Day 94: Hearts
Another 20-day hop brings the entire Organization to the Altar of Naught, where Xemnas reveals the fruits of their labour: Kingdom Hearts has taken physical form in the space above the World that Never Was. It’s not really clear how it wasn’t there before, getting gradually larger, but here it is at last (if we’re going to be honest, it’s because this game is so low-res that it was probably out of the question for the moon to grow gradually across the length of the game and there essentially had to be a dividing line between where Kingdom Hearts was not visible and a moment where it was).
Xemnas makes a short speech, concluding that “The strength of the human heart is vast. Soon though… we will have gained power over it! Never again will it… have power over us.” The film chooses to shuffle those lines around a bit, and also pluralizes the phrase: “Hearts shall never again have power over us.” I feel the game’s speech is much more personal, since it’s referring to each individual’s heart rather than the concept of hearts in general. On the other hand, perhaps the film was emphasizing the great irony of this speech in regards to the plot of the game…
From this point on, Kingdom Hearts appears in the big window at the back of The Grey Area, to remind you what you’re working towards. The room looks a lot more “complete” now that it’s here, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it had been designed with Kingdom Hearts in mind rather than without. The new moon is the talk of the lounge, Saïx reminding you that “Kingdom Hearts thirsts for hearts… a thirst only your Keyblade can slake.” You know what, boss? You’re creepy.
Axel offers something of a recurring sidequest here, wherein he checks your total chest count and returns a prize if you’ve opened a huge pile. Today he wants no less than 80 chests across the entire game in exchange for a new Lightning Shard. I couldn’t tell you how many chests are available at this point in the game, but if you haven’t been keeping up, it’s probably in your better interests to backtrack and keep on top from now on. That’s what this sidequest is trying to encourage you to do, after all: the Lightning Shard isn’t the “point,” the point is to make sure new players are keeping up with the reward curve.
It seems Saïx’s idea of slaking Kingdom Heart’s gross thirst for Hearts is to send Roxas and Xion to Beast’s Castle for Mission 29, to hunt a Neoshadow. I’m not a fan of this mission, mostly because if you know what you’re doing, it takes mere seconds, minus its dialogue. That’s true of many missions, but Mission 29 buys most of its time by distracting you, so it doesn’t take much effort to learn the ideal path! I might as well cut to it: the duo spawns near the Beast’s door, and when they reach the West Hall, they find Lumiere patrolling the hall. He complains about Belle and Beast arguing. When Xion points out that this Belle person must be very brave, Roxas makes an apt point by observing: “You’re assuming Belle’s human. So far nobody else seems to be.” Hm, Beauty and the Beast with two “beasts”… sounds a little close to Shrek’s territory.
Lumiere is making a real tight circuit, and you may find yourself hard-pressed to get past him… at which point Xion will suggest that this time, getting past Lumiere may be impossible. Sure enough, the game wants you to go to the Dungeon instead. But there’s clearly space to get past him, if you could just… dammit!
The situation is more complicated than it seems. You might look at this and think “Okay, I’ll just come back with some mobility upgrades.” The problem is: four missions from now, Axel will offer you a bonus mission if you get the chests in this mission, including the ones hidden past Lumiere! You sure as hell haven’t gained any mobility upgrades in the next four missions! If you want that bonus mission when it’s first offered, you have to nail the timing on this stealth section. In the past, I have tried to sneak past Lumiere by hiding in the alcove next to the stairs and going by on the left, but nowadays I find it easier to approach on the right. Air Sliding can really make or break this, but it ultimately comes down to practice.
Your prize for getting past Lumiere, beyond the security of knowing you’ll unlock that bonus mission further down the road, is two chests, one containing a Valor Gear panel. This is… not very exciting. The Midnight Roar Keyblade is a perfectly good Keyblade, notable mostly for its high attack stat (its ability is Defender)… but as I’ve already discussed, you can get the upgraded version, Valor Gear+, for only two Mission Crowns! The abilities on both blades suck, so I’d rather take the Mission Crown version’s +5 strength! Honestly, no other chest in this game is so well (or unusually) defended, so I’m very surprised they left such a weak prize at the other end. This is hardly the only time the game will give you far better rewards from one source but not the other. It’s hard to tell if someone got their wires crossed or just really, really wanted you to use Mission Mode?
Once you do get to the Dungeon, you encounter the only Emblems in this mission that really matter: two Snapper Dogs (dangerous in a fairly tight arena) and a Cymbal Monkey you’d be a fool to set loose. Unfortunately this game has trained you to be a fool: it’s so easy to open chests on the fly that there’s no reason not to, and before you know it, you’ll be Silenced, Flip-Footed and in deep Snapper shit. Oh, and remember how the game remembers which Heartless were killed when you die? It also remembers if a Cymbal Monkey was loosed and not killed, because it will respawn out in the open! Have fun with that.
Mean-spiritedly, if you don’t free the monkey, the Heartless’ fire barriers will still be there if you kill the dogs but leave the Cymbal Monkey in its box. It’s not hard to mistake this for a glitch at first, but once you open the chests, you’ll catch on.
