Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – A Tax on Stupidity

days-2016-10-22-08h27m05s275Days 97-100: Transfer

Day 97 starts with the Organization members jiving Roxas for working alone again, but Roxas sees no reason to complain with his friend finally safe. He may soon find a reason, since Saïx has chosen to reassign that Agrabah Heartless from Xion onto him, and it’s a doozy. Ironically, in spite of the fuss Saïx raised about you not fighting the Agarabah Heartless, he doesn’t force you to go after it immediately now that it’s assigned to you! (Though it is a mandatory mission, the only one in the block.) If you want, you can put the Agrabah Heartless off all the way to Day 100 with the help of the bonus mission. A lot of the other major bosses seem loosely attached to significant numbers like this as well, so I can’t help but feel that the mission and day 100 were put in optional proximity on purpose.

As we later learn, the Agrabah Heartless the plot has been talking and talking about only surfaced because Genie cleared the sandstorm. As it happens, we later confirm that this Heartless is the cause of the sandstorm, so it arguably could have started it again any time! We should have been forced there on Day 96! It would have been a more dramatic finale to Xion’s missing Keyblade plot arc, that’s for sure (but god help us if we had had to fight it with a stick!).  But there’s a fairly concise reason the game didn’t do this: major bosses like this one are always fought solo, with the sole exception of the Darkside from earlier.

days-2016-10-22-08h26m56s708There are two sidequests in this block. The first is the one from Axel that I mentioned previously, where you have to collect all the chests in Mission 29 to unlock it, aka by sneaking past Lumiere. Once again, it does make narrative sense for you to take on a bonus mission at the moment, since you’re on Saïx’s bad side. This is the last time we’ll have such an elegant, accidental justification for taking bonus missions, but it was nice while it lasted. There’s also another synth trade “sidequest” available for a “Rune Tech” item. Where are these guys getting these good items but somehow missing the easy ones? Trading for Moonstones and other pieces of garbage! I could get ten Moonstones in one holo-mission!

Your Bonus Gauge this time around is the first with a tripler. I won’t be the first person to recommend you save the Agrabah mission for that triple. It’s a pretty clear choice with the new Aero spell attached, as well as a new Gear Component A synth item. Because Mission 32 only takes up two ticks on the Bonus Gauge, it’s possible to arrange for two triples instead of just one. I’d recommend tripling the Cure spell attached to Mission 34, but there’s a catch. 34 is responsible for most of the Bonus Bar, so if you want to multiply Cure, you’re going to doom most of the other missions to a 1x multiplier. The devs knew what they were doing with this one.

While it may be a terrible idea to go to do the Agrabah mission first, I promised to cover these in order, so that’s exactly where we’re going. Mission 32: Saïx claims you’re going up against an “unknown” Heartless, which is preposterous considering Axel was here yesterday and Saïx seemed to know what it was the day before that, but off we go.

days-2016-10-22-08h28m22s462Down in Agrabah, Roxas runs into Aladdin and Jasmine, who are discussing the sandstorm vanishing. They act like it happened pretty recently, which may be yet another sign that the devs didn’t account for the optional mission block (Genie dissipated the sandstorm on Day 75-79, nearly a month ago). Aladdin points out that the Heartless are still here, and he goes off to check them out. Thankfully, he doesn’t investigate in your direction, because the upcoming boss fight would be kind of hard to hide.

You head out Agrabah’s front gates for the first time, and find yourself in what I believe are supposed to be the ruins from KH2. You remember: the ones you travelled on Carpetback? It’s hard to say: the layout has changed dramatically, and for reasons I can’t comprehend, you seem to enter the room through the giant pillars that originally marked the way to Jafar’s tower, not Agrabah itself. By all means, you can pretend this is a different set of ruins, but as I so often seem to be, I’m of the opinion that something funky happened in the development process that outright turned the room around 180 degrees!

