After beating Axel it’s a short walk to the end of the game. Along the way, the game gives you a handy door that will accept any map card (a 1+ door) just two rooms away from the final, so that you can easily place a save point, Moogle Room, whatever you want. The door to the final room is already open when you get there, which is awfully generous. Finally, you step into the final chamber decorated with some lovely flower motifs (though I highly prefer the ones in the GBA – the remake looks like a wall of ivy with a trelesse, but it’s not working for me), backed by a great, white door.
In the GBA version, Marluxia is glad you’ve killed Axel, but says that he figures it’s not so much Sora who’s responsible for killing Axel as the Keyblade. This is a good line, and even raises a few questions about whether or not he’s right. We have seen that Sora is the Keyblade’s preferred wielder, and that the strength of his heart is the reason for that, but it does raise the question of how much of Sora’s strength is the Keyblade, and how much of it is the strength of his associations and heart, leading to him having the Keyblade.
Marluxia starts musing about using Sora to conquer the Organization, and in the GBA, Sora reminds us that he’s a teenager from the early naughties by shouting “Get real!” Marluxia then presents his trump card: he’ll just have Naminé erase all of Sora’s memories. That’s… not a bad plan, actually, presuming he can still force her to do what he wants. Since he probably can’t, his plan is scuttled, but I appreciate that he recognizes how dangerous it would be to actually fight Sora.
In the GBA, there’s a critical change here. It seeds an idea that lasts for the next two games and I can’t believe they cut it from the remake: Marluxia specifies that Naminé could only erase (“uproot”) the memories that she planted in the first place, but that, in doing so, “Sora’s heart will collapse and all his memories will be torn asunder.” It really drives home the idea that memories are a chain, one linked to another. This is going to be relevant in a different way than Marluxia thinks and I can’t believe they cut it after they had already written KH2 and were probably writing Days, and should have known better. Marluxia rationalizes that after Sora’s heart has been torn apart, he can rebuild Sora to his liking. It seems to me his heart would be too weak to keep the Keyblade in that state, but hell, what do I know?
In Re:CoM, most of these key points are here but all of the specifics have been gutted, and the whole scene strikes me as inadequate in comparison.
Naturally, Naminé refuses to destroy Sora’s heart after the kindness Sora has shown her. When Marluxia starts to threaten Naminé – he barely gets out a sentence fragment! – Sora leaps at the opportunity to martyr himself to this stupid cause and volunteer to have his mind shattered so that Naminé will be safe. I mean, he’s just so eager! Dingus here starts spouting about how even if he loses his memory, he won’t lose his promise to her. The promise he never actually made. It’s really quite disturbing to see him chasing after this falsity. Sora is so lost in lie that he has no other purpose!
What makes it even worse is that Donald and Goofy announce that they’ll help Sora remember if he sacrifices himself. I can’t help but wonder if this was meant to be heartwarming, in which case I have to take a stand and land an adamant no. This scene bothers me so much. Sora is completely lost in this lie that he’s lost his sense of self and is fully consumed it. I understand that Donald and Goofy are just trying to be good friends, but we’re getting so close to the suggestion that Sora’s condition is somehow heartwarming when it’s… not. Thankfully, we have Marluxia to set things straight.
Marluxia starts pointing out how stupid and awful this situation is (the lore about Nobodies isn’t 100% clear quite yet, but if you do know the specifics, you can see he has even more reason to be upset, another reason I feel this is supposed to be sinister). In the process, he mentions the Riku Replica was utterly destroyed when Naminé erased its memories. Of course, the Replica uses this as an excuse to make an entrance. Yes, he’s fine, and he admits openly that he’s not Riku but a replica. Riku says that everything was taken from him, but because the memory of the promise to Naminé was not true to either him or Sora, he may as well claim it as a sort of foundation memory for his new life. Wow, this is… look, I want Riku here to have a basis and identity as much as anyone, so I’m willing to let him live in a lie a little longer, and even better, at least he admits it’s a lie, unlike Sora? But this really is turning into the Childhood Promise Power Hour, and the fact that no one is listening to or asking for Naminé’s thoughts on the matter make it all the worse.
It’s going to get a little worse in KH2, but there’s this thing that happened in CoM and KH2 where the writers seem to stop treating clichés as an easy means of conveying storytelling information (that’s what clichés are good for) and started treating clichés like an objective in-and-of-themselves. Childhood promises aren’t treated as being a quick setup for character relationships and motivations, or a hearwarming reminder of the innocence of childhood (again, what they’d be good for), but as something that Must Be Adhered To As Iron Law. The cliché has somehow become more important to them than any actual characterization?
