Day 172: Sound of the Surf
At the start of the day, Luxord comes up to you to politely say hello, and to tell you you’ve been teamed up for the first time today. What a nice guy! First Demyx now Luxord, all these minor characters making me like them all of a sudden. What gives?
Unfortunately for Luxord’s politeness, he has bad news and doesn’t realize how badly it will affect Roxas (considering that Roxas is experiencing emotions and no one has caught on to that yet, this is reasonable. I don’t need to explain to that to anyone that Roxas is experiencing emotions by this point in the story, right? Because if it hasn’t yet, it’s going to become real obvious in this scene). Luxord explains that Xion “bungled” her last mission and is in a coma, not unlike Roxas’ from the first 100 days. Blunt thematic symmetry! Luxord even seems a little sympathetic, making me like him even more. Roxas just runs off to visit her bedside.
Saïx cuts Roxas off at the door, and gives a show of insincere politeness. He’s obviously misinterpreting the situation, not realizing Roxas is experiencing emotions, and so he tries to contextualize Roxas’ actions from an emotionless perspective. “You cannot help your comrade. Xion will not wake up.” When Roxas protests, Saïx’s pretence evaporates. “What do you care? The creature is broken. Defective.” I can’t believe the film cut this section. This scene is emotionally cutting as all hell. Seriously Saïx, who talks about other people like that? Roxas asks the same question. Saïx replies “Look at you, Roxas. Up in arms over a nobody,” and note the use of lower case, something that wouldn’t come across in a film either way. Ugh, this guy!
Towards the end of the conversation, Saïx even reverts to assuming Roxas is angry for some unemotional reason. Check this out, this is a masterpiece of skeeze: “Settle down. Xion’s failings won’t affect your standing with us. You’ve nothing to worry about.” Jeeze! I’m right there with Roxas when shouts: “Won’t affect my—What is wrong with you?” He barges past.
Roxas doesn’t stay long, perhaps realizing how furious Saïx would be. He simply stands beside Xion for a while, before leaving her one of the shells she gave to him when he was unconscious. My favourite detail in this scene is that this is the shell she gave him on the tower at the end of the coma. Okay, maybe they used this one because it’s the only shell that was already set to be handled individually – I’ll cop to the potential for laziness – but it’s nice to see it the other way around, as though Roxas does have an item he cares about. Wow, did we just turn on the maturity switch between scenes? That’s remarkable. The scenes were great and it’s awful that we only got to hear Jesse McCartney in one of them, since the film dropped most of the sequence.
So yes, these scenes are great… which is unfortunate for the game at large, because now this going to be my barometer for Roxas’ behaviour in the scenes to come. I’m going to be expecting emotional vulnerability from him now, instead of robotic zombie behaviour. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. A reminder: by the end of this game, if this game is going to accomplish what it needs to do as a prequel, by the end of the game, Roxas has to reach the hardcore, do-or-die, cares-about-nothing but himself (and maybe Axel, and for all we know Xion) Roxas from KH2. If you ask me, this kind of character development still seems possible from where we’re standing. But can they do it?
Luxord is still the picture of politeness back in the Grey Area, he doesn’t even seem to mind. Xigbar gets a playful dig at you for leaving, but that’s about the worst of it. In fact, the biggest surprise of all is that Saïx isn’t even mad. In fact… he promotes you! Again, promotions are tied to major bosses. But that doesn’t make it feel any less out-of-keeping with the previous scene!
Your new promotion, Agent, comes with a nice little set of goodies, besides the part where being called an “Agent” makes it seem like you’re actually part of the team instead of a greenhorn. Now before we get started, remember: your promotion to Novice unlocked Ring synth, and Rookie unlocked Gear synth, so synthesis is fully unlocked from here until the post-game. That means all of Agent’s direct goodies have to come in the Heart shop, and the rest will simply be tied in with the new Gear and Ring-related synthesis items encountered during the upcoming missions. As a consequence, I feel like Agent’s Heart Point shop rewards are a bit better than the Heart Point shop items we’ve seen previously, since they have to stand on their own!
