Days 15-17: Missions
If you take a look at the day heading just above this paragraph, you’ll notice it isn’t quite like the past 7 days of play. We’re now covering a range of days, all with the same label, which means things are going to go differently. So far, we’ve been doing one specific assigned mission a day, but much of the time Saïx is going to assign you a block of missions over a range of days like this one, letting you choose which order in which you want to approach them. Only some of the missions in a mission block are mandatory – they’re marked with a tiny Keyblade symbol. After completing those mandatory missions, you can choose to “fast forward” through the storyline to the next story block if you feel like it. Naturally, the optional missions have their own rewards, chests and the like, which are meant to encourage you to play them right away, but the game will hardly stop you if you don’t. On top of that, the game has two additional features available during an optional mission block that will give you even more rewards… though neither of those features are present in this first block. This is done to help make this first set of optional missions a lot easier to explain, but as a consequence, it also makes these first few missions a lot less appealing.
One thing to keep in mind about optional mission blocks is that none of the missions are added to the Holo-Missions menu until you’ve advanced past the entire mission block (by completing every mission or by skipping ahead), so try to be thorough when you grab chests, as you won’t be able to come back to that mission right away!
Your mandatory mission in this set, Mission 08, is a little underwhelming. Just because a mission is “mandatory” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily story related. They usually are, but exceptions do happen. Usually, mandatory missions with no story try to redeem themselves by giving you an important new panel or something, but not here. In fact, there’s nothing special about this mission at all, or any of the others in this set! The best I can say is that about Mission 08 is that it’s the first “defeat a specific Heartless” mission outside of Mission Mode, but even that’s not very interesting.
Mission 08 sees you hunting down Watchers, this game’s reboot of the Surveillance Robots from KH2. Watchers aren’t the pushovers that the Surveillance Robots used to be, and you certainly can’t use them to vaporize whole enemy armies with reaction commands. Instead, they use small and large lasers to inflict you with the Space-aligned “Shoe Glue” status effect (Xigbar’s element). Shoe Glue prevents you from jumping, which as you can imagine is a bit of a problem when you’re trying to fight flying enemies like Watchers! Thankfully, Larxene is babysitting you for this mission, and she comes equipped with the Thunder spell and is able to use it even if she’s stuck to the ground.
Optional Mission 09 has Roxas heading off to the Mansion in Twilight Town, which is still locked off. There, he and Marluxia clip a garden full of Dire Plants, and it would all be very cut-and-dry (ha!) if it weren’t for the ugly surprise waiting for you when you try to RTC. Saïx warned you about this threat during the mission briefing: a dangerous Heartless is skulking about the area, and it’s well above your level. This is the Zip Slasher, an all-new breed of armoured Heartless, and it has multiple health bars just to scare you away. Days does this “A dangerous enemy is nearby!” trick a handful of times, distinct from the usual RTC ambush, and it’s almost never worth engaging the scary new baddie on your way to RTC. Just don’t. Unfortunately… this is a generic heart collection mission, and you can’t get 100% without killing the Zip Slasher. Even though that’s the case, it’s still not worth it to kill the Zip Slasher, because the 100% bonus is a stinking High Potion. A High Potion! For a good five minute’s work chipping away at the Zip Slasher’s health bar! If you must get it, I say get it later.
As for the Zip Slasher itself, you’ll be encountering it and its recolours in plenty of late-game missions, so you might think: “oh, I should memorize its pattern!” Well too bad: unlike its cousins, the Zip Slasher only has one attack, and it’s not just that it has one attack, but that there are noticeable gaps in its behaviour, as though the other attacks were ripped out of its AI in a tragic drive-by deletion. As a result, the Zip Slasher often stands around doing nothing as you wail on it before coming to its senses, blocking your attack and then doing a spin-and-thrust. If it does block your attack, you’re almost certainly screwed, as Roxas will get hit before he finishes his recoil animation. As a result, it’s best to stay away once you suspect the Zip Slasher might “wake.” The best luck you can get is that Marluxia might cast Blizzard magic, which might cause the Blizzard status effect, Freeze. Good luck with that.