The fight doesn’t start with much more pretence, but you might be surprised by what shows up: an entirely new Heartless boss. And not one of those silly midbosses, oh no, Days has gone all-out with a massive, mechanical Emblem (this might be just me, but I sense the influence of the Animated Series’ character Mechanicles in its design) and it’s going to make an impression. This is the first major boss of the game, and like every single one of its big boss cousins, the Antlion is the balls-to-the-wall hard.

days-2016-10-22-08h30m11s141The boss is called the Antlion, probably named after the Final Fantasy monster (though since the antlion is a real-world animal, it’s hard to say). The Heartless has a flat face with mandibles attached to a bulb-like body made of gears. They’re not even interconnected gears: the entire thing is a series of three giant gears in a stack.

The Antlion doesn’t seem all that concerned by you at the outset. It just sort of tunnels around, half-buried. It’s hard for you to even get hurt during this phase! On the other hand, that’s partially because the boss just keeps moving, just like Axel complained, and you’ll be hard-pressed to land more than a few hits on the boss without magic, and it seems a shame to waste magic during the phase when it’s not fighting back.

After a while, the Antlion will start coming after you, and if you try to stand on the ruins to avoid it, it will ram them to knock you off! Much of the battle is made up of you trying to hit this constantly moving Heartless and it’s a dull, boring process. It’s almost a relief when it stands still to attack you with waves of sand.

days-2016-10-22-08h30m47s314After a while, the Antlion jumps out into the air and summons a dust devil to lift it into the sky. As well as chasing after you, it begins to spit bombs at you. These can be very dangerous, but they’re also your only way of stopping the dust devil attack early: you have to try to knock them back into the whirlwind. The game is generous about this (it’s using a variant of the barrel-tossing code you’ll see later), but between the dust devil, the landscape and the bombs landing near one another, it’s not as easy as it might sound. If you can pull it off, the Antlion will be stunned and you can get a lot of hits in. Later in the fight it starts firing laser at you too – the best you can hope is that the fight is nearly over, because it becomes completely intolerable at this point.

The Challenges in this mission are even worse. All of the major bosses have a Blazon that ups their level by 50-60 and somehow that level increase comes across as the least of your worries. The Antlion’s normal challenge gives you no recovery items (spells are fine) and asks you to attack as little as possible against the enemy with the most HP you’ve ever seen. When I first wrote this, I said that this Challenge was nearly unwinnable unless you come back late, late, late in the game with Thundaga, but Hirokey123 set me right by explaining that basic Thunder won’t just do on its own, but is easily better than Thundaga, and you can read his reasons here. Thankfully, Thunder is the reward for the mandatory mission that occurs after this very block, so you won’t have to wait very long to get the spell… though you might want to wait for the stats.  This goes double for the speed run SP challenge, where you’re asked to kill the level +55 Antlion in under 1 minute 20 seconds. Yes, that includes walking time! In the largest boss arena in the game! Checking a random walkthrough video of the original mission, I see it takes the player 9 minutes to clear the boss fight alone. While first-attempt confusion is certainly a factor in that video, you can see why this doesn’t bode well! This Challenge is nearly impossible without Thunder and the game’s mobility upgrades. What a nightmare.

days-2016-10-22-08h31m54s507(Remember when I complained about the HP Sponge issue? If you’re like me, the HP Sponge thing isn’t that bad if you’re simply trying to complete the game, even on Proud, but if you try to earn the Challenges or even play missions in Mission Mode, that’s when you’ll notice the HP bars just go on and oooooon. Days’ gameplay is infuriating in Challenges. Personally, I find the way Roxas’ teeny hit box often misses to be the biggest frustration. Days’ faults are really pre-eminent and obvious. When you’re fighting a monster with triple the health bar and your level capped by the constraints of the Challenge, and you’ve overcome all of its attacks ages ago and just have to do the same air combo pirouette 100 more times to win, that’s when you realize this has devolved from a half-decent experience to a steaming pile.)

After the mission, Roxas once again spies on Aladdin and Jasmine (in fact, no matter which door you go through, he somehow spies on them from a platform nowhere near either door that you shouldn’t be able to get to at this point in the game! At least it’s better than forcing you to use a particular door, like your first trip to Agrabah). Aladdin reports that the Heartless have started to disappear. I know it’s been a few games since KH1, but the idea is that they were only attacking because a powerful Heartless was directing them. You don’t get to hear the rest of the conversation, however, because… ta~da! Genie has found you skulking in your corner.

days-2016-10-22-08h32m37s048Genie initially wants to talk about how you disappeared on him earlier, but he’s as distractible as ever, and Roxas deflects the conversation on to Aladdin. Genie says he’s not even going to say hello, he just wanted to check on his friend. With that, he up and leaves, a surprisingly brief conver—GAH! Genie returns, just so the game can make a joke about how surface-level its story is. No, really: Genie offers to explain his backstory but Roxas doesn’t care. Days just isn’t interested in side stories. That’s not exactly an ideal approach, but at least in this case it was pretty funny.

