Hallelujah! By the grace of the Imagineers, we get to cram together multiple worlds in one entry! The next world on my playthrough was Monstro. Yeah, I went for Parasite Cage instead of Jafar, and I’m not sure why I did it.
The Monstro decks are both deliberately weak, with no 8s, 9s or 0s. The GBA deck has a startling five 1s! Re:CoM spread its cards out a bit for duelling purposes but still focused on the low end of the scale. It’s clear the developers wanted you to be weak here, but at least Re:CoM players can exploit their spread to duel with Shadows.
You Enemy Card de jour is the Search Ghost (are we still pretending the Search Ghost belongs in Monstro?), which gives you the ability to Drain HP from enemies with attacks, though “enemies will drop fewer items.” This is another instance of the localization using the wrong term for a game concept – I believe that by “items” they mean EXP orbs, as enemies don’t drop anything else! Despite the weaknesses of the deck, Parasite Cage is no threat at all.
Returning to mechanics, we come to Riku’s biggest mechanic, the one he shares in both versions of the game: Dark Mode. This one’s a whopper, and it’s clear the original game expected you to depend on it, which was… just a mistake. Dark Mode isn’t as easy to use as they seemed to expect, and their failure to make it easy to use costs the original GBA R/R a lot of my patience, since you have to spend most of R/R in normal mode with no Sleights praying for Dark Mode to come. This may be one of the single-most damaging mechanics in the original GBA version. R/R is just bad in the original, existing purely for challenge factor mitigated by one ugly system after another. The sheer number of additions made to the remake should show that the developers realized the original R/R needed some tweaking. But there’s an even worse point upcoming that really clinches it. For the time being, let’s talk about Dark Mode.
Dark Mode is a transformation for Riku, which puts him back in his dark armour. Given the way the Reload Card in Sora’s story seems to draw its mechanics from early Dragon Ball Z fighting games, perhaps we should have expected someone to transform before the game was over. To kick into Dark Mode, you need to collect a number of Dark Points, which are both similar and dissimilar to the DP stat you’ve been upgrading on level-ups. I really wish they had just given them different names, but I can see why they didn’t at the same time. It could have gone either way and someone would still be confused.
At the start of a battle, you have no Dark Points, and gain them whenever you break an enemy card (outside of a Duel). You must break the card with a superior card, not a draw, as you will gain as many Dark Points as there was a difference between your cards and the enemy’s: so if you broke a 3 with a 5, you’ll gain 2 points. Breaking an enemy attack with a 0 card nets you the whole value of the broken card or combo, great for boss Sleights. Once you get 30 points, you enter Dark Mode, supposing your opponent doesn’t break your winning card during the Dark Mode animation. That probably sounds picky and unlikely, but you’ll often reach Dark Mode by using a 0 card that can be broken by anything, so it happens time and time again. Sadly, transforming into Dark Mode causes you to lose whatever attack you made to go over 30 points, which is all sorts of trouble if you were trying to use King Mickey to heal. Try to heal only when the enemy doesn’t have a card on the field!
Once you enter Dark Mode, your Dark Points reset to whatever level you’ve raised them to from level ups. You can see why I treat the Dark Points before you transform as distinct from the ones you gain after transforming: they have no relation to one another, and the ones before the transformation have no relationship to your “DP” stat! I feel like I’m trapped in an early Order of the Stick comic making jokes about the word “level.”
Once you’re transformed, your Dark Points serve to keep you in Dark Mode. Riku will lose the points whenever he takes damage, and also when his own cards are broken, in a reverse of the way he gained them in the first place. Once you lose your DP, Riku reverts to his normal form. This means at the start of the game, when you only have 10 DP, you’re not going to be staying in this form for very long.
When in Dark Mode, a lot changes. Riku’s attack style is different, both on the ground and in the air, becoming generally faster, wider, and with an automatic stun effect against minor enemies. His dodge roll becomes absurd, taking him all but across the screen on the GBA. He also gains an aerial spinning attack that looks ridiculous and has a lot of trouble hitting small fliers like Iago and bell wizards, but hits very hard for how silly it looks. His damage is up, turning him into this serious force. Once you enter Dark Mode against minor Heartless, the fight is usually over.
