Day: October 1, 2016

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Ha-Ha Noises

Day 14: Friends

Day 14 starts with the announcement that training is finally over, and you’ll be starting real missions today, working with Axel. That’s what they say, but I feel you’re still a few locked features away from what we could consider the “main game.” It’s sort of like how you proceeded from the Dive to the Heart in KH1, but you were still partially in a tutorial during Destiny Islands, and still weren’t really in the main game until you had cleared Traverse Town.

As it happens, the game starts the day by unlocking one of those “main game” features I was just complaining about: Holo-Missions. Holo-Missions allow you to experience missions exactly as they were originally presented, generally for the sake of opening chests, grabbing old random drops, and finding other collectables, which are tied to specific missions rather than worlds (naturally, any pre-placed collectables that you’ve already nabbed will not return). Holo-Missions even go so far as to repeat many of the in-mission cutscenes! This was probably done for the times that cutscenes were a tutorial or explained a special mission gimmick, but unfortunately all other cutscenes got caught in the net and I’m not sure the game is better off for it. Thankfully you can still skip them. Annoyingly, the Holo-Missions are sorted by the day or block of days in which they occurred (more on that later), not by mission number, so if you’re trying to find a mission by mission number – and the game will often prompt you to do so – you’ll have no way of doing so except to open each block of days, playing a game of high and low until you find the right number. But don’t worry! Once you unlock Challenges, they’re sorted by world, meaning they have an entirely different version of the same problem!

If you go talk to others in the Grey Area at this point, Larxene will give you a Potion. This is a prelude to the sidequests will see later in the game, but I won’t talk about those at the moment. There’s enough going on as it is. For instance…

Your prize for clearing the tutorials is a special panel called a “Gear,” specifically the Skill Gear panel. As far as Roxas is concerned, Gears are just Keychains, but since you use the Panel system to equip your Mission Mode characters as well as Roxas, the devs had to give the Gears a new, neutral name that would apply to everyone. Like Keychains, you can only equip one Gear a time. The Gear system is fairly complicated overall, so the Skill Gear was designed to introduce only a subset of the Gear systems’ full features.

While your equipped Gear does impact your stats, the biggest change you’re going to notice is that Gears can change your attack patterns when hitting the attack button. Sometimes, these weapons have their own alternate attack patterns as well, which you can access by pressing Y in the middle of a combo instead of the attack button. A special prompt appears over your head when this is available. Attacks can branch in all sorts of directions, depending on whether or not you hit Y at certain points, and each Gear has different patterns depending on the character! Learning which attack patterns are worth the trouble can be very tricky, especially with all these alternate patterns to consider. Technically, almost half the weapons in the game are palette swaps, but even they usually change attack pattern from one another!

While they’re not immediately evident, the weapons given by the Gears have names that are distinct from the Gears themselves. You can see your new weapon’s proper name by going to the somewhat-hidden Ability subscreen, by pressing X on the Panel screen. Roxas’ Keyblades have awful, tragic names. The Skill Gear Keyblade is called the “Missing Ache” (groooan). The Missing Ache changes up Roxas’ default combo to use a longer-reaching lunge on the ground and a spin in the air. It’s more-or-less a complete upgrade over the Kingdom Key, to encourage you to put it to use. If you chat to Axel in the Grey Area, he’ll encourage you to use it as well.

Your first real mission is something of a doozy. The devs probably wanted you to have a nice, complicated mission to assure you that the tutorial was dead and buried, but as a result, some of the missions that immediately follow are simpler and easier! Certainly shorter. This sudden difficulty spike probably makes it as good time a time as any to explain what happens if Roxas dies during a mission. Given the small, bottled mission structure, you might worry that if Roxas dies, you might be forced to restart the entire mission, or restart to a checkpoint, like in any Mario game. Not true! Roxas actually restarts at the start of the room, and any Heartless you’ve killed remain dead, though any that are still alive are restored to full health. This means that outside of the bosses, this game is remarkably forgiving. Even KH2 forced you to restart the fight if you died! This is probably, once again, a consequence of the Days’ multiplayer structure. After all, a multiplayer battle naturally continues if one character dies, and of course you respawn right in the middle of it. In Mission Mode, each player can only respawn three times a mission, but in single player you can do so infinitely!

