Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Duck and Cover

days-2016-10-17-22h32m38s811Day 72: Change

Day 72 begins with Saïx coming to chew Axel out for going missing for two months, though Axel holds his own in the argument with game-exclusive lines like “Oh, good to see you, too. You’re welcome, thanks for the kind words.” Saïx holds his own in turn by ignoring his glib replies entirely and proceeding with his debrief. You get the impression that these two have gotten really used to working with one another. From the debriefing, we learn that the CO crew was searching the Castle for the Chamber of Awakening, but “That’s like counting grains of dust in a building full of sneezing people.” Ah, I feel like I’ve met Seifer’s poetic mentor. Saïx asks about Naminé, but he had no luck finding her either, or so he claims.

As Saïx is leaving, Axel makes a surprise announcement, which feels like a power-play between him and Saïx in and of itself: he announces that the reason he killed Zexion, something that seemed motiveless in CoM, was for Saïx’s benefit. “That’s how you wanted it, right? I’ll play it your way… for now.” A few word choices in the film imply that killing Zexion was part of Saïx’s plan all along, but no matter who was responsible for the plan, this is still a look at the insidious, villainous Axel we used to know from CoM. And now it’s time to see how he got from there to where he was at the start of KH2.

days-2016-10-17-22h33m39s539Back in the Grey Area, Axel has his smiling face back on for Roxas, saying he was paired with him today “as a ‘slap on the wrist.'” Looks like business as usual, but if you speak to Demyx, Roxas will ask him if he’s seen Xion, and there’s no sign of her. Now remember: Roxas didn’t see Xion on the 51st, either. The implication seems to be that she’s been missing this whole time, which will become clearer in the post-mission, but remember that it is now Day 72. And if you think about it, I’ve already given you a hint as to why: yet again the optional mission block isn’t being accounted for in the narrative timeline. Axel’s late return date also seems a little stretched, but this is just right in front of us. Roxas hasn’t noticed his friend has been missing for 19 days. (During Day 73, the game and film will say she’s been gone for 10 days, but by then it’s actually been 20! Even at 10, Roxas is a terrible friend giving their dangerous lifestyle and close living situation!) While it’s probably best to pretend that Xion was just absent for one day on the 51st, and then came back off-screen and went missing again nine days ago. The editing seams are obvious. I will give the game partial credit for trying to subtly foreshadow that she was missing before making a big deal out of it, but they ruined it with that optional mission block and time skip.

Mission 21 sees you returning to Agrabah on a heart-hunt, or at least that’s what’s written on the tin. In practice, this actually a rather involved mission that – to me at least – feels more like something from another Kingdom Hearts game. It feels like a whole KH1 or 2 world in miniature (for good and for ill). You’re forewarned by Saïx to bring Fire Panels to fight something called a “Large Armour.” Sir, you’ve got Cure spells on the reward docket, I’ll do anything you say.

days-2016-10-17-22h34m02s901The mission begins with Sora returning to Agrabah and Static-ing a memory of Sora, Donald and Goofy, since Roxas is now in Agrabah with one of his be friends, get it? Unable to leave through one of the upper doors (indeed, if you come back with mobility upgrades, the game will just kick you back down to the street!), you head through the main door and walk into Pete! Pete starts loudly complaining that he’s looking for something: “And once I find the lamp that’s stashed down there… Heh heh heh… All my wishes’ll come true!” There are two possibilities: either Pete is looking for the Cave of Wonders and hasn’t heard the news that Genie has both been found and is out of town, or he has info on where to find Jafar and his surprise in KH2 is just going to have to be considered a retcon. Either way, he’s still an idiot, since he’s essentially strolling down Main Street in a town with a large criminal population (according to the TV show), shouting “Once I find that missing lottery ticket…!” I’d expect nothing more from Pete.

