Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Challenging Affairs

days-2016-10-17-18h07m05s946Day 71: Reunion

Wow, they had to crack Roxas over the head the last time they wanted to skip this many days! And in doing this, they really reveal all the extra wiggle-room they where they could used to play with the CoM cast. If they had stuck these 17 days before the events of CoM, we certainly wouldn’t have noticed, but 17 days means upwards of 17 missions in Days itself! They could have gotten something done while the CoM cast was still alive! I’d have much rathered something closer to a hundred, but if they had given the CoM cast another month or so, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed to begin with? Again, I suspect the real problem was ultimately one of budget, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to complain about the problems it caused.

The cutscene that leads off this block of days seems… orphaned, somehow. Roxas heads into the Gray Area in a pout, and discovers that even though we’re half a month since the events of CoM, Xigbar is still talking about everyone at Castle Oblivion being dead. Then the clincher: Demyx storms in surprised that everyone at Castle Oblivion is dead. Now yes, this could technically be news: before now, everyone was saying they might be dead, but this scene really seems like it was supposed to be attached to Day 52, not weeks later in Day 71. Yup: it seems like the Mission Block attached to Day 51 was added later, along with the time skip attached to its behind. Like I said earlier, these problems seem to occur throughout the game, but how didn’t they catch the obvious script problems with this one?

days-2016-10-17-18h08m17s828With news that everyone at Castle Oblivion is dead, the characters start talking about everyone working double to pick up the slack, and this is the closest thing we get to pretence when the game finally unlocks Challenge mode. By the blessed memory of the Nine Old Men, we’re finally in the “main game!” To celebrate, the Moogle unlocks the Redeem feature in its shop, so if you’ve got Mission Crowns burning a hole in your pocket, you’re going to get a heck of an upgrade!

Challenges are a complicated topic for several reasons. In a manner of speaking, Challenges serve as single player mode’s post-game. I mentioned earlier that Challenges helped you to unlock this game’s style of hidden content: this was true, though sadly, you’re not going to be able to actually see this content until the game is cleared. You can do all the work, but until the end credits have wrapped, you’ll only get half the credit. Let me explain.

Challenges are attached to various missions in the game. Like the multiplayer missions in Mission Mode, all the Challenges prior to this point are unlocked by default, but you’ll need to find special badges to unlock Challenges from this point on. Nearly every mission has Ordeal Badges, while some missions also have Ordeal Blazons, which unlock a separate, “SP” challenge attached to that same mission.

During each Challenge, you’ll be asked to perform a specific task on top of the normal mission, such as to complete the level on a timer. You’ll also have to contend with boosted enemy levels or the occasional limitation placed on Roxas himself. Sometimes, the Challenge’s objective is very easy, as the boosted enemy level is the real Challenge! As you complete a Challenge, you’ll be graded on your performance depending on the nature of the Challenge, and awarded between 0-3 Challenge Sigils. For example, the most common Challenge type is a time trial I mentioned: finish quickly and you’ll get 3 Sigils, dawdle and you might get only 1 or none. These Sigils can be exchanged at the Moogle exactly like Mission Crowns, but on their own list. Because you can’t grind Sigils by doing the same missions over and over, the prizes on the Sigil list are much harder to earn.

days-2016-10-17-18h15m14s952Naturally, the Sigil prizes are very valuable, and we’ll discuss them in a moment. But there’s also a narratively-aligned prize attached to Challenges, and this is where things get complicated. Most players will have noticed something odd at this point: while Roxas was asleep, a number of headings were added to his diary and each was blank. If you’re like me, you probably assumed these were added to convey the passage of time, but not so: after beating the game, it’s possible to unlock Secret Diary entries by completing Challenges. These “secret” diaries are actually diary entries written by other characters, and naturally, other characters were awake while Roxas was asleep. I feel the blank entries were a clever way to hint that there was more to the diary than meets the eye.

