After Hollow Bastion, Riku’s story collapses into a truly abbreviated form. There are no in-world stories. None, from here to the end of the KH1 Disney worlds. The structure of the worlds has also been radically condensed, and there is typically only one tween-floors story segment instead of the two from Sora’s Story. For what it’s worth, this means I’ll be able to make some serious tracks here in the Retrospective… once the mechanics are out of the way.
As Riku arrives at B11, we cut to a dark room of Castle Oblivion, the dim lighting being a piss-poor and lazy way to convey that this room is in the basement! Even though the rest of the basement floors are not dark at all. A brand-new member of the Organization is here, though you might not be able to tell at first glance, what with the quality lighting going on here. This is Zexion, a blue-haired fellow whose name that looks fine in text (as fantasy names go) but if you ask me, sounds awful voiced. His won’t be the last. Soon, a second new face arrives: a spikey-haired brunet giant named Lexaeus, whose name also sounds pretty awkward but actually flows just a little better off the tongue than it does the eye (lex-E-us). Lastly, Vexen arrives and we learn Zexion called them all here.
Zexion and Vexen are rude to one another, and we learn from their discussion that Zexion – “The Cloaked Schemer” – is No. VI in the Organization. Zexion’s voice actor is Vince Corazza, the third (and longest-serving) voice of Tuxedo Mask from the 1990’s Sailor Moon dub. He seems to be in charge here no matter what Vexen says, if only because the others are forced to rely on him for reasons we’ll get to in a moment.
Lexaeus –”The Tactiturn Stalwart” – is No. V. Lexaeus doesn’t talk much, but when he does, it’s with the voice of David Boat, an voice actor has not had very large roles, but has managed both minor Disney connections, via Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, and Final Fantasy connection, via FFXIII and, more importantly, Dirge of Cerberus, where he plays Weiss. He’s also a frequent simlish voice actor for The Sims! Lexaues breaks up the fight and we learn that Zexion has the power to sense presences or power of other. He has called the others here to give them a warning. And then… siiiiighhh… we reach the worst word choice in the series. Yes, “word choice” is something you can botch badly enough to get a bit long sigh out of me.
For the next few hours of Reverse/Rebirth’s run, we’re going to be watching this left field farce play out in front of our eyes. Our entire cast of characters will be looking direly at one another and talking about… “scents.” And “smells.” Dire smells. It’s not a mistranslation either: at one point Riku actually sniffs himself, both in script and animation. He takes a great… big… waft! This must have gotten just as bad a reception in Japan as it did here, because the “scent” terminology is never used again. Sadly it wasn’t put to bed in the remake (or in the original GBA localization, where there was no sniffing animation to sidestep!), but here we are. I’ve heard people dismiss the entire game, holding up the “scent” issue as their banner, and they seem to mean it! I don’t agree, but the word choice really is that embarrassing. Hell, a tune on the OST is called “Scent of Silence!”
Zexion says he picked up two… ugh… scents. One was Maleficent, and everyone acts shocked! And surprised! I can’t really account for this. Is the Castle’s ability to project memories onto the walls news to them? Vexen then says “She cannot return from the realm of darkness of her own volition.” I thought she was dead! We were just saying she was dead! You were doing so well!
Zexion then identifies the other scent. Clearly the other scent must be Riku, but Zexion can’t place it, and instead identifies it as being “very similar to the Superior’s.” You’ve been sniffing your boss, eh Zex? Kinks and ropes, eh Zex? In the original, Zexion says the scent is “Exactly similar,” but in the remake, Vexen pipes up to conclude “But not exactly the same, was it?” as though he knows exactly what’s going on, and I have to wonder whether this was intended or not. Ah yes, didn’t you know? In his life before becoming a Nobody, Vexen was a deodorant specialist. But then he copies his line from the original where he finds this intriguing, as though he didn’t know what’s going on? C’mon, writers and localizers. I knew this was a budget title but it doesn’t cost you much to edit one more line of text just to make sure your change fits.
The Organization members agree to wait and see what’s going on, making you wonder what on earth they’re doing to “study memory” that’s so important they just meet in a dark room and ignore all potential problems. Next time you’ll see them, they’re still standing there, in a circle, not so much as playing rock, paper, scissors to pass the time! There’s a gag from the manga that shows a chore wheel, implying they may have been doing crap like taking out the garbage, so I’m not the only one to notice!
