Day 149: Unlike Minds
Interesting gossip in the lounge today: Xaldin says an “imposter” has surfaced somewhere in the multiverse, “one who wears our coat.” But that’s not what Saïx has in mind for Roxas. For now, you’re heading to a new world.
I know what you’re thinking: is it another world from KH1 or 2? Good guess! But believe it or not, it’s actually KH1 this time. In fact, all the worlds in this game are “from” one of the previous games. If you’re feeling ripped off, bear in mind that Agrabah was completely new content, as will be one and a half of the upcoming worlds. This seems to have been a budgetary concern, as Nomura explained that there was a new world planned, but it never made it into the final version. This would have been set in the world of Pinocchio – not Monstro, but the actual world Monstro and the others come from, and would have taken advantage of how the plot of the film relates to the plot of the game, which in Kingdom Hearts terms is almost a miracle. Here’s the full quote from a fan Q&A, or at least, here’s a wiki copy of the quote:
“Set in a circus and playing off the story of Pinocchio, a puppet with a heart, and the Nobodies who possess no heart, we planned for a sad episode with Roxas and Xion looking for hope for themselves.”
Sounds like another significant loss, especially considering how some of the later worlds have really thin stories. I feel if they had to cut a world, I would have preferred they cut one of the returning worlds, not the new one! I suspect budget was the real problem, since developing the new world’s assets would have a greater cost than reusing old ones. This world did get far enough in development to get character portraits, including pictures of Honest John and Gideon, so I imagine they might still have a scenario lying around. Obviously, if the game were ever fully remade, I’d like to see this dropped world included, but it seems incredibly unlikely. One can dream.
While we’re talking about cut content, apparently Hades and Meg were planned for Olympus Coliseum too. Oddly enough, while it is sparse, I feel Olympus Coliseum works well as it is. There was also a dropped Olympus Coliseum enemy, a sort of Heartless Pegasus-centaur, which could have spiced up Olympus Coliseum a little more, and it’s a shame that it was cut.
Before you head out on your mission: a sidequest. Xigbar has taken an interest in your training at Olympus Coliseum, given that he set you up there in the first place (emphasis on “set you up”) and he offers you a Bronze for getting 100 points in Phil’s first training. Not worth it, you say? Well I never said it would be worth it…
The new-old world you’re visiting this time around is Halloween Town from KH1, and I don’t mind its return so much, considering the secret passages have been simplified, and a new gimmick that I mostly like has been added, though you won’t be seeing it in this mission. That said, if I had to cut a world to make room for Pinocchio, it would be this one. Halloween Town’s gimmick mechanic could easily work in Pinocchio’s world instead, and killing Halloween Town would do the game the greatest boon of all: getting rid of what I feel to be one of the worst bosses in the franchise. But now I’m really getting ahead of myself.
So, the plot. It’s the middle of the year, and for once in Kingdom Hearts, and Jack Skellington is planning for Halloween. Roxas arrives, and he and Jack just miss each other as Jack wanders off, lost in thought. Your mission here is a heart hunt. I guess someone else investigated Hallloween Town in your absence, since you never do, and they’re sending you on such a low-priority heart collecting mission.
Early in the mission, you encounter a new Emblem, and probably won’t know what to make of it. This is the Creepworm, and it… sucks? It spawns, stalls, and then runs for its life, and not very quickly, either, and should you so much as tap it on the shoulder, it pops like a balloon. Hrm… maybe this will make more sense later.
More worrying are the Skater Bomb Heartless, Minute Bomb recolours. These are not only extra-large with a strength boost, and they have a new freezing explosion, but if you try to knock them away while they’re counting down like you could the Minute Bombs, they’ll go careening along the ground as though they were on ice, and who knows where they’ll end up. Though… if you’re like me you’ll never find that feature, since you don’t knock Minute Bombs around to begin with. While I understand the devs’ perspective, I think it’s a little disappointing how the Skater Bomb’s special feature is something that many players would never discover and many others will avoid triggering after discovering it (since it’s easier to lead Heartless into the stationary Skater Bombs bombs as they’re counting down than it is to hit the Skater Bomb and let them careen out of control, just as likely to hit you as an enemy). Oh well, it can be funny to watch them pinball their way around the room.
Also present on the ground are jack’o’lantern bombs native to Halloween Town. You can hit these things and, a few seconds later, they’ll explode. These are far easier to control than any Skater Bombs, but their timer is short so you can only really use them on nearby enemies. But it’s worth it! They cause massive damage to Heartless (and you), and can even cause Ignite to finish off any stragglers. Disappointingly, that’s about it for Halloween Town’s traditional deathtraps, at least until new gimmicks are introduced later in the story. That’s really too bad. This place feels dead without its working guillotine. Get it? Dead??
