Day 117: Secrets
After another time-skip, we once again get a scene that seems to imply that there wasn’t a time skip. I told you this would be a running problem with the game’s optional mission blocks, but this is bungling at the level of art. In this scene, Saïx comes into Axel’s bedroom (which is clearly just Roxas’ bedroom being repurposed) and demands to know what Xion is up to that Axel’s been covering for. You know, when Axel was covering for Roxas and Xion twenty-one days earlier. Ironically, this could have been easily fixed by moving the optional mission block, though it takes a little thought. Remember how the Antlion mission could, but didn’t have to be attached to Mission 100? If the optional mission block could have somehow been put before Xion got her Keyblade back – with, say, the Aerial Masters filling the role of the big dangerous Agrabah Heartless – the Antlion could have been made a single, mandatory mission on Day 100 exactly and Saïx’s interruption could have happened the very next day!
Axel refuses to say a word, and Saïx seems surprised that he won’t say anything, and seeing Saïx shocked is jarring! Saïx says: “…But the two of you are close,” Kirk Thornton throws in a raised inflection to imply that Saïx is confused by Axel’s behaviour, and taking the fact that Axel would relay the information to him as a given. Axel resents the implication that Saïx expects him to spy on his friends, and orders him out of his room.
Saïx does not do so immediately. He instead assigns Axel to work with Xion today, which is phrased ominously, though nothing particularly comes of it. It may simply be that Saïx is suggesting Axel should change his mind and grill her while they work, which he doesn’t. Saïx then adds that Axel is going to be sent back to Castle Oblivion in the near future to continue the search for the Chamber of Awakening. Axel objects on the basis that he’s unlikely to turn anything up now that he hadn’t before, which Saïx… doesn’t argue with? Axel’s point is entirely valid, the Castle seems to be magically repelling searches, so what on earth does Saïx and/or Xemnas expect? They’re not sending him there with any new tools or anything. Saïx simply insists, and provides “additional incentive.” He reveals that Xion, like Naminé, was also born at the Castle. “Two of your favourite people,” he taunts.
Axel accepts (“Don’t try to dress it up as a favour,”) and tries his own power play: he realizes this order doesn’t come from Xemnas necessarily, and that Saïx is trying to gain the upper hand by finding the Chamber first so that he can learn why Xemnas wants it. It seems that, like Xigbar in KH2:FM+, Saïx suspects Xemnas is working behind the Organization’s back, and Saïx wants to have the advantage first. While this scene does address all the backstabbing in a tidy package, I still have some issues. Bear in mind that the scene is the first time western players are learning many of these details, and in that regard the scene is a little scant. What on earth is this Chamber? Would it kill the game to elaborate?
Since Saïx has raised the subject of he and Axel being a team, Axel reminds him that he took out Vexen and Zexion specifically to give Saïx power in the Organization. “When have I ever complained about the dirty work? I cleared the way to the top for you. Just do me a favour and don’t trip on the way up.” It seems these two have a more extensive history than we might have imagined.
In the Grey Area, Xigbar tells you that you’re with him today, “tiger.” But before you can worry too much about that, Saïx explains the mission is to a new world, but also that you’ve received a new promotion! Your new rank, Rookie, comes with the ability to synthesize Gear panels, and Saïx and I both recommend you do so, as they’re much better than the Gears available in the Heart shop. Unfortunately, you’re only likely to only have enough synth materials to make one Gear at the moment (or you may be close and have to scrounge for missing parts just to get one!), so choose wisely.
Let’s look at our new available purchases, because I promise, this time this time there’s a difficulty increase tied to your promotion, as there will be for every promotion to come. The Heart Shop is selling another Slot Releaser and Level Up, Panaceas just in time for you to ignore them forever, and you can now buy base level spells (instead of synthing them) which for some reason includes Thunder, even though the game won’t officially give you Thunder until after this next mission! You can also buy the third Ability Unit, at last.
The game also sells you a number of new specialized panels that you’ll want to consider. One is the Range Extender, which extends the distance Roxas can use to lock on to enemies from far away, if that’s something you’re interested in. A more important ability is Auto-Life. This panel will restore your HP by a third should you be killed, but it only works once a mission (though it resets if you die). This not only makes your life easier, but makes it easier to risk using Limit Breaks, as well. This panel is invaluable, so you’ll want to install it at once and upgrade each time the game provides. And the fact that its block is in the shape of three vertically aligned panels when you just unlocked a new page of slots with no vertical columns available at all? That’s the devs being assholes.
