Day 23: Silent Companion
At the start of the day, Saïx comes to Axel and tells him that Xemnas has secretly organized this whole Castle Oblivion jaunt partially in hopes of exposing and executing a few traitors. Axel is to find and eliminate them. The big surprise here is that Axel suspects that those orders don’t come from Xemnas at all, but Saïx himself!
Back in the Grey Area, Roxas runs in, the eagerest beaver in the dam, hoping to ask Axel what his “WINNER” stick means. Also, I think it’s funny how Roxas assumes that Axel, who had things to do, will be in this one room, lollygagging around, and I don’t actually blame Roxas for that. Why wouldn’t Axel be here? This is the only room in the castle! No, really, this is the only room in the castle. When I said “we don’t see much of the Castle” in this game, I was actually being generous: this literally is the only room you explore in the Castle unless you’re on a mission, and the game’s mighty stingy with other rooms in cutscenes, as well! It’s a damn shame, too, given our Crisis Core influences, when you remember that Crisis Core gave you a whole building, city and later even a slum area to explore (though as I said in the CC Journals, I think just the building would have sufficed). So while Roxas probably checked Axel’s room, the devs realized that the Grey Area is all that matters to the player, because it’s the only room in existence!
I’ve also got to point out how very needy it is that Roxas insists on talking to Axel about this petty little ice cream stick. Remember: Roxas is still in zombie mode, so his showing an interest in this thing is an irregularity, and an irregularity is supposed to be interesting to the audience. The trouble is… it’s an ice cream stick, and the audience knows it. At best, he just won a Buzz Lightyear doll in a mail-order contest, and I think it’s telling that my mind jumped straight to a children’s toy. Let’s recap: we have a character who is presently defined by his limited understanding of the world around him, who runs up trying to find an adult authority figure in regards to the child-baiting contest prize he found in his children’s food, because it apparently didn’t occur to him to read the packaging for additional details when he could just ask daddy. One or two of those factors in isolation could have been seen as a character trait or writing gaffe, but taken all together this seems far closer to the behaviour of a very, very young child rather than a teenager. I suppose this is all acceptable while he’s still a zombie, but the game had better pick up the maturity as Roxas goes along, or we’re going to have trouble.
Yet again, the film does us a solid by rushing past this. The film realizes this ice cream stick isn’t quite as important as the game thinks it is, or at least, that it isn’t important yet. In the DS version, Roxas spells out all the particulars, accidentally revealing the neediness in his actions: “this ice cream stick that says WINNER… I have to ask him what I won.” In the film, he just says “What do I do with this?” as if he’s just mildly curious. He doesn’t seem nearly as desperate or needy. Given that the stick isn’t relevant for a very, very… very long time, the film’s efficiency wins out.
But after all that nice stuff I said, the film trips and falls on its face by skipping one of the most important scenes in the game: the first time Roxas and No. XIV meet. They cropped the entire scene! Since the voice actors for both characters were already in the booth, I have to suspect that the scene was cropped because Saïx appears in it. We’re going to be seeing a few conspicuously absent Saïx scenes during the film, each more baffling than the next, and I suspect that this was the first such absence. I have to wonder if Saïx’s Japanese voice actor, Ginpei Sato, was only briefly available for recording for some reason or another?
Roxas is introduced to Xion by Saïx, with the implication that the two of them will be working together on the regular in the future. The Organization’s newest recruit is still hooded and zombie-like silent, which might seem normal given Roxas’ example, but wait a moment! Roxas was only silent for 7 days, but Xion has been silent for 16. Poor kid’s probably still unconscious and being propped up by a stick. But there just might be an explanation for this discrepancy, and it’s not what you think.
As we’ll see later in the game, a lot of the optional mission blocks and their adjoining time skips (like the mission block we saw on Days 15-17, and its subsequent time skip to Day 22), don’t seem to fit into the time line as well as they first appear. I think Xion’s extended silence might be our first sign of that happening: as though the game were scripted before the optional mission block was inserted into the story. If you remove the optional mission block’s weeklong span of time, Xion will have only been silent for 9 days, a far more comparable number to Roxas. And I know, I know (highlight to read spoilers): there’s another good reason for Xion to be silent. But trust me as I type this: timeline peculiarities seem to come up almost every time there’s an optional mission block in Days, and this one looks like all the others. I’m convinced the game was scripted before most if not all the optional mission blocks and time skips were added into the timeline, and as we read further, I hope to make you a believer, as well.