Axel and Roxas decide to tail Pete, which invokes the two worst mechanics in the entire game at the exact same time, come together at last like a Reece cup made of spam and castor oil. First off: as Pete is searching the market, he gets a sight cone in front of and around him (well, I say “cone” but it’s actually a sort of irregular prism going all the way to the sky, so don’t try anything funny), and if you’re caught in it, you have to restart the segment as he “loses his place.” If he catches sight of Axel, Axel will just teleport away, but it seems they never taught Roxas that trick (in fact, Xigbar joked about this in the initial investigation of Agrabah, which I think was a nice touch even if doesn’t make sense that they never taught you). Sadly, the Organization is a stealth operation, so you will be seeing this mechanic again, but it’s rarely as bad as it is here, paired with its insidious partner.

days-2016-10-17-22h34m28s569This “partner” mechanic is a sight cone in front of Roxas, who must keep Pete in his line of sight as you stay out of Pete’s. Not only does this keep you in danger of falling into Pete’s sight cone, but the game doesn’t have the dignity of telling you when you’re failed to track Pete! It seems (seems) that the tracking mechanic works on a cumulative timer, counting up whenever Pete is out of your sight cone. Ergo if you look away for half a second here, and a quarter of a second there, it eventually adds up to a certain total and you fail the game without warning. This makes it possible for you to appear to lose even if Pete is inside your sight cone at the time, because it was briefly off of him a split-second prior. Thankfully there are no Heartless around (my theory is that Pete has warded them away) or this would be infinitely worse, if not impossible. This segment is just… maligned in the fandom, and for every good reason.

Because Pete follows the same pattern every time, the best advice I can give is to go to lengths not to repeat previous mistakes. If he turned suddenly to face you while you were standing in one position, stand nowhere near that position the next time around. After you clear the market, Pete proceeds to the City Gates, where at one point it’s best to get up on a pile of sand just to keep out of his way. Thankfully, the second room is a shorter sequence, and if you fail, you start back at the entrance to the second room.

Pete soon finds his way to one side of the city walls, where he uncovers a secret passage! A secret passage, might I add, which would be several feet in the air if it weren’t for these piles of sand, but I guess that’s as good a way to hide it as anything.

Much to my surprise, you actually have to follow Pete around in Mission Mode as well. I’m not sure of the mechanics. I’m sure a whole crowd of assholes tailing one guy has a real high success rate.

days-2016-10-17-22h34m56s494Our duo follows old Peg Leg through the passage, which appears to lead to a tunnel that heads out of the city, far enough away that they find themselves past the sandstorm. I suppose this is meant in reference to the secret passage Jafar showed Aladdin to get out of the city in the film. …Incidentally, despite this being a heart collection mission, you haven’t seen so much as a Pureblood this entire time. If you think about it, this mission opens more plot holes with the Organization’s mission assignment and X-barrier systems: why did they send you here when there were no Heartless here? Did they expect you to find this secret passage? These questions can be answered with a few guesses, but there’s nothing in the game itself. (Again: my best guess may be the Pete dismissed the Heartless, as Purebloods show up in the city after he’s gone.) I do like the idea of Pete pursuing his own goals while nominally gathering Heartless for Maleficent, I’m not disappointed with that side of the plot, but these questions about the Organization are never far from my mind.

You arrive at the Cave of Wonders, and Pete disappears not far inside the Cave, essentially gone from the mission. Here, Axel makes a baffling proclamation: “Guess we’ll have to give up for now. Switch back to heart collection. […] Plus, searching a place this big would be a royal pain.” But guess what? You have to search this place. Oh, you’re not going to search the place for Pete, which is what Axel intended to say, but either the writers or localizers screwed up. As a result, we now have Axel, the authority figure, give you the exact opposite orders to your needs.

days-2016-10-17-22h35m32s868Roxas questions Axel calling off the pursuit of Pete, and Axel and Roxas joke about “flexible thinking” while on a mission. This will ultimately lead to Roxas taking more initiative in later missions and arguably marks the breaking point for his “zombie” phase, so at least some good came of this.

The Cave of Wonders is a bit of a pain to explore without mobility upgrades. It’s not without reason that the game gives you a time trial challenge for this mission, as not only does it time your stealth segment with Pete, but also allows you to shave off a few extra minutes should you come back later in the game with the ability to get into weird corners. It can be generous from time to time!

First… well, “first” is misleading. What you’ll do “first” will probably be wrong. What you’re supposed to do is this: knock a box back to the pillar near the door, use the box to climb the pillar and the pillar to climb to a ledge, where you hit a switch. Then, you have to investigate a nearby pillar to find that it’s moveable, and move both it and the box to the other end of the room, to climb up to the door you just unlocked.