How do you unlock the Secret Diaries? It’s not very easy to explain. The short answer is: get 1 or more Challenge Sigils in each Challenge, and you’ll unlock every Secret Diary. The long answer goes something like this. First off: Secret Diary entries typically correspond to Roxas’ diary entries, which are, themselves, attached to specific days or blocks of days. To unlock each entry, you have to clear every challenge attached to that block of days. This could be one challenge attached to one mission, two challenges attached to one mission, or who knows, 4 challenges across 3 missions for only a single diary entry. This leads to something of a problem with the secret diaries: they’re often not very satisfying for all the extra effort. Typically, Secret Diaries are just one or two pages. What one-page entry could possibly justify mastering five different challenges? That’s not a rhetorical set-up for a joke thirty entries from now, by the way, the system is just trash.

Fans with the film have it easier: the Secret Diary entries are unlocked upon completing the film, and have another empty achievement attached to them just like the normal ones. Because the secret diaries serve a role analogous to the secret videos in other games, I’ll be discussing them during the final post of this retrospective.

By the way, my pet theory for Holo-Missions and Challenges is that they take place in a sort of simulator. I like to headcanon that the simulator’s data was later turned it into the Data-battles in KH2.

days-2016-10-17-20h44m33s423For now, let’s take a look at the kinds of challenges we’ve unlocked so far, as well as some notable examples. In the future, I intend to cover notable challenges as we go along, so it can help to understand what’s available, however most challenges fit in the cookie-cutter format below and aren’t really worth talking about.

Let’s take a quick look at the other kinds of Challenges before we move on. Heart Point Challenges are the second-most common Challenge type after speed runs, and are exactly how they sound: get a high number of heart points (and you get to keep them!). They’re all about maintaining your Chain. As a result, they’re a lot easier done with mobility upgrades, but don’t let that discourage you. Heart Point Challenges are the hardest challenges in the game for me to earn three sigils in (unless you count “boss challenges” as a category), but I find they’re also among the easiest to earn only one Sigil in, as the one-Sigil criteria is rarely (never?) higher than the hearts you’d get with no chain at all.

“Avoid taking damage!” is a frequent challenge, and fairly self-explanatory. Thankfully, it doesn’t always mean “Avoid taking damage” entirely: the game gives you a minimum count, and sometimes even the three-sigil target is higher than 0. “Don’t miss with attacks!” is similar – though there are loopholes you need to be aware of, like the fact that it’s talking about physical attacks (abuse magic!), and limit breaks don’t count either.

One weird but frequent challenge is to “Jump as little as possible!” There are two things to keep in mind with these Challenges: automatic jumps when attacking don’t count, and Magic is a lifesaver. Just stifle your reflex to hit Aerial Recovery (which does count as an independent jump!), and you’ll be fine… most of the time. “Jump as little as possible” appears as early as Mission 11, attached to a +14 enemy level boost, so the Guardian you’re supposed to be hunting may very well kill you in two hits at this stage in the game.

days-2016-10-17-20h47m58s408Some less common Challenges include the under-achieving “Fill up the mission gauge!” which is something you might have done anyways. Another rare challenge is “Earn lots of munny!” This appears in only two missions, one of them Mission 09. You can trust that that “Earn lots of munny” is secretly code for “Defeat some awful optional enemy you’d have been better off avoiding.” Sure enough, Mission 09’s munny Challenge is just asking you to kill the Zip Slasher you probably avoided the first time around.

The restrictions the game slaps on you can also be huge bothers. No attack magic, no recovery magic, and no magic at all are very common. So are level caps: you can go into the level with more level up tiles than the level cap allows, but the game is just going to ignore them, so it’s up to you if you want to go to the fuss of unplugging them for extra powers. Yes, the game is using the tediousness of its interface as a weapon against you, and that’s just petty. Some late challenges also inflict you with HP drain in certain circumstances: when you’re standing on the ground, for instance, or at all times.

