Day 118: Lazy Day
So here’s a weird one.
Roxas arrives at the Grey Area on Day 118 only to find it empty, with a sign up on the window where Saïx traditionally stands. The fact that the sign is exactly where Saïx used to stand suggests to me that “segment” may have once been playable, as it’s exactly where the player’s eye would be drawn during normal play. You might be wondering: what would a playable empty room have added to the experience? Not much, so by-and-large I agree with the developers removing it… if it weren’t for one little snag. You see: because there’s no playable segment here, you actually don’t get a chance to save for the duration of the entire mission! Don’t worry, you’re not in danger for the length of the upcoming sequence, but if you’ve got to get off the DS in a hurry for real-life reasons, the game’s not offering you an out! I suppose this is somewhat excusable by the system’s sleep feature, but it’s still very rude, which is something I keep saying about Days despite having never said it about the previous three games. As someone who used to be kicked off the video games by their parents, I can’t stand it when a developer doesn’t offer regular save points, and even ruder when they break that regularity like Days is doing here!
The sign says “Operations Closed for Vacation.” “Vacation?” says Roxas, echoing me. “What’s that?” says Roxas, baffling me.
Yes, it seems Roxas does not remember what the word “vacation” even means. The funny thing is, we’ll later see that Xion remembers, so this problem is exclusive to him. I don’t even need to explain that it doesn’t make any sense. Roxas has so much trouble understanding the concept that he keeps looking for work around the castle, and while I understand his angle (work is all he knows, and that’s the real point of this scene), the devs didn’t have to purge the word from his mind to get him to act like this! This is entirely on the devs.
Roxas runs into Axel and Xion on his way through the castle, Axel suggesting he go do something he likes. Xion doesn’t seem to know what to do with herself beyond work either, but she quickly finds something to do instead of going through a minor existential crisis like our hero here. Xion goes to training, but since Axel got to Roxas first, Roxas is determined to find out what it is that he “likes” and he heads out. Besides, I’ve been in those training simulators doing Challenges, I’m reasonably time doesn’t actually pass while you’re in there.
After a great, great, very great deal of thought that involves Mister Busybody actually pacing back to the Grey Area, Roxas declares that what he wants to do is… “ice cream.”
And this might be it! It may just be me, and I’m still not 100% ready to commit, but this may be where I go from treating “Roxas being lost and confused as an acceptable part of the narrative” to treating it as “unacceptable.” Ice cream has become Roxas’ default state, emblematic less of his friends (remember, he just gave up a chance to hang out with Xion!) and more of his lack of imagination just carrying on the same routine, robotically. The reason I’m not ready to commit is that I’m so tired of watching him eat ice cream that I’m inherently biased against it, and here he is on a chance to finally not eat ice cream, and he goes to eat ice cream! Roxas has shown a lot of compassion and character lately, but it’s like he’s regressed to his zombie days during this segment.
But for all my “robot” comparisons in the last paragraph, that wasn’t the first thought going through my head when I played this section for the Retrospective. The word that came to mind was actually “juvenile.” Why? I couldn’t work out why my brain was sounding the alarm about Roxas being juvenile again until I was outright typing the last paragraph. Then it hit me: it’s the fact that he can’t remember the word “vacation.” He’s a kindergartener asking others the definition of a word, tugging at pant-legs for basics and direction in life, and his conclusion to his direction in life is to eat a child’s dessert.
Here’s the real catch though, if you’ll permit me to jump ahead a bit: despite just now conveying that Roxas doesn’t want to spend time with his friends (again: Roxas was the one who left Xion), what the devs really want to convey is that Roxas doesn’t want ice cream, but his friends. Yes, they just did one thing while trying to express the other. And that’s… geeze, wow.
Okay, the “mission.” Your day off features “Mission” 37, which gets started when Roxas runs into Hayner, Pence and Olette on his way to get his ice cream. Hayner is practising his Grandstander act (the minigame from KH2 with the ball), and Pence catches sight of Roxas, recognizing him and inviting him over. It doesn’t take long for Hayner and Roxas to get on each other’s nerves, and Hayner tries to pick up a rivalry with this stranger. Specifically, Hayner challenges Roxas to play Grandstander.
The “Mission” here is essentially just the Grandstander mini-game from KH2. Juggle the ball as many times as you can, and the ball is only allowed to touch the ground three times. You’re armed with a Struggle bat during this “Mission,” so you can’t choose a Gear that would give you a better combo. Watch out for the benches and the Twilight Town trio as you move around, as they’re all solid obstacles. Generally speaking, this game is easier than the KH2 incarnation thanks to the extra space and the way that Days’ carefully measured, canned animations make the game far more predictable (though that’s not a compliment). You can give up immediately if you want, but there’s an upcoming sidequest tied to scoring 50 points if you’re into that, the same score you required to get top dollar during KH2’s prologue.