If you need to end the fight even faster, your Sleights are enhanced. Not only are your Duel attacks upgraded in power and effect, but so is Holy Burst with Mickey, which now has a much longer duration (you’d think he wouldn’t approve of this transformation, but there you go). You also gain a few Sleights of your own, but only three. Yeah, the GBA version was counting on you going to all the trouble of entering Dark Mode to get your only Sleights in the entire game, and there are only three. Wow is the GBA’s version of R/R terrible. I just… nevermind, the issues will keep making themselves clear. Your sleights are Dark Break, a similar attack to Riku Replica’s Helm Splitter; Dark Firaga, which actually isn’t a Fire-aligned attack; and the almighty Dark Aura, which will take a combo of three 9’s to execute, and so isn’t necessarily available with every Gimmick Deck.
If you can get into Dark Mode, you’re sitting pretty, but don’t get so over-confident that you let the enemy break your cards or, worst of all, break Dark Aura with a 0, costing you 27 DP in an instant. The GBA version hinged on the Dark Mode mechanic, entirely for the worse, but in the remake it’s just as powerful without being as troublesome, so feel free to take advantage.
In between floors 10 and 9, it’s time for you to face off with your first Organization opponent: Vexen. And since you the player have already beaten the main game and have your ideal deck, he is not fooling around. The difficulty may surprise you after only three worlds, especially if you just deflated a weakling like the Parasite Cage. But before the fight begins, he’s got some things to say.
Riku catches one look at Vexen and makes the natural conclusion: he must be working for Ansem. Vexen says that Riku is “half correct.” The original phrases it this way: “Let us say that it’s not the Ansem you know. He is Ansem and he is not — which is the say he is nobody.” Well, that’s cryptic. How about you, remake? Are you cryptic? “Perhaps a ‘Nobody’ best conveys the idea.” The remake is so determined to kludge the word “Nobody” in here that it ruins all mystery. Look, Vexen has just outright spoiled one of the biggest reveals from KH2, a reveal that comes in a scene from KH2 with so many problems that I feel it desperately needed the surprise to hold itself aloft. I just… look, I won’t say the spoiler out loud, how does that sound? Just in case you haven’t worked it out, it’s the best I can do.
Vexen keeps going. “He belongs to neither the light nor the dark but walks the twilight between.” He then starts implying that both he and Riku also walk the twilight in between, something the original doesn’t convey very well. Riku announces that they have nothing in common, and resolves to fight, which is becoming his default response to all conflict. He says Vexen is his enemy, not just for being evil, but for “reeking of that awful smell!” …Am I really seeing all this “awful smell” stuff? Is everyone else seeing this? No one would write this! It can’t have happened! Did I hit my head on something during the Marluxia fight and there isn’t really a Riku mode after all? Because that seems like the only rational explanation for these lines.
Vexen is pulling only a few punches against Riku. His deck doesn’t stack up to the first battle with Sora, and his attack points are much lower, but his HP is the same and combined with his shield, he might give you a lot of trouble. He also still has his own Auto-Life Enemy Card, alongside the Blue Rhapsody and Air Pirate, while all you have to your name are the Enemy Cards you dragged in. Use Parasite Cage if you spot him using an Enemy Card (naturally the Vexen card is the most dangerous, but it’s so easy to miss when enemies use Enemy Cards that I don’t recommend waiting for one Enemy Card over another) and use Maleficent as soon as you’ve gotten back in the groove of getting around his Frozen Pride. Be aware that Riku’s Castle Oblivion deck is lined up to use Dark Aura and Dark Firaga, both of which are tremendously helpful, and he has a Mega-Potion to restore the cards he uses up in Sleights, so in the end the only tricky bit should be healing with King Mickey in an emergency.
After the fight, Vexen doesn’t have much to say, perhaps because we know how his plot goes from this point. He explains that he was just provoking Riku into using his full power, and runs off to create his Replica with the new data.
Weirdly enough, Riku’s journal, the “D Report,” summarizes the rest of Vexen’s story from this point on, implying that he went off to fight Sora and die against Axel. The D Report also remarks on Vexen, Zexion and Lexaeus being “founding members” of the Organization, which is also new information. It seems as though this journal wasn’t written by Riku, but by some outside party with outside knowledge. But who could it possibly be?
Agrabah was my next stop. Floor 9 has a square layout with a few rooms stuck off to the side. If you’ve worked out how R/R works by now, you’ll know for sure that the Respite is on one of the square’s upper “horns,” so navigating it will be no trouble.
