Day 73: The Promise
On Day 73, Roxas finally notices Xion has been missing for a week and a half (or as we discussed above, perhaps upwards of three weeks) and he and Axel discuss the matter. Axel points out that he doesn’t know Xion like Roxas does (you can see his self-interest struggling valiantly against his persona of generosity), but since Roxas is her friend, he says that he’ll ask Saïx about her after work today. Personally, I think the fact that Axel is ultimately willing to do a favour for a friend of a friend says more about him than any number of scenes on a clock tower, so this feels very real to me.
While you’re waiting, you can trade Xaldin a Blazing Shard, which you probably have in bulk, for a new Frost Shard. This is one of many such synth item trades, and it’s always hard to get excited about them. Oh good, now I can synth a single Blizzard spell that I don’t need because they’re readily available, and what I really need are Slot Releasers and Magic Doublers. Thanks Xaldin. You’re a peach.
Saïx has a solo mission for you: a specific Heartless hunt in another new world, Beast’s Castle. You curiously don’t investigate the world during this first mission. I agree that would mess with the tempo (tailing Pete was slow paced enough, and the next mission will also be slow), but I wonder what sequence of in-universe events led to this mission preceding the initial investigation of the world? Did Demyx chase the Heartless to the world, and then left it behind, figuring that discovering the new world would get him enough brownie points for the day? …That’s exactly what happened, wasn’t it? Saïx probably punted Demyx half-way to Kingdom Hearts.
Your target is a Sergeant, an oversized Soldier recolour, which is kind of funny because you haven’t met any genuine Soldiers yet! Just Deserters. I think we’ve all learned something about the Heartless military structure.
Roxas arrives where Xaldin will one day die: the Bridge, where you run into Bad Dogs. Nominally, Bad Dogs are actually just Rabid Dogs with a different localization, but it’s worth saying that they’ve been given a great deal more tactical flexibility than their KH2 incarnation, quite in contrast to the heavily simplified or identical carry-over enemies we’ve seen previously. Like in KH2, the Bad Dogs are fragile relative to other enemies in Days, though they benefit from Days’ HP sponge health bars to become something closer to an average KH2 foe. They now have a refined bark attack (Eamonn tells me that they used to have a bark attack in KH2 as well, but I missed it since they were always dying the second they spawned!), which has a fair-sized hitbox, helping them stay out of battle instead of trying to jump at you with all the durability of a hot fudge sundae.
At the Bridge, you’ll probably notice a chest containing a special tile, a Block Lv+ tile. This tile finally lets you upgrade your Block to something resembling the Block in KH1 and 2. If you want to Withdraw and equip it immediately, I won’t think badly of you. The Sergeant will be easier for it, I promise.
You arrive in the main courtyard, where you encounter Soldiers at last, which have not particularly changed since KH1. Being so unremarkable, they don’t show up very often.
Roxas finds the front door of the castle barred (but not the front gate…?). Looking around, you may notice the four gargoyle statues that Sora would later find in this location, and may also notice that only one is on its plinth. It’s a pretty typical switch puzzle: knock the gargoyles onto the switches to open a door. Oh yes, you’re so stealthy, surely no one will notice you moving statuary around.
(The punchline is that no one does notice and they’re still there in KH2!)
Your hard work opens a secret door in the castle wall that wasn’t there in KH2. This opens to a stairwell up a tower, where you find an arch-shaped room with a number of switches you have to hit after clearing nearby Heartless. Possessors and Shadows are fairly common in this room across multiple revisits, probably to give the impression that the room an abandoned attic filled with vermin (hell, Possessors look a bit like evil dust bunnies!). Close observers with a good memory of KH2 might realize that this room is some sort of maintenance hatch around the raised ceiling of the Beast’s Entrance Hall, and sure enough, you ultimately find a damaged section of wall you can use to drop into that very room. You may also notice an X’d-off door at the far end of the hall. This door is blocked off by the Organization for such a long stretch of the game that by the time the Organization finally lets you use it, you may have forgotten that it exists!
Falling into the Entrance Hall, Roxas finally finds his quarry, the Sergeant. As a midboss, the Sergeant is underwhelming, and it will be used as a sort of atypical minor enemy for the rest of the game. It doesn’t really justify the whole midboss treatment here in Mission 22. I mean… it’s a giant Soldier with a spin-kick that you can block to stun it. That’s it. You can see how this will eventually work once they’re a minor enemy fighting in groups, of course: you can imagine yourself minding some other enemy when this asshole launches an overhead roundhouse over the front lines. But here in a one-on-one fight… eh. Just block its attacks and take it out while it’s stunned.