Saïx tells you that you’ll be taking Xion to Twilight Town as your partner, with Roxas in the senior role. It’s interesting to see Saïx put you in a leadership role so soon, but the Organization is dramatically short-handed.
For the first time, Saïx asks you to check the mission brief to see which Heartless are in involved in the mission. The brief often mentions one or two Heartless, typically if they happen to be weak to a specific sort of magic. Today’s flavour is your target: a Poison Plant, which is weak against Fire. So weak, in fact, that I won’t be writing much of a boss guide! Just set the damn thing on Fire! Poison Plants are one of those early game midbosses that reappear later in the game as powerful enemies, and they always have more HP than is worth fighting over. Since you must fight them this one time, you might as well light it up.
Xion remains silent as you arrive in Twilight Town, though she follows all Roxas’ orders. In combat, she behaves very strangely, which is to say, she doesn’t do anything, the poor zombie. At first, this seems faultless and in-line with the narrative… until you realize that the game hasn’t changed her AI! By all rights, Xion’s AI should be automatically set to “Do nothing” and “Do not get in my way,” both settings that will later be available from the menu, but it’s not. Instead, she’s set to attack, and as far as I can tell she’s set to attack the same Heartless you’re attacking (the default setting from the menu). As a result, she’ll often stand gormlessly in front of enemies, waiting, like the Zip Slasher, for her AI to provide combat data that it refuses to give. During the boss fight, No. XIV will suddenly whip out Fire spells (very handy against a boss that’s weak to Fire spells), so I can only assume that, for whatever reason, the developers somehow couldn’t turn off her AI before the boss and then turn it on during the boss? That’s my best guess. One way or another, Xion has no physical attacks or weapons of note. You think the Org would give her a rock or something.
One other thing about the Poison Plant: it’s not actually poisonous? Poison isn’t an element in this game! Instead, the Poison Plant causes Blind at a higher rate than normal Dire Plants, which can be annoying if you’re trying to fight it with your weapon, but you’re not, are you? That’s right, we’re going to burn it. About the only thing truly notable about the Poison Plant is its headbutt attack, as it not only goes invincible during the attack, but outright stops being a valid target during the animation, so you lose your lock-on and the camera goes back to normal, jostling around in the process. If you’re like me, that out-of-control camera will get you in deep trouble! No other enemy in the game can shake your lock-on like this (other than the Poison Plant’s recolours). Very strange.
On the way to RTC, some Dire Plants have grown up around the portal, though you can feel free to ignore them. After the mission is done, Roxas goes off to eat his ice cream alone. In his diary, he proves at least self-aware enough to realize that even if Xion didn’t say anything to him, he didn’t really try to talk to Xion, either!
Clearing this mission gets you your first Ring, the Sign of Resolve. Rings are essentially this game’s accessory system. Some Rings give you abilities, some boost your resistance to various elements and their status effects, and all rings boost your Defence. On top of that Defence boost, this Ring offers some minor increases to your HP, Strength and Magic, which is surprisingly well-rounded! No other Ring in the game offers such a wide spread of boosts, though of course you’ll swap it out for better, narrower powers before too long! You can only equip one Ring at a time, and thankfully they only ever take up a single panels, so they’re never a huge hassle.
Day 24: Silence Broken
At the start of the next day, we get our first real sight of Demyx, who is trying to talk to Xion. Demyx tries to get Xion’s approval by talking about all the “bossy co-wokers” sent off to Castle Oblivion (“loudmouths,” in the film). Roxas has trouble understanding what he means, because, as I mentioned on Day 1, Roxas has trouble drawing rudimentary conclusions. The change to “loudmouths” in the film was probably made made for lip sync reasons (two syllables versus five for “bossy co-workers”), but I think it’s an improvement either way, since there was basically no way for Roxas to misinterpret “bossy co-workers.” Demyx is talking about co-workers, who are bossy, and are at Castle Oblivion right now. It’s about as clear-cut as you get. I realize that the intent of this scene was to show that Roxas doesn’t think that Axel is bossy/a loudmouth, but surely he recognizes how someone could see Vexen and Larxene as bossy? Frankly, an even better fix would have been for Demyx to single out Axel, so that we could cut to the chase.
I originally considered addressing Roxas’ frequent confusion as a personality trait here in the Retrospective. It would make sense: Roxas isn’t able to infer the meanings of others because of his spotty history with emotions. Unfortunately, as we go along, we’re going to see that Roxas’ confusion is often used to facilitate arbitrary plot developments, which makes me think his confusion is less of a character trait and more like good old fashioned hack writing. Personally, and with important insight from BBS, I really am edging towards “writer’s hack,” and it’s a very specific hack that they just keep using. I’ll try to explain as we go through Days and especially in BBS.