While the Zip Slasher doesn’t look to be an elementally aligned foe, it’s actually Water-aligned, and can make this exercise in tedium all the harder by inflicting the Damage Drain status effect on Roxas or Marluxia. This status effect drains your health to heal the enemy’s. It’s really, really not worth trying to fight this thing.
The last optional mission on the docket is Mission 10, which takes place in the Castle that Never Was, as the Organization “determine[s] your fitness for future missions.” Apparently this involves throwing you into the Hall of Empty Melodies with an infinitely respawning trio of Dusks, who have orders to tear you apart for a minute. Oh, lovely. It’s much harder than it sounds, too, considering you have no Cure spell (and without being able to play it as Lexaeus, as I discussed in the Mission Mode expose). If you survive the test for one minute, be it by fighting or running, you’ll earn a Fire panel, a Potion, and a synth ingredient, which hardly seems worth it after one minute of physical abuse. It’s no more worth it any more than fighting the Zip Slasher was. Give it a shot, but if it keeps going south, especially on Proud mode, I say just move on. You have my cheering encouragement to skip the entire debacle and come back later to laugh in their face with your Level 40 stats. “Prove your Endurance” my foot. Yeah, I proved I can drink five Potions, what’s your point?
While the Dusks behave in a vaguely similar manner to their previous appearance in KH2, changes in gameplay have left them in poor condition. They can’t flit around in the air, bending and morphing. No, they just walk, and fly just above the ground in a manner not functionally distinct from walking. Moreover, any strategy that was in them in KH2 is gone, and while I don’t feel the KH2 Heartless had much strategy in the first place, the Nobodies and especially the Dusks were a clear exception, being the ideal use of Reaction Commands and their colourful and engaging techniques, all of which is now gone. In fact, I suspect that the Dusks maybe be under-programmed in Days, even compared to other enemies in Days. I’ll be able to explain why I suspect this was the case the next time we fight a lesser Nobody in one of these pin cushion endurance battles.
All of those complaints said, one thing that does interest me about the “prove your fitness for future missions” missions is how they contribute to the sense of surreal bureaucracy at work in the Organization. This is what I meant earlier when I said you don’t get the impression that you’re in a military group. No, the Organization better resembles a weird office job! They have to vet you for missions, they approve everything you earn. The atmosphere isn’t like any other game I’ve ever seen… except one.
Ah yes, I said I was going to speak about that. You might be surprised which game Days is drawing most of its influence from. Days is a Kingdom Hearts game, of course, but its progression, its mission structure, and some of its controls all seem to be a descendants of Final Fantasy VII’s prequel, Crisis Core. In general, Crisis Core has you going through story missions alongside an extensive list of side missions, which take place in small, bottled repeat environments. The key differences between the two is that Crisis Core has a larger home base to explore (I wish Days had flirted with the possibility of doing the same, you see awfully little of the Castle during the length of the game), and CC’s optional missions were truly optional, whereas here they’re presented more as highly recommended. You can really see the Crisis Core influence in this mixed bureaucracy/military influences, since Crisis Core was attached to a bureaucracy with a military arm!
I considered going into Crisis Core in more detail here when I first drafted this Retrospective months ago, but as it happened, my Crisis Core Journals ended up being uploaded at the exact same time as these Days Retrospectives, so you can check them out here. Crisis Core also seems to have gone on to inspire the Command Deck system of Birth By Sleep, so I think a Kingdom Hearts fan owes it to give the game (or a Let’s Play, or a Marathon Journal) a whirl just to put everything into context!
After each mission in this mission block, Axel and Roxas are shown in a cutscene, meeting at the tower for ice cream. How are you today Axel? That’s good, our bosses had some of our Lesser Nobody interns stick their spear-like hand through my thigh as “test of my endurance,” so I put my Key through their brains and ended their hopes and dreams! Thank god this ice cream fixes everything!