The Agrabah gimmick decks are virtually identical: they’re made up of sets of the numbers 7, 6, 4 and 3, five times in that order. The only difference is the existence of a Hi-Potion (7) in the GBA, another instance of the GBA being more polite than the remake. The enemy card here is the Fat Bandit, which does double damage when striking enemies from behind. As you can imagine, this is best used against the Fat Bandits themselves, and is only mildly useful in other circumstances.
Jafar is a little funny. You don’t even run into Jafar as a human, nor does he show up in the D Report as a human being. You’d think Riku would have met the man at some point during his tenure with Maleficent, while he certainly didn’t meet him as a Genie! Either way, it’s the same lamp-chasing, moving-platform fight as Sora’s. Like I said up-top, Riku has an awful air game, and turning into Dark Mode can be a serious detriment thanks to its tiny air attack hit box. Oh, and bear in mind that Jafar plays a lot of 8s, which are higher than you can counter. Nevertheless, Jafar’s card is wonderful as ever and you’ll be glad to have it.
In between floors, we learn that Zexion has been investigating Larxene and Marluxia’s activities and is filling Lexaeus in on what’s going on topside. He’s worried about Marluxia getting control of Sora, and doesn’t know whether or not they can trust Axel. In the remake, Zexion thinks the Riku Replica will soon kill Sora and solve their problems, but Lexaeus points out that Vexen might hate Marluxia enough to screw things over big-time. It’s interesting how this is phrased, because Vexen’s hatred doesn’t actually mess anything up and the player knows this. It’s a rare instance of a midquel remembering that the characters don’t know everything the reader and writers know, something writers screw up quite often! I’d have expected the characters’ guesses to be perfect and portentous, because that’s just how midquels are often written!
Lexaeus also adds a line about the replica being “soon to be completed,” which highlights a timeline problem that was definitely in the original, but wasn’t quite so obvious. I’ll explain once the problem becomes evident. For the moment, keep in mind that Sora and Riku seem to be on proximate floors: Riku has climbed four or so floors, and Sora can’t be at the midpoint yet, as that was when the Riku Replica was introduced.
Since we’ve covered all of this game’s single-player gameplay, this might be an opportune time to talk about the original game’s multiplayer, before we nail gameplay up in a box and ship it off to Abu Dhabi. I bet most Kingdom Hearts players forget the original GBA CoM even had multiplayer. It wasn’t very extensive or valuable, and being a GBA game, you needed two GBAs, two copies of the game and a link cable, which means most players were probably also Pokemon fans. As irrelevant as CoM’s multiplayer feels in hindsight, I don’t think a look back at CoM is finished without it, because so many of CoM’s Sleights and Enemy Cards only make sense in the context of multiplayer and feel orphaned in Re:CoM. Just think about all the “resistant to element” cards that show up after you no longer need them in the story! I didn’t even mention that Axel’s card makes you immune to Fire!
Multiplayer in CoM was a purely versus affair, and I can’t help but think it might have worked if CoM had still been a traditional turn-based game. The only available mode is a duel: you load up your existing character and go head-to-head, deck versus deck, Sora versus Sora. Oh, you could play Riku, with his Dark Mode and his instant reloads, but his lack of versatility was a serious problem: remember, most of the Gimmick Decks on the GBA were awful to make the game more challenging, all-but forcing you to use one or two of the campaign’s best decks (by sending Riku to that floor before you join Multiplayer) and blowing the element of surprise. You’re sure as hell not going to waltz into multiplayer with the GBA version’s garbage Traverse Town deck, that’s for sure (just wait until you see it, this one’s a winner). I suppose Link Mode’s handicap feature (visible in the screenshot above) might help even out Sora and Riku.
There were originally a few Enemy Cards dedicated to versus mode in the original game. One was Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, a completion bonus in the original game. Ansem prevented your opponent from seeing your stocked cards, which is obviously useless against the CPU, so Re:CoM makes no reference to it. Oddly enough, Ansem-the-boss maintains the power when using his own card in Re:CoM’s story mode! The Ansem card also grants resistances to all three main elements, the only property it retains for the player in the remake
The other exclusive Enemy Card was the Darkball enemy card, which hides all the cards you haven’t stocked, so your opponent doesn’t know what you’re about to play. This card was entirely reworked in the remake, and isn’t even available to Sora any longer. That’s because it’s now available in R/R in one of Riku’s upcoming gimmick decks! We’ll get to it later.
