most of it. This design choice strikes me as a reference the GBA version, but not a very wise one. Imagine if you were crawling up the apocalyptic spire of doom in a Final Fantasy game, and standing in for all the powerful dragons and demonic giants on the overworld is this horde of plain, everyday Goblins you haven’t seen in the past seventy hours!
The normal doors in Floor 13 are more demanding than regular doors on other floors, as they don’t follow the usual pattern of 1-2-3-4-5-… You’ll even see an =0 door, when the game has otherwise let you keep your 0s as wildcards! To make things even weirder, Floor 13 advances the plot as you move to certain normal rooms, not just in the Gold Rooms. This probably accounts for its boring, boring linear structure. But let’s not worry about that, let’s laugh at how Naminé gets kidnapped by a mysterious figure (in the GBA, it’s clearly Marluxia) before Sora gets more than four rooms away from her.
After you pass room #10, the game cuts to Marluxia. Marluxia is strolling to god-knows-where in what turns out to be the Key of Beginnings room. I’m not kidding about him going to nowhere: the room has two doors, but the second door is never used even when you get there yourself. I wonder if the room was supposed to be a part of the horseshoe at some point, before Gold Rooms were closed off after visiting them at some point in development? Axel appears and Marluxia stops in his tracks. Of course that doesn’t stop him from mouthing off, calling Axel a traitor.
The delivery gets awkward here in Re:CoM, especially for Axel. Marluxia was furious in the GBA, as he has every right to be, but the remake took him down to neutral to make him appear impassive, which I feel hurts the scene (the GBA has snappier delivery overall thanks to his original personality). In both versions, Axel confirms that the plan was to use Naminé to control Sora to take over the Organization, and he says that that makes Marluxia the traitor, not him. When Marluxia snaps about Axel killing Vexen, in the GBA version Axel says: “All I did was weed the garden,” which is very curious. In Re:CoM he says he didn’t want to kill Vexen, which is far less interesting and, as a later game will show, outright dishonest without any reason to be dishonest.
Axel says that Marluxia’s order was to eliminate “the traitor,” and there is a good moment in Re:CoM where Marluxia realizes this is Axel’s segue to try to kill him. They fight the beginning of a fully-animated, extended battle here in Re:CoM. You’ll see the rest of the fight when you catch up to them.
Returning to Sora, you continue to meander through the longest floor of the game. You know, Kingdom Hearts is usually good about not doing the extra-long final dungeon thing. I think CoM and DDD are the only ones to bother with an oversized final dungeon, if you can excuse KH1 and coded having extra-long penultimate dungeons (in KH1, I’m referring to Hollow Bastion). Extra-long final dungeons are a relic of attrition-based RPGs, and I don’t feel they have have a purpose here in most action games, even CoM. KH1 showed that a final dungeon full of unique ideas can be more interesting than a long one, and I wish they had stuck with that throughout the series instead of hopping back and forth.
The halls of Castle Oblivion do have the usual variety of “world”-specific traps. They are dotted by beautiful stone flowers that bloom if you hit them, releasing prizes (both versions), and in Re:CoM some of the flowers contain blinder traps for enemies. There are also a number of strange objects that glow red in Re:CoM, like a tall flower that will only yield prizes if you hit it while it is glowing, and a set of flying bells. Re:CoM also has special trap flowers that must be broken with a combo, and until they do, they attack with an attack that seems to have been a backport of the “Claymores” from KH2 – a circle mark on the ground that rises up as an energy column to strike you. We’ll talk more about the Claymores once we get to them in their proper home.
The Room of Beginnings door is heavily locked. It’s nothing compared to the Megalixir door on Destiny Islands, but on the other hand, if you did grab the Megalixir, you’ll be short on cards by now! Unfortunately, the game does want 99 points of cards on top of requests for Red and Blue cards (that 99 is a great place for a Random Joker if you didn’t spend one at the Room of Rewards). Notice the lack of Greens: the plot doors won’t kick you out for being short on Greens, which is very polite. The game has one additional surprise waiting in the wings: this is the last traditional Gold Door in the game, as the final boss door is unlocked by default! If you aren’t going to be playing the post-game, there’s no need to be afraid of throwing away your remaining resources… just so long as you have enough cards to finish navigating the rest of the horseshoe map to the finale.
Wait, hold on for a minute, I’ve been holding something in: why have we been using the Key of Beginnings in all these floors with less than three Gold rooms? The card is really dinky and unimpressive, and the game keep using it to lock the way to critical story bosses like Vexen. Why not just use the big cards, the Key of Guidance and Key to Truth? Imagine you’re playing Ocarina of Time. You’re in the eleventh hour, Ganon’s Tower, and you fight off not just one but two Iron Knuckle midbosses at the same time, each armed with axes the size of dinner tables. But after you beat them, instead of earning a giant gilded box with a boss key to open the way to the final battle with Ganondorf, you get a teeny wooden box with the same, small iron keys you’ve been picking up all the way along the game? That’s what bothers me about the Key of Beginnings.