Think about KH1’s use of The Rival and imagine it was worse. Imagine if Riku had attacked and humiliated Sora not because they had begun to fall apart and he had been coerced, but because it was of Utmost Importance That They Be Rivals. You won’t have to imagine hard, because even though Riku had complicated reasons for his actions, he nevertheless said exactly that: “We’ve always been rivals. I’ve always pushed you, and you’ve always pushed me. But today it ends.”
I’m reminded of every time I’ve had a creative writing teacher preach Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a paint-by-numbers writing strategy instead of a piece of cultural analysis (and yes, that happened more than once). Moments like this in Kingdom Hearts read like a time traveller from 2002 mistook TV Tropes for a gospel of the Muses.
Marluxia once again becomes my hero by calling everyone out on this trite horseshit, and this, this at least makes me feel that someone on the writing staff realize this was stupid, because Marluxia gives us our third, concluding title drop. “You [Riku] would chain your heart with false memories? Cast your heart’s freedom aside?” No one counters him, and I feel he’s pretty much just presented as being correct: Riku is grasping at straws and it’s going to hurt him in the long run. That doesn’t make the previous dialogue any less painful, but it helps a little. Knowing what fans will eventually learn about Nobodies, this outburst is actually a little heart-wrenching because Marluxia has plenty of reasons to be mad at Sora and Riku for throwing away their own identities. Marluxia summons his scythe, and the fight is on.
Riku doesn’t help you in this fight – let’s pretend he’s warding Marluxia off of Naminé – so it’s up to you, Donald and Goofy to do your usual thing. This first phase of the battle is conducted to the track “Graceful Assassin,” which KH2 will use as Marluxia’s title after it gave all the Org members special titles retroactively. It’s a great track, which is the first opportunity I’ve had to say that all game. Remember in KH1 when I couldn’t shut up about “iconic” tracks until we were all the way to Wonderland? Those were the days.
(You’re probably not wondering about the titles of the other Organization members, but too bad: Vexen was “The Chilly Academic,” which is awful. Axel was “The Flurry of Dancing Flames,” which sounds less like a title and more like a performance appraisal. Larxene was “The Savage Nymph.” Sure, why not underline the fact that she’s the only woman in the entire group, it’s not like we don’t already need to talk about this. You’re probably starting to see that these titles don’t translate very well and come off as stilted, which is probably why they were cut out of the English localizations as often as possible.)
The fight against Marluxia can be rough, but I’ll be honest: I don’t have much good advice for fighting Marluxia that I haven’t given you already. This is because by the time I fought him, my cheese deck had become so powerful that he couldn’t even get an attack off, and it wasn’t even very fun. I just cheated my way to victory with Lethal Frame and Sonic Blade. He’s got Axel’s defensive teleportation ability (in fact he seems more aggressive with it), but that’s about it. Perhaps he is easier than Axel. If so, that’s good news. Frankly, I stick to my boast from earlier: if you can beat Larxene, you can beat the game. This guy’s just a bump in the road.
This is also where the game loses its godforsaken mind. Nothing related to Marluxia for the rest of the game makes the slightest bit of sense. It reeks of hacked or rushed writing. I’d suspect that something happened to the development in the eleventh hour, but it seems unlikely given the amount of… *cough* post-game content. If anything suffered from a delay or budget problem, it shouldn’t have been the main body of Sora’s story, and yet, here we stand?
After the fight, everyone is wondering if Marluxia is dead (something they should have asked about Axel) when Marluxia’s voice announces that no, he’s fine. That was only an illusion of him. Oh, what the fresh hell is this? It’s like they pried this spack of gum off the bottom of the cliché barrel with a prybar. Not just the bottom, it had seeped into the cracks and was starting to work its way to the floor before it fully congealed. How old is this cliché? Moreover: what purpose does it serve? What would have been lost if the game had let you fight the real Marluxia and then he simply escaped?
Marluxia appears, and the Riku Replica takes a swing at him, only for the game to reveal that – surprise! – it was another illusion. Where is he getting these? They will never show up again! The game is just ripping open plot holes in the floor here. It’s like a chasm is opening up before my eyes between the acceptable story we used to have and where we are now. Do you have any idea how many problems the existence of perfect combat duplicates will create in the games to follow if we pretended they still existed? Or even just in the previous parts of this game? Of course they’re never brought up again, they’re a complete disaster!