We can take a quick look back at some notable Challenges we’ve already unlocked, while we’re here. The Tailbunker has an SP mission with no recovery items and a 30% defence drop on your part. Mission 16 taunts you with a “Complete the mission gauge!” challenge when this is impossible – though feel free to grab one sigil if you’re interested, two with a few upgrades. But the real crowning glory is the first proper boss in the game: the Darkside’s SP challenge, which presents you with a +60 level Darkside, then winks at you and says “Finish in record time!” Bite me. There’s a little footnote to your Challenge experience: you probably can’t do all of them yet.

days-2016-10-17-20h52m20s216Since the Redeem screen is open in the shop, I can probably talk about some neat stuff that’s available there. So here’s what we’re gonna do: I’m actually going to go through each of the Missions, count up their Sigils, and tell you once we unlock anything that’s interesting. Don’t say I’ve never done anything for you. Mind that this system is going to assumes you somehow manage to clear level-inappropriate Challenges like that +60 level Darkside despite it only being Mission 19, and even assumes you somehow complete literally impossible challenges like the Fire Plant mission, which you can’t solve without additional mobility upgrades. In the end, you’re not really going to be able to unlock all the prizes exactly when I list them, but it will give you a good idea of when they become available.

As for Mission Crowns… I’m afraid I can’t count up the number of Mission Crowns attached to each mission, because as far as I can tell, no authoritative list exists online. And of course, you could always grind for Mission Crowns.  That said, I will try to… guess… when Mission Crown rewards become available if you were playing each mission once, after playing them in story mode.

There are some tempting, low-level fruits in this opening crop. At this point, if you were somehow able to get all the available Sigils, you would have 42 in total. Notable Challenge Sigil rewards you can get at this point include:

  • 10 Sigils gives you Haste, which increases your character’s ground speed. Challenge Sigils are the only way to get this valuable ability, which is somewhat counter-intuitive, considering Challenges are where you need speed the most! But that’s the idea: to get better at Challenges, you have to play Challenges, not futz off in some other corner of the game.
  • 15 Sigils gives you the Casual Gear, which is so interesting I’m going to discuss it below.
  • While it is, once again, nearly impossible for you to have 42 Sigils, I suppose I should discuss what you can get at 40. Those 40 Sigils can earn you the Wild Gear+ from the Moogle. Considering that the original Wild Gear became available when you promoted to Novice rank, this isn’t much of an upgrade, which is unusual for a Challenge Sigil reward, as they’re usually ahead of the curve by at least a half-dozen missions (even if that’s honestly not much). The True Light’s Flight+ has the same abilities as its counterpart (1. Offensive Block and 2. Defender), but has +10 strength instead of the usual +5 for a +-level Keyblade.

So: the Casual Gear. The Casual Gear carries over the fine Final Fantasy tradition of gag weapons. Some highlights from this set include: hair “Dryers” for Xigbar; a squeaky hammer for Lexaeus called the “Bleep Bloop Bop;” Zexion gets a sandwich called the “Midnight Snack;” Saïx gets a banana (like all Claymores, these change appearance during his limit break, in this case to an unpeeled banana); Axel a pizza; Luxord with a “deck” full of Final Fantasy XIII discs years before the release of the game (this joke is a bit more nuanced than I’m explaining, check the wiki page for more); Marluxia gets a giant soup ladle; and lastly Roxas gets an umbrella, a gag weapon that showed up several times in the FFVII games.

As far as the Umbrella needs to be concerned as an actual weapon, it’s seriously outclassed by your better Keyblades, even though this is your earliest opportunity to collect it. Its stats are garbage, it only has a single slot, and its sole ability, Offensive Block, becomes available on the superior Wild Gear Keyblades once you unlock them not long from now. Oh well. I guess a laugh’s a laugh.

Some incredibly early Mission Crown rewards include:

  • 2 Mission Crowns return the Valor Gear+. This blade is basically in line with the others you have available through synth and heart points, which suggests to me that h.a.n.d. was well aware the Redeem feature would only be unlocked on Day 71 even though Mission Mode has been available from the start.  Good for them! Weirdly enough, you won’t find the original Valor Gear until several missions from now, when it feels practically out of date! In any event, the Valor Gear+ transforms your Keyblade into the Midnight Roar+, which offers you the Striker ability, a combat alternative to Defender that makes a lot of sense with Limit Breaks.
  • 10 Crowns gives you the Lift Gear+, which is also right on the curve. This gives you the Abyssal Tide+. The Abyssal Tide+ offers Chain Power instead of the original blade’s Combo Boost.

