Kingdom Hearts CoM – The Road to Dawn

com-2015-12-28-13h05m59s599.pngOn B1, Riku and Mickey have a discussion about fighting Ansem. Riku tries to insist that he needs to face Ansem alone, and furthermore, if he should fail and be possessed by Ansem, he wants Mickey to be safe and ready to… ahem… put him away. Mickey interrupts Riku mid-sentence by saying “Sure, I’ll save you, pal!” He refuses to even acknowledge Riku’s request to be killed should things go sour. Mickey not only refuses to kill Riku if worse turns to worse, but insists on going with him. And thank goodness: during my first playthrough, I was screaming inside my head at the idea of fighting the final boss without Mickey after two worlds without him. The King insists Riku will be fine, and that they’ll pull through this together.

Before you go into the final world, you might notice that the D Report looks a lot more complete – it’ll be missing only a single Heartless entry if you’re on top of things, with everything else stamped and ready to go. The upper-floor members of the Organization have been added to it, with a lot of insider information yet again. In my mind, this settles the debate: the author of the D Report is DiZ. He’s been watching Riku all along (being an impartial observer is something he’s very adamant about in the GBA), he called Riku here in the first place and so has the most reason to have been chronicling his journey, and since the writer doesn’t sound like Naminé, I can only assume the writer must be the other third party walking about the castle.

com-2015-12-28-13h07m28s264The final “world” in R/R starts with Riku running through the dark halls of the Castle, shouting for Ansem. Ansem insists on waiting for him at “the very heart of darkness. I’ll be watching as you plunge into the very darkness you wield.” This is interesting. The idea of Ansem being at the “very heart of darkness” invokes his ideas about Kingdom Hearts in the original game, and sure enough, the battle arena in the remake is set on a memory-duplicate of that weird platform outside the gates of Kingdom Hearts. We’ve already discussed how Castle Oblivion revealing “true memories” is like a journey to Kingdom Hearts, and this seems to bring it full circle.

The final floor of Riku’s journey is as straightforward as can be: four rooms in a straight line, and the fourth is the boss room. Considering you’ll probably make the second-last room a save point, this is almost a two-room world, and you might have to go out of your way to fight a Neoshadow to complete the journal, or you might never see one at all! Your deck on this floor is the same as the tween-floor battles with Vexen and Lexaeus. Sadly the remake’s version of this deck, while powerful, is irregular, and seems to have been structured just to give the Neoshadows a chance to break your cards. Best you hurry off to the finale unless you desperately need to grind.

The final door on the world has a strange entrance requirement: cards totalling 13. 13 is an important number in the series, but for a door lock it’s chicken-feed, and more importantly, completely irrelevant here in R/R! It’s a tiny complaint, but remember: we’re on Riku’s floor number twelve!

com-2015-12-28-13h08m16s666After all we’ve been through, I ask you: wouldn’t it be wrong if Riku didn’t greet Ansem by smelling him? I don’t think that would be right, do you? No of course not. And in the original, Ansem compliments him, as though Riku’s sniffing abilities are to be lauded. In the remake this is changed to a comment about battle prowess, thank goodness. Ansem asks Riku why he still refuses to serve him if he accepts the darkness and… I don’t get his bit. Riku is wearing the darkness like no one else, he’s incredibly powerful, darkness is symbolic for personal strength… At this point, even an evil Riku should be wanting to crush Ansem so he can rule the darkness alone! Was Ansem not handed the Disney villain’s manual when he started on his first day? There is no Disneyfied or even real-world reason why Riku should want anything from you any longer, Ansem.

And the disappointing thing is: Riku doesn’t have a real answer for why he doesn’t want to serve Ansem! I expected an “I don’t need you anymore” at the very least. A bit later in the scene we get an equally valid “You suck, why would I work with you?” that could have just as easily been put here. Instead, they went a different route: we get a climax to what was really the most important character arc in Chain of Memories. That’s right: it’s the storyline of Riku’s nose. Riku insists that the reason he’s going to kill Ansem – this is his Die Hard one-liner moment – is because “I just can’t stand your foul stench.”

Thank you! Thank you, this is why we’re here!

com-2015-12-28-13h09m03s479

Hero moment.

Joking aside, this is the climax of the game, they’re carrying on this smell thing so hard they’ve undermined the final conflict. It is one of the lowest points of the entire series and we’ve seen it key a furrow along the edge of our car for the last half of the game. I cannot believe they let this past editing, in two separate versions. Especially in English when multiple games had gone by since that never let “scent” come anywhere near them!

The battle begins set to the new tune “Revenge of Chaos,” which is the least interesting new track in the game. Oh, I know what I said about “Struggle Away,” but Revenge of Chaos barely even counts as a new track. It’s like a deflated version of Forze de Male, and after the opening motif, he drops to the ground and never even tries to recover.