Roxas’ diary entry for this block is peculiar: he notes that Sea Salt Ice Cream tastes familiar. I can’t work out why the developers included this line? Remember: Sora’s never had the stuff, so it’s not about that. Technically Axel gave him some on his first day alive, but Axel TOLD him that so he shouldn’t be confused about where he tasted it before. I think that Roxas is referring to the trip Axel was talking about all the same, and that this is just a writing oversight, but as it stands, this looks outright suspicious!
Day 22: Left Behind
You’ll notice the game has actually jumped ahead a few days, from Day 17 (or earlier, if you skipped some of the optional missions) to Day 22. We’ll be fast forwarding even larger periods of time before the game is done. The game sometimes implies Roxas is doing work during these skipped periods, but we don’t get to see it. Apparently, the developers have stated that they wanted to have a full 358 missions to go along with the title, but they didn’t get remotely close (though I won’t say exactly how “close” to avoid the spoilers). This implies to me that they were hoping to closer follow the Crisis Core model by having even more rapid and ephemeral missions (Crisis Core’s side-missions last in the area of 1-5 minutes instead of 5-15), because there is no damn way we could have done 350 missions in the current style and size without getting every Kingdom Hearts fan to stick their DS in a vice. Crisis Core had 300 side missions, but it also had main missions, so it’s hard to say what a game with 358 missions would have performed!
One of the first odd things about Days’ arc-based structure is that there isn’t actually a hard line between the tutorial arc and the first proper story arc, which gave me trouble when I was trying to split the story arcs in the Directory. I could have honestly drawn the line anywhere from the end of the official tutorials (Day 13), after the generic mission that follows the tutorials (Day 14) or after the generic mission block we just passed, which clearly doesn’t belong to any storyline (Days 15-17). I’ve chosen to do the latter. Unfortunately, this means that my attempt to divide the game’s Directory page by arc is going to sometimes slash posts right through the middle, like we’re doing today, but it’s no huge cost.
When you arrive in the Grey Area on the morning of the 22nd, everyone is talking about other members of the team having gone somewhere, Luxord saying he’s lost “half the poker league.” I’m not sure whether we can read that as just Luxord using gambling metaphors or if I actually get the joy of taking it literally, and imagining Larxene and Zexion threatening each other over a full house. Roxas gets no immediate explanation for the change, and is assigned a priority mission in Twilight Town with Axel. This is the first boss mission in the game, though it’s more of a midboss, considering the foe you’re hunting is just an oversized recolour. There are a few of those, so I think the term “midboss” will serve our purposes quite well.
Axel seems to be in a hurry once you hit the streets, though not so much of a hurry that he misses out on teasing you for still being a “zombie.” And he’s not wrong: Roxas may be hanging out with him every night, but he’s still well in his zombie stage, mumbling his way through conversations, missing and misunderstanding the obvious, and watching the floor.
You have to navigate the Twilight Town tunnels for this one, which involves flicking a few switches to open gates. If you keep an eye open, you’ll also spot a chest with a Loaded Gear panel. While you can’t equip it until you’re back in the Grey Area, the Loaded Gear can offer you the Pain of Solitude, an early magic Keyblade. With so few magic casts, you might suspect that this blade would be useless at this point in the game. Perhaps realizing this would be the case, the devs made the Loaded Gear have a higher strength bonus than the Skill Gear on top of its magic bonus, so there’s no harm in giving it a whirl to decide if you like its new attack pattern.
During the mission, you’ll run into a few new old friends: Minute Bombs, which are more or less as they’ve ever been, save in that you can no longer use Dodge Roll as a Reaction Command against them. You can, however, knock them around the room after they start to count down, letting you use them as a somewhat ineffective weapon. Like in KH2, setting them on fire to blow them up immediately is also an option. Funnily enough, if they blow themselves up, you still get Heart Points! They can even help maintain your Chain from a distance!
