Kingdom Hearts CoM – King of the Buckles

com-2015-12-21-22h56m12s294Back with Riku, the inevitable has happened, and Ansem comes to chat with him now that he’s embraced the darkness. This chat is rote, and it becomes even more rote when Mickey yet again arrives to save Riku. This is just tedious in the remake where it’s happening for the third time – in the original, it’s still happening for the third time but remember, Mickey partially failed the second time and is only now returning after a long absence! But there’s one difference in both versions, as this time, Mickey is actually here in the castle!

Riku can’t believe what he’s seeing, and pokes and prods Mickey, tickling him. It’s a childish sort of moment you’d expect from KH1, and it’s cute to see it from Riku. Riku collapses to the ground in relief, saying it’s been too long since he had someone with him who wasn’t trying to kill him. This scene establishes Riku and Mickey’s new dynamic. Mickey is as you would expect: eager, always giving and encouraging, while Riku addresses Mickey very politely as “Your Majesty” at all times (it’s also what he says when summoning him with Friend cards, so it comes to feel familiar). Riku tries to be as friendly as possible but having a bit of personal trouble with that. It really gets his character across.

com-2015-12-21-22h56m52s546Riku asks Mickey how he actually got here, and Mickey reveals that it was the same way as Riku: a World card appeared to him and when he touched it, her arrived. But why would Ansem have sent Mickey a card? It’s not really surprising to find that the card Mickey found is the card for Twilight Town, so together, the pair proceeds to the next card world.

To our surprise, Twilight Town suddenly returns Riku to the Sora’s Story structure of having multiple Key rooms! This is maybe less ironic than it sounds, considering Twilight Town in Sora’s story resembled R/R’s game structure (with only one key room) more than it did Sora’s, so turnabout is fair play. B2’s rooms are arranged like a tuning fork, with the Key of Beginnings room at the base, the Key of Guidance Room on the left prong, and the Conqueror’s Respite on the right.

When the world’s story begins, Riku finds himself in Twilight Town, and wonders to aloud where the two of them have gone. Except Mickey is missing! During my first time through the game, I presuming that this was just Mickey vanishing the way Donald and Goofy supposedly vanished during Sora’s stories, but no: in the GBA version, Mickey is once again out of your deck. That the remake let him stay is comfortable, but for some unbelievable reason, no changes were made to the script: Mickey is described as missing, and reunites with you on the other side, even though he remains in battle. To make up for this gameplay change, the remake’s deck is significantly weaker than the original, but Mickey is a larger advantage by far.

com-2015-12-21-23h00m49s836After noticing Mickey is missing, Riku is once again confronted by Ansem. Wow, great job keeping him safe, Your Majesty, that lasted all of two minutes! But while Riku arms at first, he soon lowers his weapon, saying this isn’t Ansem. He… look, you can say it yourself now, I bet. He smells different. Riku says it’s not darkness he smells, but “… something else.” Even knowing what I do about this character, that doesn’t make any sense to me, but carry on, bloodhound.

Riku then makes a strange announcement: he feels certain that this fake Ansem is the person who gave him “the card,” and “pretended to be Ansem […] to make me face the darkness.” But what does he mean by “the card?” The world card Riku encountered in the void? That would make sense, because Mickey got another, upsetting the real Ansem’s plan. I wonder if perhaps he might mean every instance when Ansem gave Riku world cards (remember how often the localization has singularized the world cards in the past), since the world cards are a physical artifact the real Ansem should have had no way to retrieve. Remember: he’s just a figment of Riku’s imagination for the time being, so either the cards were just metaphorical all along, or the “Ansem” that gave him the cards can’t have been Ansem. This raises the question: how often has Riku actually faced Ansem in this game?

The GBA portrait sprites make things clear: Riku never faced the Ansem in his heart until the death of Lexaeus. It explains why Ansem was willing to give him powers and tutorials, and also some of the real Ansem’s odd choices of words after Riku meets him after the fight with Lexaeus. “That’s it, remember me,” the real Ansem says, as though reacting to Riku for the first time. “You have been thinking about me,” he adds, as though this is news to him. There’s also the instance where the fake Ansem told Riku upfront that “darkness is your weapon.”  Hrm, thinking back on Riku’s character arc and the role the fake Ansem played in it, could the fake Ansem have a reason to want Riku to embrace the Darkness?

com-2015-12-21-23h01m31s059The false Ansem transforms before Riku’s eyes, revealing the most Tetsuya Nomura creation imaginable. Tall, broad, robed and cloaked and scarfed, bound with a ladder-like structure of clasps below the waist, with three separate satchels, and red bandages all over his face like a mummy, orange-yellow eyes (not unlike the Organization members), and on top of the bandages: two overlapping belts. Yes: belts around the head!

