We actually cut away to follow the Replica before we catch up again with Riku. He returns to the basement meeting room of doom, where for once in this series’ life, no one lectures him for losing a single fight as though it were the end of the world. Instead, they ask him if he’s like to meet Sora, and Riku Replica seems pretty eager to murder him, even without invitation. In the original, Vexen says he doesn’t necessarily want Sora dead, but that’s okay with the Replica. “Sora’s just one more person to crush on the way to Riku.” Shit, going to fill out all the evil clone tropes, aren’t you?
Now on B7, Riku shouts out for the Replica, calling him “Fake” as though it were a proper name. Just then, Ansem appears, using the word “fake” as a segue. “Oh, I don’t think that’s the right word.” Ansem explains that he sees the Riku Replica as a “model” of what Riku could be and says that with Riku denying his own potential, maybe he’s the real fake. Ansem carries on the Replica’s thread of claiming Riku is scared of the dark. When Riku asks when he’s ever shown that he was afraid of the darkness, Ansem says he’s been doing it ever since he came to the Castle, “In the card-worlds.” That’s the first time anyone has ever called addressed the card-worlds by a proper name, and if you ask me, it almost feels a little too late. “Desperation,” Ansem explains, “is a product of fear. You fight the darkness because it frightens you.”
This provokes very different responses from Riku across versions. Riku in the original realizes Ansem is taunting him and calmly brushes him off. In the remake, Riku is infuriated and attacks Ansem again, and is once again knocked away. It’s the exact same animation as last time, just recycled and shown at a different angle in hopes that you don’t notice. It’s a little more exciting than the original, but the remake gets no points from me for this lazy rewind, and I respect the original Riku a lot more than the impulsive one in the remake. Either way, Ansem says that if Riku is going to keep struggling, he might as well have a place to do it, and he hands over the next set of cards before vanishing.
The next set of cards consists of every remaining world from Sora’s original set, minus 100 Acre Wood, which would have been a retread of existing content at best, and empty at worst (feel free to swap those “best” and “worst” labels if you’re not a huge fan of mini-games). Here’s my take on the world order:
- Wonderland: Wonderland is showing up extremely late in the game in this second set, but don’t be mistaken, it may be the hardest world in the set thanks once again to the Trickmaster. In the past, I’ve tried fighting it last and deeply regretted it. I’ve also tried fighting it both first and second, and the upgrade of a single floor is bad enough that I truly recommend you put Wonderland in first. The Trickmaster isn’t so bad on the GBA, but is still a threat.
- Olympus Coliseum: You don’t fight Cloud in R/R, so Hades is all you need to worry about. Hades is a lot more threatening on the upper levels than he was on the lower, but he’s still the weakest of the human-sized bosses. In my most recent playthrough, I put him last. That’s something I don’t recommend universally, but it’s not an unreasonable choice. His Enemy Card (Berserk) is still useless if you have a play-style like mine, even if Riku does spend more time at low health than Sora.
- Atlantica: Ursula was the most dangerous single-card opponent for Sora, and is even more dangerous against Riku if you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you do, it can help to weaken her by putting her in early, and her Shell ability can be helpful against magical bosses like Hades if you feel you need the extra defence. Consider using the Hook card to gain Thunder resistance, since you assuredly have it from the first set.
- Halloween Town: Oogie Boogie’s card is prime value, since it’s the only 100% reliable way for Riku to heal himself. If it’s your first time through the game, you’ll have to make the awful decision of whether you want to take out hard bosses first or whether you want reliable healing first. There’s no right answer, and that’s Halloween Town’s biggest scare.
The first world I hit up in my most recent playthrough was Wonderland, and I do not regret. The room layout in B7 appears to be identical to B8’s, but the layout of doors between rooms is different. It comes dangerously close to lazy, but in the end I think it’s a clever trick on the player.
I’ve talked about the danger of the Trickmaster during Sora’s story, but it’s even more dangerous to Riku. The trouble here is Riku’s air game, and the Gimmick Deck. As I’ve implied, this world has a special gimmick you’re going to have to overcome through intelligent play and careful use of your cards. And the gimmick in Wonderland is: you suck. That’s it, good luck!
