Month: September 2016

FFVII Crisis Core – At last, I’ve won the stupidest prize of all

cc-2016-09-27-01h20m54s999After the training sequence, we joined Zack talking to his (constantly masked, essentially faceless) best friend Kunsel, a SOLDIER 3rd class to Zack’s 2nd class. Zack was doing squats, his favourite hobby, and Kunsel informed him that there had been a mass desertion at SOLDIER and since Zack didn’t know about it, he was apparently as far out of the loop as anyone could possibly be. Kunsel explained that one of the 1st class SOLDIERs, the top brass, has gone AWOL with a whole chunk of the others. Just then, Angeal (who we learn is another 1st class SOLDIER) came in to inform Zack that he was being sent on a mission and to report to Director Lazard’s office on the double. (more…)

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Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Backpack Tetrominoes

days-2016-09-23-00h42m57s669Day 11: Keyblade

On Day 11, Saïx tells you you’re paired with Larxene, only for her to be missing. Apparently, she was too impatient to wait for you and is already on-site. You’re going to have to make her even angrier, as there’s an additional delay. Saïx explains you have to equip magic panels for today’s tutorial, which makes this a tutorial for the “Panel” system as well.

Your reward for the previous mission was two or three Fire panels (depending on whether or not you got 100%), and you’ll need to equip them to clear the next mission. If you fail to equip them, you’ll have to Withdraw from the mission, which you can do from the pause screen. I personally love the idea that the Organization is rewarding you with new powers in exchange for your services. It quantifies your status and their respect for you in a way that’s very corporate, which works to the game’s advantage. On the other hand, this is the only mission in the entire game that is outright impossible if you’re missing a certain panel, so once again the tutorial is presenting something as normal that isn’t normal at all!

The Panel system is very confusing when you first see it, if not overall. Part of the trouble with the panel system at first glance is that it’s not immediately clear what the challenge of the mechanic is supposed to be. What’s their game? After all, if they had wanted a challenge-free setup, they would have used a typical toggle-switch menu! The game doesn’t try to make the Panel system challenging for a little while, so it remains as a weird question mark lurking in your submenu for the next few missions.

days-2016-09-23-00h43m30s345The Panel system is used for all of your character customization in Days. It consists of up to three pages of 5×8 grid of squares, though you only start with one page and a 5×3 grid, with all the other panels greyed out. Any panels you slot into the available grid space will be available to you during a mission, and at first the system seems to be as simple as just dropping in as many as you can carry. One thing to keep in mind about the Panel menu is that you can’t visit it during the mission, so this is all pre-prep. You’ll want to install all your Fire panels at this point, and ideally a number of Potions you picked up in the last mission.

Personally, I don’t think the game should have given you item panels this early in the game, since they work on different mechanics than every other panel. Item panels never come back after you use them! They exist in a weird mechanical space between permanent upgrade – like the other Panels – and “things Roxas should have shoved in his bag, but didn’t.” And yes, Roxas does have a bag, which makes this all the more confusing. He use his bag it to collect things during the mission, but apparently can’t use it to hold stuff he brought with him the Castle. This all makes a certain amount of gameplay sense and you’re sure to get used to it, but it’s hardly intuitive and you can see why I think Item panels could have been put off for a little while.

One other step you’ll want to do before you leave is to assign your Fire spells to a shortcut. This process is unusual for Kingdom Hearts. Unlike in previous games, you don’t go to a submenu to assign your shortcuts. Days actually lets you change your shortcuts on the fly, I believe in an effort to encourage you to use more than four spells at a time. To do so, you open the spell menu and press the shortcut command while hovering over the spell in question. As a result, even though you can’t cast spells in the Grey Area, you’re allowed to navigate the spell menu just to set hotkeys. I’m glad that that occurred to the devs, because changing the shortcuts is unwieldy enough that I’ve never actually done it in the field!

days-2016-09-23-00h43m57s260Of course, just navigating the spell menu is a chore in these new controls. Like with the camera but distinct from the camera, you can go to the option menu to pick between two control sets for navigating your command menu… not that the option menu is unlocked yet. The two control styles are 1) the default, which involves holding X and pressing up and down, costing you mobility in favour of flexibility, and 2) a system which involves simply pressing X, but only being able to move down the menu, cycling to the top when you go past the bottom, costing you spell and item flexibility in favour of mobility. Once again, you get to pick your poison in this awful GUI. I prefer the latter, but as a consequence I have long-since given up on using more than four or five spells in a mission to avoid the danger created by my chosen controls. There are downsides, is what I’m saying.

One thing that has to be mentioned about magic shortcuts is that whenever the game gives you an in-mission text prompt, for any reason, the entire command menu and your shortcuts are locked out. This is infuriating and may very well get you killed! I’m not even going to joke about it. It is a complete, out-and-out mistake, the kind I expect from an amateur production, and should have never have made it past testing.

Once you’re ready, you return to Twilight Town for your mission, where Larxene is so irritated at the delay that she forbids you from using the Keyblade until you’ve set Fire to a Dire Plant. Fire in this game behaves identically to KH1: a homing projectile.  In fact it’s a lot better at the “homing” part than KH1’s ever was! After you do this, Larxene gets too irritated by you to keep teaching you magic, and allows you to fight as normal. It’s all fairly cut-and-dry, possibly to cushion the blow when you realize with horror that Roxas doesn’t have an MP bar: he has a limited ammunition system ala FF1. Oh dear.

days-2016-09-23-00h44m17s026It works this way: if you install two or three Fire panels, that means you get two or three Fire spells, in the entire mission, period. It’s not going to be until later that you get additional casts for the same number of panels. And even once you do have other spell panels, it will eventually occur to you that the panel system will restrict the number you can bring with you. Panic sets in. What will happen if you have a new panel you really want – are you going to be willing to sacrifice your basic performance by tossing out spells? At the moment, you don’t have enough information to judge the whole system, for your benefit or otherwise, and that made things all the worse for me. All you know for certain is that two more Dire Plants just popped up, and if you miss so much as a single spell, you’ll have lost a third of your arsenal for nothing. Many players treat magic as something of a secondary skill in Days as a consequence. This is unfortunate, because magic truly is valuable in the mid and late game. But the terrible beginnings leave such a bad taste in many players’ mouths that they never learn that, and who can blame them?

There are a few chests in this mission – not that you can open them when enemies are nearby, which I suspect was done to discourage you from rushing through missions, since Days generally returns to the explorable world structure of KH1 instead of the corridor structure of KH2. The game keeps track of chests you’ve opened via a counter in the corner of the bottom screen.

As I’ve already hinted, the inventory system in this game is more complicated than it might first appear. Supposing you enter into a mission with items in your panel setup, these items will appear in the first page of your Item menu. This is followed by items carried in your “bag,” meaning any items you picked up during the mission, colour-coded white if they were a random drop, or yellow if they’re from a chest. Items that remain in your inventory at the end of a mission will be converted to panels for you to install later. Chests, however, do not restock. A side effect of this is that missions that contain consumables in chests are essentially easier the first time around, as you’ll have extra items! Whoops? Furthermore, missions with consumables as random drops are easier than those that don’t have consumables as random drops, but this is deliberately done, as enemies vary their drop list from mission to mission! It’s a strange, out-of-the-box sort of way the game uses to regulates its difficulty.

days-2016-09-23-00h45m01s016(One complaint I have to make about enemy drops varying by mission is that the enemy listings in your journal will happily tell you each enemy’s random drops… but not the missions or days that those drops belong to!)

The chests in this mission contain Ethers. How much does an Ether restore? 1 cast of each spell you have. Yes, that was a one. As in “single.” Recharging 1 cast is useless, even if you have five or six spells equipped, and as a result, Ethers might as well be bottles of water. Hold out for Hi-Ethers, I say!

After you clear up the mission, you learn that Larxene is transparently jealous of your Keyblade, which is never mentioned again.  Whatever. Your prize for clearing this mission is the first proper ability panel, Scan. Boy, I’m sure this exuberant “Mission Complete!” musical theme will feel fulfilling once we do something remotely substantial!


Day 12: A Closed World

Mission 04 is with Vexen, who announces this by saying “You’re mine today, Roxas.” I think I’ve read this slash fic! Wow, first you team up with Marluxia, then Zexion and Larxene, now Vexen, it’s almost as though they’re— oh, god, they’re getting the CoM cast out of the way before they die, aren’t they? And the fact that they’re all being consigned to the tutorial suggests that they’re not going to last much long outside it. …I’ll talk more about this once it comes to pass.

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“While carrying out a reconnaissance mission together, Vexen said some stuff that was inconsequential to the plot of the movie.”