The remake ruins any impact this character’s introduction might have had by giving him a nonsensical opening line. “DiZ, or so I am known.” “DiZ?” What on earth does “DiZ” mean, and why did you feel obliged to convey it with such atypical sentence structure? DiZney parks and hotels? DiZzy from those belts cutting off the flow of blood to your brain? In the original, he says “Call me DiZ… it’s as good a name as any,” both making it clear that “DiZ” is his name and that it’s not a very good name but it will have to do, which is important, because it’s not a very good name.

com-2015-12-21-23h01m59s708DiZ is voiced here by Swiss army knife Corey Burton, though he’s not the character’s original voice actor from KH2, but more on that later. I feel it’s kind of late to be introducing a new character to the plot, much less a character important enough to be voiced, but whatever you say…

The buckled wonder here tells us that he’s been watching Riku, and wants Riku to “choose.” He tells Riku that his situation, between the light and the dark, is unique, and that he should find Naminé to learn more about what he should do next. Shit, how and when did Naminé meet this weirdo? Of course, Riku has never heard the name “Naminé,” and DiZ is long gone before he can ask. You know, DiZ, I know this is a video game and we’re just going to go about the search in the usual video game way, but Riku’s in a town full of houses. Is he supposed to bang on every door asking if they know Naminé?

com-2015-12-21-23h02m27s891Twilight Town’s deck is pretty solid in both versions, featuring a wide spread of cards that seems to be even wider in the remake for duelling purposes. For some reason, the remake includes a Potion, even though that’s of no value to you whatsoever, but other than that the deck is a winner. I suppose it’s nice that it’s so strong, considering it’s the last new gimmick deck in the game and we’ll be on to the Castle Oblivion deck for the final floor. There’s not much more I can say. All the villains are dead and we’re running on fuel made of “new character ex machina.” It’s past time for this game to wrap up.

At the Room of Beginnings, Riku finds himself outside the gate to the mansion, the same spot Sora fought Vexen several floors up. He wonders about the mansion, but is interrupted by the arrival of… oh, god… the Riku Replica. Dude, we’ve done this five times already. Do we have to do it again?

It seems we do, because the Riku Replica is having something of a personal crisis, which is why I got my jokes out up-front. He compliments Riku on embracing the darkness, and is soon having a pity speech about Riku being real. But it seems the Riku Replica is on the verge of a breakdown about this dead horse issue, and it’s hard to make fun of it, because he and David Gallagher are really pulling out the stops.  Whatever complaints I may have had about the poor Replica in the previous scene, this scene is excellent.

com-2015-12-21-23h03m59s513The Replica shouts that he’s never going to have his own identity, as even his experiences and sensations are just someone else’s in duplicate. He’s even realized that his powers from Zexion are just borrowed, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s overcome with guilt for murdering someone and getting nothing but emptiness in return, even if the Disney game won’t say it. Reactions to killing people have been a major theme so far, with Sora, Axel and GBA-Riku all on the same slate. You could say that Riku Replica is realizing that he was being manipulated into killing Zexion, just another puppet-act. He raises his Soul Eater to Riku, claiming that “As long as you’re around, I’ll never be anything better than a shadow!” and Riku raises his own weapon (in the remake he does so very, very reluctantly), and the fight begins.

The final battle with the Riku Replica in R/R is identical to the final one with Sora, except now you have no control over your deck, and in the GBA version (where Mickey is absent), you lack any source of healing outside of the Oogie Boogie card. This seems like it should be a nightmare scenario, but in practice, I find that our Riku’s boosted Attack Points and HP tend to carry him through even without Sora’s tricks. Don’t be completely afraid of using Dark Mode Sleights or Combo Attacks in the GBA version, so long as you can assure the safe use of a Hi Potion later on, and feel free to use Duels to close the gap in the remake. After so many fights with the Riku Replica, I’m sad to say that with a little practice he’ll quickly be defeated.

com-2015-12-21-23h04m23s791After the battle, the Replica is lying in a pool of leaking darkness. He’s staring blank-faced at the sky, which looks creepy for a moment before you realize the remake’s animators were using “fish-face” again.  It truly undermines the sequence. There are lots of bad instances of fish-face, but having the devs use a low-res model for a death scene is pretty much the bottom of the pit. But despite that one faulty detail, the rest of the scene carries the proper emotions. It’s perhaps the most frank conversation about death in the entire series. The remake even says the word “death!” The scene is interesting not just from the Replica’s perspective, but how Riku waits with him, not sure what to say, do, or if he should even be there.

The Replica says: “Death doesn’t frighten me. Good riddance to a phony life. […] I’m sure even what I’m feeling now is probably all fake.” That comes close to melodrama, but then Riku asks: “…What are you feeling?” which surprises me. The Replica replies with an existential question: “What happens when someone who’s not real dies? Where will my heart go? That is, if it doesn’t disappear completely…” Riku says: “It’ll go somewhere. Maybe to the same place as mine.” That line could mean many things, and I like it a lot.

com-2015-12-21-23h05m09s143While it’s not clear what the Replica got from that, he decides to mock the fact that he’ll be “a faithful replica until the very end.” But then he adds: “That’s… okay,” as he dies.