Inside the secret passage where you once did that awful torch-lighting game, Roxas and Xion find the Neoshadow. Now let me recount what’s just happened so that we can plan for the ultra-complicated speed run Challenge you can do immediately after this mission with no complications whatsoever: you pass through two rooms, kill three Emblems, go to another room and kill one Pureblood. That’s the whole route. This is how Saïx rubs in the importance of your work on Kingdom Hearts just after Xemnas’ big speech.
To make matters even worse, the Neoshadow clearly isn’t a midboss. It’s just a future, large-sized minor enemy like the Sergeants, or for that matter the Snapper Dogs you just fought in a pair just one room ago. I’ve made a habit of comparing Heartless in this retrospective to Mario enemies, so I’ll do it again: Saïx just sent you on a pointless expedition to kill a single Hammer Brother. I don’t like them either, man, but there was probably something more important we could have done with our time?
Unlike the Neoshadows of KH2, which took petty inspiration from CoM, the Neoshadows of Days take inspiration from KH1:FM. The chief factor here is the shockwave attack the Neoshadows use every time they emerge from the ground. This is the same attack used by the Darkside in Days, and while it’s not quite as dangerous as the Darkside’s thanks to its small radius and lack of the Earth element, it can still hit you more than once in one go. Honestly, nothing else they have really compares to the danger of the shockwave, so simply making sure you can vault the shockwave will more-or-less win you the battle all on its own.
After you’ve cleared the Hammer Bro, Roxas and Xion are ready to hit the flagpole, only for two more Neoshadows to arrive. It almost feels like you really could handle this as the “real” boss – I can’t understate what an anticlimax the previous fight was – but not to worry: the Beast arrives to destroy the tension. He kills the Heartless, raging about them being in his castle. Luckily, Roxas and Xion have learned enough stealth to get out of his line of sight. Too bad, because fighting the Beast would have made for a snazzy Disney midboss, and really spiced up a garbage mission! Look, I’m a little deflated after killing a single Darknut and being told to go home, don’t look at me like that.
Hiding in their corner, Roxas and Xion have an interesting conversation. It’s not hugely impactful, but it’s still one of my favourites in the franchise, I think because the observation is so apt. Roxas says that “this castle plays by different rules than ours,” and he makes this observation: “Xemnas is our master, right? […] But if the Heartless showed up in our castle, we’d be the ones to get rid of them, not Xemnas. […] I figured it worked like that everywhere, I thought that’s what being master meant. After all, [the Beast has] servants here. He shouldn’t have to fight.”
It’s no mistake that the game had Kingdom Hearts and Xemnas’ speech just prior to this mission, notwithstanding the incongruous Pureblood hunt that didn’t contribute to Kingdom Hearts at all. We’re called to recognize the Organization’s organizational structure. Saïx has created a weird sort of corporate culture under his thumb, but the real power structure in the World that Never Was is a feudal structure, or maybe even something resembling a cult, with Xemnas as the master in charge of the Great Work of Kingdom Hearts, with the others acting more like an extension of his will. Xion argues that they’re not Xemnas’ servants, but it’s not clear what she thinks they are instead. Xemnas’ distance from the cast has left him grand and untouchable, and also distant and uncaring. Is this power relationship ideal for the Organization’s purposes? Or even correct for their purpose? Does the Beast’s relationship with his servants suggest a more ideal power structure, or does it only work because of what the Beast has and what he is trying to do?
Our duo concludes the Beast must be fighting because he has something he wants to protect. This subject is going to come up again, and when it does try to keep in mind the fact that it has already been thematically attached to Xemnas and to the task of creating Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts the franchise is finally starting to reach a sort of early maturity in terms of narrative, even if the gameplay has been hitting one sloppy misstep after another.
On a related note: I sort of like the idea of Heartless attacking the Castle that Never Was and wish we could have played out that siege as Roxas.
After the duo RTCs, we rejoin the film on the tower (oh, right: one of the film’s major problems is that it feels like it never leaves the tower. Very, very few of the cutscenes are from in the Disney worlds, and most of the rest are from The Grey Area, and it leads to a serious lack of variety). In the game, Xion observes that “Roxas took today’s Heartless out in no time flat.” That’s what I said, but it was a complaint!
In both versions, Roxas chooses this time to observe that he still doesn’t understand the whole project of Kingdom Hearts. In the game, I feel this is brought on by his encounter with the Beast and discussion with Xion, but in the film it just sort of comes out of nowhere, giving the impression that Roxas hasn’t understood this all along, which is… in many ways also true? Remember how no one explained it to him during the tutorial. Axel even calls this a “strange time to bring it up,” (a game quote, but the sentiment is in both versions). We’re essentially back to our long game of idiot ball: Roxas not having things explained to him is partially responsible for his end-of-game defection, so even though he has close friends now, they still can’t be allowed to explain things to him. And I’m afraid this is only going to get worse. What did I just say about narrative emotional maturity? Days: if you don’t want me to compliment you, I certainly won’t force it!