Mission 07 mission belongs to a category we’ve already seen (heart collection), which means I’ve finally reached the point in the Retrospective where I can stop covering these missions point-for-point. Mission 07 has you heading across Twilight Town hunting for hearts. You do get ambushed by on the hill up to Station Heights, which adds a bit of colour to the proceedings. The ambush consists of Possessors, Yellow Operas, and Ub Iwerk’s blessed pen! It’s another godforsaken force field!

Days’ force fields resemble a dark fire, giving the impression the Heartless themselves are responsible for the field, which is at least more narrative coherent than the force fields in every other game in the genre. What matters at the moment is that you’re now trapped in a small box with Possessors, and that’s the worst possible way you could engage Possessors. I actually recommend dumping your Fire spells here, since the Possessors are a menace, and the most dangerous enemies in the mission just so happen to absorb Fire attacks. You might even get a glimpse of how effective spells can be in this game, since they’ll almost certainly wipe out anything they hurt at this stage.

While this is nominally a boring, generic heart collection mission, you do have something of a climax at the top of the hill where you battle a trio of Scarlet Tangos. These bell wizards bowl fireballs at you, which have a high chance of causing a Fire-related status effect. As it happens, this game has thirteen different status effects, one for every original member of the Organization. I’m going to be covering the status effects as they appear, since they make up a significant portion of the Days experience and are fairly unusual as RPG status effects go. The Scarlet Tangos will cause Ignite, which outright sets your character on fire. That sounds exciting, but as it happens, Ignite works like Poison in any other RPG and is probably the least interesting status effect in the game, even if it is quite dangerous. The best part about Ignite is that neither you nor your AI partner react to being on fire in any way. You’d think someone would offer to pat it out, or that they’d stop drop and roll on their own, but no. Never.

While you might expect that Org members would get a bonus when casting spells from their native element, you’d be mistaken, since that would be unfair to everyone who doesn’t have a magic-focused character, after all. What they actually gain is a defensive resistance to their element and its associated status effect, displayed on your ability screen as though it were “Armour.” Since you’re playing as Roxas, you’ll probably go the whole game without encountering Light’s status effect, Radar Zap, which causes a burnout of your bottom-screen radar… which is something that wouldn’t have inconvenienced you at all, because the map is barely any help in combat to begin with. Congratulations, Roxas: you’re immune to a pillow fight. Sadly you also can’t cause many of the game’s status effects, probably because they’d be a little too powerful (or in Light’s case, useless) against the Heartless.

It just so happens that I skipped a few other status effects in previous missions, so let’s go back to those now. Dire Plants are Flower-aligned (Marluxia’s element), which means they’re able to cause the infuriating Blind status effect. This works exactly like a Blind in any turn based RPG: you miss your attacks a percentage of the time, even though that doesn’t make sense in an action game! Digital life is cruel.

The game claims that Yellow Operas can inflict the Thunder status effect, though I’ve never seen them do it, myself. The electric status effect is Jolt, and it’s incredibly dangerous. Thankfully, you can cause it on enemies with your own Thunder spells. After a character or enemy is Jolted, they will take a huge lump of damage should they come in contact with anything but the floor or a teammate: walls and enemies, namely. So if you’ve jolted a Heartless, all you have to do is brush up against them and you’ll rip a chunk of their HP straight off the GUI. Of course, the same is true to you!

After you’ve cleared the mission, there’s a surprise waiting for you if you head downhill from Station Heights: a Bulky Vendor. In this game, Vendors have to be killed with regular attacks as they try to avoid you until a timer runs out, and they teleport away. Should you pull it off, they’ll give you a rare drop you typically won’t see until later in the game. Despite being Emblems, Vendors never count for heart collection missions. Probably for the best, because they’d ruin attempts to grab 100% on the mission meter.

After you try to RTC, Axel of course tries to drag you off to loaf at the clock tower. He’s helped out by the arrival of Hayner, Pence and Olette, who are just hanging out. Roxas asks who those three were, even though they weren’t doing anything suspicious. Huh. It’s as though there are so few people in this game that Roxas caught on to the fact that the ones he sees must be significant. Roxas is still so emotionally detached that he doesn’t recognize laughter, calling it “those ‘ha ha’ noises.” Wow. This line is so embarrassing, the film version seems to have cropped it!