In the Key to Guidance Room, Riku finally reunites with Sora.

Which raises a few questions of its own. Sora is in the pod still, floating among mists. Have the pods always been in B1? I thought Naminé said they had to get to the 13th floor. Were they moved?  Or is this just a mental impression being sent by Naminé?

Riku meets Naminé here in the white room, and poor Meaghan Martin is once again at the mercy of poor lip sync work, a poor voice director, and/or the poor influence of the original Japanese version, as she’s introducing all these staggered pauses into her delivery and will continue to do so in every single – I’m not kidding and I’m so sorry Meaghan, because I don’t feel this is your fault – every exposition scene she has as the character for the rest of the series (at the time of writing). Which is sad because she’s so good at natural delivery when the voice director releases their vice grip on her and lets her talk like a human being.

com-2015-12-21-23h05m45s314Riku recognizes Naminé from the scene with Kairi right away, though he doesn’t make a big deal about it at first. Naminé shows him Sora, and Riku asks what she did with him. “Nothing,” she says at once. Except erased his memory! “He has to [sleep], to get his memory back.” Which I erased! Muhahahaha!

We cut away as Naminé fills in the blanks for Riku, and Naminé reiterates what DiZ said earlier: that Riku has to make a choice. Naminé explains that Ansem is still in his heart, but that she can use her powers to disconnect Ansem from Riku’s memories. She describes it as “put[ting] a tight lock on your heart,” but it’s clear from the fact that she tells him he’ll forget everything that happened after the islands that she’s referring to messing with the chain of memories.

Naminé asks that Riku “please choose,” despite not really giving him a second option. You can see why. If Sora gives up his memories of the castle or vice versa, someone will be hurt. But if Riku Soma Cruz-es it up as a second Ansem, that could very well end existence, especially with Sora temporarily asleep! Of course she’s not giving him an alternative. And yet… It’s clear that Naminé and DiZ clearly don’t want Riku to go to sleep, despite the potential consequences. Not after all that careful grooming.

com-2015-12-21-23h09m13s045Of course, Riku chooses to stick around. His solution to the Ansem problem? To confront Ansem himself, right away. Naminé admits that she wants Riku to face the darkness all along, “because you’re the one who can.” That’s nice to know from her, but what does DiZ get out of this, and why does he seem to want Riku to do this? I guess we’re going to have to find out long-term! Of course, Riku has to ruin this moment by explaining how he knew Naminé was behind his vision of Kairi. That doesn’t sound like ruining the moment to you? Wait for it… “Somehow you… smell the same.” WELP THAT’S CREEPY, C’MON RIKU WE’RE GOING NOW.

On the opposite side of the final Conqueror’s Respite, Riku finds Mickey waiting for him on the opposite side of the door. “So, you decided not to go to sleep, huh?’ says Mickey. He explains that DiZ was the one who took him away from Riku in the GBA version (or whatever quantum nonsense was taking place with Mickey in the remake) and they’ve been chatting while Riku made his way through the card-world. DiZ is in the room too, though you won’t notice him at first, thanks to a nearby statue in the remake. It’s cleverly done.

com-2015-12-21-23h10m02s138In the original, Riku calls DiZ “Voice” again, which is cute. He asks who DiZ actually is, and DiZ only replies “Nobody… or anybody. It all depends on whether you choose to believe in me or not.” Riku and DiZ go on to have a more entertaining exchange in the original, but the remake is extended with an important detail: DiZ gives Riku a black cloak, identical the ones worn by the Organization, which otherwise appeared out of nowhere in the ending of the original. I always had to assume Riku and Mickey had raided the Organization’s closets in the original, and you can’t convince me that DiZ hasn’t. DiZ also justifies the wearing the cloaks, something else the original failed to do, so we’re riding high. He says that the cloaks will protect the wearer from being devoured by the Realm of Darkness, and will protect the wearers from being sensed by the Nobodies. There’s no reason the Nobodies would have cloaks that do that, but you have to keep in mind the remake was trying to plug a two-year-old plot hole about Riku digging through Zexion’s underwear drawer for no reason whatsoever.

Returning to the original, DiZ gives Riku a new World card, this one for Castle Oblivion itself. DiZ says that the card will draw Ansem out of Riku’s heart to be challenged, and sends Mickey and Riku on their way. “Finish your business with Ansem,” he says. Dude, you’re a little dark for someone who wears pants accessories as a crown.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts CoM – Zexy
Next: Kingdom Hearts CoM – The Road to Dawn


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).

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