Day 171: Love
Uh-oh, that title spells trouble. Also, so does the fact that we’re on Mission 50. Neither of these things can be good. Day 25 was the Darkside, Day 100 was loosely associated with the Antlion, Day 150 the Dark Follower, and they shoved in that time-wasting Mission 49 in our face just now just so this mission would definitely be #50. Yup, yup, something awful is going to happen, I just know it.
Also, once again, the time skip and optional mission block imply that Roxas and Xion haven’t spoken to one another for half a month. Don’t get me wrong: that happens, that’s life. But it still strikes me that the script intended them to be apart only for so long. I wish it did seem like they were apart for a long time and that was the point, because that really is how life and friendship work sometimes and it would nice to see it represented that way, but it just… doesn’t feel like the intent, somehow? I admit that the feeling is probably coming from the fact that this timekeeping problem keeps cropping up, time and time again.
Also, I’d like to point out that the film is glossing over this Roxas and Xion are avoiding one another plotline, like it has so many others. It glosses over so many plotlines that it’s hard to believe it still manages to total three and a half hours. Where’s all the content coming from, and is it really going anywhere?
It seems Roxas is asking around the Grey Area about Xion, who has already left on her mission. Axel even saying “What, man, you missed her again?” If you talk to Xigbar, he’ll recover his enthusiasm for putting you through your hoops in Phil’s Training, and will ask you to score 130 in the Soldier training for a Blazing Gem.
Your worst fears are confirmed when you talk to Saïx: go to Beast’s Castle, solo, to destroy a large unknown Heartless. “Vanquish the Heartless threat!” says the tagline, words you will learn to dread. Stock up on Thunder panels and a decent aerial Keyblade, and let’s get this over with.
As Xaldin predicted, the boss arrives at the bridge, though as you approach you hear the Beast fighting it. A little cartoonishly, the boss somehow manages to toss Beast over the extra-high outer walls, and he is knocked unconscious, as anyone would be after that kind of drop, if not outright killed. I am further discouraged. I would like to withdraw now and take up a life selling salted ice cream.
Roxas heads out in spite of my wishes, and we see our monster: a gargantuan siege engine. This is the Infernal Engine, called “the Demon’s Fortress,” in Japanese. The Japanese name implies that, like the Antlion, the Demon’s Fortress is intended as a reference to a Final Fantasy enemy, namely the Demon Wall foe from FFIV and beyond. Those familiar with the FF enemy will know that the Demon Wall pushes up against you and will ultimately squash you like a pancake if you don’t kill it first. This isn’t quite true here in Days, but if it gets you up against the wall, its attacks will become so frequent and hard to dodge that you won’t last very long one way or another!
By the way, I really like these references to Final Fantasy in the bosses. I’m sad to say this is the last one we’ll be seeing in Days. Unless I missed a reference or two?
Enough compliments, back to the slowly approaching nightmare. The Infernal Engine is staffed by three armoured Heartless with bows replacing one hand, like a sort of medieval Mega Man. I like their little curly helmets, which makes them resemble the bell wizards, though it’s hard to feel complimentary towards them for long. The archers are all-but invincible, seeing as how you can only target them with two attacks that I know of: Thunder (and only the base Thunder spell, not its upgrades for some reason) and by deflecting a cannon attack from the Engine with Block (I suspect that Firaga might work as well if you come back later in the game, but I’ve never tested it). The cannon deflection technique is best, but Thunder can give you an early advantage if you’re willing to invest. Without Thunder, you’re forced to rely on the generosity of the RNG in choosing the cannon attack, and the RNG has never been a friend of the player in the entire history of gaming.
While the archers will be shooting you all the time they’re alive, the Engine itself will swap between weapons that come out of its giant “mouth.” While there’s a large element of randomness, these attacks seem to be somewhat based on the Engine’s proximity to the gate behind you. At the start of the battle, when the Engine is mid-way to the gate, it favours rolling bombs at you (you can Guard or jump these); when it’s close to the gate, it prefers to ruin you with a hammer; lastly, it prefers to summon a battering ram when it’s far away from the gate, which is deadly if it hits you. Even if it doesn’t, the battering ram attack helps the Infernal Engine close the gap with the gate and there’s nothing you can do about it (to keep you from utterly controlling the fight). Despite the narrative insinuation, the Infernal Engine never attacks the gate, per se: it just tries to get your back against the wall so it can use the hammer attack over and over again. Ideally, you want the Engine to be far away from the gate so that it will use the battering ram attack, as the ram can be specially attacked to do more damage to the Engine than you’ll be able to do by attacking any other parts.