After the battle, Roxas unbars the front door (Stealth!) and RTC’s, but not before hearing the Beast’s roar. And just like Axel advised about flexible thinking, Roxas takes the initiative by… doing nothing to investigate at all. Maybe I spoke too soon about character development.
After the mission, there is no sign of Axel at the clock tower. The game’s attempt to generate tension is completely artificial, since he comes up to you first time tomorrow. For shame, writers!
Besides your nifty new Block Lv+ panel, Mission 22 returns a Backpack panel, which finally extends your in-the-field carrying capacity by 2. Okay, 2’s not much, but it’s a start. Better to have it than not!
Day 74: Trio
Boy, title, I wonder what today’s mission will be about, with a title like that?
Axel greets Roxas at the door on Day 74, Roxas saying he was unable to sleep he was so belatedly worried about Xion. Axel lets this sign of emotion go unacknowledged, and explains what he’s learned about Xion from talking to other members of the Organization: she hasn’t RTC’d from a mission that started upwards of eleven days ago. Why the Org hasn’t shown more concern – positive or negative – up until now is… well, frankly a plot hole in hindsight. Now that Axel’s been poking around into Xion’s whereabouts, Saïx has assigned both Axel and Roxas to find Xion.
Of course, just because your friend may be in danger is no reason to skimp out on side quests! Demyx asks you to add together a bunch of ingredients via Synthesis without telling you what it is they create. This something the game does to encourage you to make a few advanced panels without outright giving them to you for free, though in this instance they just make you synth a Hi-Potion. Since you just got Cure, I imagine they felt the need to show players that items could still be useful, especially since Cure is not likely to heal as much as a Hi-Potion, even at level 5 (Potions still work on a percentage system, as in KH2). I still think item use is still something of a hazard in Days, but to each their own.
Once you finally get started, you’re sent down to Twilight Town, where Axel tells you Xion was assigned to hunt an unknown giant Heartless. His logic is that it would probably be easier to look for the Heartless than for her, given how it’s giant and all. While I agree with his logic, I’m not sure that I share his optimism: how many ice cream breaks have you two had in the past week-to-three-weeks that weren’t interrupted by kaiju attacks?
Like Mission 21, this is actually fairly involved. You have free reign of Twilight Town to search for Xion, by which I mean that every room that’s in Days is present in this one mission (except the cinematic-only top of the tower). For the record, Days does not include the entirety of Sunset Terrace, so that does cut down on exploration a little. However, this mission also has a serious flaw: unlike the only other mission with a “mystery-solving” setup like this (the distant Mission 83), Mission 23 forces you to find your clues in a linear fashion, making it possible for you to comb the entire world before you find even one clue. Oh, the game tries to point you towards each clue, but the first and third clues aren’t hinted by anything, and if you choose to go in the wrong way…
As you search the town, you’ll discover a number of surprises, though I’m not entirely sure why all of them are there. There are weird patches of graffiti to be found if you do a close comb of town, but they never amount to anything or even make much sense. One surprise that does make sense is the series’ first “Mimic”: the Cymbal Monkey, which jumps out of chests to attack you with sound waves. Best to open chests with a bit of momentum from here on out, just to be safe. If you’ve grabbed every chest in the world according to your counter and still see one lying around, you know it’s a Cymbal Monkey. They even show up in Mission Mode and Challenges, where there should be no chests at all! Cymbal Monkeys use Illusion-style attacks, Zexion’s element, which causes “Flip-Foot.” Flip-Foot reverses your directional controls, something many players will be used to from who knows how many other games.
The game tries to point you towards your first clue by starting you in the alleyway, facing the Sandlot. If you choose to go to the Sandlot, all’s well. You’ll find Hayner and Olette hanging out there, talking about Olette hearing “a weird, low moan” in the underground tunnels. Whoa you two! Are you sure you want to be checking out low moans in dark private places? Axel and Roxas seem to figure this could be the Heartless – which I’m sure are known for their frequent moaning – or Xion with an injury. After the conversation you can even go up to the pair and talk to them, though they ignore you and simply talk among themselves. The march of quality stealth continues!
Eager to investigate the low moaning, the party heads to the south end of the underground tunnel (the end that would open to Sunset Terrace if it existed in this game). There, your attempt at stealth fails altogether as Pence just…walks in and finds you. Now, Roxas I understand, but Axel: this is pathetic, buddy! We’ve got to admit it: the only thing keeping the Organization hidden from the populace at this point is the lack of a populace.