This “Mission” has a Unity Badge if you can believe it. Grab it and you can come back and juggle as a team in Mission Mode, even using your regular weapons. This is the only Mission in the game, besides Mission 00, that doesn’t return any Mission Crowns, but hell, give it a go just to check it off your list.
After the game, the Twilight Town trio grade your score, not unlike Phil (although I’m not sure what their number thresholds are). They even invite Roxas to keep hanging out with them, but Roxas refuses because he is the greatest stick that ever landed in the world’s deepest patch of mud. He heads off, and to my continued annoyance, will not return.
Axel and Xion arrive later that day to find Roxas watching the trio from the tower. Axel asks aloud what I was wondering this whole time: why are these kids here, is it summer vacation? He concludes it can’t be summer vacation, but leaves the topic to hang. Naturally, I will pick it up: if it’s not summer vacation, what are they doing here? Are they skipping? Is it the weekend? Does Twilight Town have weekends? It doesn’t even have nights! I know the game only brought this up as a transition to Roxas’ next line of dialogue, but don’t the developers care to answer the question they just raised?
Roxas’ memory fails him again, and he has to ask what summer vacation is. Axel explains, and Roxas has little panic about the idea, since he couldn’t work out how to deal with one day of vacation. During this discussion, Axel says “I’d forgotten all about that since becoming a Nobody.” What he’s talking about varies by version: in the game he’s talking about summer vacation, while in the film, he’s talking about hanging out with friends. The latter has more sentiment, but I feel the former is intended to hint to us that Axel was turned into a Nobody at a young age, probably young enough to have been in high school like Hayner, Pence and Olette.
Xion arrives, and the three tease each other for a while until Axel decides to pass on his news that he’s been assigned to Castle Oblivion – or rather, that he’s been assigned “on recon.” He keeps the fact that he’s been sent to the castle a secret. Back in the Castle That Never Was, Saïx is waiting for Axel, and gets on his case. Axel points out that he can spend his vacation however he wants, but Saïx cautions him for “letting [himself] get too attached to them.” Axel blows him off, and Saïx remarks that Axel has changed. You can see now why I feel the clocktower dialogue was meant to hint at Axel’s past, since it remains relevant during the scene with Saïx .
Days 119-122: Work to Do
If there was ever a title for a generic block of missions, it’s this. Wait, hold on, the first mission block was called “Missions!” Okay we’re running a contest for best doldrums, place your bets!
A few sidequests lined up this time, and we’re also going to mention Luxord for the first time since I mentioned the gag weapons 80 pages ago. Luxord wants you to equip a Gear with two or more panels, a task you’ve probably already completed, in exchange for a whole bonus mission! In comparison, Xigbar’s sidequest, which actually requires effort to fill the Bonus Gauge from the last optional mission block (Days 97-100), earns you a silly Gust Shard!
When deciding which missions to do in this mission block, be aware that all of them add the same number of ticks to the Bonus Gauge, so that means one mission is going to have to return 1x, two 2x’s, and one 3x. Aerora Recipes are attached to Mission 38, so if you like what you’ve seen from the Loudmouth, that spell could be yours in triple with a little extra effort (bonus Thunder panels, too!). If you like the base Aero, you’ll want to triple the bonus mission instead, which includes both an Aero panel and Gust Shards (indeed, if you go for Aerora, I’d double the bonus mission, because you need to use Aero panels to synth Aerora). If you’re like me however, and neither of the air spells catch your interest, I recommend tripling Mission 39, which has Gear Component A on offer, alongside a new Rune Tech for 100%. Those are some tempting three missions! Of course, there are actually four missions in this block. Mission 40, with its Cure Recipe and Lightning Shards, can lick the floor at 1x.
Mission 38 is mandatory, seeing you take Xaldin to Beast’s Castle to observe the start of a fateful relationship between Xaldin and his future grave. We learn that this isn’t actually the first time Xaldin has been to this world, so he’s up to speed on the basics. In other words: for convenience’s sake, he already knows what you know. Your orders are to observe the Beast, and Xaldin actually has new information for you: that the Beast was human and put under a spell. Well, that saves us some time, let’s hit the road.