Now on the 11th basement, Riku is walking forward when we get the Wafting Scene I mentioned above. He just starts sniffing around, then takes a big breath of air off of his arm, saying he smells the familiar smell of darkness, seeped into his skin. I…… I don’t know what to say! And in some English versions of the original, Riku talks about tasting the darkness! (Thanks to FudgemintGuardian for pointing out that the PAL English version came to its senses and changed this to “scent” again.) He at least says the darkness has seeped into his “senses,” but… but…!
Thankfully Mickey is here to console Riku about his puberty concerns. The ball of light returns from the sky, and appears as a translucent Mickey. Mickey explains that he could only send “a bit of my power to this place” and I dunno, that’s still pretty impressive. I can’t transmit my magic powers through Skype! Mickey says Riku has to fight off the darkness in his heart. In the remake, he says: “It won’t be easy, I know.” Mickey, you don’t “know.”
Mickey reminds Riku that even though he’s in a dark place, there’s always a little bit of light, which incidentally reminds him of Kingdom Hearts. Mickey promises that he’s trying to get to Riku as fast as possible. They extend hands and try to shake, but Riku’s hand passes through. This is sad at first, until Riku explains that he’s only now worked out that Mickey is an illusion, which is just inspiring from a protagonist, isn’t it? Mickey says it’s okay. “We shook hands, in our hearts!” Ay. Carumba. It is kind of funny how Riku reacts to this line, however. It’s like he knows it’s cheesy, but because he also knows Mickey is being genuine, he’s willing to take the sentiment as genuine. He’s growing.
After this cutscene, King Mickey joins the party as a Friend Card (this once again seems to imply something is different about Riku’s journey, because Mickey’s physical absence is very different than Donald and Goofy disappearing into the card-ether). In gameplay terms, King Mickey’s card is critical. It’s not a mild convenience like Goofy or Aladdin: without Mickey you’re going to have a whole load of trouble keeping alive.
King Mickey’s basic attack is a sort of magical circle, which takes about a second to trigger but causes no less than three things to happen once it does. It’s good to be king. First: every enemy within a radius is stunned. Second: if Riku is in the radius, he’ll be healed. This is your only in-battle source of healing, besides Enemy Cards. Third: It will immediately reload your deck, even if you’re not in the radius.
In Re:CoM, King Mickey’s card is also used in one of Riku’s very few Sleights, an area attack called Holy Burst. This Sleight is handy, though has two dangers: you won’t get any healing, and it makes the King Mickey cards a bit harder to use on its own. It’s complicated to explain what I mean by that second point. Remember that Friend cards are lost when played, right? That made them valuable cards to have at the front of a combo attack, because that way you won’t lose anything cards to power your combo that you wouldn’t have lost in the first place. In the GBA game, if you wanted emergency healing, the best way to do so would have been to shove a Mickey card into a combo with two high-value Attack cards, making it hard for enemies to break your Mickey card. Unfortunately, in the remake, Holy Burst uses the combo Mickey-Attack-Attack, cutting off that exact strategy. You have to either use two Mickey cards, or put at least one Soul Eater card at the front of your Combo Attack, which will not only cost you the Soul Eater card, but delay your healing as you muck around with the deck.
Now that Mickey’s on your side, let’s fire up your favourite Mega Man stage select theme (mine’s 6) and break out our World Cards.
At this point, you have realized that the only benefit Riku gains from going to a particular world is the boss’ Enemy Card you’ll win at the end, which is added to all your decks. You still have to contend with the basic CoM mechanic of floors getting harder as you go, but keep in mind that Riku’s gimmick deck is going to be the same no matter what floor you visit the world on, so it’s all a matter of putting the strongest and most valuable bosses on lower floors where they’ll be easiest and most beneficial. As a result, let’s compare the next few floors and come up with a boss route.
One thing to keep in mind in this set is a spoiler: there’s an Organization boss only two floors from now. You’re going to have to debate whether it’s more important for you to defeat rewarding Disney bosses like Parasite Cage and Jafar to help you topple the Organization boss, or if it’s more important for you to beat powerful Disney bosses like Hook in early floors.
- Traverse Town, where Riku first reunited with Sora, is a complete joke. The Guard Armour is no threat to you even on the highest floor, and its attack-range-extending Enemy Card, while useful considering Riku’s narrow attacks, isn’t worth the danger of strengthening some other boss by going to Traverse Town early. Make Traverse Town the underwhelming finale. The GBA version will put up a more reasonable fight because your gimmick deck is terrible, but I feel my advice stands.
- Agrabah, where Riku kidnapped Jasmine, is a mild threat. Riku’s air game is okay, but it’s hard to aim with in the remake, which will make it tricky to hit a piddling target like Iago. Things get even worse if you get stuck in Dark Mode, which has an even worse air game in the remake (more on that in a moment). The Jafar card, on the other hand, is just as powerful as ever, making this an ideal first or second world.