Finally you get to adjust your controls before this mission begins, so after everyone is set, we can get started on the most complicated mission yet. Saïx asks if you’re ready to begin. YES. I AM READY TO GO ON WITH THE REST OF THE GAME NOW. WHY IS THIS TUTORIAL STILL HAPPENING. While this tutorial is shorter than KH2’s prologue overall, it’s worth noting that KH2’s controls and mechanics were spelled out to you by Day 1 and then parcelled out across the game as you unlocked them, not clumped into the intro in a great gob.  This too might be the fault of multiplayer – wanting to get the player ready to play as soon as possible – but even a front-loaded tutorial could be faster than this.  Worse, by splitting the tutorial into marked segments (and even worse: calling those segments days) it just seems to stretch out into infinity!

Mission 04 is a recon mission, one of the less frequent mission types, with only half a dozen or so missions to the name. Vexen takes you to the Tram Common in Twilight Town, and asks you to draw a few rudimentary conclusions about the town from the world around you. Roxas does not take well to this assignment.

It doesn’t help that the assignment isn’t very well spelled out to begin, with your asshole mentor giving you so few instructions that you really don’t know what to do. This is a flaw that runs through the whole tutorial: all the Org members but Axel are hostile to Roxas, generally for no reason, and Vexen is outright damaging his own tutorial with this hostility. With his pretentiousness and intelligence, he also makes recon sound far more complicated than it is. The devs are so determined to get across that the Org members are jackasses that they’re screwing up your ability to understand their game!

days-2016-09-23-00h47m08s583If the game can’t explain what recon is about, then perhaps I should. During a recon mission, you search the environment for unusual sights and sounds, which Roxas sees as green crosshairs when he gets near certain objects. Many of these observations are not required for your mission: while they do add to the general picture, it’s your job to find all the truly valuable clues one red herring at a time.  Completed clues are marked off on your map after you find them. After collecting enough mandatory clues, you’ll be quizzed by your partner on your conclusions as a way of advancing the plot, although your answers are just for colour as the game proceeds either way.

If you’ve played KH2 in the past, you may have already noticed one of the key problems with this “introduction” mission: you’re in the Tram Common, one of the largest and most complex rooms from that original game. While most of the rooms that Days has borrowed from previous games are actually downscaled, they retain their general complexity even if the walking distances are reduced.

Vexen does tell you to stay in the nearby area at first, but then you’re set loose, which is bad enough, but then it gets worse. Investigation missions are divided by “breakthroughs,” which cause old clues to close up and new ones to open. This sounds natural but here’s the problem: it forces you search one of the most complicated areas in the game from top to bottom, twice. Often, obvious elements in the game world apparently “don’t count” on the first loop, because they just so happen to belong to the second!

days-2016-09-23-00h47m25s550And to make matters even worse than that, Twilight Town has nothing suspicious going on in the first place! Every other world you’ll visit has odd occurrences for you to look at, Heartless activity and Disney plots for you to examine, but here, one of the areas you have to search for is a mildly unusual patch of wall. This is an awful introduction to recon missions. In fact it is probably the worst recon mission in the entire game, especially if you include its faults as a bad tutorial.  At least it’s a nice character moment for Vexen… except in how that characterization makes it a bad tutorial.

You’ll run into a sort-of-new enemy as you run around: Possessors, which showed up in KH2, where they possessed the Gargoyle enemies and the Thresholder boss. Ironically, in Days they won’t possess anything, which seems odd from a game that loves recolouring enemies. You’d think Days would be thrilled to recolour a Gargoyle Warrior! Instead, you now fight Possessors directly. These new Purebloods will try to latch on to you, at which point they will suck your health out at an astonishing rate. It can be hard to even attack them without them latching to you, and the only way to shake them is to jump off the ground, and I mean that specifically: you can’t use various mid-air techniques to shake them, you have to land and then hop, which can disrupt your whole strategy. Possessors are probably the only Pureblood I tend to prioritize in a larger fight, since it can be hazardous to ignore them.

As the investigation goes on, Vexen seems to be trying to give Roxas some credit, like acknowledging his previous findings on at least one occasion (“What about this path you pointed out?”), but he ultimately makes things worse as they go along. At one point he claims to have figured something out while Roxas has not, confusing the player who has no way of knowing what conclusion he’s talking about! At another point Vexen declares the junkyard from KH2 to be a gathering place, which makes him sound like he’s full of shit even though the writing doesn’t seem aware of that, and even he draws attention to the lack of people in the Tram Common. Is it… is it supposed to be night? Is this just Twilight Town’s version of night?

days-2016-09-23-00h48m05s345Despite the general lack of NPCs in this game, I really do love the depiction of the Organization as an external force, machinating behind the scenes. Sadly we rarely get to meddle in the good guy’s affairs to much of a degree, only to ooze through the cracks. Ah well, a true villain sim some other day, I guess.

Once this chore is finally done, you unlock Dodge Roll for your rapidly calcifying panel layout. It’s going to be harder and harder to put spells in here if the game doesn’t start unlocking panels in the grid…

By the way, what did the day’s subtitle, “A Closed World,” have to do with anything? The word “closed” didn’t occur in the entire mission! In fact, if I search for “closed” in DJ Firewolf’s script, I get to watch the scroll bar plunge down half the game’s script before it even occurs!


Day 13: Deeds to Be Done

Day 13. This should be significant, don’t you think?

You’re assigned to Lexaeus today, who takes you to the Sandlot in Twilight Town and… doesn’t speak. When Roxas finally asks him what they’re doing, Lexaeus just says “Do you know what a Limit Break is?”

days-2016-09-23-00h49m37s564He explains it’s a special technique you can only use when you’re at low HP. Specifically, your character has a yellow band on their HP bar, called the “Alarm Zone” because that’s when the game starts playing a warning alarm. Once your HP is in this range, you can use a Limit Break by holding the attack button, though this does run afoul of accidentally triggering some abilities like Sliding Dash.  Better be careful, because an accidental Sliding Dash (which moves you towards enemies!) could be a real problem when you’re on low health! After triggering a Limit Break, the size of the Alarm Zone decreases until it is ultimately only available for characters sitting on exactly 1 HP. Roxas’ Limit Break, Event Horizon, is really just a button-mashing series of attacks with barely larger than short range, but many of the other Org members have some unusual and sophisticated Limit Breaks.

One minor problem with the Limit Break is that it’s the first time in the game where you’ll hear Roxas’ voice clips (there aren’t many, but here they are), and those voice clips are arguably intended for a stage in the game when he’s a lot less lethargic than he is now. Oh well, a little break with the narrative like that won’t hurt us very much.

Just then, a Mega-Shadow appears in front of Roxas and Lexaeus, which is exactly what you’re thinking it is: a giant Shadow with barely modified AI, a lazy enemy design pattern reaching back to the 80s. Lexaeus then looks at Roxas and sucker-punches him so hard he collapses in a heap. Pffffttt…. hahahahaa! It’s so cruel but I don’t care! That makes up for this whole extended tutorial! “There. Now you are on your last legs.” I’m dying.  I’m dyin’!

And the best part? That’s it, that was the whole mission! You use your depleted HP to Limit Break, you kil the Shadow,  and you RTC! Which makes this all so much funnier!  Even better: this is basically the end of the tutorial! Hallelujah!

days-2016-09-23-00h54m16s885Okay, the two characters do talk after the mission. Lexaeus reminds Roxas of the importance of him doing his work, since Roxas is the only member of the Organization who can collect hearts, to complete Kingdom Hearts and give them hearts of their own. When Roxas asks why it’s so important for the Nobodies to have hearts of their own, Lexaeus outright refuses to answer, saying Roxas will understand when he has a heart. That seems like a long time to put off telling Roxas why he should do his job, don’t you think? We can immediately see a narrative problem: in the Organization’s hurry to get Roxas up to speed, Roxas doesn’t know what Kingdom Hearts is, what hearts are, and many other fundamentals. And I think that would be okay if the problem were ever resolved later in the game, but the thing is: they aren’t!  Roxas will never really get answers to his questions, so you have to start wondering even at the start of the game if everyone is being a dick or if everyone is just incompetent. Remember: we already know that Roxas is going to leave the Organization to find answers to questions! The fact that no one answers his questions – answers that (at least at this stage?) would not hurt the Organization’s plans in the slightest – ends up hurting the Organization’s plans immeasurably. Morons! Didn’t anyone tell you that it’s the idiot ball off-season?

In a closing Mope, Roxas decides that since everyone else in the Organization wants to be whole, then he will too. That’s… good initiative there Roxas.

I guess Day 13 didn’t turn out that significant after all!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Moping Zombie
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Ha-Ha Noises


This retrospective’s screenshots come from RickyC’s longplay of the DS version of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days at World of Longplays (YouTube), and from Brian0451’s recording of the 1.5HD cinematics of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days at World of Longplays (YouTube).

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Substitute Teachers

days-2016-09-22-23h59m55s104Day 9: Heartless

On Day 9, DS players will get down to the actual meat of the tutorial, while 1.5 players will get down to the thin, text-only summaries that replace much of the tutorial. In fact, 1.5 spends the next five days in a text lacuna, interrupted only by Mopes, which are themselves, also text. As a result, much of this section will be brand new to fans that are only familiar with the film, even if it is very basic.