Pence asks what you’re looking for, not at all suspicious about the guys in dark robes lurking in dark corners (he probably just assumed you were responsible for the moaning), and we get a Seven Wonders-esque anticlimax as we learn it’s the moaning is just air running through a vent in the corner. Pence may not be suspicious of you, but Axel has enough common sense to wonder what Pence is doing in this dead-end gutter (seeing as how the way to Sunset Terrace is barred). When Axel asks, Pence just laughs and deliberately acts suspicious. Axel and Roxas don’t take his bait even though he clearly hopes they will, and they head off without him.
You’re left to your own devices again at this point. You’re supposed to return to the Sandlot, which is frankly the last place I would (and did) look. There, Hayner and Olette are talking about Pence’s suspicious behaviour. Olette says she was in the Usual Spot and saw him stuffing something into a hiding place. If Pence is helping Xion hide behind that grody old couch, I’m going to be surprised, but not particularly sympathetic.
Just in case you haven’t played KH2, talking to Hayner or Olette will have them drop a few hints about the Usual Spot’s location (this is important for new players, as this game lacks the on-screen room names from KH1 and 2). Hayner mentions the Usual Spot as being on a side-street with a fence door, and Olette mentions… overhead train tracks? I think I know which train tracks she’s referring to, but they’re not visible in this game, and I’m not convinced they were visible in KH2 either, outside of one of the very, very early cutscenes?
You head to our favourite hole in the wall, where you start tearing out the drawers and looking under the pillows. The thing Pence has stashed is not necessarily easy to find. It’s hidden in a barrel by the entrance, and that’s a problem. First off, remember in KH1 when Pinocchio was hidden near the front door of the Accessory Shop, and I talked about how video games traditionally don’t hide things right next to doors? This time, the barrel isn’t just near the doorway, it’s nearly inside the exit zone! Days is very generous with its doors’ hit boxes, probably to allow crowds to pass through Gathering Gates in Mission Mode, so it’s incredibly easy to walk out the door in The Usual Spot as you try to investigate the barrel. This isn’t just frustrating on its own, but discourages you from suspecting the barrel in the first place! At least Days is fast when it comes to loading new rooms (especially in this case, as the two rooms are in the same loading block. You can tell because the two rooms aren’t divided by Gathering Gates in Mission Mode), so you’ll be able to walk in and out all you need.
By searching the barrel, you locate Pence’s pencil crayon map of the Seven Wonders from KH2, which seems to have really existed in the real world all along. Axel and Roxas are so starved for leads that they’re willing to chase a teenager’s D&D map, so they choose to track down Pence, reasoning that “If nothing else, he seemed to know a lot about the town.”
Pence is thankfully still where you left him: hanging out in a wet, abandoned sewer for no reason. When the duo asks him about the Wonders, he cops to looking into the Wonders as a personal project, but he refuses to tell you what he knows unless you prove you’re a serious investigator yourself (this is probably Axel’s fault, since he approached Pence on that exact pretence to avoid mentioning the part where her and Roxas stole Pence’s map). Pence asks three trivia questions, and if you get any wrong, he refuses to tell you which questions you got wrongs, so that you can’t very easily change your answers at random. Jerk! How dare you mess up my cheating!
The questions aren’t all as simple as you might expect. The first is a question about the name of the room on top of Station Heights. This is easy if you remember from KH2, but if you don’t or are new to the franchise, there are signs around town to help out. Next, Pence asks what’s written on the bulletin board in Station Heights, i.e. the board that hosted three mini-games in KH2. You can’t use old knowledge here, though given Pence’s three options, you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s an ad for sea-salt ice cream, since these games are obsessed with the stuff. The real killer for me is the last question: “How many cars are in the train you can see from Station Plaza?” Oh geeze, I see those trains going by every time Roxas goes to the tower… uh… uhhhhhhh… wow, this is humiliating.
After the quiz, Pence admits the Wonders are shams, just like they were in the digital Twilight Town. But it’s not all bad news: Pence also hints at an eighth wonder that’s brand new. He says if you shake a certain tree in the woods, whole forest will start shaking as though the trees were connected. Shit, we’re going to fight a giant tree monster, aren’t we? The forest makes good sense as a home for our Heartless, given how little you go there in Days. Hell, in the entire game you only go the forest about three times, and this is number 2!
