Day 152: The Wrong Buttons and Days 153-156: Disjointed Days
More notable rumours in The Grey Area today (this seems to be a trend lately). Xigbar is saying: “I sure hope Poppet pulls through. That was one tough mission she got stuck with.” Huh, sympathy from Xigbar. That’s almost more interesting than the hook he just set for the player about Xion’s mission. Xigbar often does position himself as something of a nicer guy than Saïx despite there being plenty of signs that he’s a ranking officer in the Org… and the fact that he often breaks out of the act into outright sadism. Speaking of outright sadism, Xaldin chooses to say hello to you with: “You don’t need a heart to know how to manipulate one. Remember that.” And charmed to see you too, sir!
Saïx informs you that this mission block has another new world. We really are packing them in now, huh? I like the acceleration, though it does seem a bit much. The number of plot lines is threatening to become overwhelming. In any event, each mission in this set is to a different world! Three mandatory missions, too!
Let’s start with the Bonus Gauge. One thing you’ll notice is that the missions do not properly fill the bar, so clearly there’s a bonus mission to be unlocked… but no one in the Grey Area is offering a sidequest! The issue here is that the sidequest isn’t offered on Day 152: The Wrong Buttons, but rather on Days 153+: Disjointed Days (remember what I said about the day divisions being a programming kludge?). As a result, you must kick a mission to the curb before you can even see the sidequest, or for that matter the Bonus Mission and its rewards. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll pretend the mission is already visible so that we can discuss the whole mission set, though obviously we can’t pick the optional mission for the first day!
Our first mission in this set, Mission 45, is a waste of time, offering up recipes and now outdated Gear Component A as though we gave a damn. It’s a good mission to kickstart the bar even if it is only gives you a pithy two ticks. Coincidentally, Bonus Mission 48 isn’t that interesting either, and can also serve to provide ticks to inflate your Bonus Bar. Just make sure that Mission 47 is tripled no matter what else you do. 47 is offering a brand new spell, Blizzara, and it’s my personal, absolute favourite. This’ll be worth it, I promise. If you can arrange it, triple Mission 46 as well, since it has Elixir Recipes on offer.
Mandatory Mission 45 sees a return to Halloween Town, and it’s time for that world-specific gimmick I was telling you about. You can grab a Phantom Gear at the entrance (taking lessons from Beast’s Castle, I see!), which grants you the Crown of Guilt, a Magic Keyblade, essentially an upgrade of the Chrono Gear. Its abilities carry on the traditions of the Chrono Gear as well, at least for Roxas: 1. Fire Finish, 2. Magic Bracer and 3. Magic Finale.
From there, Roxas walks down the street without encountering a single Heartless. He wonders what’s up, and finds only a single suspicious sight: a balloon with a crude face drawn on it, clearly the work of a local. You actually had to walk past the balloon to trigger this cutscene, and the game wouldn’t let you interact with it, not unlike that instance in KH2 where you walked past the giant floating gem in Agrabah. At least in KH2 there were some other interesting things to look at! What makes things even stranger is that after the cutscene, you are allowed to check out the balloon, but it just floats away in a tiny puff of weird green particle effects!
In town square, we find Jack explaining the balloons to Finkelstein: “Anyone who touches them is in for quite a shock!” But… what is he talking about? That particle effect? The Keyblades make more flash with every swing! The pumpkin bombs littering the street actually explode! But hold that thought, it’s going to get odder.
If you follow Jack to the Graveyard, you’ll find him thinking with Zero the ghost dog. Zero tries to draw Jack’s attention to the balloon, and a Hover Ghost pops out and… leaves, because as we’ve established in KH1, for some reason the Heartless aren’t concerned with the denizens of Halloween Town. Jack says this is great: a Heartless makes a much better surprise than… than what? What am I missing here? The dinky particle effect again? Did the scripting team not get the memo that the balloons were supposed to make a startling effect when triggered? Was it toned down at a later stage to avoid genuinely shocking the player? That might sound limp-wristed, but remember that the player signed up to play Kingdom Hearts today, not Dead Space.
Here’s the thing: Jack and the game make a huge fuss out of the balloons, but when you go looking, there are only a small handful of them. In the entire game. It seems like they were intended to do something much, much more interesting and maybe more prominent to the plot, but instead they just sputter like an empty aerosol can. We gave up a whole new Pinocchio world for this? For that matter, were any of these games not designed in a rush? I feel like we’ve been tripping over poor project management since R/R!