For your second mission, Saïx pairs you up with Marluxia, and you head off to Twilight Town with orders to “collect Hearts.” Marluxia is extra special polite to you, and clearly intrigued. It doesn’t take much insight for a veteran of CoM to realize he’s trying to vet Roxas and decide if he can use Roxas to take over the Organization instead of Sora. To be frank, I’m not entirely certain why he doesn’t! Marly later says something about his plans being too far along to include you, but we’ve seen the kind of effort Marluxia goes to in hopes of capturing Sora – it’s kind of hard to believe he’d rather do that than just hang a carrot in front of zombie Roxas’ face! (more…)

FFVII Crisis Core – Oculus Rift Smackdown

FFVII is an institution. With numerous sequels, spin-offs and light novels, FFVII is a franchise within a franchise, and one of the biggest names in gaming, a reputation that’s hard to ignore and harder still to confront from a first-timer’s perspective.  Nevertheless, in we go, me for the first time and Kyle for the second, as we getting started with the first game in the series from a chronological perspective, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.

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(more…)

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Moping Zombie

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Day 7: Number XIV

We roll back to Day 7, by which we mean 7 days after Roxas was “born” due to the events in Hollow Bastion in KH1.  After an introductory shot of the Castle that Never Was, the game and film shake hands and head off in different directions, the game taking the long road and the film the short road, though they’ll cross paths many times in the future.

In the game, we cut to Roxas in his bedroom at the Castle that Never Was, where he was sleeping in full robes on top of his sheets.  I told you.  Roxas then walks into a sort of lounge in the Castle that Never Was, which we’ll later learn is called The Grey Area (get it???  It’s a pun!!!).  You’ll be seeing a lot of the Grey Area, so I may as well describe it: it has a single exit, wall-to-wall windows, two couches and two chairs flanking some coffee tables.  It’s fairly homey in spite of the usual Organization ultra-sterilization!  Saïx is standing in front of the windows exactly opposite the entrance, and will remain there for the vast majority of the game.  He might as well be described with the furniture.

A few Organization members stop over to say hello to Roxas, each in their own distinct ways: Larxene is rude, Xigbar is weirdly ominous and taunting even when he’s polite, and Axel seems half-interested in making a friendly overture.  But we learn that no one seriously expects a response from No. XIII: as we learned on day 255, Roxas is like a zombie at this early period in his career, and isn’t talking to anyone.  He does seem to understand what’s being said to him, at least, and Axel passes on news that Xemnas has called a meeting in the Round Room.  He’s referring to the room with all the thrones from KH2, also known as “Where Nothing Gathers.”  Roxas is so zonked that Axel practically has to lead him by the hand, but one way or another, everyone ends up in the Round Room for Xemnas’ big news.

days-2016-09-09-16h41m41s010In the Round Room, the film reunites with the game just in time for Xemnas to make his announcement: a fourteenth member has been selected for the Organization.  This is the same lure the game used during the 255 sequence, jiggling in the water as though to say: “something is wrong here, please pay attention to it.” Chronologically, this opening is set before both CoM and KH2, but we’ve never heard of a fourteenth member of the Organization.  Suspicions begin to churn.  Clearly this person is not going to be with the Organization by the end of the game, so the question prominent in everyone’s mind should be: why?  If it sounds like I’m teasing the devs, I’m not, these are perfectly valuable ways to attract the audience’s attention, and it’s important that they do.  Days leans very heavily on this mystery.  Having talked to a few people, it seems that whether or not you’re interested in the mystery seems to go a long way to determine whether or not you’ll be interested in the entire game.  Unfortunately, it goes without saying that that means the game is leaning a little too heavily on this one leg.

Xemnas introduces Number XIV, who is short and slight, and hooded.  Xemnas then appears to say: “Let us all welcome one of the Keyblade’s chosen.”  I say “appears to say” because  Roxas is spacing out, and he remembers the day when he was introduced to the Organization, and it’s not clear whether Xemnas was talking about Number XIV being one of the Keyblade’s chosen, or if Roxas is remembering his own introduction.  It’s very cleverly done.  Down below and back in the present, XIV seems to smirk at Roxas, which provokes a reaction in him, the first emotional reaction we see from our “zombie” lead.  Of course, keep in mind that our “zombie” should also be a Nobody, with no emotional reactions at all.  If you didn’t catch that, don’t worry, there’s a lot of game to go, but Days likes slipping these emotions in just past the viewer, to see if they’re paying attention.  Days is a game that rewards a second viewing.

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The film attempts to summarize the Mope from the game.

Following the cutscene, Roxas Mopes that for the first week of his life, he had no idea what was even going on around him, like what the Organization wanted from him or what they were doing.  This mope is the closest thing we have to an “end of chapter” for Day 7, but that’s arguably by design.  While CoM and KH2 were divided up into distinct “chapter breaks,” KH:Days divides its gameplay up by days but its narrative up by arcs.  Each arc spans multiple days, meaning (among other things) that the game has no particular need to “cap off” every single day of the narrative with a dramatic flourish, cliffhanger or punchline.  Once this game’s Directory gets going, you’ll see where I personally divide the arcs.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  For now, let’s move on to…


Day 8: The Icing on the Cake

days-2016-09-09-16h43m41s072Day 8 begins with a prompt from the game to check your main menu for “Roxas’ Diary.”  This is a feature that will unlock every few days wherein Roxas gives his thoughts on the event of the previous day or block of days.  This feature can be kind of unusual.  We haven’t gotten into it yet, but sometimes blocks of days will include multiple story sequences, or multiple days without story sequences.  This means you often only get Roxas’ thoughts on events long after the events have occurred.  Roxas’ diary entries are also rather perfunctory, seeming to exist purely for recap purposes, so I’ll only be touching on them when he has something unusual to say.

1.5 also included Roxas’ diaries, and the film actually offers an achievement for “reading” all the things.  Those are scare quotes, by the way.  You can simply open the first diary entry and hold R1 for about ten seconds, at which point you’ll have flipped through them all and gotten your stupid Copper trophy.  You know, Square Enix, systems like this are why people don’t like Achievements.  The fact that you can’t read the diaries alongside the film itself is also a downside.  Maybe they could have put a “diary prompt” in the corner and you could press L1 to read it?  …Nah, who am I kidding, there was no clean way to integrate these two, but the film still suffers even if I sympathize with the developers’ situation.

While you’re in the game’s menu to look at the diaries, you may also notice that the game has started storing old tutorial data there for future reference.  Basically all the Kingdom Hearts games would do this from this point on, and it’s a lot more convenient and handy than any system they’ve had in the past.  Most complex games do this sort of thing in the modern age, and for good reason.

Gameplay starts in the Grey Area, as it will in every day to follow.  Saïx approaches Roxas at the start of this first session.  Saïx serves as something of a middle manager in the Organization, giving you and the other Org members their orders.  Today, he wants Roxas to start the tutorial, which will take place over a series of days despite some of the tutorials being seconds long. Apparently he’s not a very good middle manager.  You can see what I mean about the game being drawn into narrative arcs (as often happens in games, the tutorial is infringing itself upon the narrative as though it were an arc of the narrative). It’s like h.a.n.d. took one look at reviews for KH2 and said “They think this is a drawn-out tutorial?  We can challenge it.  We have the technology.”

days-2016-09-09-17h09m43s247You’re assigned Axel as your mentor for the day, though are given free reign of the Grey Area if you care to pop around and speak to others.  Number XIV is there, but like Roxas, Number XIV does not speak if spoken to.  XIV is shorter than Roxas, though it can be hard to tell with Roxas’ hair.  Zexion is also present, and he remarks on Number XIV’s name, wondering if it is “significant,” even though he does not tell you what the name is.  You won’t have to wait long.  When you’re ready to go on your training, we suddenly meet up with the film, as both versions show the same scene.  Axel spots Roxas staring at XIV, and will ask Saïx about her name for you.  Saïx even answers, which is awfully polite for him!  It seems No. XIV’s name is “Xion,” pronounced “shi-ON.”  Axel then quizzes Roxas on a few other names, probably meant to be a call-forward to how he quizzed Roxas on Xemnas’ name in KH2.

Your training mission today sends you to Twilight Town, which means it’s time to part ways with the film again.  The film shows very little of the game’s gameplay segments, arguably for the reasons I described in the previous post (and to keep from modelling individual Heartless in high def!), so just take it as a given that when the game goes into a mission, the film goes off in another direction, usually skipping the events of the mission outright!