Let’s take a look at the new Gears. These are our first four-slot gears, and introduce the long-running, sideways L-shaped Panels that are standard for mid-level gears. Present in the Heart and Synth shops, we have:
- The Duel Gear (Abaddon Plasma) is available through synthesis with Gear Component A’s. This is a ground-combo focused Keyblade, and many of the other Gears in this set will be similarly focused. The Abaddon Plasma’s abilities are Chain-focused: 1. Chain Power gives you an ability that deals extra damage after a chain hits maximum (Hirokey123 explained that this refers to the ring that appears around an enemy during a chain. Mind that he adds that the damage boost isn’t very high.); 2. Chain Time, which boosts the time you have to continue Chain; and 3. Heart Bonus, a power that fully restores your HP every time you gather 300 Heart Points!
- The Chrono Gear+ can also be synthesized. Besides boasting an impressive Magic boost over the base-level Blade, it replaces the original’s 1. Thunder Finish with 2. Blizzard Finish. Whatever you’re looking for, I suppose.
- Both the Nimble Gear and the Nimble Gear+ are available, the former through the heart shop and the latter through synthesis. These unlock the Leviathan, which is a successor to the Lift Gear in the field of air combos. The base-level Leviathan offers 1. Chain Power, 2. Combo Jump (allows you to jump mid-combo) and 3. Combo-Air Slide (allows you to Air Slide mid-combo). The Leviathan+ has a much higher attack (+70 instead of the +54 attached to the Leviathan), and exchanges Chain Power for Combo Boost.
- Both the Fearless Gear and Fearless Gear+ are also available. They create the Glimpse of Darkness and its upgrade, which is a good Keyblade namely for its high strength, though if you’re running around with the Mystery Gear, it just won’t stack up! Both Glimpse of Darkness blades only offer the boring 1. Defender and 2. Striker as abilities, which further deepens their status as a low-rent pair of Aubades. For what it’s worth, the base-level Glimpse of Darkness has a higher crit rate in exchange for lower base damage.
- You can also synth yourself an Ominous Gear+, but you shouldn’t. The Rejection of Fate+ exchanges the base-level blade’s beloved Second Chance ability for the comparatively pathetic Damage Control, which you might remember as being merely an upgraded version of Defender from KH2:FM+.
We’ve also got some new Rings. In the Heart Point shop, we find the Blizzard Charm and Flower Charm, both Rings with my favourite Magic Bracer ability, each with different magic defence-boosting stats. On the synthesis table, we’ll turn to the discussion of Bronze Rings (or rather Bronze-Iron rings, since there are no pure Bronze rings, for whatever reason). These include:
- The Lucky Ring, a powerful ring with two abilities: Prize Power LV1, which increases the HP restored by HP orbs; and more importantly Heart Bonus, which was described above.
- The Strike Ring, which mildly boosts your critical hit abilities.
- The White Ring, which grants Prize Power LV2.
One last new prize from your Rookie promotion: it unlocks Xion in Mission Mode! Xion is an odd beast, and a little disappointing as our first unlocked character: she’s actually a carbon copy of Roxas, Keyblades and all. The only difference is that an Easter egg from the end of the game applies to Roxas but not to her, which a few players might arguably want if Roxas’ Easter egg ends up cramping their style. Excusing the Easter egg curiosity, there is a reason Xion was made an exact clone that I approve of: remember, Mission Mode doesn’t allow duplicate characters. This means that Xion allows two players to play as the “normal” character that they’re familiar with from story mode!
Once you’re ready to investigate with Xigbar, you’re sent down to Mission 36 to visit another new-old world: Olympus Coliseum. They couldn’t fucking resist. Olympus Coliseum is here in its KH1 incarnation. You’re here on an Investigation, but the rooms are so small that the presence of so much as a single Heartless will block your every attempt, so you had best clear out the entire place.