Saïx has only one mission waiting for you once you come over for tea. This is typical of Days’ structure: with only one exception, every optional mission block is separated by at least one mandatory story mission.

days-2016-10-17-20h54m12s785Mission 20 is another new style of mission, the last new recurring type we’ll be seeing for some time (there are arguably four new kinds remaining, but two of the are world-specific and feel more like world-specific gimmicks than mission types). This new mission type is a Shadow Glob hunt. You might remember these evil hemispheres: they were the things that helped Oogie Boogie’s manor get up and dance. According to the mission brief, these pure tumours of darkness have started growing Twilight Town, but while that sounds ominous the globs aren’t doing anything dangerous yet, except to attract a greater-than-usual number of Purebloods to the town. Nevertheless, the Organization couldn’t abide something bad happening to their farms, so you’re sent to wipe out the infestation before anything bad can happen.

Why the Organization sent Roxas on a Pureblood-heavy mission I’ll never know, but I do like these missions, as they’re a sort of hide and seek. All heart collection missions are hide and seek, I suppose, but Shadow Globs have the added advantage of being hidden in cracks and corners, and also being visible at a distance. Sadly, you’ll almost need mobility upgrades to finish the early shadow glob missions, but hey, you can at least get started! This particular mission isn’t easy to do without mobility upgrades (without upgrades, you must use magic to destroy no less than three Globs while playing as Roxas, and sometimes the Globs seem to flat-out ignore magical damage for no good reason) but if you do happen to clear it out 100%, you’ll get your first Guard Unit for your Keyblade.

days-2016-10-17-20h54m36s154Some plot hits when you try to RTC. You’re just about to step in, when who should show up but Mr. Understatement himself, Axel. The film chimes in here, and we hear Axel say: “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” And it turned you into a low-res default face with no emotions at all! Okay, okay, that didn’t happen in the film, but it is an issue with the game, even if the game didn’t give me such a sweet setup line. The film missing a nice line from the original where Axel responds to Roxas’ concern with: “That’s a neat trick, considering you haven’t got a heart to feel with.” The film’s replacement is nowhere near as clever.

Roxas runs off to buy them both ice cream and the two of them go to the tower, where Axel claims he was staying away “to sort out my feelings, you know?” It’s clear he was considering going into hiding and never returning, and it’s not entirely clear why he came back. You might suspect that he came to see Roxas again, and sure, sure, that’s the first thing he did, but I’m not convinced that was the only reason, or that all the reasons were even positive. Roxas teases Axel about sorting out his feelings when Axel was teasing him about not having a heart, and again, the line from the game is better. As in CoM, the largely text based version of the game doesn’t have to put up with lip sync concerns and so often has superior written dialogue, so this isn’t very surprising. Still, I think the film’s voice work did a remarkable job to get this far without major complaint from me. Square Enix’s voice localization has grown up a great deal over Kingdom Hearts’ life cycle! In short: both versions have their strengths, and neither holds the lead in one area forever.

days-2016-10-17-20h55m00s583At the end of the conversation, Roxas tells Axel that he and Xion are friends now too, and that they often eat ice cream up here. The scene then… fades out. That last line about Xion feels like something of a latter addition, as a previous line where Axel told Roxas his ice cream was melting felt like a more natural conclusion. This last-second line about Roxas and Xion’s friendship seems like one last symptom of the early game’s speed, though as you’re going to see, we’ve now entered the slow portion of the plot, which is better known as “the vast majority of the game.”

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – A Long Snooze
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Duck and Cover


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).

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2 comments

  1. I agree about the voicework front. Now, I’m not entirely sure mind you, but I think they tried syncing the fish-face models to the dialog in later games like DDD and BBS.

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