But we’re not done. Just wait, just wait until you hear this. The group all decides that the big white door is hiding the final battle, and Sora insists he can feel Marluxia’s power on the other side. And in the GBA version, that’s it, and good riddance. But in Re:CoM… have you ever seen that episode of Futurama where Leela says: “Fry, didn’t I tell you stop telling your stories one sentence earlier?” Re:CoM just has to add “I can feel his power. It’s trying to destroy my heart.” What? What on earth are you talking about? Marluxia is trying to destroy your heart through the door? And I’d have let it slide if they didn’t continue this during the battle, by using Marluxia’s battle quotes to imply that Marluxia is somehow trying to break Sora’s memories on his own, even though he’s shown no signs of having this power before. “Soon the emptiness will shatter your heart—here in this world of nothingness!” Maybe I’m reading a little too much into this. But they were the ones who added it like it was important enough to be included, so now I have to address it! Where is he getting these powers? All the game is giving me is its middle finger!
Before the fight picks up, you get to dawdle about the hall, exactly like the rooms between floors, which is unusual and helps this feel like a divide between one level of challenge and the next. Naminé and the Riku Replica are there as well, and Riku promises to cover Naminé while you’re gone. This is a good idea: the place is still packed with Heartless, and goodness knows how she’s been walking around so far, but you’re not supposed to ask questions about NPC travel. Sora and Riku coming to terms with one another is probably meant to be seen as a character moment, since it finally gets into Riku’s head that Sora was never fighting against him to “win” Naminé in the first place. Unfortunately, the plot is falling apart in front of my eyes, so I find it hard to connect Riku’s previous actions to his current, more self-aware personality, and that makes it less than a bullseye.
The final battle with Marluxia gets weird almost immediately. You know how KH1 insisted on having an infuriating flying battle at the end of the game instead of letting you fight on your own merits? This isn’t quite as bad as all that, but the fight is very, very strange on the GBA especially, definitely an instance of style over substance. Marluxia appears riding a… how do I describe this? It’s called the “Spectre,” and it looks Marluxia is riding a sort of metal statue that looks like a hooded angel, with a bloom of flowers behind him. The music here is “Scythe of Petals,” which to me is the weakest of the CoM final boss suite, though it’s hardly bad.
I’m going to have to discuss the two versions of this battle separately, because despite similarities, they are quite different in practice. This is the final boss battle in the GBA, while Re:CoM has an additional battle based on what’s only a small section of the GBA fight.
In the GBA version, you fight against a battlefield of stars. Don’t forget that even though there’s a starry background, you’re technically standing on the usual beat-em-up style stage with depth, so you can move up and down to dodge Marluxia’s attacks if needs be. I find it’s too easy to get confused here and to start treating the battle like a platformer, with no Z-plane whatsoever. The battle is fought in three phases and demands a lot more care and precision dodging. When the battle begins, the Spectre attacks with scythes. Thankfully, Marluxia can only play single cards like most large-size bosses, so you won’t have to worry about Sleights or attacks higher than 9. The first stage consists of you attacking and breaking the scythes, at which point Marluxia will begin to open fire with projectiles. In both phases, you have to watch out for special blooms Marluxia will launch at you that will fire projectiles of their own. These can be attacked, but they will die one by one should you break any of Marluxia’s cards and that’s far more efficient.
After surviving Marluxia’s attacks against a hidden timer in phase 2, he will begin to bum-rush you. Break his attacks during this phase, and Sora will outright board the Spectre for a temporary third phase. Now you can attack Marluxia directly and do real damage. He’ll let out his blooms during this phase, and attempt to blow you off the Spectre with wind. The wind is powerful: he’ll definitely get away with knocking you off the platform if you aren’t in the middle of an attack Sleight or Summon. With crafty play and good timing, you can stay on the Spectre almost indefinitely, but should you fall off, phase 2 will restart. Press the attack, and you’ll have beaten the game.
In Re:CoM, the fight is similar, but not identical. The biggest trouble with the fight is that you have to build a deck to handle both this battle and the next, and I don’t think there’s any way to do that without compromising your performance in one fight, the other, or both. That’ll take practice and failure, there’s no better way to put it. Since I’m not exactly great at either fight, compromising my deck is trouble no matter which fight I choose to simplify.
In Re:CoM, you don’t have to break the scythes (which have separate health bars), since you can attack the Spectre directly after breaking Marluxia’s cards. Still, destroying the scythes is the easier way to go about the battle as the alternative is tedious and dangerous.
Once the scythes are broken, Marluxia moves on to his second phase with the bum-rushing and projectiles, but it’s not that different from the first phase in this incarnation. There are three major differences, the first being that now your target is the Spectre itself: you can’t board it this time around. Next: Marluxia’s blooms are only introduced at this point. Unlike the original game, they hover at ground level rather than in the air. This change was probably meant to justify the inclusion of Friend Cards into the 3D version, as Goofy’s spin attack can be used to take them out on the spot, where he would have been useless in the GBA. The third change is that Marluxia now has a special power to blacken out all your cards so you can’t see what you’re doing. You get very fair warning when he is doing this, as the camera outright cuts away from Sora to him, so it’s a simple matter of breaking his card to avoid it.