On arriving in the world, Xigbar goes off on a tangent about the kind of people the Organization recruits – “recruits” in scare quotes since I believe he means “turns into Heartless.” The way it’s phrased, this speech only makes sense if Xigbar read the script and already knows Olympus Coliseum is full of heroes worth turning into Heartless, despite this being the initial investigation. Once again, Roxas continues his belated kindergarten education into the function of the Organization, as it seems he never realized they were special Nobodies, something that might have come up earlier if the devs hadn’t tossed all the lesser Nobodies into an incinerator. But Xigbar objects: he says Roxas and Xion are the real “exceptional” Nobodies. Before he can explain what he means, the Heartless appear, and he never gets back to his original point. As a result, this incomplete thought about Roxas and Xion being “exceptional” will stick with Roxas for ages, practically to the end of the game! Apparently it didn’t occur to him to ask around for months!
This incoming Emblem ambush includes the only Heartless in the entire mission, believe it or not. But Olympus Coliseum has a bit of a “hidden” gimmick: the fight outside the arena is always against gruelling, high HP enemies, and this one is technically the easy one. Your opponents: Li’l Cannons and Flare Notes. Li’l Cannons are re-purposed Cannon Guns from KH2, but they are now able to attack horizontally alongside their mortar attack. Thankfully, you can deflect this horizontal attack with Block. Flare Notes are fire-aligned Loudmouths, which can heal other Heartless as normal, and shoot a bouncing fireball (same as the Fire Plant and Scarlet Tangos, but larger) instead of their modified Aerora. They’re really more notable for being tank-like healers than fireballers, so it’s a good thing they’re weak against Blizzard.
You know, you can actually see a lot clever mechanical ideas like that in this game’s enemy design. These tank-healers with an obvious elemental weakness, for instance. If only they hadn’t been HP sponges this whole thing might have turned out for the better?
Just then, you hear a shout from the arena and Xigbar bolts, leaving Roxas standing there catching flies in his mouth as Phil shows up. But it turns out something very curious has happened: Phil seems to think Roxas is here for training! It seems Hercules scouted a young hero with a lot of potential, and after Phil saw you fight the Heartless (and apparently missed Xigbar entirely?), he mistakes you for Hercules’ candidate. This makes Phil’s relationship with Roxas a complete inversion of his relationship with Sora right from the get-go. It goes to show how much Phil respects Hercules, because Roxas and Sora must be pretty comparable in terms of their skill levels and Herc’s opinion seems to be the only thing that’s tipped the scales!
Roxas is forced to introduce himself, and Phil heads in to the arena to set up for training, leaving Roxas to talk with Xigbar. Xigbar thinks this is lucky. Now you can spy around without needing to skulk, since “you’re one of them.” Unfortunately, the price of admission is that you have to participate in Phil’s gruelling hero training whether you want to or not, which Xigbar finds hilarious. In fact, he just up and leaves you there, going home early!
Wanting to stave off his training as long as possible, Roxas conducts an investigation of the nearby area, finding the leaderboards from KH1. From these, Roxas learns Sora’s name for the first time, though it surprisingly doesn’t resonate with him (there’s a great joke later where Roxas calls him “Soracles”). Also, similar to the weird treatment of Sephiroth in KH2, Days retcons the winner of the Hercules cup to Hercules himself!
Inside the Atrium, Roxas continues his procrastination, including reading a sign that says “You can’t train if you don’t chain! Wanna rack up points? Then chain, chain, chain. No chain, no gain!” To which Roxas says: “Okay… I think they want me to chain.” This is actually important advice, but what odd way to phrase it!
Finally, Roxas caves and goes to Phil for training. This is a mini-game, and your score doesn’t really matter if you’re going for the bare minimum as this is technically a shallow Investigation mission. But too bad for people who like get 100%, because this segment (like every part of Phil’s training you will do in the entire game) is tied in to a later sidequest.
The training will take some getting used to. Remember that barrel mini-game you played exactly once in KH1, where you tossed barrels into other barrels? And do you also remember the “Phil’s Training” mini-game from KH2, where you knocked floating urns into one another? This is the hybrid of both. You now toss barrels into one another for points, and like the KH2 game, tossing them into one another causes them to drop more points. What the game doesn’t tell you (except indirectly through that weird “chain chain chain” sign – which yes, I did quote in full) is that your chain determines how many points you get. Keep breaking barrels in the same chain, and you’ll get more and more points. Lose your chain and you’re in trouble, because the target score relies on you getting a very heavy chain bonus and it will be hard to recover unless it’s very early or very late in the minigame. Explosive Barrels also appear. Best to go for those soon as possible, especially if you have a cluster of targets but I’d say even if you don’t, as they boost both your points and your chain and will make every successive barrel toss all the more valuable.