The scene with the Hover Ghost is your clue for where the Heartless have gone: after your first attack a few weeks ago, they’ve all taken to hiding. It’s kind of hard to tell which effect the game is aiming for: either the Heartless are supposed to be popping out at you like a Halloween scare, as implied by Jack and the imp trio, or if they’re supposed to be hiding in cracks and crevices like vermin, as implied by the Creepworms. And yes, this is why the Creepworms work the way they do: they exist purely to hide!
Here’s how it works: you have to find the Heartless’ hiding spots and take them out. To do that, you have to find Investigation spots, but instead of being relatively easy to find like in an Investigation, they’re stupidly hard. It’s not enough for a Heartless to be in a specific gravestone, for example. No, you have to touch the figurehead on top of the gravestone, which means if you aren’t tapping the button in mid-air in the tiniest window between two vertical co-ordinates, which we’ll call points “fuck you” and “bite me,” you won’t get anything at all. The game demands far too much precision with this, and as a consequence, you spend much of the mission hopping up and down and smacking your Keyblade into hard corners, all in hopes of grabbing something you’ve already found! The tedium and repetition at something you’ve already done successfully is not unlike combat in this HP Sponge game!
That said, I do like the actual searching concept, and I recognize that the trigger zones for the hidden enemies were made small to make the search challenging. The devs just went too far, is all. In fact, I’ll give them another compliment: the devs even offer some help if you’re having trouble finding the enemies. A number of small cartoon bones are scattered about the town. You can only carry one at a time, but once you have it, you can give it to Zero to have him search for Heartless on his own. He’ll find whichever Heartless is closest to his current location and then do a happy little twirl to signal you. I believe there are never enough bones to have him find every Heartless in the mission, so I recommend doing your own search first so that Zero can find the ones you missed, rather than the other way around. Thanks to Zero and a little effort on your part, the only thing standing between you and 100% are the dangerous Snowy Crystals hiding among the Creepworms.
By the way, every one of these Halloween Town Heartless hunts is attached to a future sidequest from Demyx, so you essentially get double the rewards for doing 100%. It’s worth the effort considering the double reward. Failing all else, use Zero, do the mission with less than 100% while writing down the locations, and come back after the mission is filed away in Holo-Missions: the Heartless will be in the same place, so you can find all the old Heartless yourself and use all the bones you have left over to feed Zero and find the rest!
After your first mission in this block, whichever it is, Roxas goes to the tower, and Xion doesn’t show up again. Axel detects that something is wrong and… *sigh.* It’s this scene. This scene is summarized in text in the film, which is rare for a tower scene. It was probably cut because it’s so… very awkward. Axel essentially gives a “girls are from Venus” speech to explain Xion’s behaviour, which isn’t just generalizing and stereotyping, but it’s also reductive to Xion’s feelings. I don’t even want to cover it. Aren’t you and Xion supposed to be friends, Axel? Last of all… and this may just be me… I can’t help but shake the feeling that Axel has mistaken the nature of Roxas and Xion’s fight, and thinks Roxas and Xion had a romantic tiff? The whole scene is misleading, disruptive, and thanks to gender stereotypes even kind of gross. Ha ha! Women! Suffering anxiety attacks when someone reduces their personal value to zero, when someone else threatens their lives and livelihood, and their friends refuse to respect their boundaries! Whaddya gonna do? The film is bang on the money: the scene deserves to be on the cutting room floor.
Long story short, Axel tells Roxas to give Xion some space and not rush into trying to fix things up, and Roxas thankfully does so.
Starting Day 153, the Grey Area reorganizes, and Luxord starts offering a sidequest to earn 50 point playing Grandstander in Mission 37 to unlock the bonus mission. Easy stuff. This finally unlocks Bonus Mission 48.
The next mandatory mission is 46, which returns you to Olympus Coliseum for a heart hunt, this time with Demyx in toe. This is Demyx’s second real appearance in the narrative, and he’s just as lazy as ever. Roxas tries to lead Demyx to the coliseum, assuming the Heartless will be inside the arena. Roxas is taking charge here, planning to introduce Demyx as “another aspiring hero,” but Number IX balks. “That sounds like work, which means sweating. Which is gross.” I love him.