Early on, you can grab an Air Slide Lv+ panel from the Entrance Hall. First Block Lv+ and now this – what’s with Beast’s Castle giving you upgrades right at mission’s start? Once installed, this will allow you an additional Air Slide before landing, making it much easier to reach the scaffold in Agrabah if you care to backtrack. The Courtyard in Beast’s Castle has a chest with an Elixir Recipe, as well! Elixirs aren’t even that expensive in Days, requiring one Hi-Potion, one Hi-Ether, and one Shining Shard to synth. The automatically dissolving Elixir Recipe is the real scarcity.
Xaldin is clearly fascinated by the Beast, though he expresses it in his own way, alternating from prosaic to dismissive at the drop of a hat. It depends on what they’re talking about. Contextualize the Beast as fighting a losing battle against the Heartless: prosaic. Contextualize the Beast fighting to defend the castle: that’s stupid, who does that? In some blunt foreshadowing, if you check out the Bridge, Xaldin will observe that a large Heartless could easily attack here. Hey, guess where this world’s major boss fight is?
But seriously: wouldn’t it have been funnier if Xaldin pointed out the exact wrong boss room?
For the first time, you get a chance to use that door in the secret passage, which you discover leads to the Ballroom (the place where Xaldin was standing when he made his first appearance in KH2). Xaldin gets ultra-poetic here: “Why, it’s a ballroom. And quite a lovely one, at that. No place for a creature as hideous as our host… and it seems he agrees with me. […] This room will be [dark] too, in time. Dark with the beast’s despair.” Geeze, man. Xaldin observes the Beast hasn’t been defending the ballroom from the Heartless, as there are no signs of a struggle. I wonder who and how they’ve been cleaning and lighting the place, then?
For the first time, a mission sends you down the East Wing towards Belle’s room, where Cogsworth is on patrol. Roxas and Xaldin learn the curse has a time limit, and sees Belle for the first time. Xaldin notes how important Belle must be to “warrant accommodations as fine as the master’s,” deducing she must be “Belle” given how much the servants fuss over “Belle.” Meanwhile, Belle is upset about the Heartless, and says she’ll talk to the others and says that “I’m sure that together we can figure something out.” Are you planning on forming a garrison? That’s all well and good, but I’m not sure how well military training will rub off on servants used to cooking and musical numbers. In the West Wing, Lumiere also seems to be considering a garrison! “What can I do!?… I don’t even have arms to hold a sword!” Well there you go, Belle!
Funnily enough: this suggestion of a plot line won’t come to anything in Days, but would actually take place during KHX!
This investigation finally justifies the broom and bucket the devs placed in this hall, which I often got snagged against while trying to cut past Lumiere in Mission 29. And now that we’re here on our second and last investigation of this hallway, it turns out that the reason the broom was put here was… nothing. If you examine the broom, Xaldin just says you’re wasting time, making it just as pointless here as it was in our initial investigation with Xion and Roxas. Thanks, broom with an oversized collision mesh. Thanks a lot.
As you find that damage I noted on the way to the Beast’s room, Xaldin notes the Beast must be fighting especially hard to defend something in this area. (Mixed in with these valuable clues is a line where Xaldin points out the Nobodies can’t appreciate art without a heart! Huh, that genuinely hadn’t occurred to me!) Finally you reach the Beast’s room, but he’s not in. All the better for Xaldin, who chooses to barge in to examine the rose, which is still on prominent display. By “barge in,” I mean: “pointlessly teleport in while Roxas watches from the door.” I guess that is the easiest way to animate things, given that you never enter the Beast’s room in Days and it probably doesn’t exist in the code, but it looks awful to me and I’m irritated by this one-time use of site-to-site teleportation that never comes up again in this game. Why can’t I do that?
After Xaldin gets back, it’s time for our traditional Post-Investigation Quiz! Xaldin’s first question is to talk about an important discovery you just made, and you get two options to try to guess what’s on his mind: the rose, or Belle? Well, here we’ve come to Xaldin’s fatal mistake from KH2, haven’t we? To Xaldin’s credit, he acknowledges that Belle is important if you bring her up, but his mind has already seized on the rose. He’s noticed the rose is the only thing in the castle the Beast is defending that has also remained perfectly intact and tended to, and suspects the Heartless are drawn to its magic as well. “His heart is in thrall to it, don’t you see? And that, Roxas, is ample weakness.” When Roxas says he doesn’t understand, Xaldin simply says, “Nor should you. You have no heart to love with.”
I’ll give the game credit: it’s kind of clever, and even funny at times, how some of the Org members keep mistaking Roxas’ confusion for emotionlessness.