Let’s take a look. There’s another Slot Releaser, but no Level Up this time. Hi-Ethers are on sale at last, making Elixirs very easy to synth, along with all the –ra level spells we’ve unlocked (even Cura, which is brand new). Our first Magic Lv 3 panel is available. There are 2 Dodge Roll Lv + panels, though they’re presently useless without a linked Dodge Roll panel to install them in (you only have the unlinked Dodge Roll panel from the start of the game at the moment). Representing the opposite failure, we have a linked Aerial Recovery panel with no upgrades! Thankfully, you can synth some upgrade panels for Aerial Recovery soon, and they’re not flat Lv+ upgrades but specialized upgrades that give you special powers. I personally like the Quick Recovery panel. Rounding out the shop, we’ve got some crap: a questionable panel called Auto-Lock that I hate. It locks on to any enemy nearby, whether you want to or not. Pass.
The Heart Shop also sells an Auto-Life upgrade, which will have the ability recover 2/3rds of your health instead of 1/3rd, making it a must-have. It’s essentially this game’s equivalent of Second Chance and Once More, though with better healing in exchange for a use limit.
There are also new Gears: while there’s one in the Heart Shop, the rest will require Gear Component B’s. Since you’ll be able to pick Gear Component B’s up off of Grey Caprices (not that that’s a very palatable process) in the very next mission, I’ll describe the associated Gears right now.
- The single gear from the Heart Shop is the Prestige Gear, which gives you the Total Eclipse, a Gear with some handy alternate combos (the kind you trigger with the Y button). Those alternate combos are going to become omnipresent from this point on, and the Total Eclipse (and one other blade in this set) have some particularly good ones in my opinion. The Total Eclipse’s abilities are mostly SOS-focused: Defender and Striker in slots 1 and 2, and Combo-Block, the ability to block in the middle of your own combos, in slot 3. The Prestige Gear+ is also available as a Gear Component B synthesis. The Total Eclipse+ replaces the Total Eclipse’s boring slot 3 ability, Combo-Block, with the much more impressive Brick Wall. Definitely worth getting, unless you’d rather get…
- The first Gear Component B gear, the Crisis Gear (Silent Dirge), which has an identical ability setup to the Total Eclipse+. In fact, I prefer thanks to its even better combos, especially its ground combo, and am fond of it for everyday work. Brick Wall is a winner, for sure. The Crisis Gear is also the first Gear with four upgrade slots, allowing for additional upgrades even if you choose to go with three Abilities.
- The remaining Gear Component B gears are upgrades of previous Gears. The first is the Duel Gear++, which is weird because you won’t be seeing the Duel Gear+ for a few missions yet! This gear unlocks the Abaddon Plasma++, which is an unusual ++-level Gear in that it actually downgrades the attack of the base-level blade, in favour of the highly dubious ability to get a higher Crit Rate increase, but only from installed Sight Units? How uselessly specific can you get! The Abaddon Plasma++’s abilities are entirely distinct from the base-level Abaddon Plasma, swapping out the base-level’s Chain-related abilities for Combo Boost, Combo-Jump, and Critical Boost. Of course, if you’re using the Abaddon Plasma++, you’re going to fill those slots with Sight Units, so who even cares about the abilities?
- The Phantom Gear++ gives you the Crown of Guilt++. Besides being stronger than the Crown of Guilt and Crown of Guilt+ (like normal ++ Gears), the Crown of Guilt++ has an extra slot and an entirely distinct set of abilities : 1. Magic Bracer; 2. Magic Finale; 3. Magical Strike, which increases your Strength stat in relation to your Magic stat.
- While we’re on the topic of Magical Strike, I’d like to say what a handy ability it is for magic-focused characters in Mission Mode. Happy to say, then, that Vexen, Zexion and Axel can use the Duel Gear++ to get it, and Larxene can get it with the Phantom Gear++ (as can Xemnas, for what that’s worth). It’s time for that ability to shine!