The Wonderland deck. Is. Terrible. And it was downgraded in Re:CoM, from twelve cards ranked 3-5 to nine cards ranked 1-5. Once again this was probably done to help you duel Shadows, but the consequence is that they made the Trickmaster stupidly hard. Your enemy card is the Large Body, which protects against frontal attacks, which makes it much less useful in 3D space. At least players of the GBA game had the grace of a simple Trickmaster, but all the faults are here in the 3D versions. On the plus side, you have a super high-jump by default!
My best advice for the Trickmaster is total caution. Wait for the boss’ attacks, which will occasionally come on cards higher than your own. If they are higher than your own, prepare to dodge, use Large Body, I don’t care. If they’re below yours, break the card, jump and attack, and then break away. Once you get a handle on the pattern, use Maleficent to land a few solid hits. Resist every urge to use combo attacks and Sleights to break the Trickmaster’s attacks – you can’t afford the loss of cards (if you must, lead with your 1 card to get rid of it!). I recommend you never use Combo Attacks just to break enemy cards as Riku, but in this case, I don’t even recommend you use Sleights in Dark Mode, either (excusing if you lead with Mickey), as your cards are too precious and most attempts will simply hit the boss’ legs. Some good advice I’ve seen is to use Jafar for an early lead, while you still have the table, while another site recommends using Duels. Do whatever you can, this boss is a menace. For goodness’ sake, come to it early.
When you return to Castle Oblivion, we rejoin the topside Organization members during the cutscene where Vexen was first introduced. For reference, Riku and Sora are now tied at six floors. This cutscene initially plays out as it did during Sora’s Story: Vexen wants to test the Riku Replica on Sora, and Axel gives him the Destiny Islands card. But when the scene ends for Sora’s Story, it continues for R/R, and Larxene and Axel explain their plan of how to use the Replica. They explain that with the Destiny Islands card, Naminé can imprint the Replica with Riku’s memories. You may have already filled in those blanks, but it’s interesting to see them filled with such a practical use of a World card.
The Riku Replica is taken aback by the suggestion that they re-write his memory, still hating Riku for fearing the darkness and, you know, personal identity issues. He rushes the Organization members in hopes of killing them first and wow, he is terrified. He’s also got guts. Even I wouldn’t charge three Org members at once, even with a high-level character. Although: note to Square Enix, I just had an interesting idea for KH3’s challenge bosses. Of course, Larxene knocks him on his ass, and they erase his mind off-screen.
The next world I took on in my Retrospective plathrough was the other evil, evil world of R/R: Atlantica. Taking on both challenging worlds without the Oogie Boogie card seemed pretty gutsy at the time, but it paid off with far easier bosses. Don’t downplay Re:CoM’s Ursula, she’s dangerous no matter when you go to her, but let’s talk about the Atlantica Gimmick Deck. Or should I say: “decks”?
Re:CoM changes many of Riku’s decks, as we’ve seen, but only one of them was changed entirely. This was because the original GBA deck for Atlantica wasn’t just worthless, it was hostile to the player. Atlantica’s GBA deck was a paltry twenty cards “strong,” with four copies each of Soul Eater cards ranked 5 through 1, in that order. This not only made it hard to play, but it made it almost impossible to reach Dark Mode, which would be rough but workable in Re:CoM (thanks to Duels) but debilitating on the GBA. But in the end, the deck is stronger than the GBA’s Wonderland (and even more than Re:CoM’s Wonderland, for that matter), so what’s the big deal?
The “big deal” are the Aquatanks, and Ursula herself. Remember: Atlantica’s enemies have high HP to make up for the swimming controls in KH1, and they weren’t adjusted for this game! Ursula is even worse, despite being mechanically new to this game. These high-HP foes require long combos and have high cards to fight you with. Your deck, stacked with 2s and 1s, cannot provide. What about your Enemy Card? The Enemy Card for Atlantica is the Sea Neon, which randomizes the values of your attack cards. This might actually work! You can see what they were going for. It could turn your shitty deck into a good one! …Once. The Sea Neon only works for one reload, nullifying any real advantage it might have had!