Axel says laughter doesn’t make sense, but friends do things that don’t make sense together, which I suppose is one way to put it. He invites Roxas for ice cream, saying they’re friends and that’s something else friends do together. This works well, as Roxas is ha-ha-ing himself just a few lines later. This happens so quickly in Roxas’ development that I don’t really believe it, so I’m glad to see that the film crops that as well! I surprised how the first few measurable changes between versions have been so positive! I’m sure the film will ruin something eventually, but for so far it’s been looking pretty nice!

It seems Roxas and Axel had such a great time that they promise to meet up again from now on. As you can see, the early game is in a rush to get the narrative to its status quo, but it’s not all bad. Killing off the CoM cast members as early as it does, however, even if it is to remove them from the status quo…

Your prize for clearing Mission 07 is a Block panel, which is much like Block in any other game, except with a smaller window for success. Why does it have a smaller window for success? Why, don’t be silly! You only get the normal Kingdom Hearts Block when you upgrade Block. Yeah, it’s one of those games, where they made your default abilities shittier so it feels like an “upgrade” when you go back to normal. Delightful.

The Block panel itself is unusual compared to every other panel you’ve collected in the past: it consists of a labelled panel, but also an adjoining “frame” that makes the panel take up two horizontal slots of your grid. Hmm, but if they wanted the panel to be bigger than the others, why not fill the whole shape? Why leave the empty square? I’ll guess we’ll find out with time.

If you’re like me, you probably also levelled up during Mission 07. To everyone’s surprise, this also takes the form of a panel. Yes, level ups themselves are quasi-tangible objects (at least as much as any of the panels you find in chests or that characters explicitly hand to you) you can apply or remove as you please, and take up space in your build. The idea is that you have to decide whether you really, truly need a level up compared to an additional spell cast, or what have you, weighting the benefit of one over the other. This is going to make panel use even more complicated… though makes a Level 1 challenge much more agreeable, since you can use all that extra panel space for whatever you want! I’m glad about a dozen of you are happy about that.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any actual screenshots from Mission Mode.

Mission Mode

Hey, is everyone excited about being done the tutorial? Surrrre sounds nice. It would be pretty awful if someone were to start a new tutorial, wouldn’t it?

Yes, Mission Mode has its own tutorial, in fact it has its own specific, dedicated mission for exactly that purpose, “Mission 00,” which you have to complete before you can even participate in other multiplayer missions. It’s a pretty similar mission to Mission 07: you climb to Station Heights and kill some Scarlet Tangoes, except that there’s no ambush on the Heights, and it isn’t a heart collection mission. Mission 00 is a new mission type: “defeat a specific Heartless.” The Jazzes at Station Plaza are your only target. This style of mission is confounding to me from a narrative standpoint. Why does the Organization allow any hearts on one day, but only wants specific hearts another day? I suppose the Organization somehow determines it needs a certain magical “flavour” of Heartless for Kingdom Hearts at specific times? Would it have been so hard to make something up?

One other weirdness about this mission is that it’s the first time the Organization has set an X barrier that cuts you off from your objective and forces you to take a longer route! This just goes to show that, no matter their narrative explanation, the Xs are just here to make arbitrary stage layouts. It won’t be the last time.

Let’s talk about Mission Mode in general. You get started by loading up your single player folder and completing the Mission 00 tutorial. After it’s done, you gain access to a very wide number of missions, more than you’ve actually unlocked in single-player if you’re at a similar point to this Retrospective. That will change as you catch up, as later missions will have to be unlocked in single player mode in a particular fashion that I’ll describe when we come to it. Besides Mission 00, there are no Mission Mode-specific missions, while in turn there are a handful of story missions that you can’t play in Mission Mode at all. The missions that are available in Mission Mode are generally identical to their story mode incarnations, though there are some occasional significant changes between the single player and multiplayer versions of a mission. While I’ve done the best that I can, I’m afraid I haven’t had the time to replay every mission in Mission Mode for my Retrospective playthrough, so we’ll have to settle with the few changes I have seen.

While Mission Mode is nominally multiplayer, you’re welcome to play it solo if you’re willing to put up with the high difficulty, and by “difficulty” I mean the extreme, MMO-style enemy HP boosts that were set up with the expectation that you would play these missions with friends. As a result, anyone playing Mission Mode solo is up for a slog, plain and simple. Sure, they could have matched enemy HP to the number of players, but it was way easier to, you know… not.