There are new Rings, of course. There’s only one available for purchase with Heart Points, and as for Synthesis, you might think it’s time to move on to Silver rings, but no! As it happens, the next material on our list isn’t Silver but Dark Ingots. Hoookay, you evil bastards, let’s have a look:
- The heart shop ring is the Knight’s Defence, a ring with both EXP Boost LV1 and Combo-Block, which allows you to use Block while attacking.
- Moving on to Dark Ingot rings, we have the Raider’s Ring, which grants Combo-Jump and Combo-Block
- The Thunder Charm, newest in our series of elementally-resistant Rings paired with Magic Bracer.
- The Recovery Ring, a Ring with a boost to HP; Potion Boost LV 1; and Vitality Bracer, an absolutely useless ability that boosts your Defence while at full HP – aka, an ability that boosts your Defence… for a single attack.
- The Vitality Ring, which grants Ether Boost and Vitality Surge, a far more impressive counterpart to Vitality Bracer that boosts your Strength when HP is full.
Last of all, your Agent promotion provides an additional character for Mission Mode. This is the first of the Bonus Characters, who are united by the fact that they… urm… seem to have been put together in a rush. But they’re interesting all the same! Today’s newbie is Riku in his Deep Dive appearance. Riku’s air attacks are strangely floaty, and he doesn’t control at all like his Re:CoM self like you might expect.
Bonus Characters generally only have three weapons in practice: two come from specific Gears from the late- and post-game (which I’ll discuss at those times), but if you’re not using those exact two Gears, you will always be fighting with the Bonus Character’s default weapon and its + and ++ variants, no matter what Gear you have equipped. In Riku’s case, we’re of course talking about the Soul Eater. The base-level version of this weapon is unlocked by using no Gear or by equipping early story mode Gears. The + version of the weapon is unlocked by mid-game gears, and surprise, surprise: late game gears give you the ++. Because Bonus Characters aren’t unlocked until late in the game, however, they start off considerably more powerful than the Organization: Riku’s base-level Soul Eater gives him +70 attack, even with no Gear at all! Likewise, the upgrades come with huge attack boosts: Riku’s Soul Eater+ is +100, while the Soul Eater++ is +120!
Despite their huge stat boosts, a Bonus Character’s base-level, + and ++ default weapons share the same abilities. This means that, unlike with Organization members, there’s never any sense in using a weaker level Gear on a Bonus Character’s default weapon unless you want a handicap. Sadly, this cuts down dramatically on any strategy involved in your character build. The only strategy involved is in the late and post-game, where you have to debate whether you want to go with the ++ version of your character’s default weapon or if you want to switch over to the specialized late- and post-game Gears I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Riku’s Soul Eater grants him the following abilities: 1. Striker, 2. Grand Slam, and 3. Critical Boost. Critical Boost’s not so bad, but this trio of abilties still don’t differentiate Riku much from other generic combat characters. Also notable: while Organization members have an innate resistance to their personal element, and all other Bonus Characters have Light resistance identical to Roxas and Xion, Riku has… no innate elemental resistances. I’ll be honest: it’s not the worst downside I’ve ever seen, but since he’s the only character with this deficit, you could still use it to make the argument that it makes him the worst character in the game. Good job, Rik’. Good on ya.
On the plus side, you can finally have that Smash Bros-style dream duel between Riku and Marluxia that you never got to play in CoM, and that’s pretty cool.
Before you check in for your mission, you might want to talk to Demyx. Our friend with the sitar says he heard that Xion fought “one tough customer” before being knocked out, and talks about how this is why recon is so important. Nice speech buddy – so whaddya trying to mooch? It turns out what he wants to mooch out of you is the first Halloween Town Heartless Hunt that I mentioned earlier, with a Frost Gem for you if you do his work.
Finally, we come to your proper mission, #51. Luxord is essentially “assigned” to Wonderland in the same was Xaldin is “assigned” to Beast’s Castle, and given Wonderland’s card motif, I bet Luxord begged for it. Your objective is to find even more bell wizards: a new type called Pink Concertos. Little do you know: this is going to be something of an endeavour.