This feels like a consequence of multiplayer, in my opinion. If the Sea Neon had been designed with Riku in mind, it might have lasted for several reloads, but instead the Sea Neon was designed for multiplayer, and so for Sora. The damage is done in any event, turning this into the single most frustrating world for me in the entire series, and the foremost reason I prefer the 3D version over the original. Whenever I consider playing CoM GBA, I just think back, remember Atlantica, and turn away. An overreaction? Definitely. But still.
In contrast, the Re:CoM version of Atlantica features a mixed deck ranging from 0-7. Like in Agrabah, they avoided giving you 8s because Ursula has 8s and 9s, but you can turn that to your advantage by using your two 0s to gain 8 or 9 DP a shot. By forcing you into a defensive position, Ursula will almost certainly force you into Dark Mode, which will make things go much faster. You get two Enemy Cards on this world in Re:CoM: the original Sea Neon, which is of questionable use with your more versatile deck, and the new Darkball card that allows you to Duel with every card you break for an entire reload. Whether you care for extra duels or not is up to the individual player. Be careful, as most of the Heartless are swimming and will be out of the range of Impulse unless they swim very low.
You might wonder why I’m harsh enough on GBA’s Atlantica when Re:CoM’s Wonderland seems to have been re-purposed to be just as… evil. Well, for starters, my complaints against the GBA version at large are still not finished, and that harshes my impression of its lowest stretch. But as far as weighing Atlantica and Wonderland, I suppose it comes down to a simple division: the remake’s Trickmaster rises up like a steel wall, but the original’s Atlantica is hell from start to finish. A single boss battle versus an entire world. Atlantica does damage for a longer part of the game. Really, the two versions are so close in terms of quality that neither is a huge stride ahead of the other, so if you feel differently, I fully understand.
The sooner I get away from Atlantica, the happier I’m going to be. In between floors, we see Larxene bullying Naminé, and being atypically explicit about their secret plans. She was cagey and efficient for such a large part of Sora’s story that seeing her talk about their plans out loud almost feels out of character! Just then, the Riku Replica steps in from another room and asks her to stop being a dick to Naminé. Considering his memory must have been modified by now, it’s funny seeing him mention Larxene by name as though he had known her for a long time. But it seems it’s even stranger than that: after he leaves, Larxene confirms that the Replica’s memory has just been rewritten, seconds ago. She compliments Naminé on turning the Destiny Islands card into the star charm by… modifying Sora’s memories? Naminé actually said this at the end of Sora’s Story in the GBA but the remake had the sense to fix that line (saying “I changed its shape” instead of “It changed shape”) – but they didn’t fix it here. How can R/R be so strong in the end (trust me on this) but have so many cockamamie minor details like “smelling darkness” and “memories physically modify the real world”?
This scene does has a great minor detail in the remake where the Replica declares that “Naminé […] doesn’t want to remember Sora,” and Larxene, knowing she can’t say the truth in front of him lest she mess up his memories, says “Is that so?” with so much sarcasm it’s practically dripping with it. She sounds so indignant, too, it’s great.
After talking about Riku’s charm, Larxene compliments Naminé on transforming Sora’s Oathkeeper pendant as well, and concludes it “won’t be long before Sora forgets about Kairi completely!” Naminé tells her that he won’t forget Kairi completely. In a way, we already knew that, what with the whole “unchained memories floating around in the ether” thing, but it seems that’s not what she means. Naminé says that instead, the more Sora likes her (Naminé), the stronger he’ll feel for Kairi even if he doesn’t remember her, because “I’m her shadow.” Oh, we could decode it pretty easily with info from KH:FM, but once again this is a plot twist that KH2 leans on. And just like the thing about who Vexen works for, you don’t want to puncture KH2’s bubble lest it just lie there deflated on its own.
Larxene says that that fact should serve as a reminder to Naminé not to screw up, and to my surprise says something that will be relevant later in CoM in a completely different context! She says: “Rewrite Sora’s heart, and you can be somebody, not just the shadow of somebody. In Sora’s heart, you can be real.” And the best part: in the remake, Naminé reacts to this with a glare like she wants to strangle Larxene, for implying both that she isn’t real and that she has to commit this mental violence against Sora. Considering how docile Naminé can be, this is a hell of a reaction.
That’s the last we’ll see of the upper floors for the rest of the game. Sora’s story plays out more or less uninterrupted from this point on.
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).