So how do you get the Engine to back away from the gate and get this whole thing rolling? You kill the archers. Yup: that thing you have little to no control over, where you have to wait for the cannon attack, which the boss is even less inclined to do when you’re already against the wall and losing. I love you too, KHD. Failing that, just do your best by wailing on it. Good luck!
If the Engine loses its pilots, it will retreat back up the bridge, dropping boxes full of Soldiers in hopes of distracting you. You can kill the Soldiers if you’re hoping for a petty HP boost, but they’re better left ignored. Once the archers respawn, it’s back to the drill, but with luck, the Engine will be so far away from the gate that you’ll be able to attack the ram multiple times, and things will go easy on you again.
Of course, nothing is as easy as it sounds, and since nothing about this sounds easy in the first place, you can imagine how awful this is going to get. The Engine’s attacks are absurdly powerful, and the fight itself tedious, as you just jump and literally try to take apart a wall with a sword. Jump chop chop. Jump chop chop. Jump chop chop. Jump chop chop. The bosses are where people start to lose their interest and respect for Days, I find.
The Challenges are even worse (fun fact: the Ordeal Badge is behind the Infernal Engine and can only be grabbed by killing it. Wait did I say “fun” fact? I meant “a considerable setback if overlooked”). Both challenges have the “Take 50% more damage” parameter. The first is a speed run. The second, at Enemy Level +30 and that damned +50% damage, is an “avoid damage” challenge, as though you didn’t have enough incentive. I was already shooting for that, thanks!
Back in the Courtyard, Belle discovers the Beast. Yikes, I know fiction likes knocking people out all the time, but in the real world, if he’s been unconscious all this time, there’s probably some serious internal damage. Noooo, no, of course he’s fine. Beast thinks he’s only been unconscious for a few seconds and wants to rush back into battle, but Belle tells him there are no Heartless around, and Beast assumes he must have “managed to keep them from getting in.” And then I flew over the gate in celebration! Belle begs him to stop fighting the Heartless after this: “It’s too much. If something were to happen to you…” The two both say how much they’d hate to lose one another, and Roxas realizes the Beast really was fighting to protect the people in the castle, not himself or his rose.
Xaldin shows up out of nowhere to provide this insightful counterpoint. “Cloying nonsense.” Yes, hm, I see. He says the Beast can’t possibly love, and Roxas… *sigh*… Roxas doesn’t know what “love” is. I mean, I guess that’s fine given that he’s a Nobody, but this is the hundredth godforsaken… Xaldin covers the basics and says: “They think the power of love will save them? That’s the stuff of poetry, not practicality.” Roxas, our six-year-old literalist, attaches himself to the phrase “power of love.” “Love is a power?” he asks. This is just… so…… Xaldin says “love never lasts,” which is important, and says that should be obvious to anyone. Roxas is still wondering what love is, and wonders if it’s specifically fighting for what’s important to you. I hate this so much, especially when there are actual good parts in this sequence going completely under the radar of this stock plot. There’s a reason I’m getting all worked up about this right now, and it’s because I came into this wanting to talk about why the scene was important, forgetting Roxas was going to spend the entire duration trying to goad me into making a Haddaway joke!
So I guess to get to my point, I have to deal with Roxas. Fine. During the KH2 Retrospective, I talked repeatedly about the game’s use of the idiot ball trope to guide its plots. The idiot ball trope occurs when a character acts less than their usual intelligence in order to serve as an authorial device. Now, I don’t feel Days is specifically falling into an idiot ball trope here, but it’s not because it’s doing something better. The Days’ development team never needed to modify Roxas’ character to get him to behave like an character device in the first place: being a character device is his natural state. Roxas’ characterization is the way all the time simply so that the authors can contrive whatever plots they wish around him. At this point, he feels less like a genuinely childish character than he does like a hack cousin of the Audience Surrogate stock character: the Audience Surrogate is a character device designed to prompt worldbuilding, while “the Roxas” is a character device designed to allow the authors to contrive any situation they want without needing to get the lead character in a position to allow it. Roxas’ knowledge varies depending on what the devs do and do not want him to know, and whether or not he knows what an emotion or concept means seems to depend on the scene (love: no, fear: yes, surprise: yes, expectations: no). He’s not so much a character in my eyes as either a lever that dispenses plot or to go in a different direction, a tripod designed to hold the camera as things go on without any input from him or the player whatsoever.