Once you get to the forest, you have to start whacking trees, which bothers the crap out of me for reasons that almost certainly won’t bother anyone else. Here’s my issue: we’re attacking parts of the level geometry. This sets off two gamer red flags for me: first, the angry “tink” the game gives you whenever you hit the other trees, which exists to tell you to stop doing that, player! The second problem is the fact that an experienced gamer has been trained that the geometry is never a trigger. These trees can’t be triggers! The trees are walls. But sure enough, you find the right tree and it does have a trigger, the Keyblade swings “through” it like a destructible object. I’m not sure how they did it, I guess they replaced the entire map and put a tree model in the geometry’s place? Your Keyblade strikes the tree like any triggerable object, and sure enough the forest starts shaking… in an intelligent zig-zag pattern, up towards the Mansion. Something is in the canopy!
You head to the mansion, where Xion’s target is finally unmasked: a Stealth Sneak recolour called a Veil Lizard. Axel assumes the Lizard’s invisibility was what kept Xion from completing her mission and that she’s probably still looking for it. That’s a pretty solid guess, though as we discover in a few minutes, it’s not technically true. It’s very in-line with CoM in how the sound red herring can bide you over until you realize something more complicated is at play.
The Veil Lizard is not quite like the Stealth Sneak of old. You’re going to be dealing with its invisibility alongside a new laser eye attack. These laser eyes draw a trail back to the Lizard to help you find your target as you dodge. The laser eyes are one of the first attacks I can confirm that can cause the Light status effect Radar Zap, not that you’re likely to notice as Roxas. This is probably the only battle in the game where Radar Zap could be a threat to you, if you happened to be using the bottom-screen map to track the Lizard, but I don’t think I’d recommend that strategy in the first place.
One thing to keep in mind is the fact that part-way through the fight, Xion will arrive, interrupting the fight and quite possibly your Limit Break! I’m not going to surprise anyone to say that I’m speaking from personal experience here, in fact she’s interrupted my Limit Breaks more than once! If you’re replaying the game, you might start to blame yourself for not taking proper precautions, but dammit Days, this is still just rude! Xion rushes up to the Lizard, having somehow not noticed Roxas and Axel are even here. I don’t think that’s possible, but I can’t deny what I’m seeing in front of my eyes. Because Xion didn’t notice the others were there, she’s distracted when Roxas shouts out her name. As a result, she… look, this wording isn’t my fault!… takes a tongue-lashing straight to the face. This knocks her clean out, which seems so arbitrary that, during my first playthrough, I assumed the game couldn’t handle two AI partners during story mode and was getting her out of the way so the DS wouldn’t have to deal with both her and Axel! To my surprise, the game eventually does give you two AI partners, but you only see this phenomenon once, so it may have been a technical limitation after all. For the time being, it’s up to you and Axel to finish off the fight.
Unfortunately, the cutscene with Xion has not only interrupted your Limit Break, but caused the Lizard to fully regenerate (you can just tell the game had no way of preserving enemy health across this stupid cutscene). The Lizard has also gained the tongue attack it used against Xion, though this can be a boon to you. If you guard against the Lizard’s tongue, you’ll stun the boss. The tongue also keeps the Lizard visible for an extended period, and that’s helpful as well.
The scene that follows is rather interesting, though it’s in a way that you might not notice your first time through. The game becomes more explicit about it later down the line, but I’ve seen a handful of players who don’t seem to have noticed this phenomenon until their second or later playthroughs! Sadly, this is another moment where the detail level of the Retrospective spoils something that may not have been obvious, but this is the bed we’ve made. I personally did notice this on my first time through, so I feel a little less guilty about this than in some of the other such instances.
You see, as the scene proceeds, we see Xion both with and without her hood. It’s easy to miss at first, or to mistake it as something that’s happening as a result of her moving around, but if you pay attention to it, it becomes clear something is strange. A scene from now, once the trio comes to the clock tower, we even zoom from a wide-shot to a medium shot only for the hood to disappear between jump cuts! Part of me wonders if Xion was given black hair to help hide the hood at first: anyone not looking directly at her could easily miss the transition between black hood and black hair!
The strange “hood” visual disappears after these scenes, and we won’t see it again for some time, but even its disappearance piques one’s interest.
Spoiler: Indeed, I wonder if the reason Xion doesn’t eat ice cream later in the scene is because Axel is present and believes she could not?