I suppose there is one surprise here: Axel admits he doesn’t fully understand the Kingdom Hearts project either, even though he does have memory of when he had a heart. He just says “We’re fighting because we want to know what it’s about.” The trio agree this is the best answer they have, and just… stop talking about it!
Your prize for Mission 29 is the Treasure Magnet tile. This is a bit more interesting than Draw ever was in KH1 or 2, but only because Roxas’ base pickup rate is pathetic, and also because it can help you grab Mission Point rupees in Mission mode. On the other hand, it’s probably not going to break your heart if you miss a few Munny chips… especially with Munny only being useful for synthesis, and to such a degree that you’ll probably never run out.
Day 95: Nobodies
Mission 30 is so unremarkable that neither the scripts I have open nor my notes have very much to say about it. I’ll probably find more to say about a side-quest you get on Day 95 than the mission itself, but let’s count it down to the word to find out, eh?
The Sidquest: Xaldin wants you to do a Challenge, for no less than three reasons: to remind you the feature exists, to remind you that you can revisit missions, and to remind you that our unfortunate friend the Barrier Master exists, in one fell swoop. You have to admire their efficiency. His request: get at least one Challenge Sigil on Mission 16, the Fire Plant mission, where the “Challenge” is simply to complete the Mission Gauge. The sidequest itself is a joke: you only need 1 Sigil, which is awarded… by completing the minimum mission requirements, something you’ve already done. Since the Challenge only increases enemy level by 4, you’re just going to barrel through like nothing’s changed at all, except the part where now your level is in the teens. If you use Air Slide (and especially if you use the Lift Gear trick) you might even grab two Sigils, though it’s still not possible to get three. The reward from Xaldin is a petty little Iron, but oh well, the Sigils are nice.
The Mission: Mission 30 sees you going to Agrabah on a Heart Hunt. The only notable thing about this mission, which feels like a reject from an optional mission block, is the fact that you’ll fight a Large Armour covered by a Barrier Master here… and that for some reason, those Heartless refuse to show up if you use the upper door to the room? You must use the lower door. It can be very confusing if you end up walking around looking for Heartless and you’re certain you haven’t missed any, so where could they be?
After clearing the Large Armour, two Fire Plants spawn in the main level. Just two. Not even hidden. Clear them and you get your second, precious Ability Unit. The devs didn’t even try.
I used ~50 less words to describe the mission than the sidequest and five of them were insulting the developers. Like I said: Mission 30 seems to have been plucked unripe from an optional Mission block. Hard to say how it ended up as a standalone mission attached to plot. The last mission wasn’t that grand, either: maybe Missions 29 and 30 were once part of an optional mission block, only for the devs to change their mind, erase two or three even worse missions, and keep these two as the only survivors?
Back at the tower, Axel says he was sent to Beast’s Castle today, which is introduced casually but is actually an upcoming plot point. The trio then discuss how their ruse is going, and while Roxas and Xion are happy to keep working together, Xion’s worried they can’t keep fooling the others for long. Axel says “they’re not stupid” and Roxas tries to convince them that sure the others are stupid! Only for his friends to keep shooting him down example after example. It’s cute in its own way
This conversation ultimately leads to Axel saying that everyone in the group has something they’re good at, even if they’re not clear what Demyx’s skill is, besides the sitar. The film picks up here, which means the rest of this schmaltzy scene is taken out of its original, natural content and so comes across as infinitely worse, like that damnable “Light!” “Dark!” “Light!” “Dark!” scene from the FFVII cast in KH2. Like an 80s after-school special, Axel talks about how everyone is special, no two people are the same. Xion asks if that sentiment really applies to Nobodies, given that they don’t have hearts, the traditional definition of “identity.” Remember, Ansem Seeker of Darkness, Yen Sid and Ansem the Wise all used this as an argument for why Nobodies “do not exist:” because they lack the Heart that embodies the traditional definition of existence.
Axel argues that they don’t have their hearts, but they do have their memories, but Roxas and Xion are quick to point out that they don’t have their memories (this has never been specified about Xion prior to this point, but you may have assumed it given how she behaved). In fact, they’re both surprised to learn that Axel does have memories. Geeze, and Axel was surprised when Roxas asked him about why they were making Kingdom Hearts! The Organization has a terrible grade school education. Axel, half-teasing and half-honest, says that maybe the fact that they don’t have memories is what makes them unique, though I’m not really clear on how that differentiates them from one another!
Is Axel not bothered by the fact that they don’t remember their pasts? He knows who Roxas used to be, so this should at least make him suspicious!
Roxas asks Axel about his past life, and Axel sort of brushes the question off, saying he was “pretty much the same.” It seems like a dismissal directed at the player as well as the other characters, at least as at first, but in the game, he addresses his past as “baggage” and says that “You’re not missing much.” Roxas segues out of the segment, wondering about his past. Axel looks guilty for not telling him, but that soon fades out.
As this scene clears, we cut to the Mansion in Twilight Town, where DiZ and Naminé have arrived to set up their new headquarters.
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).