Xigbar is also talking to Xion, and is addressing Xion as “Poppet.” Roxas asks where the nickname come from, and Xigbar doesn’t so much as answer as try to give Roxas a nickname as well. This marks the start of Roxas and Xigbar’s rather odd personal relationship. I’m pretty sure Xigbar runs through at least three nicknames by the time the game is over. Today’s is “kiddo.”
Saïx comes over, and says: “Roxas, get to work.” Why? No one else is!
Another mandatory mission today. This mission is nominally a specific Heartless hunt: your target is a kind of Soldier recolour called a “Deserter.” As you’ll quickly discover, Deserters are so unusual they essentially constitute a distinct mission type all their own.
You step to the Sandlot and find the Deserters in a huge swarm, running pell-mell in every possible direction. Hitting them almost feels impossible, at least until they stop for “breathers.” Getting them to stop anywhere near you is pure chance, unfortunately. Spells work, but you only have so many! Xion’s with you, and she’s casting spells at all times now, but since your partner casts their spells at random, that’s just another facet of luck! Oh, and to make things worse we have a mechanical hiccup: Xion’s spells can kill the Deserters in a single hit, but there’s yet another a problem with the AI settings, this one innate to the game. You see: you can choose to have your partner either attack the target that you are presently attacking or to attack a target you’re not attacking. Unfortunately, to do either, you have to make contact with an enemy in the first place, or until the enemy targets you, which the Deserters never do! The Deserters just skipped through a loophole in the code!
Deserter missions are largely set in the first half of the game, and for good reason. That’s the point where you lack mobility upgrades and spells, and the small handful of Deserter missions in the late game are comically easy as a result. You could argue that Deserters exist mostly for you and your friends to make fools of yourselves in Mission Mode. Here in Twilight Town, you might see the stupid things get caught between the wall and benches on one side of the room, so there wasn’t much thought put into their AI, either. Once you do land a hit on them, they get a bit easier. Not only can you stunlock your target, but once they die, every Deserter in the room will run up to kick you in the head. That might not sound like things are going easier (in fact, it’s a damned easy way to die!) but if you Block their attacks or have a Limit Break like Roxas’ ready-at-hand, so you can clear them out in only a few seconds!
At the portal, Roxas once again tries to ditch Xion so he can grab his frosted opiate fix, when to his surprise, Xion says his name. Xion struggles to get it out, but manages a whole sentence after doing so. Once he’s been left alone, Roxas has a flashback to Xemnas giving him his name, and Roxas realizes that his name may very well have been the first thing Xion ever said. Aww, Roxas! You’re her mommy! Now you have to keep her!
You get a Skill Gear+ as a prize for this mission: your first slotted Gear panel, with upgraded stats besides (generally, a +-level Gear gives Roxas +5 Strength over the base level, while a wholly redundant ++-level Gear gives you +10. There are plenty of exceptions, however). If you searched the chests in this mission, you found a Power Unit to match. Slotted Gears use interchangeable Units in their slots, all of which upgrade your basic attacks. Four of the Units are straightforward: Power Units up your attack, Magic Units up your Magic, Guard Units your Defence, and Sight Units increase your Critical Hit rate and damage (“Critical Hit” in Days refers to a traditional RPG-styled random chance of doing extra damage, not the final hit your combo, which is what “Critical Hit” means in some other Kingdom Hearts games. I’m not even sure we can blame the localizers for this). A curious thing is: each of these panels increases the stats by a different amount, depending on the Gear – you can’t really balance out a Strength-happy Keyblade with Magic Units, because it will only gain 1 point of magic, but if you gave it a Power Unit, you could get 5 more Strength. Sadly, that doesn’t leave much room for creativity, only for specialization, which takes away from the appeal of customization in the first place. I’m not sure why they did that.
There’s a fifth unit panel that’s a lot more interesting, so of course I’m putting it off for later.
In his diary entry for the day, Roxas remarks that he learned the “WINNER” stick gets you a free bar of ice cream, though he doesn’t cash it. In fact he’s not going to cash it for a very long time, so long that I’m surprised the contest is even still running. I suppose his talking to a human being (the off-screen ice cream store attendant) implies the zombie phase is clearing up a little, though we won’t really see that on-screen for a while yet.