Your long road takes you ultimately to the Sandlot, where your target appears. This is the Guardian, a Watcher recolour accompanied by several of its little cousins. The sheer number of enemies here with giant laser beams makes this fight trickier than you might like. It’s best to pick off the Watchers with Fire before they Shoe Glue you, all while watching out for the gigantic beam from the Guardian. The Guardian is Nil-aligned, Xemnas’ element. Nil attacks are infrequent and for good reason, because they cause the Null Defence status effect, reducing your defence to 0. If you’re lucky, you might have a Panacea on hand when it happens. Panaceas serve as this game’s status effect cure-all, which can be very handy in a game with 13 of the things… even if I never use them. In my defence, futzing around in the item menu as death beams streak across the Sandlot isn’t a great survival technique either!
This is the first mission in the game to end automatically, with no traditional RTC section. Axel must be in a hurry, but not so much of a hurry to skip ice cream, though that should stand as a given. As the two of them are eating, Axel explains why half the Organization is missing: he and the other CoM cast members have been ordered off to Castle Oblivion. What, already? I got the impression they’d be leaving early, but not this early. Why are we in such a damned hurry? Couldn’t we have spent a little more time learning about the cast members that were going to be tossed in the thresher? What are Zexion and Lexaeus like? Why was Marluxia named Lord of Castle Oblivion? I recognize that KH2 claimed Sora was asleep for about a year, putting Days on a deadline, but Days could have delayed CoM in any number of ways. Hell, consider this: if Days takes 358 days, and CoM hasn’t started yet, that means that Sora wasn’t asleep for a year in the first place, just most of one. The writers could have easily removed another month or two from Sora’s doze and no one would have been the wiser. I’d say you could shrink Sora’s sleep as low as eight months before I, at least, would object to the term “year.” Did it just not occur to the developers to do so?
This plot acceleration is such a bad idea on the surface that I can’t deny another possibility: that the developers might have killed off the CoM crew because they wanted – or needed – to pare down the cast as early in the game as possible. If that’s the case, I suspect it might have happened because the writers simply not knowing what to do with the entire Organization. In fact, as we go on the game will prove incapable of making full use of the other surviving members, either! A word of advice: if your story plan and budget have trouble writing a story with a cast of three or four (in practice: Axel, Roxas, No. 14, and Saix) you should strongly reconsider taking on a cast of FOURTEEN PLUS.
Unfortunately, I think this may have been a mistake that Square Enix and h.a.n.d. took on knowingly. My reasoning stems from the fact that the story doesn’t attempt to work with the surviving Org members, with one notable exception. If there had been failed effort – say, perhaps, a barely visible Demyx plot – we could at least say that they messed up, but since there simply aren’t plots for most of the Organization, I have to conclude that the devs weren’t interested in a larger cast to begin with. And if that’s the case… why did they take the larger cast in the first place? It strikes me that Square Enix probably took on a cast of fourteen in an effort to justify this game’s multiplayer feature. Unfortunately, multiplayer has already driven a huge number of questionable design decisions, and to imagine that it’s responsible for harming the narrative as well is disappointing.
In any event: if you go into Days expecting a story about the Organization, instead of a story about just Roxas and friends, then you’re going to be very, very, very disappointed, and I’ve seen that disappointment in fan after fan after fan.