Before we go any further, I may as well talk about Guest Play, which allows you to play without using a single player folder. This does not allow you to save, and gives you a pre-set amount of low-level panels. You have only a 5×5 slot panel to work with (more than you start with in single player, but only barely), and can get up to Level 18 with the right combination of panels, so there are a small few options available to a guest. That’s all there is to say about Guest Play; I appreciate that it exists, but you shouldn’t make a career out of it.

The biggest upside to playing Mission Mode is this game’s intended selling feature: the option to play as the members of Organization XIII! You get the original thirteen at the outset, with Xion and a few “bonus” characters unlocked as you play through the game. Your party cannot contain any duplicate characters, so you’ll have to plan ahead with your friends to make the ideal set-up.

Once you’ve picked your character, your save file’s existing panel layout will be applied to that character just like it would have been applied to Roxas, though you should mind that some of the panels (namely Gears) work very differently depending on the current character. This is less than ideal. Characters have different strengths (some are combat aligned, some magic aligned), weapons and Limit Breaks, so it doesn’t always make sense to give them the same panels as Roxas. Unfortunately, the game only allows you to save three possible panel layouts in one save file, so if you’re reserving one panel layout for single player, you can only really save panel layouts for two other characters. I recommend the average player reserve one panel deck for Roxas and single-player, re-use that build for physical-aligned characters, reserve the second deck for magic-focused characters, and use the last deck for special circumstances in either mode.

Gears do not work identically between characters. Which is impressive if you think about it! Each Organization member has weapons and attack patterns specific to nearly every Gear in the game, there’s a truly massive amount of work put into this part of the product! (Secret characters aren’t necessarily so varied, but we’ll get to that.) But while each character has their own patterns, each Gear affects each characters’ patterns in similar ways. For example, a Gear that promises to extend your ground combo will try to do so for everyone, but the specifics will vary. Roxas’ Skill Gear Keyblade, the Missing Ache, gives him wider ground attacks and a spin attack in the air, but Xemnas’ Skill Gear, the Sanction, gives him a spin on the ground followed by a spread attack, or multiple spin attacks in the air! Xigbar is the strangest of all, since he has guns, and needs to reload just like in KH2! In fact, all his Gears have different amounts of ammunition per clip!

Even though most of the game’s characters are available at the outset, that doesn’t mean all those characters are built for low-level play. The magically aligned characters, namely Vexen, Zexion and to a lesser degree Xaldin, Demyx and Larxene, are pretty much unworkable at the beginning of the game, as you have almost no magic panels. Even characters with mid-level attack skills, like Axel, suffer in the low-level play. Some characters like Marluxia suffer for an entirely different reason: they have low HP and you have no recovery abilities! Similar concerns exist for characters that clearly exist for support roles, and are nearly helpless in single-player. I’m not yet convinced Xigbar can function solo at any stage in the game, as he’s a pure support character and will be doing minimal damage on his own. While others may have had better luck than I did, in my experience only Roxas, Xemnas and Saïx feel viable at the start of the game thanks to their relatively high attack skills, and I still think you’re better off sticking with Roxas!

Long story short, you probably shouldn’t be playing Mission Mode at this stage in the game, but I wanted to get it out of the way so that I could address Mission Mode’s specifics in-line with upcoming developments.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: is there Deathmatch? Technically: no, but friendly fire is on at all times, so if you want to clobber each other, the option is available. No, Mission Mode is mostly co-op, with a form of ongoing competition that seems to have drawn some unfortunate influences from the original Four Swords.

First, let’s talk about some general changes to mission structure made to accommodate multiplayer. Some changes are unsurprising: there are no chests or pickups, for example. The first significant change is what’s called “Gathering Gates.” These gates are symbols that appear over certain doors, preventing players from going through the door unless they the entire party is together. This allows the game to manage only a small handful of rooms in memory at any given time, without forcing the players to be together at all times. The relative freedom is more than I expected, but in practice, Mission Mode uses more Gathering Gates than “free” doors, so the freedom is mostly an illusion.