Day 25: Two Keys
As Day 25 gets started, Xion actually comes up to Roxas to say hello, though she’s still pausing and slow in her speech like Roxas was at the outset. Not long after, Saïx comes in, warning you that “a giant Heartless has surfaced. It must be exterminated today.” This is already worrying, but today’s mission becomes even more ominous when Saïx says your mission is so important that he’s “arranged” for you to finally extend your panel card so you can use more panels. Dang, this is no small deal. When you check the mission docket, you’ll see why: Twilight Town has just earned itself a Darkside.
The urgency in Saix’s commands suggests that the Organization is at least partially concerned about Twilight Town itself, if only because it could upset their Heartless “farms.” Remember, Darksides seem to show up to destroy worlds as the darkness takes over. This kind of protective display from the Organization is interesting… but also narratively troublesome. The Org not caring about the people is pretty much the largest, maybe the only thing that made them villainous in KH2. If they’re not hurting people in Days, even defending them, they’re simply not villainous for the duration of Days. Kingdom Hearts likes to make the Organization fit into the morally grey, but I don’t think this works any better than anything the devs did in KH2. It doesn’t seem likely to me that the Org are pretending to be “nice” for Roxas’ benefit, since they could have easily moulded him into a bad guy at the outset, and so I must assume that the Org genuinely aren’t doing anything evil at this stage in the story! Unfortunately, this means that there’s no way to explain why the Org “suddenly” became genocidal in KH2, when it benefited them the least, and so it’s Days that comes off as inconsistent. Oh well: for the time being, it will be much more exciting to focus on the Darkside than these narrative gaffes.
Saïx’s promise to unlock your panel card refers to a new reward, called Slot Releasers. From this point on, every mission you complete – mandatory or optional – will give you a single Slot Releaser, gradually unlocking your panel cards, left to right, top to bottom. Once you’ve unlocked one panel card, you move on to the next, and so on for a total of three total panel cards full of slots. These Slot Releasers are perhaps the single most valuable upgrade you can earn (your 5×3 panel card is absolutely crammed by now), even if they’re not so valuable individually. Since they’re so valuable, it makes it hard to say “no” to optional missions for the rest of the game. Too bad for those optional missions from the Day 15-17 bracket: they never had Slot Releasers and course they never will!
Roxas and Xion hit ground, and to Roxas’ surprise, Xion removes her hood. This leads to the psudo-surprise of Xion’s appearance: she heavily resembles Kairi from KH1, except with black hair and blue eyes. (Unfortunately it’s not much of a surprise, since she’s on the cover of the game!) This is a big deal, because we know Xion can’t be Kairi’s Nobody, so who could she be? The player starts theorizing – or at least, the developers hope you do, because as I said at the outset, the game is leaning all its weight on the mystery of Xion’s identity.
For reasons that will become clear in a moment, I’m going to do a rare touch on a Japanese voice actor. Xion’s Japanese voice actor is Risa Uchida, the same voice actor who does Kairi (Uchida hasn’t done much else, but she actually does have a Disney connection, having played the role of young Nala in a Japanese production of The Lion King stage play). In the English version, Xion is voiced by Alyson Stoner, who briefly played Kairi in Re:CoM, released in English just a few months prior. The intention is clear: Xion is meant to be voiced by Kairi’s voice actor, so that she resembles her in voice as well as appearance. Indeed, many Xion’s roles in later games, however small or limited to flashbacks, have been voiced by Hayden Panettiere. However, in the 1.5 remake of Days, Alyson Stoner returns. I feel this is absolutely the correct course of action, and I hope that Xion continues to be voiced by Stoner in the future, even in small flashbacks and the like. Not only does she have more experience in the role at this point, but there’s another factor I’ll touch on later. In casting Stoner I believe the English team accidentally stumbled on something important to Xion’s character that the Japanese team overlooked.
Hey, guess what: that’s our only voice actor biography for this entire game! The DS was not exactly a voice-acting powerhouse, and all the Disney roles are text-only and skipped by the film. If it weren’t for the sad death of Eddie Carroll in the role of Jiminy Cricket, fellow DS game Re:coded wouldn’t have any new voice acting credits at all, although its film is a different story.
Mission 14 is relatively straightforward on your way to the Darkside, which appears at Station Heights. It emerges and then stands on the ground, which makes it look completely out of place against the bright, sunny tile. Maybe darkening the lights and changing the skybox might have helped, but for me, a lot of the goofiness comes down to the silly, jester-like appearance of the Darkside’s feet.