In the Graveyard, you’ll encounter one last new Heartless, the Hover Ghost. This Search Ghost recolour no longer bothers with the (pointless) “searching” AI of its predecessor. Now they teleport behind you and “possess” you. “Possess,” my foot! They outright strangle the life from you! And you had better watch out for the Hover Ghosts. While it is fairly easy to escape them (just keeping on the move), if they do catch you, you are screwed. The Hover Ghosts may have the most powerful single attack in the entire game, surpassed only by their own recolours.
After you clear out the Hover Ghosts and RTC, Roxas has a surprise encounter with the three imps: Lock, Shock and Barrel. They shout “Trick or treat!” throw a pumpkin bomb straight in his face, and run off. Roxas doesn’t know what to make of this. Or rather… Roxas has no reaction at all, which I credit to the game’s low-res models, but it really undermines their prank. Speaking of low-res models, Shock’s hat is barely on her head, and appears to be trying to escape every time she moves her head. We’re doing great today.
As you leave through the portal, Jack catches sight of the portal closing as he’s having his muse. He seems inspired by this visual: “A swirl of sinister smoke, there one minute, then gone…” This leads through a stream-of-consciousness that ends with him having some kind of breakthrough about “Popping.” This can’t end well, this town already has high-yield explosives lying in the street.
Back in the Graveyard, Barrel discovers something lying on the ground. Worryingly, we see this whole scene in the first-person perspective of the thing Barrel just found, implying that it’s alive…
Back at the tower, Roxas is delighted by the arrival of Axel, who is finally back from his stint at Castle Oblivion. He’s glad to be home, but they realize there’s no sign of Xion. Roxas says she’s been with him pretty regularly during Axel’s absence, so this seems unusual.
The camera cuts to Xion’s bedroom (naturally this is the same bedroom set used by everyone else). She’s sitting on her bed, curled up in a little ball, muttering: “How could he say that…” Before you get to wondering what she means, the game cuts to full, pre-rendered cutscene. It seems Xion had a battle with our Imposter in the black cloak at Beast’s Castle, and was disarmed and presumably defeated, though she seems to have made it out with her life. While the game tries to drag the mystery out a little bit, anyone who’s played the other games will recognize the Imposter is Riku (it’s especially obvious in the HD film). I understand that Xion doesn’t know who he is, but as it happens the game basically had no reason to hide Riku at the corners of the shot, since you’re going to see him head-on first thing tomorrow. Xion continues to mutter. In the film, she says: “I’m not a sham…” but in the game, something more interesting: “He’s wrong. It’s not a sham… and neither am I.” What could she mean by “It”?
Your prize for Mission 42 is a precious Level Doubler! If you get 100%, you also get the Sliding Dash panel, a pretty standard item in Sora’s repertoire that feels seriously delayed here in Days (especially in how it’s optional!). I recommend most players use it, unless they’re playing as Xigbar where I don’t believe it works at all.
Day 150: Fear
At the start of Day 150, we see a cloaked figure, whom we quickly learn to be Riku, standing on the roof of Beast’s Castle. By the way: I honestly love it when important plot happens in a Disney world. It’s better when the thing that happens is related to that Disney world, but even if it’s not, just having occur on Disney world instead of the handful of KH-exclusive worlds makes it so the plot actually happened in a Disney universe, not just sort of… around it. Kingdom Hearts’ plot has a bad habit of being about “the main worlds” while writing off the Disney worlds as “those other places,” so any divergence from this troublesome norm is appreciated.
Riku holds out a hand, as though imagining he’s grasping something, and he also flashes back to the fight with Xion. Xion was disarmed, did some shouting (though we don’t hear it for the time being), and Riku at one point picked up her Keyblade and then tossed it to the ground. We return to the present, the jump-cut suggesting that the thing Riku is pretending to grasp in the present is, in fact, a Keyblade. He looks at his hand, and then unhoods, revealing he has taken on the blindfolded look from Another Side, Another Story by now. Judging by the KH2 timeline, this must be after he left King Mickey to wrestle with his demons.
Back at the Castle, Xion and Saïx are having a fight. Xion is begging him to give her “another chance,” but Saïx refuses. He goes out of his way to make the refusal as personal as possible, and in a far less official footnote he adds: “you were a mistake we never should have made.” Even for Saïx this seems particularly harsh. It’s no surprise that when Roxas approaches, Xion flees for privacy.
In Roxas’ diary entry for yesterday, Roxas mentions the WINNER stick again, just to remind you that it still exists (this isn’t the first time either, but I’ve been putting it off because it’s so pointless. The diaries have proven time and time again that they exist for recap purposes, not supplementary purposes like the Ansem Reports. That is to say: if the game can’t be bothered, why should I?). He says he’s not going to use it until he has two, so he can get a treat for both his friends. Sure Roxas. If this is how you want to dedicate part of your limited plot allowance, that’s fine by me.