- Monstro, where Riku tried to kidnap Pinocchio, is not at all threatening. The Parasite Cage seems singularly incapable of dealing with your gimmick deck in the remake. However, its Enemy Card can be useful in fights against the Organization, which makes it a tempting early grab.
- Neverland, where Riku started to openly attack Sora, is still home to Captain Hook. Hook is as deadly as ever, and still worse in the GBA original. His Enemy Card, Second Chance, is both more and less useful for Riku than Sora: yes, Riku can’t easily heal, so this card might save his life, but at the same time… Riku can’t easily heal, so how are you going to recover from 1HP? Riku also doesn’t need the Lightning Resistance from Hook’s card during this first set of worlds, so there’s no need to rush to it. The only reason you’ll want to fight Hook early is because he’s dangerous, but is that worth losing a better Enemy Card?
Once again, we’ll be approaching the worlds in the order I visited them during my Retrospective playthrough, which means we start in Neverland. I’ll be intercutting with gameplay commentary and hopefully we’ll have a much abbreviated second set of worlds once we’re clear of the gameplay stuff.
The first thing you want to keep in mind during Reverse/Rebirth is yes, replaying these segments will be tedious, but no, you’re not expected to put up with it. In fact, R/R seems to have been designed for you to deliberately rush through: even with the Attack Points being a factor of your level-ups, the game seems to reward speedy play. Remember, your deck is pre-set, which means the hardest part of Sora’s Story – deck building – is out of your way, and you already know how to fight every Disney and Heartless boss. But there are a few more factors to help you speed along.
First, we have to talk about the new level structure. For most of the worlds to come, you do not do the traditional three gold room structure, as I said in the first entry. Instead, you have to find a single gold room, the Room of Beginnings, which will house the boss. After this, you have to locate the Conqueror’s Respite yourself, as it will not be marked on the map. By having only one Gold Door to open per world, you require less Map cards overall and so require fewer fights, and the Gold doors don’t have very demanding card requirements, either, so your map deck can be even thinner! Also, by carefully examining the map, you can often identify the Conqueror’s Respite ahead of time, as it’s usually sticking off the map in some fashion (this is to assure that its exit door – which is always on the top-right corner of the room on the GBA – is always pointing off the map). By making a beeline to the boss, and then a beeline to the Respite, you’ll skip most of the game’s tedium and will stay at a relatively high level so long as you’re thorough with any Heartless you happen to cross. It’s like I said in Sora’s story: once you have a good deck, you can beat the whole game. And for better or worse, R/R has already given you the best deck you’re ever going to get.
Neverland is no big deal, despite its decks being awful. The GBA deck is mirrored in structure: we start with a 7 Soul Eater, then a 6, and so on down to 0. From there, we climb back up to 7. An 8 and 9 wrap the deck up for easy availability. That’s cute, but it also means that most the deck is thin as glass. At least those 1s and 2s would have been useful in Re:CoM for duelling! Meanwhile the Re:CoM deck seems made for duelling with an almost random assortment of cards. The general shittiness of both decks may be designed to provoke you towards using the Pirate Enemy Card attached to the deck, which turns every card in your deck into a 0 for its duration. This can be helpful against Hook, though it only lasts so long.
When you reach Hook, you make a sad discovery: even though it would have only been a few lines of coding/writing in the GBA version, none of the memory bosses have any dialogue. This might have been understandable for Heartless bosses, but what a waste with the Disney bosses! We had a chance to see each one of them tempt Riku with darkness in their own unique ways, or lash out at him for betraying their ideals. Even the Heartless bosses could have been replaced with someone else from their worlds: Riku could have been forced to talk to Pinocchio again, or to the mad Queen of Hearts who would throw all his arguments back in his face. And it would have been really nice to see Riku talk to Leon, who is still nursing a massive guilt complex over his inability to save Hollow Bastion as a child. In fact, in Leon’s case I wish they had taken the tutorial Leon and turned him into a proper boss for Riku! That Leon suggestion is probably asking too much, but a text-only conversation with all of those characters would have barely cost the GBA team a thing. It’s a shame.
As I said above, Hook is going to be the biggest threat to your run, but this is the best deck you’re going to get, so if you take him early in the run, all it will take is a little practice. Hopefully you don’t have to put up with the No Continues achievement!