The Darkside battle has been refined from previous entries, so you might be surprised just how much of a difficulty spike this Darkside has over CoM’s (and remember that CoM’s was a late-game boss!). First off, most of its returning attacks have been improved in some way or another. The Darkside still wastes some of its time summoning Shadows of absolutely no consequence (it’s really got to crank that to eleven one of these days), but the summoning attack does work a teensy bit better this time around, if only because Roxas’ swing isn’t a wide as Sora’s and the Shadows aren’t likely to be hit while you swing at the Darkside… though you can still basically ignore them. The Darkside also still launches shots from its chest, which will do heavy damage to the Darkside if you deflect them with Block. And you’d better block them, because those shots are one of the very, very few attacks in the game that can cause the Earth “status effect” called “Halve HP. ” It’s exactly what it says. It halves your HP. That’s not a status effect at all!
(By the way, Halve HP is so rare I’m not certain which enemies in the game even have it? I think the only other time I’ve seen it was coming from the game’s superboss! But I’m not sure who else has it, does anyone know?)
The real shift with the Darkside comes from its new attacks. In the first new attack: the Darkside slams its hand into the ground and sends out a shockwave that can stunlock you and hit you multiple times. It can be lethal and has an impressive height, making it much harder to jump over than the typical video game shockwave. To make matters worse, the Darkside typically does this attack with its right hand, but can also give the ground a quick thump with its left hand to similar effect, giving you very little warning to jump over the resulting shockwave. Lastly, the Darkside has an all-new version of the rain of darkness attack which homes in on you or, occasionally, your poor partner. By the way: you can pretty predictably get the Darkside to rain on your partner’s head if you’re a jerk: the rain of darkness attack will home in on whoever attacked the Darkside last, so all you need to do is take a perfectly timed breather. Sorry Xion, but I’m the only one who matters here!
Unfortunately for Roxas, throwing your allies haphazardly at your enemies is not necessarily the solution to all life’s problems. The Darkside manages to disarm Roxas, and the blade lands next to Xion. To the surprise of both characters, the blade teleports into Xion’s hand instead of going back to Roxas. Thankfully she’s not so surprised that she hesitates, and she finishes off the Heartless.
Roxas and Xion confirm in dialogue that Xion’s ability to use the Keyblade is news to the both of them (I meant it when I said that it wasn’t clear if Xemnas was addressing him or Xion as “one of the Keyblade’s chosen” during the opening sequence). In the rush that typifies the first quarter of Days, Roxas immediately announces that Xion has earned “the icing on the cake” and he takes her to the tower for ice cream. Once they’re up on the tower, Roxas won’t stop talking about Axel. Axel Axel Axel. It’s another symptom of the early game’s constant rush. The game is trying to get Xion, Roxas and Axel into the same friend circle, which I can support, but the game’s blind charge is also entrenching the impression I have that Roxas has a child-like attachment to Axel. When I first played the game, I kept waiting for an episode to come along later in the game where Roxas grows up into his role and he and Axel become more like the equals they seemed to be in KH2, but Roxas will be just as needy towards Axel by the end of the game!
Maybe I’m just missing something about Japanese brotherly relationships, but Days often crosses way over the line of simple childishness into weirder implications. Xion asks Roxas if they can be friends, and in the game Roxas says “When Axel gets back, let’s ask him.” Great Googling Moogles, as if he needs Axel’s permission to have friends! The film corrects the line by combining it with the next sentence so that Roxas says: “When Axel gets back, let’s all have ice cream together,” which suggests to me that the original game was trying to say “When Axel gets back, let’s ask him if we can all be friends.” But even the DS version was mistranslated, it’s only the start of a continuing problem.
Your prize for winning this mission is two panels of the Blizzard spell. Blizzard is a homing projectile in Days but not in the way you’d expect. After you cast the spell, the Blizzard projectile zig-zags across the target, causing multiple hits. Stronger enemies seem to destroy the projectile after taking damage rather than allow it to rebound and do additional damage, I’m not sure of the mechanical particulars of that. Thankfully, even those enemies are vulnerable to its almighty status effect, Freeze. Freeze causes an enemy to drop to the ground, unable to move, and they will take triple damage for the duration of the effect, though the freeze seems to break when hit with a finisher. Since Freeze happens more frequently than Jolt, it’s one of my favourite toys, though bear in mind: it’s just as dangerous when used against you!
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).