And with that, the story in Agrabah is essentially done! You’ll be back from time to time for generic missions, and once more for the main story, but the Antlion essentially marked the “end” of Agrabah’s story. It doesn’t feel like it was much of a story! Which is funny. Think about it: objectively it’s got as many narrative moving parts as the average world in KH1 or 2. Heck, remember that in KH2, Agrabah and Halloween Town seemed much smaller than the other worlds. So why do I feel like I was barely there? I believe the small parcelled nature of the Mission system is probably to blame, and that sadly means we’re going to be feeling the same on every world to come, no matter how much effort goes into its story. And what about the worlds that have less effort put into their stories? Eugh. Well, we’ll get to that when I come to that.

After each of the missions in the 97-100 block, you see a brief scene of the trio chatting on the tower.  Some have text dialogue, but none are particularly substantive.

days-2016-10-22-08h33m20s840Your big prize for clearing Mission 32 is the Aero spell. This spell works well like the Fire spell in KH1: it can home into enemies, but only sort of. Its ability to cause Air-Toss near-if-not 100% of the time can be appealing, but the sheer number of enemies weak to Fire, Blizzard and Thunder compared to only a handful weak against Air make it hard for me to remember poor neglected Aero when it comes time to choose my loadout.

Weirdly enough, Aero’s upgrades, Aerora and Aeroga, are never given to you directly. You must buy or synthesize them (or earn them as Mission Crown rewards), and as a result, I’m going to have to cover Aerora and Aeroga when their recipes are introduced, not the spells themselves! In fact, combined with the limited number of enemies weak to Air, the whole spell line feels forgotten. Given the surprising number of Water-aligned enemies in the game, two of which have strangely simplistic attacks, I can’t help but wonder if a Water spell line was intended for the player, but was abandoned and given to those enemies as attacks?

Mission 33 is another of those so-stupid-it’s-comedic missions where the Organization “tests” you by throwing you into a gladiator pit against lesser Nobodies.  This one’s even stupider than the last one: it’s a mission to… you’re not going to believe this, I have to quote the game directly: “Herein we will determine your fitness for future missions by conducting an assessment of your luck.”

An assessment of your luck.

days-2016-10-22-08h34m11s452This is a new mission type, one that thankfully only occurs twice. There’s only one more true recurring mission type to come, and it appears so late in the game that I’m surprised they bothered, and is so frustrating you’ll wish they hadn’t (I am referring, veterans, to a certain green Heartless that will live forever in infamy). But I’m getting ahead of myself. This new mission type, Break the Jars, involves placing you in a mission with no other enemies, where you smash up some jars that have been arranged for you. They can only be broken with finishing attacks, so a gear with a small combo, like the Chrono Gear, is advisable.

You have to clear most or in this case all of the jars to complete the mission. As you smash them, the jars will drop either nothing, an item, or a horrible monster you can’t hope to defeat. There are three such monsters in each mission, though this one actually releases them in pairs, so you have six of the fuckers running around trying to gut you. After even the first monster is out, the whole mission devolves to you running around praying for whatever meagre success you can scrape. God help you, all of the monsters you have to put up with in these missions can teleport, too. Better to run than not, but shit.

days-2016-10-22-08h35m27s717While I do recommend the Chrono Gear at this point in the game, a better strategy overall is to use the Brick Wall ability. This powerful ability makes it so enemies can’t disrupt your combos with attacks. You’ll have to watch out for… death… of course, but if they can’t stop you from breaking the jars, they’re going to have a hard time stopping you period. Combine it with Magic Bracer for easy healing, and you’re golden.  The problem is that the ability is fairly rare. A post-game ring has it, but otherwise you’ll be forced to rely on a limited subset of Gears (Prestige Gear+, both Crisis Gears, and Omega Gear+). Some characters in Mission Mode (Lexaeus and Saïx) gain the ability with gears you already have, so you might be able to easily clear this in Mission Mode, but hold your horses: every instance I can find requires 3 Ability Units, and you don’t have 3 Ability Units yet.