The fight is no better, and in mind clinches the idea that R/R was a rush job, especially in how it’s worse in the GBA. In both games, Ansem is just a retread of the KH1 boss, so like the Trickmaster or Darkside, I don’t really have to give you a full survey of his abilities, and what an underwhelming way to go out! Ansem gains some powerful attacks toward the end of the battle in Re:CoM, making the early and late phases of the battle entirely different difficulties, but I just don’t feel like he puts up enough of a fight to justify extended coverage! Dark Mode, duel if you can… goodbye game! The biggest threat to you in this fight is that you have too many Enemy Cards and can’t find the ones you need. He doesn’t even have a second form!

com-2015-12-28-13h09m32s095To my surprise, beating Ansem doesn’t give you his Enemy Card. This was true of Marluxia as well, but you could eventually get Marluxia’s Enemy Card as a clear bonus. Riku never gets Ansem’s card at all, even though he was his final boss! But here’s the real gag: Sora can get Ansem’s card! This was not exactly a balanced multiplayer experience, let me tell you.

After the fight ends, Riku runs Ansem through, but he protests with his dying breath that he gave Riku his dark power in the first place and so Riku will never be rid of him. I’ll get you next time Gadget, etc, etc, he explodes. At this point, Mickey shows up to save you from the explosion. This is treated like it’s a surprise by the script, silly as that sounds. “Oh no, I’m in danger and there’s someone right here ready to rescue me for the fourth time in a row! I’m doomed!” This suggests to me that Mickey was supposed to be excluded from the final battle in some previous draft, before the designers came to their senses.

Finally, Riku ascends from the basement of the Castle to ground level (don’t question how one gets from the basement to ground level when there’s no door), and Riku and Mickey discuss what’s next. Riku says he can’t go home yet. He still senses Ansem inside him and… I guess wants to keep burning off the evil carbs? He doesn’t seem to have a plan. Mickey changes the subject part-way through and we never get a definitive answer for what Riku is planning to do with his time.

com-2015-12-28-13h10m13s475Mickey admits that he was surprised that Riku might be able to use the darkness for good, as he thought darkness was all-corrupting, and Mickey Mouse is practically confessing to one-minded hatred here, there’s a weird twist to the childhood. At least Mickey Mouse knows when to admit he was wrong! Wayne Allwine’s delivery here is a little too jolly for my liking, as what Mickey is saying really does seem dire, but maybe Allwine felt the need to do so when Mickey was confessing to Fantasy Bigotry. Let that be a lesson to all of us: if Mickey Mouse can do it, we have no excuses. Mickey adds that he welcomes the chance to learn even more from Riku, and asks Riku if it’s okay if he joins him on his journey.

Riku says he’s flattered, addressing Mickey as “Your Majesty” as he does, and Mickey tells him that they’re friends and he can use his first name from now on. And this is an important change, not just because Riku has been so stubborn about the proper use of the King’s title, but because he’s the only character in the series who seems to have this permission. To call back to one of Mickey’s own films, The Prince and the Pauper, Riku has become like the one family that’s allowed to stand in the presence of the king. Even Sora addresses Mickey as “King,” or “Your Majesty” from this point on, but Riku and Mickey have been through something special together, and his use of Mickey’s name stands as testament to that. I mean, he was your only source of healing for an entire game! It makes me all misty-eyed, the way mechanics enhance the story. Oh, nuts to you, I mean it! Every time you saw a King Mickey card, it was a like a great wash of relief. Every time Mickey was missing in the original game, it a terrifying situation broken up only by his reassuring Riku and rejoining the party. These two have a friendship all their own, distinct from Sora, Donald and Goofy’s, and it’s always great to see them together in the future as a result.

com-2015-12-28-13h11m12s788

“I’m so bitter about walking!”

The boys put on their black coats, and step back into the green field from the end of KH1, the last time we’ll see it in the series outside of flashbacks. Here, in the remake, Mickey exhibits one of the odder the uses of fish-face in the series, as he’s now using his KH2 model, which has lowered eyebrows by default that make him look angry even though he has no reason to be angry whatsoever. Once the animators finally remember to animate his face part-way through the scene, this misplaced rage vanishes, but it just goes to show that you can’t leave a character unattended when you’re animating.

Our pair come to the crossroads where Sora met Marluxia, and find DiZ waiting for them. Riku realizes something is up and asks “What are you making me choose now?” DiZ cuts straight to the chase, and asks whether Riku and Mickey will take the road to the light, or the road to darkness. While it’s clear he’s asking a metaphorical question, I think he was supposed to be gesturing as he said that, implying that the way Sora came from the end of KH1 is “darkness” and the way Sora was going to was “light,” but the cutscene in the remake doesn’t bother

com-2015-12-28-13h11m49s206Riku says he’s taking the middle road instead. DiZ asks: “Do you mean the twilight road to nightfall?” setting up a strange, but intriguing connection to Twilight Town. But Riku says no: “It’s the road to dawn.”