Inside the Key of Beginnings room, Axel and Marluxia continue their fight, and it’s very impressive and makes me wish we could have seen a few more extended battles in Re:CoM. Too bad it’s mucked up by shitty line delivery. Hell, at one point, Marluxia even calls Axel out saying “That line’s not you,” when Axel says he’ll kill him for betraying the Organization! It’s probably supposed to convey that Axel has no reason to be this loyal to the Organization for its own sake, but it just sounds like it’s insulting the dialogue! Which deserves it! And funnily enough, “That line’s not you” is probably Keith Ferguson’s best-delivered line! It’s probably because it’s the only time he doesn’t have to put on this stuffy, stoic persona that Marluxia has in Re:CoM, or maybe he just happens to agree with me about the line sucking, so it comes across as natural! Keith, I wish you had got to voice the Marluxia of the GBA game instead of the remake.
The fight ends when Marluxia makes an unusual decision: he summons Naminé to use as a human shield, confirming that he was the kidnapper. Wow! He captured Naminé. The girl you left in his capture. If only there could have been a way to prevent this.
In the GBA, this just sort of happens, but Re:CoM has much better presentation: he’s standing over her almost twice her height, with his hand on her head. It’s incredibly sinister, Kudos. Axel laughs that Marluxia thinks he’d care about a human shield. I’m not entirely sure why – isn’t Naminé the Organization’s prisoner? Don’t the rest of the Organization want her for something, wouldn’t the higher-ups be upset if she dies? In Re:CoM, the idea of Axel attacking Naminé is downplayed (presumably to downplay the violence), but in the GBA he outright threatens to kill her, in a groan-worthy Disney way: “Your little mascot can keep you company in the void.” The distinction is important, because this is when Sora comes in.
In the GBA version, Marluxia points out that Axel was going to attack Naminé and bolts. In the remake, because Axel never threatened Naminé at all, Marluxia has to change his lines to allude to Axel possibly killing Naminé. He also doesn’t flee the room in Re:CoM, disappearing at a later point. But would you believe it: Sora’s kind of blasé about Axel going to attack Naminé in either version! It seems out of character at first, but he says that he’s going after Marluxia next one way or another, so there you go! He’s not blasé, he’s just succumbed to the cold-blooded killing instincts we knew he always had! Axel says he and Sora have “more in common than you know,” but that he has a reputation to uphold, and the fight begins. (In Re:CoM, it’s the Organization’s reputation he wants to uphold? Marluxia just said that Axel isn’t motivated by the Org!)
So, Axel 2. …He’s weak to ice, and I shouldn’t have to say much more. I’m looking at the wiki and it says some consider him even stronger than Marluxia (I presume they mean Marluxia’s first form), but I just can’t imagine it. If you got this far in the game, you had to have beaten Larxene, an Organization member without elemental weaknesses, which means your deck is going to be strong and efficient. And once you’ve taken your efficient deck and thrown in all the Blizzard cards you can carry, he’s screwed! The strategy I’m seeing at the wiki is extremely complicated and involves hundreds and hundreds of points worth of Enemy Cards, so I can’t help but the think the real issue that makes Axel “harder than Marluxia” is bad strategy. Now, I can understand someone getting trapped in a corner like that! Haven’t I been complaining about this game not teaching you good strategy this entire time? Maybe the wiki is just trying to present all possible strategies to help someone modify their own, and I can respect that, but I can’t recommend following their strategy to the letter. This is a game that, as weird as it feels, rewards good deck building and rewards unfair deck building even better, and as a result I feel better about my performance when I’m practically cheating! It sometimes isn’t worth the price it costs to play fair. Lethal Frame, Blizzard Raid, Blizzaga, Blizzaga, Blizzaga.
One thing to be aware of in the Axel battle is that Axel now has the ability to do short teleportations if he’s in danger, at least in the remake. I’m not quite sure what triggers this. He definitely seems to use it as a defence against Sleights, and it’s such an effective defence against Lethal Frame I can’t help but suspect that it may have been introduced to counter Lethal Frame specifically! As a result, I recommend you engage your Sleights to counter Axel’s basic attacks, as he’ll flinch when you do this and won’t be able to teleport away. This doesn’t always work but it’s better than praying for luck. Unfortunately, this does limit your options, since some Sleights use weak cards by design and so aren’t any good at breaking your opponent’s hand (Ars Arcanum and weak Blizzagas should be handled with caution), but for Lethal Frame the strategy is sound. One last thing to keep in mind is that Axel’s Enemy Card causes the user to no longer flinch while it’s in play. That can put a damper in your plans but could be very helpful once you get it for yourself.
Back in the plot. Axel says that maybe it was worth saving Sora after all, and Sora asks what on earth he’s talking about. Axel starts fading away like the others have, and says: “Sorry, I would hate to kill the suspense.” As much as I’d like to believe Axel really did just die, leaving us with a cliffhanger, the scene just doesn’t work for me. The biggest problem here is that there’s no reason to believe he truly is dead. The scene just fails to sell that to me in either version. It’s hard for me to put into words except to just say that I never believed it! It’s so bad that on the GBA that I didn’t realize we were supposed to think he was dead at in the first place!
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).