The invincible enemies you fight in this mission are Roxas’ own Samurais. …Wait a second, if the Samurais work for Roxas, why haven’t seen hide nor hair of them in the course of this entire game? And where are all the other Lesser Nobodies?

Well…

The Lesser Nobodies are, in my mind, one of the most overt failures of Days, especially in regard to the larger franchise. KH2 makes it pretty explicit that the Organization Members are supposed to have a specific and strong relationship with the Lesser Nobodies. In fact, two plot twists rely on this information: Roxas’ Samurais appearing the moment he regains consciousness within Sora, and also the Dusk at the start of the game calling Roxas “My Liege.” This is completely lost thanks to Days, where the only time you ever, ever see Lesser Nobodies is if they’re there to attack you. They’re only mentioned in the story twice: once as something Xion was afraid of being turned into (meaningless to new players!) and later in a Secret Diary, explaining that Dusks were the ones that carried the news of CoM back to the Organization.

days-2016-10-22-08h35m31s452There’s a pretty simple – and yet utterly inadequate – explanation for this problem. Interviews have said that the dev team hoped to have you summon or somehow controlling Lesser Nobodies while out on missions. This would have been pretty awesome, not just as a power but as a chance to see the Nobodies that belonged to the CoM crew and to Xion (though Xion’s may have just been Samurais, it’s hard to say). Sadly, the feature wasn’t working for one reason or another. Technical reasons, balance reasons… we’ll never know! It must have happened pretty early in development, too, because only Samurais and Dusks appear in the game. I imagine if they had created other Lesser Nobodies, we would have seen them in the game somewhere as well. As a result, I feel they tested the system for Roxas, hated it, and then abandoned it. Since the feature failed, which is something that happens and I understand, the devs decided to compensate for the absence of Lesser Nobodies by putting the Lesser Nobodies into no role whatsoever. Not in the background of cutscenes, not in the Grey Area, nothing.

The extent of the damage done by the loss of the Lesser Nobodies is really hard to state. I’ve been staving off on this but it’s got to be said now if not later: Roxas is a weenie. He backs down at the first sign of extra work or trouble, he can’t complete an argument without Axel’s help, we’ve already gone into the childishness of his character (it’s been gone for a while but it’ll be back) and no one, no one outside of his friend group respects him, which makes his intermittent promotions all the more baffling. Giving him an army of elite, stoic Samurais at his command would have been both a sign of trust and power from the Organization, and also would have amplified the feeling of working for the actual bad guys of KH2, since the lesser Nobodies were honestly more visible in KH2 than the Org members. All of these sensations are lost. Even just putting the Samurais into cutscenes would have staunched some of these wounds. Instead, the developers ran away at the first sign of trouble and left us with every single problem wholly intact!

days-2016-10-22-08h35m03s118Lesser Nobodies aren’t the only concept lost in the development of Days. Remember the Dark City, and how it was barely explored in KH2? Remember how Roxas is going to dramatically storm out through the Dark City towards the end of the game, and then fight Riku there before being captured? Yeah, we’ll only see the Dark City once in the entire game prior to those events (correct me if I’m wrong). I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone came to this as their first Kingdom Hearts game and had no idea where Roxas, Axel and Riku were even supposed to be. It’s pathetic.

I don’t know what I’d want if the game were remade. Replacing the whole feature seems unlikely. Maybe a handful of new gimmick missions where Samurais served as allies, or a mini-game where you commanded them to gather you materials off-screen (like a minigame borrowed from Mega Man Marathon bomb Mega Man X: Command Mission, curse its unholy name. You’ve got to salvage the good ideas from bad games or they just go to waste, you know what I mean?). I haven’t had a chance to play the game yet, but the dungeon system in My Life as a King might also work well, and could even serve as a tidy reference to a Final Fantasy game. All I know is that the utter lack of Lesser Nobodies feels like a major fault that needs major changes to repair it, and I hope if we ever see a remake, we’ll get something of the right calibre to fix the problem.