A specific issue Kingdom Hearts has had with using characters as devices is that it often directs them to do really stupid things. Thankfully this isn’t one of those instances, it’s just Roxas forgetting about love so that he can start a forced conversation. This is hardly as bad as it could be. We already talked about the Idiot Ball Olympics in KH2, and we haven’t even started talking about BBS, but let me say that forced characterization is the least of one’s authorial problems when that characterization leads to further damage, be it to the narrative or god forbid the real world. Will Days’ use of this trope become a bigger problem in the future? Thankfully no, it’s rarely any worse than this and Roxas is about to get a lot better staring virtually tomorrow, so while I’ve spent a lot of words on this complaint, it’s not so big a problem as problems we’ve seen in the past and will see in the future. Still, for the moment, Roxas still sits plump like a boil on the ass of idealized, platonic characterization, so I’m lancing the bastard and we’re moving on.
So what is good about this scene? Well, I can’t get into the full of it until we’ve seen that second half I mentioned, but let’s highlight a few spots. First off: remember how the Beast’s priorities have already been compared to Xemnas. The rose can be seen as representing Xemnas’ personal project, his interest in Kingdom Hearts, a project brought about in a manifestation of emotion, similar to the Beast’s curse being freed by love. Xaldin feels love is powerless to help everyone in that castle, sharing the sentiment that Xemnas will nearly die on at the end of KH2: “Don’t you remember?” We also get to see how the Beast, in protecting the others, ultimately does accomplish his personal goal.
But there’s more than that: we can also see Xemnas’ personal project as being the Chambers of Awakening and Repose. Xemnas isn’t just neglecting the others on these fronts, he’s outright excluding them. We’re going to have to keep our eyes on that plot to see where it goes, and whether or not this helps us understand them.
Lastly, while we wait for the second half of this scene to come, remember that Xaldin chose wrong when he tried to work out what the Beast cared about most during KH2. His distraction directly led to Belle taking both away from him and ultimately got him killed. Also keep in mind the fact that he says “love never lasts,” because like that line of Xigbar’s about Roxas and Xion being “special,” this too will be coming back to us.
Back in the plot I’ve been trying to ignore, Roxas goes to the tower, where there is no sign of Xion. He almost asks “What is love?” but the localizers have more tact that than that… but enough of a sense of humour to have Axel reacting as though Roxas had, so points to them for that. Roxas elaborates: “I found out about love on today’s mission–that it’s something powerful.” Ugggh.
Axel says Nobodies can’t love, which shouldn’t be striking Roxas as surprising by now, but apparently is. You know, I can’t help but wonder if this confusion is supposed to be happening because Roxas is experiencing emotions and doesn’t realize it himself since he has no context for what an emotion is? But it doesn’t seem that way, Roxas really doesn’t seem to get it even after it’s explained to him.
Axel desperately tries to dodge a speech about the birds and the bees. He does have the class to say that love isn’t a “step above” friendship (“There aren’t ‘steps'”) but he fails to get the idea across to Roxas. Roxas asks if he could love someone if he had a heart, and Axel says: “Once Kingdom Hearts is complete, you’ll be able to do all kinds of things.” He seems glad the conversation is over. So am I.
Your prize for putting up with all this is a new Rune Tech+ and also your first Cura spell. Cura’s curious compared to the standard KH approach to curing: it’s essentially the Final Fantasy spell Regen. It provides no immediate health boost, so it’s completely useless in an emergency, but it will gradually restore more HP than any other healing method short of Elixirs. Generally, I keep a few casts of Lv 5 Cura in my deck at all times, but only hotkey the spell during major boss battles. Since Cura isn’t good in an emergency: if you can’t navigate the menu to cast it, it probably can’t help you in the first place! Only boss battles, like the one you just finished, tend to justify Cura in a pinch.
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).