As I was saying, we start our mission in Twilight Town, and Roxas finds himself deep inside the tunnel system that was unlocked at the end of KH2.  You’ll be here often in Days – in fact, I used to joke that the tunnels were closed off in KH2 because the Org kept bashing around there in this game.

days-2016-09-09-17h14m12s790Axel tries to describe what missions are like, but gives up after a few words, saying: “Talking is dumb.”  Amazing.  The game tries to introduce the concepts behind missions piecemeal, but for the sake of brevity I’ll describe them in full even though Axel doesn’t.  Here’s a rough outline of a typical mission.  A mission begins with you touching down in one of the Kingdom Hearts’ many worlds via a dark corridor.  This corridor is then shut behind you, leaving a small black circle on the ground.  You have to go into the world, accomplish your objective whatever that may be, and then return to the dark corridor, although from time to time the mission will end automatically.  As a result of this format, missions can sometimes be quite abrupt, though others will stretch out to an easy quarter hour.

This is not one of the longer missions.  Axel introduces the basic movement controls, has you activate a few switches to open some grates, and leads you to your “mission objective”: a chest that the Organization stashed at the back of a tunnel.  You then return to the portal.  That’s it.  You open a box, don’t fight any enemies, and don’t even leave this room of the tunnel complex.

Ironically, this means that after three Retrospectives, I can finally talk about gameplay in an early entry, because the game is in nooooo hurry to pile on the story!  Let’s start with controls.  First off: this is the first game released in the west where the jumping and attack buttons use the Japanese layout.  Up until now, the west used the lower face button for Attack and the rightmost face button for jump (X and O on the PS2 controller).  In Japan, the buttons have always been the other way around: the lower button was jump and the right button attack.  Days brings the Japanese control scheme international.  This means that the rightmost button, the DS’s A button, is Attack in all regions, and the lower button, B, is Jump in all regions.  This takes some getting used to.  If you’re like me, the confusion will only last a short while, but I know that’s not true of everyone and I wish the controls had a customization option, or at least a toggle switch.  As an added bonus, you get to feel all tripped up when they switch back for BBS, and then tripped up again when they switch back again in coded!  Thank goodness they stuck with the Japanese layout from coded to the 3DS version of DDD, but they’re switching it back for DDD HD and KH3!

days-2016-09-09-17h15m12s997It should go without saying, but like nearly every 3D game on the DS, the whole game feels much more natural played with a 3DS using the circle pad than on the DS with the D-Pad.  The D-Pad is hardly unworkable, but given the option I know what I’d rather take.  Also, like a handful of DS games, Days lets you advance text with the Down button on the D-Pad, which is good for lefties and lazy people like me who hold the system in one hand during text sequences.  I’m not mentioning that last feature because it’s important or anything, I just wish every game had the feature because I’m really, really lazy.

The camera controls are a bit more notable, if only because they have a baffling history.  You have two camera control schemes to select from: Type A and Type B.  The default Type A controls work on an N64 Zelda-style camera system: you press R to cause the camera to turn in whatever direction Roxas is currently facing.  Unlike Zelda, this isn’t instantaneous: you have to hold R as the camera gradually swings into position.  You have no way of turning the camera without turning Roxas’ body under Type A.  The biggest advantage of this system is that it allows you to rapidly access your magic shortcuts by freeing up the L button, which we’ll be discussing in detail in a later entry.  Suffice to say: the Type A controls make magic shortcuts work like they did in KH1 and 2 at the cost of a relatively insufficient camera.  You’ll have to relearn the camera, but not the magic.

days-2016-09-09-17h16m57s800Type B controls, on the other hand, use both shoulder buttons to control the camera, as per KH1’s use of the L2 and R2 buttons.  Unfortunately, you’re now forced to press and hold both shoulder buttons to access your magic shortcuts, which many fans will find unintuitive.  You’ll have to relearn the magic, but not the camera!

Unfortunately, later games make this decision even harder!   BBS on the PSP offers Days’ Type B controls as the default (but does still offer the Type A, they just swapped the labels), and coded on the DS only offers an improved Type A!  Thankfully, BBS HD uses a dual-stick control scheme on the PS3.

I’ve got even more bad news on top of that.  The wretched game won’t let you change the camera controls until the tutorial is complete, because god forbid the tutorial button prompts be dynamic.  And this is a long tutorial.  You can also control the camera using the touch screen, but not in any meaningful way: it’s only helpful if you want to take a look around, and at times like that, it’s easier to hit Select and go into first person view.

The game tries to make up for these control failures by implementing a chase cam, and while it’s appreciated, I feel most players will find that they’d rather use the controls than rely on the chase cam.  The trouble is that, if you’re fighting a fast-moving enemy, the chase cam can become a hazard as it zips back and forth, trying to keep focus!

days-2016-09-09-17h17m20s406After you’ve become as acquainted with your controls as possible, it’s time to find that chest.  Part-way down the road, you’ll discover that one of the exits leading to above ground is blocked off by a large, grey-and-white jagged X.  Axel explains that these are barricades, nominally put in place by the Organization to keep you out of places you’re not supposed to be, essentially changing the layout of the world on every trip.  It’s best not to think about them much.  Which member of the Organization set these up?  The Dusks? Why didn’t they clear out some of your less important missions while they were at it?  How are they already set up for missions that change on the fly?  We’ll be complaining about all that and more!

Finally you find the chest, and are introduced to a part of zombie-Roxas’ “personality” that takes a little getting used to: he just doesn’t understand certain things yet.  Basic concepts.  For example: he sees the chest, then looks blankly at Axel and asks if they’re done now.  Axel has to point out word for word that Roxas is supposed to open the chest.  After he does open the chest (a Potion), Axel declares the mission complete, and Roxas shows his first sign of personality: “I could have done that blindfolded.”  This is hilarious, but as I once said about lampshade hanging: you can hang a lampshade on it, but it’s still in the room.  While I agree that most of the information in the finished tutorials should rightly have been presented in the tutorials, Days’ decision to parcel the tutorials to this degree is one of its first big sins.

days-2016-09-09-17h18m06s531After the mission is over, Axel says it’s time to “RTC”: “Return to Castle.”  This use of pseudo-military jargon is surprising, the game goes so far as to prompt you with “RTC Authorized” on the GUI.  You might think the Organization would operate like a military operation, but you’ll soon find Days is going for a different effect overall.  Maybe the military jargon was a relic of some older draft, but I feel it actually has its roots in the source of Days’ mechanical structure.  That might sound odd – it’s not often a narrative element descends from the mechanics, and never something as small as this – but I’ll explain after we have a broader picture of said mechanical structure.  “The Dark Corridor is open,” the GUI prompt adds, as though the Organization wouldn’t have let you come home without you finishing your job!

The purpose of the RTC mechanic is twofold.  One is tied up in multiplayer, so we’ll talk about that when we’re talking about multiplayer, but the other is to give you a chance to finish searching the current mission for chests and other prizes even after you clear the objective.  The game keeps track of all your prizes, and you’ll be able to revisit old missions to find chests you missed, but I’m glad the game gave you an extra chance to grab them during your first attempt.  It’s polite.  Unfortunately, the game rarely makes any special use of the RTC phase.  From time to time a new baddie might be waiting for you somewhere between you and the portal (oddly, most of these RTC ambushes occur in the early and late portions of the game, with very few in the middle), but generally you’re just walking through rooms that you’ve already emptied!

As you reach the portal, Axel confesses that you don’t have to go straight back to the castle, and he takes Roxas out of the underground for a reward, “the icing on the cake.”  Together, they go to the clock tower for some ice cream.  There, Axel talks about how he also took Roxas up here the day he was “born,” even though Roxas doesn’t remember.

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“Yes: liver-pepper ice cream.  Your favourite.”

By the way, this scene is where you’ll first hear “At Dusk, I will Think of You…,” a background track that takes up an unfortunate chunk of the game’s total run-time.  This game doesn’t have many new tracks – in fact, the entire soundtrack was sold as a bonus disc for BBS’ soundtrack, and didn’t even fill the disc.  That’s not as bad as coded’s soundtrack, though. coded’s soundtrack was used to pad out Days’ bonus disc!

After the mission, a Mope tells us that Roxas doesn’t know what his job is, which is also included in the film. Kiddo, if I had been asked to walk through a tunnel and open a box, I’d be just as confused as you.

days-2016-09-18-00h38m22s517By the way, while we’re here I should also say that, as a rule, the film covers most of the game’s clock tower scenes, which are plentiful. But having said that, you might be wondering just what the film was doing before this, if it wasn’t covering the in-gameplay narrative that DS players just went through.  Well, it’s not frequent, but the film often summaries things that happen to you during missions via boring-old text. See the image next to this paragraph for an example.  Again, these aren’t frequent, but they are front-loaded, as we’re going to see uncomfortably soon.  And when you don’t get text summaries, you often don’t get the full picture at all!