Another new element in Mission Mode are small rupee-like crystals scattered around the map (sometimes the Four Swords influence is a little on-the-nose). Sometimes, these rupees appear boxed in new destructible boxes that weren’t present in the original mission. These rupees are actually called “Mission Points,” and the player who possesses the most of them at the end of the match wins an additional prize (though it’s quite possible, as I’ll explain later, that the Mission Point leader may win the only prize). You lose Mission Points whenever you are attacked, and if you attack your allies, you’ll steal their points outright, which can quickly derail the entire mission. If you’re really hoping to clear the mission together, you had best establish with your friends exactly how much friendly fire you’re going to be cool with! Not that you have any way of enforcing your agreement…

Another new feature to Mission Mode occurs only if you’re in a mission with a traditional RTC segment, not a mission that auto-completes. During the RTC portion, the game becomes something of a race. The first player to make it back to the dark corridor within the time limit wins 20 mission points (thankfully, you only have to step on the circle, not bring up a menu to interact with it like in single player), and the rest receive a diminishing amount of Mission Points in order. There is no sense in continuing to 100% a mission in Mission Mode, as there’s no reward for doing so, so everyone will bolt to the portal the moment you hit the white line on the mission bar, if not outright turn on each other to fight for mission points that way. Unfortunately, Gathering Gates make a mockery of this final race, so attacks are probably to be expected. As a result, the whole Mission Points feature has an air of mutinous, infighting Org members who don’t care about their actual assignment. But you’ll want to be careful as you bustle and infight: if you die three times during a mission for any reason, you’ll be kicked out entirely, stuck with your current Mission Point total.

Besides the usual EXP, Munny and item drop rewards, the prize for completing a mission in Mission Mode is a special resource called “Mission Crowns.” In the original Japanese version, Mission Crowns can only be earned in multiplayer, but this was mercifully changed in international releases to allow you to earn Mission Crowns by playing Mission Mode solo, probably thanks to the middling success of wireless gaming outside Japan. You’ll receive a nice crop of Mission Crowns from a mission the first time you complete it, depending on the mission, anything from 2-9 crowns a piece. A single, additional Mission Crown goes to the player in with the most Mission Points, which will always be you if you’re playing solo (this is the only Mission Crown reward on replays). This is a dirty mechanic taken directly from Four Swords. It was awful there and it was awful here too.

These Mission Crowns are exchanged at the shop… once you’ve unlocked the feature during story mode. As you might recall, we don’t even have access to the shop in story mode at the moment, and the “Redeem” section in the shop won’t open until we’ve unlocked the later Challenges feature! In any events, Mission Crown redemption works like a checklist: you receive prizes from the bottom of the list all the way to the top. There’s one prize attached to 1 total crown, another prize to 2 total, one to 5, and so on, all the way up to 358, same as the title of the game.

Sadly, 358 crowns might not be the total you’ll get for beating every mission in the game: some sources report 358, while others report 320.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an authoritative list out there. If the 320 figure is correct, this means that, just like Four Swords, you have to play the mission mode over and over again to get additional crowns. If beating every mission and winning first place will only get you 320 crowns, you’d need to do 38 missions over again, not to mention all the missions you’ll have to repeat for not winning. And for helping your friends reach 358! You are going to help your friends, right? This is not a game that encourages getting 100%.

A poster at GameFAQs, angrywalrus13, recommends this strategy for the lazy: take hyper-durable Lexaeus to Mission 10, a mission where you simply have to survive a timer, and let its mission timer run out while you ignore the game entirely. You might need to level up a few times first, but once Lexaeus can survive the mission, this is basically a free Mission Crown! Repeat anywhere from 38 to 358 times! What with the game being so spiteful, I think I can get behind a spiteful revenge! But be aware that if you want all of Mission Mode’s prizes, you can’t rely solely on this trick. Oh, sure, that will get you most of Mission Mode’s prizes, but there’s a separate prize for beating every single mission in Mission Mode. The game’s asking a lot of you – you essentially have to beat the game twice – but there you go.

I’m going to put off discussion of Mission Mode’s major prizes until the post-game, to avoid gumming up this early post with concepts we haven’t introduced. Still: if you plan on playing Mission Mode, you should play it alongside the main game, since its low-Crown prizes are meant for the early game, and so on!

I should say one thing: something that bothers me about Mission Mode is that the game never bothers to let you play as other characters during the main game. Mission Mode is prohibitive: enemies are three or four times stronger than the main game, and the game often “skips” and lags – yes, even in solo Mission Mode play! A few in-story bonus missions spent controlling other characters would have livened up story mode considerably, especially if they had allowed you to do some real evil things (though that’s not necessary).

Oh well. Back to the actual game!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Backpack Tetrominoes
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Fourteen Spotlights at Once

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).