Demyx decides to “form two strike forces,” with Roxas inside and him lounging around outside. He doesn’t take no for an answer, though if you want, you can help him clear the area. New Ice Cannon Heartless are outside: these aren’t as strong or durable as Jumbo Cannons (especially with their Fire vulnerability) but they cause Freeze with a high frequency. Frankly, I recommend you skip the fight – and the chests! – until after you’re done inside. Once you get inside, you’re going to be flinging barrels at Heartless, and remember: Phil will let you continuously replay until you’ve hit your heart objective, at which point he (essentially) forces you to stop. Here’s where my strategy comes in: if you leave some Emblems alive outside the arena, you’ll have “spares” left over if Phil calls off the mini-game before you get 100%! It’s a narrow window, but it helped me get 100% at least once, and it’s almost zero-effort, so why not?
Inside, Roxas finds Phil training Hercules, via a few visual gags taken from the film. In the middle of training, Demyx shows up, apparently too bored to wait outside for more than fifteen seconds. This is something of a running gag with Demyx which, sadly, I just don’t find all that funny. Demyx and Roxas agree that Phil is really driving Hercules extra-hard, which makes sense with some of the training we see, but not all of them, like a basic sword drill? Roxas wonders why Phil is riding Hercules so hard (in one case, literally riding Hercules) when he doesn’t do that to him. “Is [Hercules] that much stronger than me?”
Phil soon joins Roxas in the Atrium, Hercules presumably leaving through some other door. Demyx vanishes before Phil arrives. It seems that Phil isn’t even tired from training Hercules and is eager to put Roxas through his paces. Today, your target is Loudmouths. The mission is essentially identical to Mission 39’s barrel toss against Soldiers, with one difference: while you might have been able to take out the Soldiers by hand (albeit at serious cost to the timer), the Loudmouths will give you no such opportunity, since they can all heal each other. Learn to use the barrels or get stopped in your tracks. Your future sidequest’s target score this time is 150, and frankly if you’re having trouble, don’t worry so much about this one. The reward stinks compared to the challenge.
After the mission, Phil has a surprise: he says he’s so impressed with your performance (no matter how badly you’ve been doing) that he clears you for the upcoming “Rookie Cup.” Roxas is excited, but also asks a few questions about Hercules. Phil says that not only is Hercules stronger than Roxas (“If I put a squirt like you through that, you’d croak on me”), but Hercules may be the best he’s ever trained. This hints at Phil’s dreams from the film, which have never come up in Kingdom Hearts in the past. We get a Static of Sora, Donald and Goofy talking to Phil, as he talks here, but if you think about it, this is frankly more intimate than anything Phil ever told them, so in a manner of speaking, Roxas is actually closer to Phil than Sora! From a narrative perspective, this has Roxas doing something Sora hasn’t done, which is not only more interesting for us, but interesting for his own development.
On the way out, Phil tells Roxas that he has “expectations for you too, kid.” And continuing our theme of our favourite kindergartener misunderstanding basic words, Roxas decides that since the Organization “expects” him to do missions, “expectations” must just be code for “orders,” and Phil wants to give him “orders.” Oh friends, I miss the Pinocchio world so much right now. I can’t believe I’m saying this but this childish confusion between words is nearly a major plot point for Olympus Coliseum.
Stemming off of this, Roxas meets up with Demyx at the portal, and asks Demyx exactly what it is he does on an average day, especially because he was complaining about having to do Heartless work earlier in the mission. Demyx says it’s mostly intel. When Roxas asks why Demyx isn’t “expected” to do more, Demyx says “They wanna keep the machine running, they pick the right tool for the job,” which may be the wisest thing he’s ever said. Demyx even shows a little compassion when he notices Roxas wondering if he’s “the right tool for the job.” It’s an interesting character moment. You know? These two actually get along pretty well. I wonder what would have happened if Roxas had become friends with Demyx? Demyx would probably be loyal to the Organization in the the end (at least in game canon, if not the manga), so the friendship probably wouldn’t have ended well, but that, too, could have been an interesting arc!
After most remaining missions in the block, Roxas can be found alone on the clocktower, without even Axel to accompany him, though Axel does show up after the third mission in the block. Roxas’ diary notes that he’s starting to realize the ice cream isn’t important enough on its own, but he just… keeps going, never learning.
Oh, something else before I forget. Another running theme in these journals is Roxas mentioning that he should ask Xion about the visions of Sora that come to him during missions (what I’ve been calling “Statics”), even though he never does this. Ever. Clear through to the end of the game! I have a feeling that, like the Chip and Dale segments on KH2’s map, these journals were written after the game was finished and exist partially for recap purposes and partially to plug plot holes, since only rarely seem to lead into anything.
Mission 47 is the last of the mandatory missions from this block, and takes you to the next new-old world: Wonderland from KH1. Crap. You’ve heard my thoughts on this Escherian nightmare. Thankfully most of the navigational confusion has been eliminated, but has been replaced with a new navigation problem I hate almost as much!