That was a lot of talk for a pretty short mission. Moving on…

Mission 34 sees you teaming up with Demyx for the first time to return to the ruins of Agrabah to hunt a brand new kind of Heartless called Aerial Masters. For the first and (I believe) only time in the game, you’re told to hunt a specific Heartless and given the number of that Heartless that you’ll have to kill (3): probably because the ruins are such wide open and wasted space that the devs didn’t want you leaving early.

days-2016-10-22-08h37m52s430You find the first Aerial Master at Agrabah’s City Gates, where the game employs an ambush it’s going to use multiple times in the post-Antlion missions at Agrabah: surrounding the target enemy with Loudmouths that will heal it at the slightest provocation (after you clear the three Aerial Masters out, a Large Armour shows up in town with the same strategy!). Frankly, the best advice is to take out the Aerial Master as soon as possible, even at the expense of spells, rather than try to attack the Loudmouths. This is because the Loudmouths’ AI seems to take a few seconds to be properly activated, for fairness’ sake. If you take out the Aerial Master early, most of the walking bagpipes won’t even have spawned yet! This isn’t so viable a strategy against Large Armours and their recolours, since they have to be beaten in “phases,” but it works well here.

The Aerial Master is an irritating type. It’s a bit like the Air Pirate from KH1, except it spaces out its swooping attacks with air blades or whirlwinds, and is armed with a pair of spiked brass knuckles that it uses at close range. They’re dangerous, and definitely a priority target, so the player is lucky that the game rarely mixes them together with other Heartless (although it might have been more interesting if they had). Take them out with magic if you can spare it, as it’s usually worth the expense – just bear in mind that they’re immune to your new Aero spell. I suspect that this has more to do with programming than narrative colour, since they’re already in the air and that might screw up their AI, but it’s hardly a universal trait among flyers, so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree?

days-2016-10-22-08h37m15s611There’s not much to add after that. You fight the other three in the ruins where they have more space to make your life irritating, but besides the fact that they seem to be high-stat monsters a few levels above you, they’re not so bad. If you want, you can even fight another Zip Slasher in this mission, and it’s just as irritating as ever (and not worth the effort). One last thing to mention is that if you use the Air Slide trick, you can earn a precious Backpack tile off of one of the Marketplace’s scaffolds.

Bonus Mission 35 wraps up our set with a simple heart collection mission in Beast’s Castle. You don’t even have to put up with a stealth segment this time! There’s even a Slot Releaser in a chest in the Undercroft. What you do have to do is put up with no less than three new enemies, all of them potentially lethal. The first is the Massive Possessor. This is a giant Possessor, and it splits into three Possessors if you kill it. The problem is: it’s almost impossible to attack the Massive Possessor in melee without getting sucked inside! Magic feels like overkill, but the danger presented by these evil clouds is hard to ignore, whichever strategy you employ!

days-2016-10-22-08h39m39s020

Roxas, Frozen and surrounded by Icy Cubes.

The other monsters introduced are related to one another: Icy Cubes from KH2, and Snowy Crystals, a large-sized version of the Icy Cubes. These monsters are not the laughable popcorn monsters from KH2. Both the Cubes and Crystals can launch an area attack on the floor that will cause Freeze near-to-100% of the time. And it can destroy you. The Undercroft in this mission holds a swarm Icy Cubes that come at you in waves and will freeze you one after another after another, and because of your limited magic, it’s hard to recommend using Fire here. The Snowy Crystals far better justify the use of Fire, as they’re not simple resized enemies: they’re durable and have a rolling attack that launches multiple freezing area attacks at ground level. Until you learn to cope with them (preferably by burning!), the Snowy Crystals may be the most dangerous foes in the entire game!

By the way, during this mission block, if you’ve been keeping on top of all the optional missions and hidden Slot Releasers, you’ll unlock your second page of panels! Unfortunately, a new page of panels means “a page of panels, almost all of which are locked, preventing you from using any panel that runs horizontally for several missions and vertically for at least six.” They sure know how to break your bubble. I do like how each mission feels practical as a result of the Slot Releasers, but I know the limited panels at moments like this drive other players up the wall.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – A Stick
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Donkey Kong’s Nobody


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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