Because it’s clear to me that the developers intended to make a game about three/four people, I’m going to be judging the majority of the game from that perspective, instead of treating this as a game about “The Organization” and being disappointed for the rest of the Retrospective. I feel it’s always better to judge a product for what it is and what it’s trying to be instead of what you wanted it to be. But before we go in that direction for the remainder of the Retrospective, I do have a few more thoughts on the issue at hand:
First off: let’s ask how could this game have been changed to better accommodate the entire Organization, if it had been the developer’s objective to tell a story about the Organization. I think the game would have needed to be greatly expanded in length, giving you time to control other members of the Organization (as I mentioned in the discussion of Mission Mode), to have kept the CoM members alive for a longer part of the game, and to basically toss out the idea of focusing on Roxas entirely. That last point would have honestly done the game a damage by removing its focal elements, but I feel you don’t have much choice with a cast of fourteen. The devs would have also been able to show “evil” members of the Organization performing evil acts, something that essentially happens off-screen in this game. …Though maybe they just didn’t want to show that, or allow the players to do that, in which case I must once again challenge their decision to cast the Organization in the first place, but from a simple narrative instead of numerical perspective. Commit! Commit!
Unfortunately, given all the reductions we’ve already seen (like the reduction from 358 separate missions), it strikes me as likely that Square (or h.a.n.d.) couldn’t create a game of the size required for a cast of fourteen. It would have been one thing if they had simply failed at what they were trying to do, but Days stinks of the developers or producers trying to do something that was out of their reach the entire time! While making the game focus on just a handful of characters was better than nothing… I think the better decision would have been to recognize their limitations and not focus on the Organization at all, but some other subject entirely. Yes: just throw the whole plot in the garbage. I don’t think it could ever have been accomplished, certainly not on a portable system. I know saying “The Organization shouldn’t have been the focus of this game” isn’t going to make me popular, since for many fans that’s the (broken) appeal of Days, but look how many problems that’s caused even in this first hour of gameplay alone – even before the central plot has really started going!
As I’ve said in the past, I don’t feel it should be my job here to make suggestions against the developer’s intent (at a certain point, what should be criticism and revision becomes fanfiction). Rather, I try to highlight mistakes and to hone what I can best perceive as the developer’s intent. But if you’ll permit me a few paragraphs of pure fanfiction, I’ll give my thoughts on a possible alternative plot that might have better facilitated a smaller crop of characters.
Let’s assume that multiplayer has to be included. That’s where the money is coming from. If Square/h.a.n.d. could have only handled a small crop of characters, one idea that could have worked comes from Nomura himself. In the KH2 Ultimania, Nomura mentioned the possibility of following the story of Riku during this time period. I think this would allow the devs to team him up with Mickey from time to time, to develop their friendship, and to give us insight into what DiZ and Naminé were doing, while still holding the Organization and Roxas up as prominent villains. Since the Organization could have been prominent villains, they could have easily been wedged into multiplayer. That’s just one idea in dozens.
Even divorced from the plot, it’s worth noting that the Organization didn’t actually have to be part of the plot to be included in multiplayer. No, really. It’s a long video game tradition that multiplayer roster often just doesn’t make sense. Clone characters, characters who are supposed to be dead, dream match games like King of Fighters… Dissidia… The game could have been a sequel to KH2, with the entire Organization dead and buried, and they still could have appeared in multiplayer for basically no reason – would anyone have honestly cared? In the end, if the devs could have only made a game about a small group of characters, there are ways they could have done so.
If an Organization game had to have been made, there are still cuts I could suggest… but I really do feel the base idea was never going to hold up under the pressure of the apparent limitations. Sometimes the best idea really is to throw out everything and start over.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s to be aware of your development budget, something developers and audiences don’t seem to grasp industry wide, as developers shoots too high and audience demand higher than is possible. This is how an industry falls, is falling, has fallen before and will fall again.
Axel leaves to get packing, though after Axel leaves, Roxas discovers his ice cream stick has the word “WINNER” written on it, and he has no idea what that means.
Your big prize for this mission is a Doublecast panel, which finally prompts the game to explain these panels with extra slots, like Block. Not only do these panels take up extra space to represent their power, but they can be upgraded with special upgrade tiles that must be placed into those “connected” slots. Doublecast and its three slots causes any Magic tile plugged into its slots to gain two casts instead of just one! A handy tool that you’ll be needing if you want to make any serious use of magic at all!
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).