You’re sent back to Beast’s Castle again today, sent to hunt an unknown Pureblood. Indeed, there are no Emblems in this mission, not even a Bulky Vendor (which don’t “count” as Emblems during a heart hunt). It’s nothing but Shadows, Possessors, Massive Possessors, and Mega-Shadows! I’m going to remind you that Purebloods are near-mechanically useless to us because they don’t reward Heart Points, only EXP and munny. Do you see the problem? Imagine that clearing this mission out in full will take five minutes longer than ignoring the enemies, or maybe even longer. Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend those five minutes on another mission that gives you EXP, munny and Heart Points, rather than here? Say… by doing a Challenge, or replaying the immediate previous mission, if you need to grind on the spot? In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that you get force fielded mid-way through the mission, I’d have skipped past them all to get straight to the boss! I do love the fact that they group Purebloods together for narrative reasons, that’s cool in its own way, but Marluxia was right in his tutorial: as far as mechanics are concerned, Roxas have no reason to fight them.
Since I’m already complaining, I’d like to take this opportunity to note that it was getting harder and harder to complete the game’s Challenges at this point in my Retrospective playthrough, since Roxas lacks upgraded mobility skills. As a consequence, I kept recklessly powering through story missions in hopes that the mobility upgrades will finally show. It’s a little hard to try to fully invest yourself in the present when you know better things are coming in the future. I suppose that’s a natural downside of Metroid-style gameplay, but I feel like Days is aggravating it by giving me time trials that I might have been able to clear, but would rather put off just because I know Roxas will be faster later in the game? This is the exact reason why Haste panels are exclusive to Challenge rewards, and I admit that was a good idea and countermeasure, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are more Air Slide upgrades in the future that would be just as helpful!
You’re teamed up with Xaldin for this Pureblood-hunting debacle. You’ll notice Xaldin seems to be “assigned” to Beast’s Castle now that you’re not permanently glued to Xion. This tends to be the case with several other Organization members and other Disney worlds, but it’s no hard or fast rule.
As we get started: one last mild complaint. As you head off into the Castle, you’ll probably notice that there are chests in the Courtyard, as there have been in every Beast’s Castle mission, in the exact same locations. Every mission puts them in the exact same spot! They could put them anywhere along these walls, or stuffed them in a corner for variety, but no! They have to be at exactly (x, y) = whatever time and time again… I’m sorry, I’m just so frustrated with this mission.
In the Courtyard, you’ll note the Org has X’d off the front doors, so you have to go through the secret passage, where the gap in the wall is also X’d off, forcing you to go to that forgotten door in the back, which as it happens leads to the Ballroom’s upper level. Okay, I get it: the Main Hall isn’t even in this mission, and the boss will be in the Ballroom, the ideal boss-fighting place. Makes perfect sense! And it’s wrong. You go to the Ballroom and just head back into the Main Hall. The only reason you had to come here is because the Org were dicks and locked you out of the shortest path. In the Ballroom, a pack of Purebloods show up to ambush you, including a new Gigas Shadow. The Heartless technically put up a force field, but for some odd reason, the game acts it seems like Xaldin chooses to take them out just because they’re “weaklings,” as though he refuses to leave until they die. This is a fair character moment, I suppose, but you said we were in a hurry at the outset, Xal. Are you sure this is really that important to you?
The Gigas Shadow is just a larger, stat-boosted Mega-Shadow. Their sheer size makes their attacks a little more complicated to dodge, but developers: this is pathetic! Do you really need two upsizes of the same enemy? You couldn’t have designed another new Pureblood? Remember the cut Olympus Coliseum pegasus Heartless? I think that just shows just how little time and resources h.a.n.d. had to make this game, and I can respect that to a degree, but was there really nothing else they could do to expand the list of Purebloods but to keep pumping Shadows full of helium? Why not a Darkball?
So if the real boss wasn’t in the Ballroom, where on earth is it? The true boss room left in the world is the Undercroft, but it was so downscaled in this version that it’s out of the question. The only room left that’s still large enough to house a boss is the West Wing with its high ceiling, but that’s a hallway, and everyone knows you don’t put bosses in… it’s in the hallway, isn’t it?
Yup! You enter the West Wing, and discover your target: a Darkside recolour. They recoloured… a Pureblood. Whose only colour is black. This is the Dark Follower, and it is purple, which isn’t that surprising because purple special effects have been used to reflect darkness magic in the past, but this is… this is so stupid. I had been playing KHX for a year and a half when I first-drafted this, and they use the Dark Follower as the Darkside raid bosses’ “subspecies,” and it is still so stupid.