One sad footnote to these shenanigans is the fact that with all of Riku’s improvements in Re:CoM, he might have actually made a more interesting versus opponent. Versus Duels, Rapid Break to give him a clear advantage over Sora… it’s too bad. In the end, CoM’s multiplayer was doomed to be forgotten, and maybe even deserved it, but if you and a friend happen to have two copies of the game, give it a shot, and if you have had previous experience with the mode, leave a comment – I’d love to hear how it went.
Where were we? Traverse Town? Sheesh. Traverse Town is a joke. Even at the highest floor available, it’s a joke. The decks are weak, but they just don’t hinder you thanks to the weak enemy layout. The remake features mostly 1-3 level cards, with a 9-8-7 leading the deck in hopes of tricking you into burning it up with Sleights. 1-3 level cards are great for duelling Shadows, which make up an easy half of the Traverse Town menagerie, so that’s only so bad. GBA players will have to be more cautious as they have only five cards in their entire deck: a 4, a 5, a 6, a 7 and an 8! Obviously Sleights are out of the question! Your Enemy Card here is the Shadow (+1 to the value to your attack cards) which is almost worthless.
Thankfully, even under these adverse conditions, the Guard Armour will collapse to the ground with the help of Gimmick Cards, so even a five-card deck can’t stop your stampede. Next!
Of course you’re going to have a run-in with a boss after B8. You’re out of World Cards after all. And who should be waiting for Riku on the other side of the Conqueror’s Respite but Riku? …Wait, hold on.
Oh, wait, I get it. Riku just walked in to find the Riku Replica waiting for him, and to our surprise, the Replica seems to know he’s a replica, and is kind of a dickweasel. It’s hard to believe he ever needed this much humble pie (four fights with Sora worth), but that seems to be the fact of it. The Replica explains exactly what he is, and that he was created by Vexen out of “your [Riku’s] data.” This phraseology sticks with Kingdom Hearts in a lot of weird instances, as though “data” were a singular, concrete thing instead of a plural abstract. It’s not the only time the series will singularize something that typically isn’t.
While I tried to address the Riku Replica without the qualifier “Replica” in Sora’s story (since “Riku” is his proper name), this scene doesn’t give me that liberty. Our Riku counters the Replica’s taunts with a few jibes about fakes, but despite what the D Report will later say, the Replica doesn’t seem that worked up about being a “fake.” He is happy to call Riku a coward. “You’re afraid of the dark!” he says, the childishness intentional. He claims that because he doesn’t fear the darkness, this makes him the better Riku, and he starts a fight.
Riku battle… ugh… number five is comparable to the earliest fights against the Replica with Sora, which is to say, he’s a pushover. His stats are lower than either of those fights with Sora, and his decks are short two 0 cards, and that’s about it. We’ve literally covered this boss four times already, I don’t feel the need to say more. Use Maleficent and Jafar to humiliate him faster.
You know, BBS will have a repeat boss as well, but at least BBS has the decency to not repeat him four times in one storyline. Three, yes, but even that’s not four.
After the fight, Riku shows the difference between Sora and himself by deliberately taunting his doppelganger. Riku Replica tries to say that he’ll be fine because he’s “new” and will get stronger with time, but Riku’s not standing for it. In the original he’s really quite ruthless, saying, “I’m finishing you first, right here!” and jumps in to cleave him in half. Shit man, I thought you were trying to cleanse the dark, are you really so deep in it you that can’t tell the difference when looking at yourself? The remake tones this down, but has a pretty solid replacement line. The clone says: “Next time we fight, you’re finished!” so Riku says: “Then let’s fight now!” and charges in.
Riku nearly hits him – in the remake his sword really looks like he’s about to cleave his skull! But the Riku Replica uses his dark powers to repel Riku. Riku’s initial blow looks great, but the repelling looks completely arbitrary. I recently (at the time of editing) wrote the upcoming FFVI journal and had a brief rant against arbitrary plot devices like this, so I’m not going to repeat myself here in CoM, no matter how much it annoys me. Maybe one day I’ll link the FFVI journal section once it’s up. The Riku Replica laughs at him for giving up his power over darkness, since the darkness is so powerful. Riku is furious and chases the Replica all the way to the next floor, though of course the replica vanishes between scenes.
The D Report adds a strange note after this sequence. It insists that “Sora and Riku seem to be the reason [that the Organization controls] the castle—but why?” That’s an odd question. The writer of the D Report seems to have outside information for certain now, but at the same time, this supposition seems baseless. Does our mysterious author know even more than it initially seemed? Or are they maybe just grasping at straws?
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).