While we’re here, there’s something I have to get out of the way as soon as possible: the low-res 3D models used in the DS game are a serious detriment to the kind of story Days is trying to tell.  They work okay for the first few days, when Roxas is supposed to be a zombie, but their perpetual fish-faces make Roxas and others look neutral and disinterested in everything that happens to him from here to the end of the game.  The game relies on characters portraits for emotions (as well as a few short audio grunts and laughs), but uh-oh: they put the portraits into the wrong corner of the screen!  As a western player, I keep looking for his close-up face on the left, where it was for much of the GBA CoM.  While CoM did put the face on the right depending on who was talking, the GBA screen was lower resolution, so it wasn’t as much of a problem.  Here in Days, the portrait is always on the right and often far from the text.  And thanks to an unfortunate burst of realism, Days’ portraits also aren’t very expressive, like their over-expressive anime counterparts in CoM. Unless you train yourself to look at the portraits at all times, you’re going to miss a lot of emotion, and that’s a serious problem.

days-2016-09-09-17h19m20s278I can’t overstate the damage done to this emotional story by these low-res zombie models, with the lack of expression and their stiff-gloved hands.  It’s catastrophic.  I don’t think there’s another single, isolated mechanic responsible for more damage to a Kingdom Hearts game than Square Enix choosing to tell the franchise’s most character-driven story with Punch and Judy marionettes.

Thankfully, the expressive models in the 1.5 “movie” improve the situation dramatically.  A new version of Days with higher res models plus the cutscenes from the film would improve the quality of the game by a magnitude, all on its own.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Why the Sun Sets Red
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Substitute Teachers


This retrospective’s screenshots come from RickyC’s longplay of the DS version of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days at World of Longplays (YouTube), and from Brian0451’s recording of the 1.5HD cinematics of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days at World of Longplays (YouTube).

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Why the Sun Sets Red

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Back at TGS 2007, Square Enix announced not one, not two, but three separate Kingdom Hearts games that were going to be made at once, Lord of the Rings style, and would be released in the next few years on portable platforms. It’s been suggested that the entry we’ll be covering next was only introduced because Nintendo came to SE asking for a product to demonstrate the neglected multiplayer capabilities of their Nintendo DS, buuuut that should probably be taken with a grain of salt. One way or another, Square made the game and the end result didn’t really do anything for the multiplayer reputation of the DS. I don’t really think the quality of the product had anything to do with that, mind. The DS’ multiplayer was doomed from the start, and was going to be based around Pokemon no matter how much money Nintendo spent on other projects. (more…)

Kingdom Hearts 2 – Appendix and Tie-Ins

Manga

gallery_17795_85_16690The KH2 Manga has a hell of a publication history. Production began in 2007, however it was so delayed that by its fifth volume in 2009, the next game in the series, Days, had been released! Production shifted to the Days manga, and this time they kept on schedule. When they had finished the Days manga, production returned to KH2 rather that proceed to BBS (indeed, the KH manga series ended with KH2). As a result, the KH2 manga ran for about eight years, and was not even finished by the time I started publishing the KH Retrospective! Indeed it wasn’t even finished by the time I finished my first editing pass of the KH2 Retrospective!

Similar to the CoM manga, the KH2 manga trims the plot into a trim new form: the first and second trips to each Disney world are condensed into one. I feel this is less than perfect. It causes Xaldin to rush haphazardly to his doom (indeed, Xaldin rushing to his defeat is treated like a joke, because there’s no other way it would make sense), and pacing is shot to shit almost as often as it’s improved. To put it another way: pacing is improved in worlds that tell a continuous story (except Beast’s Castle), and it’s ruined in worlds telling double stories.

In the face of all this poor pacing, Amano for some reason chose to create a whole new storyline that KH2’s packed plot sorely did not need. And it’s an awfully peculiar one, too. Thankfully he seems to have abandoned it during the six-year gap between volume 2 and 3, but I may as well address it: it’s revealed that Vexen was stockpiling Replicas of himself in Castle Oblivion (stacked up like cordwood, I presume), and one such Vexen Replica, No. 44, is ultimately responsible for the death of Xaldin.  Sure Amano, whatever.

Screenshot_2.pngAmano also carries over the joke of Organization members being whackadoo cartoon characters, which earns no points with me for the first half of the manga. Thankfully, the Days manga seems to have left an impression on him, and the issues that follow the six year split seem to have been dramatically improved in every way, mostly restricting comic relief to characters that were built for it, like Pete and Demyx. An episode where Kairi escapes from prison and Demyx has to beg her to go back is particularly funny. Actually, Kairi is fairly good in the manga overall, certainly in comparison to her pathetic in-game appearance.

Demyx’s death is also a fairly fantastic and divergent scene, which I want to highlight in particular. Rather than dying at the Battle of Hollow Bastion, Demyx survives to the final siege of the Castle that Never Was. He contests Sora after Saïx goads him into thinking of Roxas as a traitor. Wait, you say, doesn’t that invalidate the clever point from the game where Demyx really didn’t need a reason to attack Roxas, because he was a genuine Nobody without a heart? Well you see, Amano is going in a different direction. After Demyx dies (comically), the scene slows down to show him whimpering as he fades, and Sora is struck with a sudden guilt, realizing that Nobodies just might have hearts after all. Not only is the death handled with the brief seriousness I wish we saw even in the games at times, but it continues a key thread the manga had from Days and that the games had from KH2:FM+, which we’ll get into more in our coverage of Days.

Screenshot_3.pngAll in all, the KH2 manga is the best of the three we’ve seen so far, despite its CoM-manga-esque first half, but I still don’t know if I’d recommend it compared to KH2 the game. We come back to the usual tangle: unless you dislike games but like manga, the manga is basically reserved for people who have played the game, and I feel it’s asking a lot to see all of that same content over again.  I still think there’s a bit too much overlap?  Bear in mind that the manga’s volumes cost about as much as the entirety of 2.5 HD, which contains two full games and also the cinematics from coded! And personally, I don’t know if I can justify that cost for content you’ve already seen. In fact, let this stand as a gauge of my true opinion of KH2-the-game: even though I feel this manga is fairly good, and great at characterization, I’d still rather play KH2 than read it?

If you’re up to paying for it, the manga can be a fair fun read, but if paying for something you’ve already seen is too much to bother, this one isn’t going to change your mind.

But next time…


Trading Card Game

Screenshot_4Yup, there was a Kingdom Hearts TCG, published by Tomy in Japan and Fantasy Flight in the west. I don’t like collectable card games. Perhaps that’s a sign that I’m not the right person to talk about a TCG, so I’ll try to keep it short.  Screenshots here come from the Break of Dawn expansion set’s manual.

The Kingdom Hearts TCG has an unusual format. Rather than the traditional Magic: The Gathering-style duel game, the TCG pits you and another player in something of a race. You start by selecting a Player card, which represents yourself. All other Player cards are set aside, and the remaining cards shuffled into your deck. The idea is to take your player through a Kingdom Hearts-style journey through multiple Disney worlds, which are represented on some of the cards in your deck. Each world card has a given World Level that represents its value and size. The player has to “journey” across a combined World Level of 13 to win the game. Alternately, if your opponent dies along the way by running out of HP, you win in their place. Ah, that good old Kingdom Hearts dark side!

To stop your opponent from charging from world to world unimpeded, you must play Dark cards against them, which represent foes and Heartless. As a result, both players play an unusual hybrid role of player and Games Master, both trying to accomplish their own objective while presenting the threats that confront their opponent. The number of Dark cards you can play on your opponent is restricted by the World Level of the world they’re currently visiting, so it’s possible to win the game by visiting a large number of weak worlds (avoiding powerful or numerous Dark cards in the process), a small number of dangerous ones, or some combination of the two.

Screenshot_5.pngYou can’t proceed to a new world until all the Dark cards are clear, so while they’re in play, you’re going to have to fight. Your character has a few base stats, but that won’t work on its own. You’ll want to play one-time magic cards to help yourself out, or to play Friend cards to deploy allies. The Friend system is complicated. While you add a Friend card to your party ahead of time, once a Friend card is used to help in a battle, they leave your party! But to play a Friend card you need a Friend card of at least one lower level to already be in your party. Yes, you read that right: you need Friend cards to gain Friend cards, but you lose them if you use them, making it harder to get new ones into play! There are also Attack and Form cards just to muddle things up even further.

On top of everything else, you can also attack the opposing player via a “Challenge,” though this only ever causes one point of damage and would have to be used repeatedly (or at just the right moment) if you want to take them out-of-play for a win.

That’s the base rules, but after a few years, new rules were introduced to the Tomy release, which made their way to the Fantasy Flight release with the publication of the “Break of Dawn” expansion. Unfortunately, Break of Dawn was the last set that was ever published in the west before the game was shut down. These new rules introduced Nobody cards (which function more or less the same as Dark cards), and phased out many of the old Attack cards and replaced them with Equipment cards, which could be attached to a Player card or Friend card permanently (or at least as permanent as a Friend card ever were). More important, Break of Dawn introduced two all-new player classes to join the existing Light-aligned player characters: Dark-aligned player characters and “XIII”-aligned player characters.

