Now that we’ve got the worst of the Disney worlds out of the way, what’s next? In my last playthrough, I decided it was time to go to Halloween Town to get Riku’s only reliable form of healing: the Oogie Boogie card. The Halloween Town deck is a powerful deck in the remake, packed with 7s and 9s. It’s a terrible duelling deck, since you have few to no low-valued cards to pair against the Heartless (short of entering an Almighty Darkness room) but it’s the easiest floor in which to enter Dark Mode. The original game had a mid-level deck, instead. I imagine it may have been upgraded to help you trump Oogie’s dice, but I still don’t recommend that particular strategy.
The Enemy Card for this floor is Wight Knight. It lets you jump higher. It’s worthless. That’s not just hyperbole: I’m actually having trouble working out a context where this could possibly benefit the player. Please, fill me in if you can think of something. I don’t believe it can jump over Oogie’s partially-lowered fence, as I believe it projects an invisible wall to the ceiling (correct me if I’m wrong). The only context I can imagine is the Trickmaster fight, and obviously that isn’t an option for Riku.
In between floors, Lexaeus returns to the meeting room of doom, and announces that Vexen has just been killed. Wait, Vexen has what? We were just—we were just watching a cutscene where the Replica had his memory rewritten, and all of a sudden Sora is on Floor 11? We just finished our eighth floor! Okay, maybe Larxene saw fit to comment on the Replica as if its memories were new considerably after they weren’t, or maybe the scenes set topside were being shown out of order, or maybe even this scene is being shown out of order, but this is all so jarring and sudden when we used to be in-sync with Sora until a moment ago. Did Riku take a long nap between the past two floors? Did 100 Acre Wood transport Sora into the future? What just happened?
Zexion tells Lexaues that he’s lost Vexen’s scent, so he already knows Vexen is dead. That detail isn’t important, I just want to rub every instance of “scent” in the game’s nose, so to speak. He also seems to know that Axel was the one who killed him. Geeze, if you know all the details, why was Lexaeus was scouting ahead at all?
The two of them then begin to discuss what to do with Sora. In the context of the original GBA game, where they had previously discussed Marluxia being a traitor, it’s clear they want to be ready for when Marluxia turns Sora against them, but in the remake, they’re just… talking about destroying Sora, for no reason. This gets even sillier when the remake says that they can’t kill Sora, because their boss needs him. But they’re… still discussing how to kill Sora? Oh this slapdash edit job, where do I even begin? The remake even removes a corroborating line about them being afraid of Marluxia potentially controlling Sora. The remake seems to have deliberately blacklisted any line suggesting they knew about Marluxia’s plan. Were they not supposed to know? That’s an interesting approach for the remake to take, because their actions make no sense if they don’t.
Long story short, they decide that the only way to stop Sora is to get Riku on their side, one way or another.
Back on B4, Riku is contemplating his last World Card, wondering whether or not it will free him of the Darkness. I’m sure it will, Riku, we’ve seen shown so many signs of you becoming free of the Darkness in the past few cleansing missions. To make things even more comical, in my last run, Riku’s last attempt to cleanse the darkness was to go to bright and sunny Olympus Coliseum.
Olympus Coliseum makes for an underwhelming finale. Maybe it’s because the Powerwilds and Bouncywilds were designed to fight Sora in KH1 when he had limited magic attacks, so they’re actually really simplistic enemies? This may be a factor of the remake, which once again powered up Riku’s deck. The GBA deck is determined to be a gimmick deck, and gives you a spread of high-numbered cards (1 each of 1-9) and 10 #1 cards. Naturally those Level 1 cards are useless… unless you use the Powerwild enemy card to reverse the value of the 1’s to 9’s. Thankfully, where Sea Neon failed, the Powerwild card can succeed if you’re cautious, and Hades was never that challenging a boss to begin with, not now that you know what you’re doing. The remake uses a similar deck strategy but is wider spread, both to make duelling easier (with and without Powerwild) and so that you can survive once Powerwild is used up. The lessons of Atlantica have been learned.
That’s the last Disney world! Wave goodbye to world-specific Enemy Cards, because the gimmick decks won’t be giving you any from here on out. It’s just you and your Mega Man collection of ghosts.
On the other side of the world, Riku is confronted by Lexaeus, whom he recognizes by smell as being another Nobody. Which is impressive, because it happens in both versions, even though the original game technically never told Riku that “Nobody” was a special term! Props to the more literal, clunkier translation of the remake, if only in this one insance.
Here’s my first impression of Lexaeus. The guy is the taciturn type (his title is “The Silent Hero”). He strikes me as the kind of person who would have approached Riku as a fellow warrior with an honest appraisal of the situation, or at worst a misleading one designed to get Riku on his side. And every time I watch this scene, I am disappointed by the results: he walks up to Riku, mocks him for not embracing the Darkness, and when he refuses, Lexaeus decides to murder him instead of asking for his help at all. I mean, he does say something about trying to provoke him into using the darkness, but that doesn’t really come across. He actually seems like he has the patience of a three year-old and just gave up entirely.