Roxas is distracted when he and Luxord touch down in the rabbit hole, but he eventually fills Luxord in on the White Rabbit. Luxord makes this elaborate speech about luck that throws Roxas off as much as it does me, and we’re off.
You head through the door, convince Luxord to drink a suspicious bottle on a suspicious table (he is the one who keeps talking about gambling with his life…) and if you’re like me, you settle in to the tedious job of clearing out your escape route for RTC (that’s not necessarily wise during your first playthrough, because you never know which missions will require an RTC and which ones will end automatically, but I promise that this is one of the former). Here, you’ll meet our new friend, the Blizzard Plant. Thankfully, since those are rooted in place, they can’t really prevent you from reaching the growth potion during RTC, and so aren’t a huge bother like other Bizarre Room enemies. Unlike the Fire Plant, the Blizzard Plant have a decent turn speed, so you can’t escape them by gradually moving around them at a constant pace. On the other hand, the Blizzard Plants are easily stun-locked, so they’re actually even easier to kill than the Fire Plants. Their only real advantage is the fact that they might Freeze you, but all-in-all, they feel like an early-game monster that got lost in the mid!
After that’s done, you pass through the door in the corner, finding yourself in a room that wasn’t there in KH1: a hallway with two branching doors blocked by card guards (card guards that Roxas and Luxord don’t even try to hide from). Heading through the only available entrance, you find yourself in the Queen’s throne room from KH1. The room is empty, so you turn to the Lotus Forest, just like in the old days. Here, the Cheshire Cat says hello. He and Luxord talk so much alike that I’m sure they’ll get along swimmingly, if they don’t outright start making out over a twisted double-negative. Our favourite multi-part fuzzball hints you may have some extra trouble finding your mission targets today, but he doesn’t say anything more before he vanishes.
While it’s entirely possible to find the Concertos without any additional help from the Cheshire Cat, should you make it to the far end of the Lotus Forest without locating any, the cat will return in an optional cutscene. It seems he knows your mission (this and every one that follows), and leaves you with a fairly obvious riddle. I like how Luxord treats the answer to the riddle as obvious, while Roxas just stars into space like he’s completely lost. The clue is meant to tell you that the Concertos are hiding in the flowers that scatter the forest: you remember, the ones that begged Sora for items? Thankfully they’re not making requests today, and you can just pop them open to drop a nightmare straight into your lap.
The Pink Concerto is just another bell wizard, maybe the worst of them all. Instead of running away, this one aggressively pursues you, and you may very well want to flee… at which point they’ll leave their de-spawn zone! Dammit, that’s four for four! But why are they so scary? The Concertos spout a cloud of damaging, poisonous spores around them during their death-charges, and the only way to put them off of it is to hit them with a finisher. And the only way to hit them with a finisher is to get within range of the cloud of death-spores! And if you remember the Poison Plant, you know that “poison” means Blind in this game! This means if you get in the cloud, you’ll often get Blinded and miss the finishing attack, so the spores will keep on coming!
And before you think about fighting them with magic: you’re on the right track, but mind that they have an unfair health bar, so large you’ll want to fight them with full-out boss tactics, Blizzara and up. They’re weak against Fire, so my favourite strategy is to do the contrary thing and Freeze them, then burn them so that the Fire damage is multiplied by Freeze, no matter how stupid that sounds.
After you kill four of the Concertos, you’ll find you’re one short of completing the mission bar. The Cheshire Cat returns to give you a new hint. Roxas replies: “We’d find it easy enough if you told us where to look, but I’m not holding my breath.” I like new grumpy, sarcastic Roxas. Three cheers for grumpy, sarcastic Roxas!