While the Chain Time ability can be helpful here (which you can find attached to Technical Gear+ and the Duel Gear, as well as a Ring that isn’t available during the duration of these sidequests), the best advice is to once again use a Keyblade with a short combo: Chrono Gear. Its two-hit combo will speed you up dramatically, even compared to a three-hit combo. Don’t bother to aim your shots beyond making sure you don’t toss barrels into obviously empty space: the game will do most of the aiming if there’s a valid target anywhere in a 90 degree or so arc in front of Roxas, no matter how silly the resulting shot might look.
While Phil advises you to play up to 200 points, the sidequest only needs a score of 100. You can double-check your score by checking the short pillar in the atrium – yeah, just a random piece of furniture with no sign, or writing, or meaning whatsoever! Maybe they should have added a second sign, or let you check Sora’s trophies for “your” score?
After the training, Roxas asks why Phil is training anyone at all, and Phil says they’re understaffed, what with the Heartless. Phil is astonished Roxas doesn’t know what the Games are, and he explains how they normally work, and how the Heartless are running them ragged with extra “events.” Roxas considers entering the tournament, but Phil laughs him off, so I guess that’s consistent with Sora. There are a few Statics of Sora during this mission as well. They don’t seem particularly important, though Roxas mentions them in his diary for today. While we’re on the subject: does Phil not recognize the Keyblade? Or does he just not realize it’s a special sword? “They’ve got a lot of weird swords in Thrace, what do I know?”
Since I’m digressing to high hell, I may as well point out that the game does this cute thing whenever Phil does his “two words” joke by doing a number of camera cuts. It was a good way to emphasizes the joke, given the general limitations of text.
After the training, your mission is considered complete, but you can do some real perfunctory additional investigation if you want the clear bonus. It’s kind of pathetic, actually. Roxas doesn’t make any really interesting conclusions, so this just seems like a formality.
As you leave the arena, Hercules walks past, neither Roxas nor he acknowledging one another. Inside, Phil tells Hercules his new talent arrived, and Herc seems surprised because “He said it would take him a while to get here! He must’ve made record time!” Ha ha. This joke repeats after almost half the Olympus Coliseum missions, and it’s never funny.
Back at the tower, Axel and Xion are hanging out, and it’s nice to see them interacting as friends without Roxas/you having to be there. Xion tells Axel something strange: “You know […] the other day, when you were talking about how we all have pasts?” What, “the other day” meaning 22 days ago? Here’s yet another block of optional missions and days added in after the script was finalized. Xion says that when she’s sitting here with Axel and Roxas, she gets the feeling that she “used to watch the sun set with someone else.” She says gets a similar feeling by the seaside.
Axel asks her if she remembers something from her past life, and if you ask me, he seems equal parts intrigued as worried, given how clearly it is that Xion is tied in with Sora and/or Naminé. She says it’s not quite the same as remembering something from a past life, though points out that since she doesn’t generally have memories from her past life, how can she be certain? Being how they both have no memories, Xion wonders if she and Roxas had other things in common when they were human. Given how the game showed us that scene of Sora and Kiari on the dock ages ago, it’s clear the devs want us to think along those lines. The devs know that the established KH player will know that Xion can’t be Kairi’s Nobody, and so they’re directing the player down those impossible lines to deliberately add to the mystery (and the confusion!). Roxas doesn’t show up at the tower in time today, thanks to Phil running him ragged, so this scene ends up featuring just Axel and Xion, alone for the first time.
Your prize for Mission 36 is the Thunder tile, plus a second Thunder tile if you 100%ed the mission (i.e., if you weren’t asleep). Welp, like Blizzard in KH2, Aero had its three or four days in the sun, but it’s time to move on! You may have already seen Larxene use Thunder during the tutorials. It’s a curious spell: it causes a series of lightning bolts to strike in a line in front of you. It’s very slow-acting, but has the potential to hit multiple enemies, or some of this game’s large enemies multiple times, which is what makes it especially valuable against the Antlion. Mostly though, it’s valuable for hitting Water-aligned foes, of which there are plenty thanks to an upcoming world’s re-use of that exact element…
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).