Roxas arrives in Wonderland and sees the White Rabbit run past, so off he goes. As you follow, you get another interactive Static, where you see Sora walk down the same hall as you, and can fight Possessors as Sora. This scene is a lot more polite than the last such interactive Static, since Roxas isn’t under attack and you can fight with Sora until the timer runs out. But wait… Sora hasn’t encountered any Possessors at this point in the plotline, and certainly not in Wonderland! Innocent development flub, or a sign that Roxas’ memories are mingling with Sora’s?
Inside the Bizarre Room, the White Rabbit runs through the Doorknob’s door, and just like before the Doorknob yawns and tells you how to shrink down before falling asleep again and refusing to let Roxas through. I’m yawning too, we’ve already seen these exact cutscenes. What’s the point?
You’re here on a heart hunt, not an investigation, and the only cubby hole leading out of the room is X’d out, so I guess you’re not meant to go any further. There’s a Slot Releaser in a box by the fireplace, by all means grab that, but that’s it. You can think of this mission as a combination introduction to Wonderland’s shrinking potion mechanics and to its Heartless, but that doesn’t make it a very interesting introduction. Still, let’s make the best of what we have! Introduction to the Heartless, you say? How about we bring them out? Ladies and gentlemen, the new Bell Wizard Trio!
These assholes. These assholes. I’ll go in alphabetical order with some to-the-point summaries, and get to my commentary later. First up is the Grey Caprice, a wizard with a sort of switch-shot like the Silver Rocks of KH2, but much more deliberate and used at a much greater range. This switch-shot not only damages you but swaps your location with the Caprice, no matter how far away the Caprice may be and no matter how disruptive to the current battle. Second, the Sapphire Elegies, which teleport away randomly as you hit them, forcing you to either get very aggressive (preferably by stun-locking them against a wall) or better yet, to defend against their ramming attacks, which will stun them. The trouble with stunning the Sapphire Elegies is that they’re rarely alone in the battle and it can be dangerous to turn your back on other foes to Block just one of them, what with Roxas’ rigid animation set. It’s still the better of the two options, mind. Last of all, the Striped Arias, who have extra HP and are armed with “time bullets.” Ah yes, the Time element! After 47 missions, it’s finally time to introduce the last of the status effects: Rewound Defence. This pain in the ass sets your Defence back to whatever it would have been at Level 1, though you retain any bonuses you have from Rings or Gear Panels, so it’s not as bad as Null Defence from the Nil element, even if it’s far more frequent thanks to the Arias.
The combined effect of these super-frustrating Heartless can’t be explained just by describing their capabilities. You also have to understand a mechanic that has always existed in Kingdom Hearts, but has never been a major factor in the past: the game’s de-spawn radius. Most Heartless in this game, in fact most Heartless in the series outside of bosses (including Re:CoM’s overworld troops!), will eventually de-spawn if you move far enough away from their initial spawn point. If you go back to their spawn point, they’re typically back to full health. In Days, this must have been particularly important, as you could have multiple players at multiple parts of the map fighting multiple foes from multiple spawn points. Naturally they’d want to de-spawn Heartless as soon as possible! But then! But then some jackhole designed the new bell wizard trio: enemies whose defensive strategy is to run away from you.
If you chase the new bell wizards – especially the Grey Caprice – they despawn, as will everyone else in the battle you just accidentally left. If you ignore a Grey Caprice, it may hit you with its projectiles and swap with you, dumping you near the edge or even past the de-spawn point somehow, causing everyone to de-spawn. And to make matters worse, every room in Wonderland except the Queen’s throne room is too large to house the enemies they’ve chosen to house in them, so you will run into the de-spawn problem time after time after time after time. The Bizarre Room is the worst of the worst.
This leads to yet another problem, aka Walt Help Me I Hate This World, is the growth potion on the table of the Bizarre Room. The only way back to your regular size and RTC is to drink this potion, and the only way to drink the potion is for there to be no enemies around. That means you must fight these awful, de-spawning enemies in a room the provokes de-spawns, or they will re-spawn at full health before the game lets you drink the potion. Here’s a scenario that’s oh-too-familiar for anyone who’s ever done the speedrun Challenges in Wonderland. Imagine you’re in a future mission with an AI partner. You’re heading towards the RTC finish line when you reach the Bizarre Room and Heartless attack you near the cubby-hole. You clear them, go for the potion and Heartless set to guard the potion attack you. Then, your AI partner, who is halfway across the map thanks to a Caprice or just sheer AI stupidity, runs back and triggers another group on their way over! There’s a reason my one save file with the complete Secret Diary has nothing but 1 and 2 Challenge Sigils in almost every Wonderland time trial.