Despite Xaldin’s rejection, Roxas isn’t buying it. For 100%, you have to search back to Belle’s room so that Roxas will press his case about Belle. Roxas points out that Belle isn’t a prisoner (his investigation skills have improved and credit to the devs for doing so), and tries to point out that the Beast seems to be concerned with Belle too. Xaldin argues that “The servants seem more concerned with her than the beast does,” and breaks off conversation. I suppose it’s a fair point, Xaldin’s obstinate behaviour aside. This pithy extra “investigation” earns you full credit and a Thunder panel. Okay, it’s not much, but it was good characterization for Roxas, and besides: the player didn’t do much either, unless you went in the wrong direction and had to canvas the entire world just to find the investigation point!
After this mission, Roxas goes to the Tower, and speaks to Xion about the Beast. He tells her she was right about the Beast having something he wanted to protect, but Roxas doesn’t specify what he means. This was either intended to imply that Roxas hasn’t made up his mind, or was left to leave wiggle room in case you didn’t 100% the mission. Personally, I think the discussion should have been expanded to cover both angles, but that’s probably just me. The issue is that Roxas holds this conversation without filling Xion in on the actual subject? He points out that it bothers him that Xaldin says caring about something is a weakness, and seems relieved that Xion is just as confused by this as him. After an ice cream pause, Xion says, “I hope Axel comes home soon.” Get it? Because they’re each others’ weaknesses?
This Mission gives you your first Aerora recipe, and as a reminder, since the Aerora panels are never distributed outside of recipes, Mission Crowns and Challenge Sigils, I’m going to cover the spell now as our first –ra level spell. As I’ve already said, Aerora seems to have been copy and pasted for the Loudmouth’s air attack, or vice versa. It’s a dummy-shot spell that moves along the ground, causing anything it hits to be Air-Tossed. You seem to get a little more air out of its Air-Toss than with normal Aero, but that may just be me. Personally, I don’t like the spell. Too many enemies in Days are immune to Air-Toss for starters (many midbosses, all bosses), so I prefer Freeze’s better coverage at lower odds over Air-Toss’s lower coverage at higher odds. Still, even if you don’t like Aerora, you may as well keep an eye out for recipes just in case you end up liking Aeroga. Like all the spells, if you want to synth the –ga level you’re going to need the –ra as a synthesis component, and like I’ve already said, Aeroga is only available through synthesis! What a pain. And to be honest, I’m not personally a fan of Aeroga either!
Mission 39 is also mandatory, and returns you to Olympus Coliseum for your second training session… though Roxas desperately tries to avoid it. In an effort to avoid Phil, Roxas gets into a fight with a Jumbo Cannon at the entrance, which is just a resized Li’l Cannon (a funny side effect of this upscaled Heartless is that, at some angles, the Cannon’s horizontal shot can’t be deflected by Block because it’s too damn high in the air!). You really start to notice the HP Sponge problem here, especially thanks to the Flare Notes healing everyone, and the best advice I can give you is to use magic on anything with high HP that you can’t dodge.
While you’re fighting (be careful to grab it while you can, because this mission ends automatically after a point) you can grab a Technical Gear+ from a chest outside. Oh good, a Technical Gear. Something we got after our first promotion. And it’s almost as bad as it sounds, though I will admit that I personally like the Ominous Blight+’s 1. Chain Power and 2. Chain Time a bit better than I do the base-level Ominous Blight’s combo abilities. Still not gonna use it.
Just then, Phil runs out to Roxas’ dismay, and announces that a large Heartless just attacked the Coliseum, and that he needs your help. You run in, and find a Clay Armour. Clay Armour’s something of a joke. Unlike every other Armour recolour, you don’t need to line up its weakness spell with its head, because it’s weak against Thunder, and Thunder spells come from above! …Wait, something named “Clay” is weak against Thunder? Clay doesn’t conduct electricity! It was used to make ancient proto-batteries!
The fight will be over before you know it. But don’t go too fast or you might miss a neat little vision in the bottom screen, showing a Static of Sora battling in the tournament as well! This isn’t a cutscene, it’s actually live gameplay running on both screens! Sora matches your movements best he can, though he’s equipped with the Kingdom Key and may fall out of sync with whatever you’re doing. You can even destroy the Soldiers he’s fighting if you work fast (they don’t move or fight back), but you won’t get anything for it!
After the battle, Phil tries to plunge you straight into training, and Roxas tries to tell him he wasn’t the talented young kid Hercules scouted, but Phil never lets Roxas finish a sentence, here or at any other point. The training is on, and you’ll need it to complete your heart collection.