Roxas goes to where Xion lies wounded, and Axel suggests they get to a safer place, by which he apparently means the tall, dangerous tower where they plop someone who has just taken severe head trauma out on an exposed ledge. Axel hands everyone ice cream, though it’s clear he doesn’t really know what to do or say with Xion in this first encounter. If I were Xion I’d probably be rubbing the nice cold ice cream on my temple by now, but instead she just stalls and doesn’t even eat the thing. Xion doesn’t want to talk about what’s wrong at first, but Axel and Roxas both offer to listen, and Axel even offers first! Wow, Sora really did rub off on the guy. Xion confesses: it wasn’t the Stealth Sneak’s invisibility that kept her in Twilight Town for two weeks. She’s lost the ability to use the Keyblade.
Xion’s concerns are spelled out: without the Keyblade she can’t collect hearts, even if she uses her magic (something that was worth clarifying just in case Mission Mode confused you, since Heartless give heart points in Mission Mode whether Roxas or Xion are present or not). Xion is convinced the Organization will turn her into a Dusk as punishment for losing her ability, as they no longer have any use for her. While Xion’s got every right to be scared, I’m not so sure about the Organization psuedo-executing her. After all, the Organization is severely short-handed and they seem to be able to make use of Demyx just fine, but oh well, this is the assumption we’re rolling with.
One person who’s interesting to watch in this scene is Axel. As I said, it’s clear he doesn’t know what to do or say around Xion at the start of the scene. After she announces her problem, and while Axel is sympathetic, he immediately says it’s a dead end, and there’s nothing she can do. Roxas rags on Axel, and even with the low-res models you can see Axel forcing himself to think if only for a moment… when the idea comes to him out of the blue. He explains: Xion and Roxas will work together on missions, with Roxas doing “double duty” so everyone thinks two wielders are working together. His plan hinges on Saïx’ generosity, since our good buddy with the cheerful demeanour would have to approve Xion and Roxas’ team-up, but it’s a hope. I’m not spoiling much to say that they get permission, but Saïx is clearly unhappy about it…
Axel cautions you that Roxas will have to collect twice as many hearts. This sounds like it was meant to be a game mechanic, but in actuality, the game never so much as implies you’re doing double duty during stretch of the game. I can’t say for sure if the developers considered applying some kind of game mechanic and dropped it later, but I don’t mind. I personally can’t think of anything that wouldn’t have been obnoxious.
Xion is cautious at first, but the boys encourage her, Axel being especially insistent (in fact, he seems particularly proud of his plan!). At that point, Xion asks if she and Axel can count each other as friends, too. Axel thinks for a minute, but says that any friend of Roxas’ is a friend of his, and the scene ends happily.
I’ve said a little less about this scene than I actually observed during my first playthrough (one particular detail is arguably undermined by the film – compare the attached screenshot to the film at the same moment and maybe you can tell what I mean), but talking about it would go far too deep into spoilers! For me, this was the moment Days changed from being a repetitive gaming experience to at least being an interesting narrative experience.
Your prize for clearing Mission 23 is the Air Slide panel, a linked panel with no upgrades at the moment. Have you noticed how this game keeps introducing new content almost every single major mission? This continues for nearly half the game, and even then it’s only because the new features become staggered instead of stopped. It’s very impressive. Air Slide is a mobility technique, though it’s not very powerful without upgrades. By pressing jump in mid-air, your character will rush forward horizontally, but only across a short distance. Each upgrade panel you have attached to Air Slide gives you an additional slide, regenerated whenever you touch ground (although your current Air Slide panel only supports 1 upgrade).
Air Slide is also the only mobility upgrade that works in the Grey Area, for some reason.
With this new technique, it’s finally possible (though not very easy at all) to get up to the scaffold in Agrabah without the box you used in certain early missions. While you can do this with one perfectly timed Air Slide, starrk’s walkthrough on GameFAQs has an even more reliable technique involving a Lift Gear combo after your Air Slide. There are a few notable prizes you can get with the help of these tricks, the most important of which ist the Ominous Gear in Mission 15, which gives you the defensive Rejection of Fate Keyblade, which offers 1. Offensive Block, 2. Defender and 3. The incredibly tempting Second Chance!
If you don’t want to use starrk’s Lift Gear technique or to rely on pixel-perfect precision, these same prizes can be more easily earned once you’ve upgraded Air Slide Lv 2 just a little bit later in the game. Judging by the power level of Ominous Gear, I’d say that the Air Slide Lv 2 method was the intended method. Some guides say you require an even more powerful mobility upgrade, but that’s definitely not the case – not only is it factually untrue, but the Ominous Gear would be useless by that point!
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).