The new hint has something to do with a “birdcage.” Not many players who remember KH1 are going to be stumped by this (it’s referring to the gibbet in the Queen’s court), but if you’re new to the game, you might end up running around the Lotus Forest looking for a birdcage. If you were to run around the forest, you’d discover that all the upper-level doors, which used to lead to other places in this loopy-doopy world, now mostly eject you to the Bizarre Room, right-side up (GrovyleTheThief corrects me, saying that the doors did lead to the Bizarre Room like this in KH1, but only before Alice’s trial!). Seems like a waste, if you ask me – they could have had them spit you out in other rooms just for variety’s sake, and… hell! Spitting you out in the Queen’s room might point a new player towards the gibbet! There actually is an exception to this Bizarre Door room, however: the door over the pond in the Lotus Forest leads to the Hatter and Hare’s party room, but on a high ledge. The trouble is: there’s no way to get to that door without a mobility upgrade or by using another (more complicated) Air Slide + Keyblade trick. No real worry: you’ll be getting the new mobility upgrade in just a few missions, so there’s no need to equip the Lift Gear and put yourself at risk versus the Concertos. It’s nice to see a return of vague Metroidvania backtracking, even if it’s only because this is a KH1 world that had it in the first place.
Once you’re done trying to fly, you can go check out the gibbet. Some Sergeants have shown up to defend it, but once they’re clear you can knock the cage down with a few hits from your Keyblade. This is a nice mechanical touch, they could have easily just had the Concerto show up if you jumped and checked the cage ala Halloween Town. …You know, poor Days’ missions often come off as lifeless, but they have more mechanical life to them than KH2 ever had on average. If only it wasn’t a blocky, ugly mess of gameplay broken into insignificant mission parcels…
The Cat returns (along with a Static of Sora being angry at the Cat, which I’m not certain actually happened in KH1). Roxas asks how the Cheshire Cat knew where the Heartless were, and the Cat just shrugs. The characterization of the Cat in this game seems to be loosely inspired by the KH1 Manga, where the Cat was portrayed as dubiously evil. It’s not a portrayal I really liked, but thankfully it doesn’t rub off too much here. After he vanishes, Luxord says: “Nobody’s going to reveal his hand from the get-go. You have to outwit your opponent in the give and take to figure them out.” Huh, Luxord thinks he has to manipulate everyone at all times, even in basic conversation. That seems about right for Luxord. “And frankly, I don’t see you outwitting that cat anytime soon.” Hah, nice. High five, Luxord!
Later, on the clock tower, Axel arrives, and tells you Saïx filled him in about the fight Roxas had with him in Xion’s bedroom. Did he tell you he promoted us after it? Roxas cuts off whatever Axel was planning to say by saying “Why does [Saïx] hate her so much?” Axel says “Listen to you. How come you do that? Talk like you’re a real person. […] sometimes you sound like you really are heartsick or something.” Dude, c’mon. C’moooon. You’re going to trip over the truth and break your face if you don’t open your eyes at this point!
Roxas expresses his worries that Xion won’t recover, and complains about Saïx calling her “broken.” “Saïx knows something about her. Why me and her are special Nobodies.” Axel presumably knows why Roxas is special but obviously doesn’t want to tell. Still, he offers to ask Saïx about Xion, because Roxas is right and Saïx has been acting suspiciously about Xion.
Later that night, we rejoin the film to find that Axel did talk to Saïx, and that their conversation has somehow devolved into a fight. It seems Saïx warned Axel not to ask about Xion at some earlier point, but Axel is now refusing to back down. Saïx refuses to answer, citing Axel’s refusing to answer him earlier when Saïx grilled him about Xion’s actions (or at least, that’s how I read it). He leaves the conversation saying: “What is it you two see in that thing [Xion]? Just look at it.”
Your big prize for this mission is the linked Dodge Roll panel, allowing Dodge Roll to finally be upgraded. Like I was saying about Aerial Dodge earlier in the post, besides the Lv+ link panels you’ve already earned, some abilities can have other, more specialized upgrades that come at the cost of the flat upgrade. I’m fond of Auto-Dodge, an ability that will cause you to dodge if you’re on the ground and just on the cusp of an attack, which isn’t nearly as disruptive as it sounds. Mix that with a single Lv+ tile and you’ve got a pretty handy manoeuvre!
Later that night, we see Roxas has picked up the tradition of leaving Xion a shell every day, as she now has two.
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).