Screenshot_6.pngDark player cards (which were Disney villains and the like) could not use Friend cards, Equipment cards, or any legacy Attack cards, but could use Dark cards in the same fashion as Friend cards! This gives the bad guys a lot of tactical flexibility, since they can stack their deck with Dark cards and never have to worry about having the wrong card at the wrong time. Need a friend: give the Dark card to yourself! Need to delay your foe? Play it on them!

XIII players are very different. They can play Nobody cards as Friends, but can actually mix other XIII-aligned Player cards into their deck to use as Friend cards, summoning other members of the Organization to their side in battle. XIII players can also Challenge their opponent twice in one turn. You can see the narrative these new player classes introduce: the Light cards are trying to journey through the worlds, the Dark cards are trying to “conquer” the worlds, and the XIII cards could take over the worlds but are much better suited to taking out their opponent. It’s an impressive job of capturing the spirit of the original factions in the games!

Sadly, the TCG hasn’t been published in English for years. Still, you can easily get your hands on the rules: Fantasy Flight has always been generous about distributing copies of their rules for free, which I think is admirable. The more recent, Break of Dawn rules can be found here, and on a related note, here is a FAQ/errata published on the old forums, though be aware the FAQ may be for the original ruleset. Unfortunately, I can’t find the link to the pre-Break of Dawn ruleset link any longer, but if you’re curious, I do have a PDF if anyone wants to request it.

Screenshot_7Because the game was dead by the time I even learned it existed, I’ve never played a game of it, so I’m afraid this rules summary is all you’re going to get out of me on this front. The fans I have heard from haven’t sounded that impressed, but if you’d like to share your impression, feel free to do so in the comments!


Additional Voices

If you read the KH2 Retrospective after mid-January 2017, you probably noticed my adding a note about two voice actors I had originally missed in Twilight Town: Kevin Delaney and Adam Paul.  This was a simple oversight at the time, but proved hard to rectify because of IMDb’s inadequate credits for both actors.  In trying to look them up, I was reminded of another strange fact from IMDb’s credits list for KH2: there are several blank entries.  When I originally wrote the KH2 Retrospective, I assumed that these entries had been added by mistake.  IMDb is run on user-submitted content, after all, and users make mistakes.  Maybe one user had made several mistakes in a row?  But as I was trying to track down Delaney and Paul, I realized that every one of these “blank” IMDb credits actually belonged to the authentic KH2 credits roll, and each one of them was under the useless heading “Additional Voices.”

days-2017-01-13-22h36m43s151Of the whole list of Additional Voices, only a handful have been identified.  Maybe you’ll remember them: Beau Billingslea, John DiMaggio and Adam Leadbeater played the three generic pirates, Rosalyn Landor played the Space Paranoids computer voice, and I’ve already brought up Kevin Delaney and Adam Paul.  The remaining Additional Voices credits are a mystery.  Maybe they provided battle grunts or editing work, or cheered in the Olympus Coliseum ghost crowd?  We can’t say with the information we have on-hand.  Nevertheless, KH2 saw the need to credit them, and I feel the need to expand on those credits, so let’s take a deeper look into one of Kingdom Hearts 2’s forgotten corners.

To get us started, I’m going to touch on someone we’ve already seen here in the KH Retrospective: Audrey Wasilewski, whom we saw as the voice of Turk in KH1.  Of course, Turk and all of Deep Jungle do not appear in KH2, so I can’t imagine she was being credited for archive footage, so what was she brought in to do?  The great mystery of this appendix.  But that’s that, and let’s get on to new faces.

We’ll be going alphabetically by surname from this point on, meaning we start with A. J. Buckley, whom CSI: NY fans will know as Adam Ross.  For a Disney connection, he’s Nash in The Good Dinosaur (and Disney Infinity) and has also appeared in recurring roles in Supernatural/Ghostfacers (Ed Zeddmore), Justified (Danny Crowe) and a few Marvel animated productions, which didn’t belong to Disney at the time.

days-2017-01-13-22h36m48s456Paul Butcher is a musician as well as an actor, and as an actor he’s known for a few minor but recurring roles in King of the Hill and Zoey 101, and later in the web series MyMusic.  For a Disney connection he appears in Meet the Robinsons as Stanley.  His IMDb bio also credits him as a young Bruce Banner in future Disney property, The Incredible Hulk film.  I see no reason to disbelieve this, but sadly IMDb doesn’t actually credit him, or anyone else for that matter, in the role as young Bruce.  Does anyone know if it can clear up the matter?

Next up we have Robert Clotworthy.  Gamers probably know him best as the voice of Jim Rayner in the Starcraft II games, but he also appeared in The Young and the Restless for eleven years and Days of Our Lives for two, and has played various minor roles in Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.  He’s also appeared in DC and Marvel properties (in the case of Marvel, both before and after the Disney takeover) and has a minor Square Enix connection as another “Additional Voices” credit in FFXV.

You might know Courtnee Draper, the voice of Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite, and I don’t need to say much more than that.  She’s also got a Disney connection as the voice of Marvel’s White Tiger, and a Square Enix as Clemente in FFType-0.  Besides her prominent and recent video game roles, she’s also known for appearing in The Jersey for five years at the turn of the millennium.

days-2017-01-13-22h37m28s765You might also already know Bob Joles!  As I post this in January 2017, we’re just one game away from my Marathon Journal coverage of Dirge of Cerberus, where he appears as the voice of Grimoire Valentine, and we’ll be seeing him again in Kingdom Hearts in Birth by Sleep, where he’s the voice of Sneezy the Dwarf.  Since I’ve already written his bio for those two games, I think I’ll hold off on him here!

J. P. Manoux seems to have a knack for landing recurring roles in live action TV shows, appearing in, among others, Phil of the Future, ER, Community and Veep. He also had an incredibly curious recurring role in Reno 911! as “Naked Armenian.” Voice acting seems to be an aside for him, but his one prominent voice acting role is a Disney one, playing the role of Kuzco in most spinoffs, including Emperor’s New School.

Hm… Bob Joles, J. P. Manoux, and don’t forget Rosalyn Landor.  These are all actors with assigned Disney roles.  I think we can see how they got called in to do a bit part in KH2, since they probably knew the same casting agents and were maybe just standing around the recording studio on the right day, but how curious!

Next up on our list we have Jon Olson, who is primarily a video game voice actor (which, as I remarked for Kevin Delaney, is unusual for a career this long, but interesting!).  KH2 was one of his earlier roles.  Like Bob Joles, we’ll be seeing Olson again in Birth by Sleep, and I’ve already written up his bio for there, so…

days-2017-01-13-22h37m54s312While we were in Beast’s Castle, I briefly touched on the odd case of Bradley Pierce, the original voice actor of Chip from Beauty and the Beast.  Chip is unvoiced in KH2, but I suggested that he might have been included to account for any archive sounds.  However, when I began to investigate the KH2 credits, I noticed that the “Additional Voices” were listed separately from the “Disney Character voice talent[s],” which suggests that he isn’t being credited for Chip!  Very strange.  Well, whatever role he served, he deserves a bio.  Besides Chip, you may also know Pierce as the voice of Miles “Tails” Prower from Sonic SatAM, and he did also appeared in the Little Mermaid TV series as Flounder and a few other miscellaneous voices (indeed, if it weren’t for the “Disney Character voice talent” list, you’d have to wonder if he’s on this list because of Flounder instead of Chip, but Flounder has had numerous voice actors since).  In live action, he’s one of the two child leads in Jumanji, and he recently returned from a hiatus from acting to appear in a few TV shows and shorts, including a role in upcoming feature film, Deacon.

Kristen Rutherford is last on our alphabetical list, and while she does have a number of voice and live action credits to her name (including the voice of Futaba in Green Green and Durga in Halo 2), she’s primarily a writer, known especially for nonfiction like Attack of the Show!, The Nerdist and even Pop Up Video for those who remember that.  What a curious industry, what a strange, strange place, and isn’t that just the right sentiment for us to end on?

days-2017-01-13-22h39m50s034So that accounts for the KH2 Additional Voices credits list… or rather, that accounts for the English IMDb’s English credits list – the English IMDb’s Japanese credits list has even more blanks.  Goodness sake, KH2, every other game in your series has a more complete credits list than this!  Unfortunately, crediting Japanese seiyuu is maybe a little beyond the scope of this English Retrospective, but I do sorely hope that these actors are properly credited in Japanese-language resources.  But given what we’re seeing on this side of the pond… I doubt it.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Appendix: The Original Draft?
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Why the Sun Sets Red

Persona 1 – Let it Go

p1-2016-08-14-17h12m05s381Snow Queen Quest

Going into the Snow Queen Quest, Kyle and I prepared for the worst. Knowing we had needed the Ultimate Personas in the main quest, we followed a guide to getting the others in the SQQ as well. The guide called getting the Ultimates “one of the hardest challenges in all RPGs,” but frankly, it wasn’t that awful once we had advice. Certainly easier than beating the main game, or as you’ll see, the SQQ for that matter.