And I’ve got to say, since this came moments after Riku and the King reaffirming their friendship, Riku’s line about the road to dawn was probably the first time in the series I was genuinely emotional. And I don’t think I was alone, given how the symbolism is reused in later games, especially in one subtle but tear-jerking way in KH2.

Once again the credits play out with a few skits, this time starring the bad guys (making the GBA game feel reminiscent to the enemy skits in the alternate ending of Link to the Past’s GBA release). Among the visuals in the remake are the Riku Replica with Naminé’s star charm and… the same visual of Naminé and Kairi from Sora’s ending, for some reason.

This is followed by a number of cinematics in the remake. In the first, Riku and Mickey are walking along a canyon you’ll later visit in KH2, when Riku suddenly collapses, clutching his chest. Mickey comes to his side, but Riku signals that he’s okay, and they continue.

com-2015-12-28-13h12m42s195We then see the strange blonde boy from Twilight Town, whom we first saw in Sora’s ending. This is initially a repeat of the scene from Sora’s ending, when suddenly Axel shows up and goes to the blonde boy, who has stopped moving. Axel tries to get the blonde boy moving, but the boy is lax and zombie-like, and just keeps watching the three friends he saw in Sora’s ending. Axel finally gets him onto a high ledge (that clock tower I mentioned in Twilight Town, which CoM barely even showed), where they look out over the city, eating blue ice cream – the kind served on popsicle sticks. Axel doesn’t seem to like the taste, and, uh, wow, this must seem pretty weird for anyone coming to this game without playing KH2, because what on earth is the point of this? It’s hard to shake the impression that new players weren’t supposed to see these scenes and that they were only intended for KH2 veterans, which seems like a poor idea.

In the final cinematic, Naminé and DiZ are watching Sora in the bulb, when Riku arrives. Some time has passed: while barely visible, Riku appears in his KH2 model, which I’ll discuss in that game proper.

com-2015-12-28-13h13m07s455Yet again, the game ends with a poem and this time, visuals of Twilight Town and the blond boy (and his friends, in the remake). In one last repetition, the remake’s poem features a second mention of the recurring phrase: “another promise.”

GBA:

walking this road
without you
to remake forgotten promises
and meet you at road’s end

Re:CoM:

Beyond the path without you
is a forgotten promise to keep.
We may have walked side by side,
but now we go on back to back.
And though our paths may not cross,
all paths are connected somewhere.
When I arrive at where you are,
we may not appear to be as we were…

But we’ll make another promise to keep.

com-2015-12-28-13h15m08s698At this point, all that remains is the post-game. Anyone taking part in the post-game should return to Sora’s save and pick up all the new Clear Bonuses available now that you’ve beaten Sora’s story and R/R. One neat touch is that Zexion and Lexaeus’ enemy cards are found on the floor where they were destroyed: Lexaeus in Sora’s Castle Oblivion floor, Zexion on Destiny Islands. Take your time, because once you’re collected these clear bonuses the tedium is going to set in, as none of the other post-game challenges are really worth the trouble.

Most of the post-game challenges in the game are Achievements in 1.5 HD. Card Master Sora will have you opening all the Rooms of Reward and hunting down all the Enemy Cards. Level Master Sora and Level Master Riku will have you grinding pointlessly for days to get to Level 99. Sora can at least use Mega Flare to his advantage, but Riku doesn’t have that option. You’ll generate pointless rooms with Sora for a really stupid trophy (the game wants you to generate three times more rooms than you’ll have encountered in the course of the entire game), another wants you to “edit” your deck hundreds of pointless times, something I only recommend you do in the most minute fashion imaginable. A pair of achievements has you finding and then spend Moogle Points, and you will hate every empty minute of it. And as a final insult, you’ll have to beat both modes in all three difficulties because the difficulty trophies don’t “stack.”

Taken all together, getting a Platinum Trophy in Re:CoM HD may very well be Kingdom Hearts’ most tedious challenge, and this is a series that will eventually ask you to play a rhythm game to the tune of “It’s a Small World.”

com-2015-12-28-13h16m22s787And that’s Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. A game that’s too complicated for its own good, has an inadequate tutorial, and is obsessed with the olfactory glands as a strange bit of narrative garnish. And if we can find the strength to put aside that “scent” issue, it may be the best-written game in the entire series, not just challenging the conventions of KH1, but building on them, and setting up for more. If only the gameplay hadn’t… well, by this point, you know perfectly well.

In the next entry we’re going to be looking (briefly) at the manga adaptation of CoM, after which there will be nothing standing in our way from Kingdom Hearts 2.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts CoM – King of the Buckles
Next: Kingdom Hearts CoM – Appendix and Tie-Ins


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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