But back to this mission. After you’ve cleared out the bell stooges, one of the… couches starts bouncing. Okay, fine Wonderland, I guess I missed you a little. But oddly enough it’s not a Wonderland phenomenon causing the couch to dance but a Lurk Lizard in disguise as an extra couch, a surprise boss on this relatively basic mission. Funny thing: despite having played KH1 many times, I don’t think I ever realize there’s an extra couch in this mission until it starts bobbing! The Lurk Lizard is no different from the one you fought ages ago while looking for Xion in Twilight Town, though it does have more room to move around in, so use Air Slide to chase it.
Clearing 47 gives you my other heart-of-hearts, the Blizzara spell. As a spell, Blizzara doesn’t seem that impressive. You fling a large cloud of icy smoke forward, it falls to the ground and just… stays there until someone touches and triggers it, like a sort of cloudy land mine that you can hypothetically drop on an enemy’s head. It stays there for a long time, too, and you can’t cast any other spells while you’re waiting for it to dissipate or catch a target, so make sure not to miss! All of those factors should have combined to make up a really awful spell, but it’s all saved by one key feature: its impeccable Freeze rate. I’d estimate that Blizzara Freezes between 66 and 75% of the time at Level 5 (I’m not sure the level matters to the Freeze rate, but just in case), and remember that Freeze means triple the damage for its duration. True, Aero spells Air-Toss 100% of the time, but that only lasts for the duration of the descent, and many bosses and midbosses are immune. Freeze, however, seems to affect every minor enemy and midboss that isn’t Ice- or Water-aligned, which covers most of the library. Each Freeze can earn you more than a single health bar’s worth of lost enemy HP, and so I use it all the time
After you’re done with my gushing, you may want to take on the two optional missions. Mission 48 sees you and Xaldin back to Agrabah, where holy shit a self-destruction mechanism actually destroyed something! I wouldn’t be surprised if you forgot the Cave even self-destructed, since it was all the way back in Mission 24. Remember when Pete somehow triggered the collapse of part of the Cave of Wonders? After the faulty collapse sequences in both KH1 and KH2, we have finally, finally actually done damage to a location that blew up.
The Cave of Wonders has been heavily damaged, with even some of the overhanging ledges dropped to the floor. Also, the cracked wall you saw in Mission 24 has now collapsed, revealing a chamber beyond, though it’s been X’d off. The door on the upper level has also been X’d off, though you won’t be able to see it for yourself until the post-game, because your handy pillar has been destroyed. As a result, you can’t get back up there without a fully upgraded High Jump. When you do get up there, you’ll find the door shut, and indeed it will never be open again, meaning you never get to see the full extent of the damage to the cave.
Your objective here is to defeat a Solid Armour, a Large Armour recolour, which unfortunately is accompanied by a number of its Large Armour cousins just to complicate your day. Best you keep the fight in one corner of the Cave to keep from triggering any new Large Armours. The Solid Armour is wearing red, identifying it as a Fire-aligned Heartless that you can topple with Blizzard. I’ll grant that my Blizzara spell is not ideal here, especially since the original Blizzard will bounce around and try to hit the Solid Armour multiple times (giving it multiple chances to knock the Armour down!), but I did suggest you hold off getting Blizzara until the end of the Bonus Gauge, didn’t I? Watch out though, the Solid Armour’s stomp attack is Moon-aligned, and can Silence you.
Bonus Mission 49 is a heart hunt at Beast’s Castle with Xigbar. There’s nothing remarkable about this mission whatsoever, save that it’s the first time you’ll fight Bully Dogs with your Keyblade instead of a hunk of wood. Oh, and you do have a pretty wide range of the castle to explore, but it’s still the most unremarkable mission since the introductory arc. What a lovely finale to the mission bracket the game has handed me.
On top of everything else, this mission block carries our Sigil total to 114. While it’s not likely that you’ll have 114, this seems like a fair time to discuss the upgraded Haste panel. The multi-slot Haste panel is first unlocked at 100 Sigils, and its first upgrade is unlocked at 110. The second and final upgrade is ages away, unfortunately, at 200 Sigils (and the game won’t give it to you until the post-game, no matter how good you’re doing), but this one upgrade will definitely help in later Challenges, if you’re willing to shoot for it.
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).