The Dark Follower is almost exactly like the traditional Darkside, except its health bar seems to be even higher than I’d expect it to be at this level, and it summons weird purple Shadows that are no different from normal Shadows except for the colour scheme. The only notable change is the fact that its orbs no longer seem to deal HP Halved (thank goodness) and instead have high odds of causing Shoe Glue. This could prove worse than HP Halved! Not only does Shoe Glue take you out of the fight, but it leaves you at the mercy to shockwaves. Luckily there’s plenty of room to run away in this hallway! On a related note, the shockwaves are now Nil-aligned and might leave you with Null Defence in the middle of your stunlock. A good way to die fast.
While we’re here, I want to say that Xaldin’s still doing fair damage at this point but his AI is awful against the boss. I think this may be the reason that no allies appear in other major boss missions. The suspect that the devs may have partially programmed the Darkside and teammates to fight each other, and then threw up their hands and surrendered, which is why the Darkside is the only boss you fight with allies and why your allies are so bad at it!
Unlike Mission 14, this one has only one Challenge, a speedrun. I’m glad the devs realized we didn’t need to see even more tedious Darkside Challenges, so a special thanks to them for that.
After the fight, Xaldin and Roxas are distracted by a bellow of despair from the Beast’s room. It’s notable that this seems to be the first thing to really attract Xaldin’s interest during this whole mission, as he even decided the Dark Follower was “toothless.” You’re sort of a sadist, buddy! Our duo arrives and luckily find the Beast monologuing all his problems at full volume. He shouts that the last rose petal is about to fall, which is a melodramatic exaggeration if I’ve ever seen one. We’ve seen the rose only a few days ago, and even though this game makes absolutely sure we never see it again, we’ll see it again in KH2! The devs only needed a way for someone to partially explain the curse, but this was not the way to do it.
While Xaldin has been marginally open with Roxas during their past two team-ups, even occasionally respectful, he suddenly laughs and clams up entirely. It’s clear he plans on using the rose to manipulate the beast, but: “I’d only waste my time attempting to explain it to you.” We all know where this is heading. The mission ends automatically, and it’s a good thing it does, because your only route back to the portal is blocked by a stupid X-door!
We rejoin the film on the clock tower, where Xion is still absent. Understandable after that morning. There, Roxas asks Axel if he has anything he couldn’t live without, like the Beast and his rose. Axel’s confused about the question and so essentially doesn’t answer. The film covers this scene, which forces it to address the Disney plot in a text summary, even though the film would leave the Disney plot in a ditch any other day of the week. Roxas asks why he (Roxas) hasn’t formed any attachment to objects like the Beast has. I feel is a fair question, although the simple answer is “because Roxas has no possessions.” Roxas doesn’t even seem to keep Xion’s shells in his bedroom?
Axel tries to argue that Roxas hasn’t formed that sort of connection because he’s a Nobody, but Roxas brings up Demyx and his sitar. I’d have argued that attachment might just be an act on Demyx’s part, but Axel accepts Roxas’ argument. He then continues his argument from a few months ago: that all Nobodies really have is their past, and their memories, so the reason Roxas doesn’t have any attachments is because he has no memories of his past. Axel suggests that he consider the things he has now: his memories of his time in the Organization, and with his friends.
The line that follow are much better in the game: Roxas says he couldn’t bear to think of losing Axel or Xion, and now that he’s thinking about it, he realizes it’s a “scary” to think of. Axel says “Scary? Scary’s a feeling, man.” Roxas rephrases to say “a scary thought,” which Axel is willing to accept. “Maybe you just remember what it’s like to feel scared, and think you’re feeling it now.” And maybe it’s just me, but you have to do a little extra reading into these low-res models, and I think Axel is starting to realize the truth about Roxas, but won’t admit it to even himself.
Now the film… let’s just say I’m not a fan today. Axel is too dictionary, too matter-of-fact. The film also seems to cut straight to the point about Roxas remembering what it’s like to be scared, as though that were the more important point instead of the fact that Roxas is really experiencing feelings. There’s certainly no sign of Axel realizing what’s really going on, but I suppose that was just a theory of mine. Either way, the scene fades out on that ambiguous note.
Your big prize for Mission 43 is your first official –ra level spell, Fira. Fira is a dumb-fire piecing shot, in practice a lot like this game’s Thunder: decidedly stronger, but slower and lacking in vertical height. Fira seems ideal for taking out grounded enemies in particular. Snowy Crystals come immediately to mind. Unfortunately, I personally find the homing power of Fire more valuable on the average mission than the damage upgrade from Fira. It can be hard to recommend the higher level spells in this game, as they tend to be highly specialized, and Fira is no exception. Just wait until we get to the -ga level spells and a few of them become narrow as a pin. I said it at the start and I’ll say it again: Days keeps giving a bad first impression of its own magic system, so much so that you just won’t be ready when the game finally expects you to really start slinging spells.
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).