That’s complicated enough, but here’s the problem: the box is at the far side of the room. You’re far more likely to notice the pillar, push it to the far side of the room, push the box over to the pillar, discover the door is locked, and only then notice the switch at the other end of the room. So far, not so bad. You can see what they were shooting for: you climb up, you see the real way to unlock the door, and a trumpet plays in your head going “wah-wah.” But there’s an oversight. If you’re like me, you’ll notice something else before you notice the switch way over there on the opposite side of the room. What you’ll probably notice is the weird switch next to the door (it’s actually more of a keyhole), which by all logic should unlock the door that’s right beside it, right? As it happens, the keyhole is actually part of another puzzle from another mission, connected to an entirely different room. This could mislead you back and forth across the room multiple times trying to work out how to use the keyhole – or at least, it did to me during the Retrospective playthrough, because I completely forgot how to run the puzzle and was essentially going in fresh!

days-2016-10-17-22h44m46s124Why they put this switch next to a door it doesn’t unlock, I don’t know… but I can guess. I imagine that it originally was meant to open the door, and was changed at a later date. In fact, I suspect this door wasn’t supposed to be unlocked in this mission in the first place. First off: the next time we go beyond this door, it will act like it’s the first time. But more importantly: Axel says not to explore. Typically if there’s a contrast between gameplay and text I tend to assume the text is wrong, but that’s not always the case. If you assume the door was originally locked for this mission, Axel’s line suddenly makes sense! I imagine the door was locked, and you would only find the key for it a few missions later. Why the major change? I can’t say. Maybe they had planned on putting Emblem Heartless in the city after Pete left, but the testers ended up confused? It may also be tied to a special trigger that I’m going to discuss below.

Once you finally do notice the switch on the opposite end of the room, you may have to deal with a problem of your own creation: you have to move the box again, but you may have already put it up against the wall! At this point you have to perform hit after experimental hit in hopes of wedging the box away from the wall, at which point you can push the box back to the far side of the room, climb the pillar, drop back down, push the box back…

Yeah, I’m not a fan of this part of the mission.

days-2016-10-17-22h45m16s130As one final frustration: if you don’t kill all the Heartless on this floor (like you may do if you’re trying to do the speed run challenge), the Large Armour won’t show up in the next room, and you’ll have no idea why you can’t clear the mission! This is the trigger I mentioned earlier, which throws confusion onto pre-existing confusion. It would make sense that killing the Heartless in this first room would trigger the Large Armour if this had been the only room in the mission, as I suspect it might have been, but in the finished version, killing Heartless in room 1 triggers Heartless in room 2, which is a video game faux pas.  Thanks Mission 21, you’re taking all these good ideas and blowing them head-on into the ground, this is some quality fuckin’ up, right here.

If I have to say one nice thing about this mission, it’s this: the level designer realized it could be hard to line up the pillar and box at the foot of the wall, and so “broke off” the edge of the wall. This not only lowers the height of the jump, but allowed the designer to put a stream of sand trickling off the ledge, which you can use to align the box and pillar. This is genuinely classy. If only it hadn’t been surrounded by so many problems.

The second room in the Chamber is filled with tall square and cylinder pillars, all too tall for you to climb at first glance. You hunt down Loudmouths and Dire Plants among the pillars, and should you defeat every Emblem in the level, the Large Armour will finally arrive. (Strangely, the Dire Plants are missing from this room in Mission Mode, even though the Loudmouths are not. Since the game deployed almost all the Dire Planets right next to the Loudmouths, I’m not sure what this was meant to accomplish.) This is the Large Armour, the steel cousin of the Large Bodies and Fat Bandits from KH1, strongly resembling a bouncier version of the Knight class from Fire Emblem. The only unarmoured part of the Large Armour is its teeny-tiny head, and you must direct your attacks at the head to do any damage. This is not as easy as it sounds. Even with practice, it’s not hard to be just a little early or late with your jump-and-swing, and you’ll often see the Keyblade bounce off its neck or shoulders. You often have to adjust your timing for Large Armours every time you get a new Gear, and certainly every time you change character in Mission Mode!