To really get a hold of Riku’s new mechanics, we should probably talk about the new additions to Re:CoM, and about Dark Mode, which is in both versions of the game. The new additions to Re:CoM are twofold. First is Rapid Break, something you’ll probably forget about. If Riku breaks an enemy’s card almost as soon as it is played, he’ll get an attack boost and gain 5 additional DP, which will make sense in a moment. The trouble with this feature is that you have no way of knowing what an enemy’s card is the moment it’s played, so this is more of an accidental bonus than a tactic.
The other mechanic is a lot more substantial: Duelling. These two features seemed designed to force you to pay close attention to your enemy’s cards, far more than you ever did in Sora’s story, which is going to make things stressful. Thank goodness for Holy Burst if Duelling is giving you a headache.
Duelling takes place if you play a card or combo attack that ties an enemy’s card. It’s the primary reason that Re:CoM’s decks favour a wider variety of numbers. In Sora’s story, matching an enemy card caused both cards to break. That’s still true in R/R, but now ties will also put a prompt on the screen to press Triangle and engage the enemy in a duel. If you accept, other enemies will freeze and you and your target will enter a showdown state, where you play out a sequence not unlike Marluxia’s Doom: the enemy plays cards and you trump them. The number of cards you have to trump, and the time you have in which to play trump them, depends on the enemy type: most enemies use 3-card patterns, large enemies use 5, and most bosses use 7. Bear in mind that enemies don’t use their combat deck to duel with you: they same to draw from a teeny-tiny deck the same size as their duel combo (so a 3-card enemy will only play the same three cards every time!), though the cards come at you in a random order.
If you lose the duel, Riku will be stunned as the enemy launches an auto-attack, which isn’t really that dangerous. Sometimes they miss! Unfortunately, if they miss, you remain stunned for an extended period of time. This is even worse if you lose a duel to a Green Requiem, since they can’t attack you at all!
If you win the duel, Riku will perform a special attack. Three-card duels generate the Impulse special attack, which is a strong area attack that sadly, only effects grounded foes (and fliers that are dawdling on the floor). Five-card enemies will give you Maelstrom, an attack that’s essentially single target, though lucky hits do happen, and it can redirect if it kills its target. It is often weaker than Impulse overall. Maelstrom isn’t always worth the trouble (like against Darkballs), but it will help you get rid of a tricky foe like a Large Body or a Defender. The seven-card duel sleight, Barrage, is a boss-exclusive, single-target spell that does heavy damage, though often misses human-sized bosses when you’re using the “upgraded” Dark Mode variant.
If you can master Duelling, it can really speed the game along. It’s even worth a Trophy for winning 100 Duels on 1.5, so you might as well start as soon as possible. This is going to force you to memorize which cards enemies are playing on each floor, and they don’t always match the ones you have in your gimmick deck (I suppose some floor/world combinations are better for duelling than others, but it isn’t a major concern), but it’s worth it to see an entire wave of Heartless disappear in one Impulse.
In between B11 and B10, Zexion identifies the… scent he’s smelling as Riku. Vexen is surprised, which once again scuttles the implication that he knows what’s going on. In the original, Vexen is intrigued by Riku because he’s tied to both the Keyblade and the dark, but in the remake, all we have is that flimsy hint that he knows more than he’s saying, and I’m not sure why they made both changes, leaving Vexen on no ground at all.
In the remake, Vexen concludes that Riku being “doubled in darkness” is why Zexion mistook Riku for the Superior, and presumes that Riku used his dark power to get back to the real world. But Zexion asks (in both versions) why Riku manifested in Castle Oblivion. This is all phrased in a way I find intriguing. It lacks the implication that moving through the darkness is some kind physical process (like it seems to be in KH1 and KH2), and adds to the feeling that Riku’s undergoing something mythical.
Vexen explains what he probably should have told the others a long ago: that Sora is in the castle right this instant. Vexen mentions that Marluxia neglected to tell the basement crew of this arrival. There’s a pretty critical change here between versions. In the remake, no one overtly accuses Marluxia of treachery here and in the next segment, but in the original, the basement crew immediately realize that Marluxia is up to no good. In the original, Vexen proposes that they need to “acquire” Riku as a counter to Marluxia gaining control over Sora, which is some solid tactical reasoning. We see the genesis of his Riku Replica plan right here. The remake removes these lines, depriving the basement crew of their motivations! Once Vexen goes about his Replica plan, Zexion and Lexaeus will try to get the real Riku on their side as well, except now they don’t have a scene explaining where they got the idea! In the remake, Vexen just says that Riku is more interesting than Sora and goes about his merry way. It’s a complete shambles.
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).