By the way, we’re taking SEBEC screenshots from ZEROthefirst’s Let’s Play, since he didn’t cover the SQQ.  I can’t remotely blame him. (more…)

Kingdom Hearts 2 – Appendix: The Original Draft?

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You have no idea how hard it is to keep coming up with unique flashback screenshots for these things.

If I had to point out what I think was the best element of KH2, it would be the User Experience (UX).  KH2 plays smooth as butter – no! – smooth as whipped cream, with plenty of transition animations for Sora, special attacks and simple movement that the series wouldn’t even attempt to recapture for the next three games.  Even though I’ve lambasted the combat gameplay of KH2 as shallow, that was more of a factor of level and enemy design, as the game plays so well that I didn’t notice the game’s problems for several playthroughs.  The UI is an especial high point of the overall UX, since the UI is top-of-the-board across the entire game, with a special prize for the dramatically improved gummi editor.  The UI is so good that the only game-wide UI problem that I can think of off the top of my head is the fact that the game only tells you how to level up Drives and Summons in an obscure tooltip, and if that’s all it has going against it, it’s riding high!

On the opposite end of the scale, we come to what I feel is KH2’s lowest point, and despite what you might expect, it’s not the narrative, though that’s probably my #2.  It’s also not the developer’s lack of respect for the player, which is more of a design philosophy problem than an element of the game.  No, the element I’m thinking of is the game’s simply… wretched editing job, with gaps, disjointed plots, and sometimes simply inadequate fixes riddling the final product.  And I say we’re going to take that shoddy editing job!  We’ll take it and we’ll use it to try to learn about the earliest plans for KH2, and maybe find out just what they were trying to fix. (more…)

Kingdom Hearts 2 – Blasts from the Past

Screenshots in this post pertaining to “The Gathering” come from Spazbo4’s longplay as usual, while all other screenshots come from KH13‘s video archive, using a fan-translated version of FM+ PS2.

kh2-2016-09-08-23h53m34s332The Lingering Will

The moment you’ve loaded a clear save after clearing all the game’s worlds, the game informs you that: “A new enemy has materialized on one of the worlds.” I don’t know why they’re so coy about which world, considering you get a new episode prompt the moment you return to the map. By the way, when I say that you have to clear “all the worlds” to unlock this boss, I mean it.  You have to clear not only Space Paranoids (which requires you clear Olympus Coliseum and Pride Lands) but also Atlantica and 100 Acre Wood.

As you’ll discover, this new episode is in Disney Castle, though there’s no particular reason for it to be there. KHI user maleficentfan123 suggested that it was probably because Disney Castle wasn’t in the second loop and deserved the extra spotlight.

When you arrive, you find Chip and Dale yapping about the Cornerstone of Light. They claim to have just been “checking” on it. Sure guys, you’re not trying to rob anyone at all! Today, they found more bad news: a giant, dark portal starting to spread on the back wall of the room. I wish it weren’t on the back wall. Every time you die trying to fight this boss, you respawn at the front of the room and have to skateboard to the back, wasting frustrating seconds every time you die! And you will die.

Everyone in the castle is distressed about the portal so you had best check it out. Not that you’re necessarily going to be able to do anything about it, but… you know.

kh2-2016-09-08-23h55m18s232Through the portal, the party finds themselves in some kind of badlands, which may or may not look familiar depending on what content you’ve completed up to this point. A sand storm blows through the area, but when it clears, the trio is left standing by what seems to be a man in armour, not unlike the armour seen in the FM+ exclusive scene with Xemnas in the Chamber of Awakening. Unlike that armour, this armour is brown and black, with a long cape, where the armour in the Chamber was silver and blue. The man is kneeling, and carrying a massive Keyblade.

In direct reference to the KH1:FM battle with Xemnas, the man in armour speaks in text only. He says two names: “Aqua” and “Ven.” Sora and the others arm themselves, which Sora should really stop doing, as it only draws attention to his Keyblade. The sight of the Keyblade provokes the figure into saying they’ve met before, only to change his mind after a moment. “No… It isn’t you… You’re not the one I chose… Why are you not him?” The figure in the armour gets more and more upset with each statement. While it’s a bit easier to understand this scene after playing a certain, upcoming game, it’s not impossible to work out what’s going on here: judging by the fact that the figure identified you by your Keyblade, this fellow seems to know Riku, not you. Remember, you’re walking around with what used to be Riku’s sword!

kh2-2016-09-08-23h57m26s918Unfortunately, this prompts the stranger to make a much less rational conclusion: if you’re not Riku, you must be Xehanort. It’s not clear why he jumps to this conclusion (though for what it’s worth, once you understand his position, his conclusion does make a certain amount of sense). And just like anyone else would do if they ran into Xehanort, the figure arms for battle.

This fellow is known as the Lingering Will (sometimes called the Lingering Sentiment after an older fan translation), and ohhhh boy, am I not the one to talk about this. The Lingering Will is one of, if not Kingdom Heart’s strongest superbosses that’s still fighting fair (I say, while shooting BBS a dirty look), and certainly the most complicated. My ability to survive the early stages of the fight make it impossible to talk about the later, except to watch YouTube videos as my brain fuses. FM+ really does know how to throw a post-game party.

The music playing in the background is “Rage Awakened,” a tune that will let you know just how screwed you are.

It’s kind of remarkable how KH2 can be so bad at minor enemy encounters but so good at these superbosses and late-game bosses. It may that the issue is exactly as written: the game is just good at one thing and bad at another. It may be that enemies needed better, more complicated environments to fight in, like the Cavern of Remembrance helped the exploration. It may be that the Osaka team that worked on FM+ had the benefit of hindsight and were able to work around it. It’s probably a combination of both: even Osaka team’s “new” enemies in the Cavern of Remembrance were restricted by the options already available in KH2, so they could only be so good.

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If you look closely or click for a zoom, you can make out the crown on Sora’s head.

I’ll try to address the key points. Previous bosses in the game had only so many attacks and they came at you in phases. Breaking this pattern, the Lingering Will seems to have multiple sets of possible actions, and the set you face appears to be chosen at random: so you might enter the battle facing attacks 1-2-or-3, or you might see 4-5-or-6. After you damage the Will, it will eventually recover from stunlock, react, and then switch to another set of potential attacks. That means you have to get used to quite a few things before you’re even going to be able to begin the fight!

The attack pattern I’m best at countering centres on the Lingering Will transforming his Keyblade into a gargantuan cannon. And that’s kind of nice in a way. “What are you best at?” “Oh, I’m best at dealing with the gargantuan cannon.” It’s self-affirming! This attack is a modification of Zelda’s so-called “Dead Man’s Volley.” You know: when you and the enemy knock a projectile back and forth between one another until one of you gets hit? The trick here is that the Lingering Will doesn’t wait for the deflected shot to come back to him like a Zelda boss, and will instead magically direct it back in your direction after only a few seconds of flight.  Worse, if you’re too close when it finally does hit him, the resulting explosion will still hurt you, so you have to find the exact sweet spot where you’re close enough to hit him but far enough away to survive.

Clanky also likes a standard combo, or to transform his Keyblade into a sort of jet bike. the jet bike is so preposterous as an attack that surprise alone nearly killed Kyle the first time he fought it. Both of these can be simply Guarded, or preferably Reflected.

kh2-2016-09-08-23h59m44s394After you first land an attack on our new friend, he’ll respond with magic. One of his attacks is to summon a magic orb that will prevent you from either attacking or from using both magic and items depending on the orb. Once the orb is stuck to you, you have to use whichever commands you still have available destroy the Will’s connection to the orb (I don’t know how else to phrase it). This can be tricky if you’re both attack-locked and out of MP! Instead of the orbs, he may occasionally summon attack drones (reminiscent of Marluxia’s second form in Re:CoM) to take pot-shots at you.

That’s all I can really tell you. I’ve never survived to see its limit break, though I read that the fight starts going full-random after it uses it. Should you make it to the end, the Lingering Will will seemingly recognize that you’re not Xehanort and sink back into the sandstorm. Your prizes for winning include a Drive Gauge upgrade, a Manifest Illusion that isn’t really worth the fuss, the Proof of Connection and the final Crown upgrade.


kh2-2016-08-13-23h54m27s774The Gathering

Like KH1:FM, KH2:FM+ has two separate secret endings: the original and the one from the remake. Also like in KH1:FM, the original video is available “for free” when you clear FM+, and unlike KH1:FM, the original video isn’t wiped out by earning the second. You get to watch both, instead!

If you are playing Vanilla, earning the secret video is going to cost Standard players dearly: the entire Journal has to be completed. Major challenges include Sephiroth, all the game’s mini-games including the Olympus Coliseum score challenges, and the Synthesis Notes section, which must be completed with a considerably lower drop rate than FM+ players and their multiple Lucky Rings. Proud Mode players need only clear the Worlds, which you’ll probably do anyways, unless you have trouble with rhythm games.