days-2016-10-17-22h46m03s828Luckily, every once and a while the Armour will take a hit, throw up its arms and fall flat on its face. Like the way early bosses would collapse in KH1, this isn’t necessarily random.  I can tell that it’s not random in Days because it happens more frequently if you come back at a high level, but I’m still not sure what triggers it specifically. Once the Armour is attached, you can easily attack the Large Armour’s head with ground attacks, but watch out: if it survives – and it probably will – it will immediately launch a spin attack followed by a jump attack. As a result of all the fuss, the best way to handle Large Armours and their recolours is to use whichever spell Saïx advised to use against them in the mission brief: in this case, to use Fire spells. Saïx might not like you, and his advice may have gaps, but the advice he does give is never wrong. Hit the Large Armour in the head with the spell, and the armour will fall down automatically, and for an extended period compared to the “random” falling. Since the Large Armour is also weak to the spell, it can be hard to decide whether it’s better to save your spells to knock it down again or to do damage once it’s on the floor, but either strategy has its merits.

Killing the Armour meets your heart collection objective, but you can go a little further for 100%. Searching the second room, it’s possible to find a large square switch in the far corner. This looks like it was meant to be stood on, possibly in some near-sighted co-op puzzle early in development, but thankfully the devs changed their mind and made it something you simply need to strike to activate (even if that makes no sense). This causes all the cylinders in the room to begin to rise and fall, allowing you to climb the square pillars to an exit in the far corner. You may also notice a strange domino tile in one corner, but can do nothing with it for the moment.

days-2016-10-17-22h46m32s993Through the door, you come to an apparent dead end. There is a great pit, another domino tile, and a door far across and above from you. There’s also winch is here, and hitting it causes the door at the opposite end of the room to open, but there’s a catch: you can’t reach the door, as there’s no sign of the obvious missing staircase. You might be convinced this is all there is to the room for this mission, but this is misleading: if you take an counter-intuitive death dive off the ledge, you’ll find yourself back in the first room of the Chamber on a raised causeway, where you can find more chests and (if the Large Armour is dead) Heartless to max your gauge. The prize for maxing out the mission bar is a second Cure, so I recommend the extra effort this early in the game!

After the mission, Roxas and Axel meet for their usual ice cream, where Axel makes an observation about his friend. In the game, he calls Roxas more “outgoing” than he used to be, while in the film, calls him more “cheerful.” Both are fine for Roxas, but Roxas follows this up by saying Axel is the same, and I don’t think you can really say that Axel is being more cheerful or outgoing! Keep in mind that Axel has never been anything but cheerful and outgoing around Roxas, and he isn’t comfortable enough to let down his mask of jokes and slacker behaviour. As a result, both versions of the scene seem confused.

Axel says “Guess he must have rubbed off on me…” clearly talking about Sora. When Roxas asks who Axel means, Axel pauses as though considering telling Roxas the whole CoM story, only to bury it in this cryptic line: “Let’s just say you can thank yourself that we get to sit here again and laugh like idiots over ice cream.” Clever.

At the end of the day, Roxas notices Xion is still missing.

days-2016-10-17-22h47m07s477Your reward for the day is one or two Cure panels, as I’ve mentioned, but also a “Magic Lv 2” linked tile. Cure is relatively self-explanatory: it heals your character and only your character.  Bear in mind that it heals very little compared to previous games, which is bound to be discouraging with this ammunition-based magic system (unlike other KH games, where you’re supposed to Cure in emergencies, Days demands you Cure proactively). The Magic Lv 2 tile is here to help you with Cure’s deficiencies. Unlike other KH games, the –ra and –ga levels of spells aren’t actually just numerical upgrades in Days, but are entirely new spells! As a result, the only way to get make your spells numerically stronger is to use these special Magic Lv tiles.

By placing tiles in Magic Lv tiles, you upgrade the strength of that spell across your deck: if you placed a Cure tile in the Magic Lv 2 tile, you would gain one extra cast of Cure, and all Cure spells would be Level 2, not just the one cast in the Magic Lv tile. You can place multiple tiles in Magic Lv slots to get the spell even stronger. For example, if you placed 2 Cure tiles in this Magic Lv 2 tile, you’d gain two casts of Cure and all your Cure spells would be Level 4 (2 + 2). Spells max out at Level 5.

It’s your responsibility to split up your spell tiles between all your Magic Lv and Multicast tiles, or to decide if you’d rather have some other benefit like a level-up in their place. That’s the challenge of this jigsaw character creation system. It’s much more complicated than it sounds, and if you ask me, all the more reason to focus on only four spells at any given moment!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Challenging Affairs
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – The Second Great Crayon Hunt

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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