The fight against Lexaeus is something else. It has a little to do with the fact that you’ve only ever used the Castle Oblivion deck against familiar foes (Vexen and Riku), and against Ansem in the GBA, which was an easy fight. But that’s just part of the problem. In the end, dude’s just a powerhouse, and you’re in trouble. Lexaeus fights with a cartoonishly oversized “Axe Sword” called the Skysplitter (some sources call this weapon a “tomahawk”. Either way, it’s the size of a car door). Lexaues is earth-aligned, and has the ability to become outright invulnerable, and in the remake he can boost his stats double for a period almost at a whim. In the original, he can knock the whole arena askew, as in the attached screenshot! Lexaeus is a little easier in the original, but that’s not going to be much comfort. If you’re having trouble, I can’t recommend any better than to go back and grind, which is never happy advice.
In the remake, there is a simple strategy you can use if you’re having trouble: Duel once, instantly reload, Duel again (typically with the same card!), reload, and repeat, repeat, repeat until the word “tactics” has been erased from your brain. Lexaeus’ cards are as high as yours, making it easier to arrange a draw than you might expect. I almost wouldn’t recommend going into Dark Mode, since Dark Barrage has a bad habit of missing human sized opponents like I said earlier, but don’t feel bad if you end up there. Only use Sleights if it will finish him off, and you’ll be able to beat him time and time again.
Beating Lexaeus earns you his enemy card, Warp Break. Besides a picnic basket full of one resistances, one immunity and one weakness, you gain the ability to hit minor enemies with Warp on your combo finisher, and I believe it does extra damage to bosses, though I can’t be certain. This is one of the longer-lasting cards with immunities and resistances, by the way, making it even more useful against minor enemies, and it could have been pretty handy in multiplayer.
The scene that follow’s Lexaeus’ defeat is completely different in the two versions, in a way that’s become infamous in the fandom. If you knew about only one narrative change between the two versions, it was probably this one. We’ll address them in the order of release.
In the GBA version, Riku mocks Lexaeus, but Lexaeus promises that he’ll stop Riku even if it kills him, and he explodes in a billow of darkness. It’s not clear if Lexaeus self-destructed in an effort to stop Riku or if the billow of darkness was a result of him succumbing to his injuries. The latter seems to be the majority opinion among the fandom and I personally agree. The difference is critical, as it makes Riku responsible for Lexaeus’ death, and what happens next seems to be a response to Riku killing a man of his own free will. Enveloped by darkness, Riku finds himself confronted by Ansem. Ansem seems happy that Riku is “calling to him” and “thinking of him” (remember this for later as well), but King Mickey once again separates the two.
Unfortunately this time, King Mickey’s efforts have a cost: he is no longer with you when you wake up. This is a critical difference that often gets forgotten in the debate about the narrative of changes to the scene: Mickey’s Friend Card actually does not appear on the next floor of the Castle in the GBA release. This made the next floor a lot more challenging, so why change it in the remake? Well, probably because there’s a brand new boss on the very next floor, but we’ll talk about that in the next entry.
In the remake, Riku and Lexaeus have fought to a standstill, and when Riku moves in for the finishing blow, Lexaeus gets in a lucky shot and knocks Riku straight to the ceiling with his Skysplitter. This is a lot like the surprise blow the Replica dealt to Sora in his mode, but it doesn’t bother me so much because it really does seem like pure last-minute adrenaline, whereas the Replica played it off as though he were faking his injuries all along. Better: Lexaeus still isn’t going to make it out of this scene alive, so the net result isn’t quite the same.
Riku hits the ground unconscious, and Lexaeus looks like he’s going to kill him, which is a pretty poor way to recruit him to your side, if you ask me. Wasn’t it bad enough that you had no motivation to recruit Riku – do you have to not even try now that you’ve got the opportunity?
But to Lexaeus’ surprise, Riku suddenly enters Dark Mode and wakes, and when he does wake, he acts too quickly for Lexaeus to react. Riku runs Lexaeus through, taunting him in the voice of Riku-Ansem from KH1. Lexaeus says “You are the Superior’s—” but is now dying, and he stops saying whatever he was going to say, and instead apologies to Zexion for starting the fight. Wow, it’s almost like the fight was a terrible idea from the beginning!
The remake then goes to the dark void, the scene plays out between Riku and Ansem much as before. Mickey is still with Riku in the end. He even remarks on how lucky he is that he got to stay with Riku, just to be clear to players of the GBA version that Mickey is sticking around this time!
Fan discussion about this scene goes into issues of whether it was more important to show Riku as a capable fighter willing (or possibly being Dark enough) to kill. Compare this to Sora’s Story, where Sora killing was something that happened as a result of his being tied up in the chain of memories, and you can see a deep and perhaps deliberate contrast between the two heroes. Alternately, you might favour the remake, which increases the tension by showing how easily Riku might lose his body to Ansem, although it eliminated the idea that Riku might kill. Debate among yourselves. Once you’re done, get ready, because it’s time to move into Riku’s plot-heavy finale. It’s going to be quite a change from the Disney floors, but it will finally, finally! bring us to the end of this game.
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).