If you’re playing Standard on Vanilla… it’s not even worth it. I did it myself and felt outright ripped off. The original secret video, “The Gathering,” is about the same length as “Another Side, Another Story…”, but has nowhere near as much intrigue or even content. Worse, “The Gathering,” has been all but completely decanonized by BBS, the game it was trying to promote!

kh2-2016-08-13-23h52m56s759“The Gathering” begins with the text of the original Ansem Reports flying past scenes of the badlands that later played home to the Lingering Will in FM+. Ansem Report 9 is quoted at length, wherein the Seeker of Darkness asked questions about the origin of the Keyblade, and recounts the story of how it was used by other wielders in the past, implying that this video is set in the past.

The video then cuts to three armoured figures. The first is the Lingering Will, who stands in front of a monster’s corpse, though the corpse is very unclear and I know I’m not the only person who didn’t notice it existed. The second figure is wearing the silver and white armour from Xemnas’ Chamber. The third, silver and black, is unknown to even FM+ players. Only the Will has a Keyblade.

The three figures step forward, and we see three Keyblades stuck in the ground before them: Sora’s Kingdom Key, Mickey’s Kingdom Key D, and Riku’s Way to the Dawn. The Will takes the former, the silver and blue figure the Kingdom Key D, and the new figure, who we now see is shorter than the others, takes the Way to the Dawn. As the Will approaches, the monster corpse collapses into dust. Back in the day, I still wasn’t able to make out that it had been a monster.

kh2-2016-08-13-23h55m42s789The camera zooms out, and we discover the three are standing in a crossroads formed by a field full of discarded Keyblades, stretching as far as the eye can see. They then look up, and see a figure walking towards them in the sandstorm. The trailer then throws a number of phrases at you, including “The lost two,” “Keyblade War” and “Memory of Xehanort,” before saying “It all begins with Birth by sleep.” That’s the end.

Well! That taught us absolutely nothing! There are no characters I care about in the scene, they’re not doing anything, the scene seems to stop before anything interesting happens. The only item of any real import is the massive field of Keyblades. And I’ll be honest: I saw that, said “Oh, there used to be lots of Keyblades instead of just a handful,” and went about my mental business!

(KHI user Black Osprey made this post discussing the scene in the light of BBS (spoilers for BBS) that I think is fairly worthwhile reading, but I still think this “trailer” isn’t very effective as a trailer.)

kh2-2016-08-13-23h57m27s829One of the weirdest elements of “The Gathering” is the term “Chasers,” which shows up in the final spam of catch phrases. “Chasers” was the term Nomura and the fans used to refer to the three armoured figures prior to the release of Birth by Sleep, so we’ll be able to make use of it here in the Retrospective. Funny, then, that the term “Chasers” never appears in Birth by Sleep! Indeed, the idea that the characters were chasing anything isn’t really that prominent in the game! They all find the people they’re chasing so early in the plot that the chase quickly falls into the background! It makes “The Gathering” seem even more out-of-date!

What a waste.


kh2-2016-09-09-00h02m53s359Birth by sleep

But this. This is worth it. In fact, the FM+ secret ending may be the most exciting single piece of content in the franchise to date.

Unlocking it won’t be easy. Critical Mode players not only have to beat Critical Mode, but get the Gold Crown, which means clearing both the Lingering Will and all 13 Data battles (and the Mushrooms, but that’s almost a footnote compared to the others). Proud Mode players will have to do that and clear Jiminy’s Journal. This isn’t as hard as it was in Vanilla thanks to your new Lucky Luckys, but it’s still a pain. Lastly, Standard Mode have to clear all Gummi Missions, which as far as I can tell include the EX Missions. That’s six missions a route! Worse still, many of the EX missions don’t allow you to fly the Doughnut Ship, so you’re going to have to spend hours actually getting good at the mini-game – it would probably be faster to learn how to play Critical Mode and start KH2 over from scratch!

The new trailer in FM+ is called “Birth by sleep.” Yes, that’s the name of the fifth game in the series, Birth By Sleep, except with different capitalization, so I’ll try to make sure I always surround “Birth by sleep” with quotes so that we can tell them apart! The music playing here is “Fate of the Unknown.”

We pick up where we left off after “The Gathering,” though the three armoured figures are carrying their own Keyblades instead of the ones from “The Gathering” (remember, “The Gathering” was essentially decanonized). The figure approaching out of the sand is revealed to be an old man, bald with a goatee, but despite that evil signifier and a countenance to match, he is also wearing several items commonly associated with Sora: namely Mickey Mouse gloves and a red and black colour scheme.

kh2-2016-09-09-00h03m36s614As the man approaches, a mirage-like after-image slips off of him, and transforms into a young man in armour resembling Riku’s dark armour from KH1 and CoM, except red-lined. He is wearing a solid mask over his head (not unlike a motorcycle helmet, if I’m honest), and he draws a Keyblade that resembles a red gear. The three Chasers react with hostility to the sight of this pair, though the Lingering Will stops the shorter Chaser from going forward, and rushes the pair himself. The old man gestures with his hand, and a massive pillar of earth slams up out of the ground to carry the Will away. The old man then raises himself and his partner into the air on a taller pillar. The armoured young man jumps down and strikes the Will with a Thunder spell, tearing apart much of the Will’s armour. Final Fantasy spells have never really looked quite as deadly as they do in this video, or at least not that I’ve seen!

The Chasers continue their attack, the two Chasers engaging the boy in armour. The old man looks down on them and gathers a swarm of discarded Keyblades with his magic, and sends them after the combatants. The boy in armour rides this “snake” of Keyblades, and he fires lethal looking Blizzard spells after them.

kh2-2016-09-09-00h05m54s959Meanwhile, the Will is trying to ascend the earth pillar to engage the old man. The Keyblade swarm attacks first him and then the silver-and-blue Chaser, who is slammed hard into the ground. The silver-and-blue Chaser’s armour is heavily damaged, and they remove their helmet to reveal the face of a blue-haired young woman. She casts a magic spell (reminiscent of Wisdom Form’s 360 degree Block) to protect the Lingering Will from the swarm. Indeed, this carries her friend all the way to the top of the pillar, where the old man simply detonates the whole affair with Firaga.

Nevertheless, the Will makes it to the top of the pillar, where he attacks the old man. The old man draws his own, elaborate Keyblade to fight back. He catches the Will with a Blizzard spell that spreads frighteningly up his arm. The spell’s damage looks so bad that you can’t help but worry that he might lose the arm! Just then, the third, younger Chaser, forgotten until now, tries to jump the old man from behind, but is caught. The old man crushes the Chaser’s helmet, and the young man in the bike helmet knocks the Lingering Will off the pillar.

kh2-2016-09-09-00h06m29s195Left alone, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop the old man from using his magic on the young Chaser, freezing him completely with that terrifying ice magic. He then tosses the Chaser from the pillar, the Chaser’s Keyblade snapping in half on the way down. The young woman goes to her friend, to find his helmet shattered. The Chaser is a young boy, alive but struggling. More notably, and to the viewer’s sudden confusion, the boy appears to be Roxas, which is utterly impossible!

Atop the pillar, as the music rises, the old man casts a spell of darkness into the sky, and the clouds part to reveal Kingdom Hearts as it appeared in KH2 and Deep Dive. His pillar rises to carry him towards it, as the Chasers look on. The trailer presents a tagline: “Destiny is never left to chance,” as we focus on the Will, who is struggling to his feet. He tears off his helmet to look up at his quarry, revealing a young man with brown hair, but with the unmistakable face of Xehanort.

In the distance, a young Mickey Mouse arrives on the scene, ending the video.

kh2-2016-09-09-00h08m10s611When I had originally written my “predictions” to the “Another Side, Another Story” and “deep dive” trailers of KH1, I had planned on making similar predictions for every promo trailer to follow. Unfortunately… these two trailers don’t leave much to guess at, do they? It’s fairly clear that the Chasers will chase down their prey (an old man and a boy in a motorcycle helmet) to a place with a whole field full of Keyblades and then fight over Kingdom Hearts. “Birth by sleep” prefers contextualized, unanswerable mysteries (like “How on earth did Roxas get here?”) over the potluck display of spectacle from “deep dive” in KH1. I’m not assembling a group of disparate puzzle pieces this time around, and there wasn’t much more to do than wait in anticipation for the next game.

But it wouldn’t happen quite yet. Because before we could turn to Birth by Sleep, Square Enix attempted to show off the multiplayer capabilities of the Nintendo DS…

Oh, and before that, a few final thoughts on KH2.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Digging for Shrooms
Next: Kingdom Hearts 2 – Appendix: The Original Draft?


This retrospective’s screenshots come from Spazbo4’s longplay of the 2.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix+ at World of Longplays (YouTube).