Once the battle is done, you finally board the Spectre in a proper third battle exclusive to this version. The starry background from the original game is replaced with a series of spinning rings that appear around the Spectre, and like Ansem Seeker of Darkness, the Spectre has given Marluxia a guardian that looks like some kind of angelic psychopomp while Marluxia stands rooted in place, channelling massive power. And while it all looks fantastic and sounds even better (“Lord of the Castle” is one of Yoko Shimomura’s best)… I have to wonder why it’s happening? For all I like this final battle and its aesthetics, Marluxia’s third form has always stood out for me as the ur-example of jRPGs and their final boss inanity. It seems to have happened for no reason other than “final bosses have alternate forms!” But why do final bosses have alternate forms? Is every video game writer in the business still emerging from a Dragon Ball Z haze that’s lasted since the nineties? Not all RPG alternate forms are bad, and even with the bad ones I can often bullshit some kind of explanation for the transformation, but Marluxia’s is just… there. It wasn’t so bad in the original. Marluxia in the GBA version only had a final boss “form” because he ran into the garage and grabbed a tank. But why does Marluxia have a final boss form in this game, complete with angelic statue in the back? We may never know.
Thank goodness we have Days in the future, isn’t that right, fellow fans? Days, an entire midquel game with plenty of opportunity to teach us about Marluxia and how he built up this kind of power! All our questions will be answered!
The third phase is brutal. Not only are you quite possibly struggling with an inadequate deck that was built to fight off the previous boss, but Marluxia has some powerful Sleights for a stationary guy, on top of some carry-overs from the previous battle. One of the worst is Omni Laser, which does absurd damage and gives you almost no warning in which to break it, but it’s not what you’re going to be panicking about. You see: Marluxia has the power to knock your cards from your deck, including the reload card, forcing you to collect them from the environment. He also retains his gust of wind attack from the original. It can’t knock you off the Spectre this time around, but it does make retrieving your cards even more frustrating (this is where Superglide can help, if you collected it from the Castle Oblivion Room of Rewards. Surprising, since Re:CoM’s mobility upgrades have been almost decorative prior to this point!).
But what makes Marluxia’s card scattering attack truly dangerous is his other attack, Doom. Yes, Doom again, the move Phantom may-or-may-not have used to instantly kill your allies, and its card combo is 666, because of course it is. Once played, Doom interrupts the game, freezing you in place. Thankfully, Marluxia is kind enough to explain how to respond to Doom using a voice clip. Of course that assumes you’re playing a version of the game with voice clips in your language, which is not necessarily the case! To beat Doom, you have to trump a series of cards Marluxia plays against you in turn. You can Reload if you must (so long as you have your Reload card to begin with!), but doing so would be dangerous. If you fail to beat all of his cards in time, you instantly die. The sheer panic here, and the fact that you might not have your full deck on hand, is going to make a mess of you if you don’t keep a clear head. Be extra-careful not to use any Item cards while playing trumps, because you won’t be getting them back.
In practice, while Marluxia has some creative ways to scare you, he can’t do much to stop you from hurting him. He’s stationary, and doesn’t have minor attacks to interrupt you every three seconds like a Creeper Plant. It’s mostly a matter of you stopping his terrifying Sleights. Running out of cards is a serious reality if you don’t bring Mega-level Item cards, especially given Marluxia’s huge health bar.
In terms of Enemy Cards (it’s the end of the game, I think we can get a little creative), I like to bring the Oogie Boogie enemy card with its Regen power to keep my mind off healing just for a moment, and the Wiki’s advice to use the Air Soldier Enemy Card (reload cards while moving) is also very solid, should you be willing to track the card down. In an unrelated discussion on the Retrospective’s thread at KHI, reader Hirokey123 pointed out that the Neoshadow card’s power can be good at peeling away those last few hit points. It’s named after Final Fantasy’s spell Bio, a personal favourite from FF, so you know it’s good. These are all relatively cheap cards as Enemy Cards go (40, 30 and 30 CP respectively) so if you can get your hands on them they wouldn’t be very hard to slip into your deck.
Maybe I was being a little brazen (pardon me, Sora), charging in with my “if you can beat Larxene you can beat everyone” philosophy, but I stand by it as a guideline if not a promise. Good luck, don’t panic, and if you’re lucky, you won’t be like me: having to restart because you’re still going for the stupid No Continues achievement. From here, there’s nothing left to do but to take in the ending.
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).