Why would you need training to complete your heart collection? Quite simple: this time there are live Heartless in the arena with the barrels, namely Soldiers. They’ll die instantly if you hit them with the barrel, so that’s the ideal way to go about your heart collection (technically the mechanic causes extremely high damage rather than instant death, as you’ll see later in the game). Meanwhile, Phil is still scoring your performance. You get more mini-game points by knocking barrels into Heartless than barrels into barrels (or at least I think you do) but you’re going to have to contend with an uneven arena this time around. As a result, if a barrel spawns in a bad spot, you might want to leave it for dead, because Roxas is only ever going to knock the barrel into a wall. Keeping up your chain here can be tricky, even with Air Slide Lv 2. You might want to directly attack (not kill) a Soldier from time to time if you need to reset the chain timer, but be mindful that Roxas’ canned animations are very stiff, and he likes to “lock” into combat with whatever he hits something, making it harder to hit and run in Days than it ever was in previous games.
Like the last mission you did with Phil’s training, this one is tied to a future sidequest. Your target score for the sidequest is 130. Because heart points are on the line here, Phil won’t let you replay his training infinitely… or at least, not the way you’d expect. You can replay infinitely until you hit the minimum number of kills for the mission bar, but after that point, the game will check how many attempts you’ve made total and will have Phil call a halt if you’ve played three or more. This means that not only is it easy to miss getting 100% in this mission bar, but it’s also inconvenient to do the sidequest. The reward for 100% on the mission bar is a Rune Tech, a synth item I mentioned earlier in the post, which is used in a few magical Keyblades and Rings. It’s not a critical reward, but hey, no one wants to miss free stuff.
After the mission, Phil almost compliments you. “That’s enough for today. Actually, it’s more than enough. Between givin’ that Heartless pest a pounding and all the training you put in… Ya know, you could really…” But Phil realizes he’s being too sentimental, and cuts himself off: “…[You] could really use more practice.” Thatta boy, Phil.
After this and all the remaining missions in this block, you get a dialogue-free cutscene showing Roxas and Xion on the tower.
The remaining missions in this block are quick, optional ones at Olympus Coliseum, but don’t underestimate them. Mission 40 is a Deserter mission where you get a barrel to play with, but there are also Soldiers mixed in with the Deserters, the cheating bastards. There’s not much more that I can say about any Deserter mission at this point in the game, even with that half-clever attempt at variety, so we’ll move on from this mission right away.
Mission 41 is a bigger deal than the Deserters, but not by much. This Mission has you fighting a Morning Star with Xigbar’s help, and don’t underestimate this Heartless. The Morning Star has been totally reprogrammed from KH2, and is now a mini-boss! In Days, the Morning Star spins like a top, and begins zig-zagging around the arena. Let me underline just how much trouble this thing can be: this mission has both an Ordeal Badge and Blazon, something that until now has only been attached to bosses and that stupid stick mission. Top Man here is a nightmare in Challenges, whether you’re doing the Badge’s no-magic speed run or the Blazon’s no-miss, no-magic challenge. The No-Magic challenge is the real killer, because Magic is the only reasonable way to kill these things.
Let me explain: the Morning Star wastes a huge amount of time spinning around, nearly a minute, which as you can imagine is hell on a speed run. The only way to stop it from spinning is to block it, which barely slows it down at all but is better than nothing, or to hit it with a specific spell. With normal Morning Stars, the spell is Aero, not that Saïx tells you that (which is half the reason this mission is so irritating). If he had told you, this wouldn’t be bothersome at all. By the way: I specifically mean Aero, not Aerora or Aeroga. Some enemies in this game really do care about the exact spell instead of the element, and I feel it was a bad design decision in all instances, since it goes against the elementally-grounded system Final Fantasy has had since day 1. Besides casting spells to stop the Morning Star, there’s also a barrel in the room. I have occasionally managed to peg the Morning Star with the barrel while it’s spinning, but the Li’l Cannons running around catch Roxas’ auto-aim half the time, and Roxas misses nearly everyone with the other half. We’ve barely even begun discussing the actual battle.
Once you’ve finally stopped the Morning Star from spinning, the barrel might be your best bet to kill it, since it does such a hefty amount of damage… if you can pull it off, that is. Not only do the Cannons get in the way, but during this phase, the Morning Star jumps up and down very fast, not only damaging you but avoiding most of your attacks (which can screw you in the no miss challenge). The biggest shame is that if you don’t finish the Heartless off in one go… it starts spinning again. I… *slumps over* If you’re doing the time Challenge, this means you’re sunk, but for everyone else you’ll just have take a deep breath and willingly throwing yourself in front of a charging locomotive in hopes of stopping it with your stick.
There’s a Zip Slasher on your way back to the portal. I don’t… *catches breath*… I don’t care anymore.
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).