Days 194-197: Like It Should Be
The Day 197 block starts with essentially no preamble at all, except for a sidequest from Xigbar that’s just awful. He wants you to kill 30 enemies during Limit Breaks, and he only starts counting now. Bear in mind the HP Sponge enemies and the fact that Limit Breaks last on the lower side of ten seconds, and you’ve got some real boredom ahead of you. Welp. Who wants to run some Deserter challenges? The prize for doing this sidequest is Bonus Mission 59, but the task is so boring that starrk’s walkthrough, the longest and most thorough on GameFAQs, recommends you skip the whole thing and come back to 59 as a Holo-Mission! RickyC’s longplay – which hasn’t missed a mission yet – skips the sidequest too! Now, I am going to cover the bonus mission, because I feel that’s too much content to just let pass me by, personally, but I get where starrk and RickyC are coming from, sheesh. For those who are trying to do the sidequest, starrk recommends the Icy Cube swarm in Mission 35.
Let’s get started with the Bonus Gauge. You could probably guess my preference for this block: the prize I recommending tripling is the Blizzara panel from Mission 57. The remaining missions are essentially giving synth ingredients, though Mission 58 offers Cura recipes is you need some of those. And if you think the prizes are boring, wait until you see the missions themselves! Missions 57 and 58 just have you targeting recolours (though 57 is largely new content otherwise) and 59 and 60 have you targeting old enemies that don’t add anything to the proceedings at all! Is it just me or does everything about this block seem too insubstantial to live?
Let’s just get this over with. Missions 57 and 58 are mandatory. 57 sees you and Luxord back to Wonderland, hunting Sergeant resizes called Commanders. Like the Gigas Shadow, they’re exact copies of the medium-sized Sergeants, AI and all, and I’m already feeling deflated as a result. The Mission gets started when the White Rabbit runs past the pair in the Rabbit Hole, late as ever. Luxord makes another speech about luck that’s particularly dire: “No one can say whether following that rabbit’s footsteps will be your lucky charm… or get you killed.” Lovely.
Luxord insists they follow the Rabbit, not that you have a choice, as this time he runs through the cubby-hole to the queen’s throne room we’ve been using all this time, instead of the Doorknob’s door. You follow him to the throne room, where he arrives and makes an immediate report to the queen: “So far, our search has failed to turn up any trio, including that which startled you.” Roxas and Luxord take this to mean the trio of Commanders they’re looking for, though it’s not entirely clear if that’s true. She might be looking for Sora, Donald and Goofy, instead! The game makes some wishy-washy clues in both directions, and while I feel it favours the Heartless explanation, you could really go either way.
By the way, this mission keeps giving you “tour” shots: camera pans showing you the area, or where the exits are, as though this were your first visit to the world and you needed to understand the layout. I wonder if some of the Wonderland missions were re-organized? Despite this strange use of tour shots, there is good detail work here. Consider: when we tour across the hallway with the guards on the way to the Queen’s throne room, the Card Guards that are guarding the doors are at ease when the White Rabbit passes, and only go into their warding stances when you come by.
The White Rabbit says the only place that hasn’t been searched is the Gardens. Luxord says they should follow, and I feel his logic seems sound even if the queen isn’t looking for the Heartless: the fact that she has armed guards combing her kingdom means the Heartless would have been forced there by now.
You head back to the hallway, where one of the Card Guards has disappeared. Through the door he was guarding you find a huge hedge maze, and no, no matter how high your High Jump, you can’t vault the walls. Video games. This maze is actually a really peculiar callback, if you think about it. It first showed up in the vista that surrounded the Re:CoM Wonderland combat arena!
Unfortunately, this marks the start of a stealth sequence, and wouldn’t you know it: the Challenge is a speed run, isn’t that nice. You’ve got to deal with two kinds of guards here: Hearts, which are stationary and occasionally yawn to let you pass, and Spades, who are on patrol. In between the guards, you’ll find your three Commanders, and for once I’m almost thankful for the force fields they summon since it prevents you from accidentally getting caught by Card Guards in the middle of a fight! Thankfully, the Commanders each serve as something of a checkpoint. If caught, Roxas and Luxord will retreat to the arena where they last fought a Commander. You can just imagine them darting out of sight the moment the guard stopped looking.
That’s all there is to it. The mission is irritating, but it’s a standard maze in the end. At the end of the mission, Roxas realizes that if the guards are looking for the Commanders, they’re never going to find them now and the Queen will be pissed. Hah! She’ll probably execute them! Hilarious! As the queen shouts threats, Roxas Statics a memory of Sora looking confused, though if I stretch my imagination, perhaps it’s supposed to be him “hearing” shouting.
Luxord then pisses me off by summoning an exit portal all on his own. Great for the speedrun, but why can’t I do that during other Wonderland missions? And other speedruns?
By the way, anyone else notice there are no roses in this rose garden?
Back in the castle, Axel is in a room full of books. It’s not clear if this is some sort of library or if he’s raiding Vexen’s old room, but one way or another, he finds a book with a report marked “The Truth about Naminé” by the late Scheming Academic. He begins reading.
Back at the tower, Xion and Roxas meet, Roxas saying Xion is early. Moments later, a bell rings and they declare Axel too late to show up. This game’s amateurish inability to convey the passage of time continues at its unpredictable pace. Xion thanks Roxas and Axel-by-proxy for the support, and says that she should be fine now. Axel never shows.
Mission 58 sees Axel and Roxas to Neverland to dispatch some Heartless called Artful Fliers, obviously yet another Aerial Master recolour, even though we’re just one Neverland mission away from when they introduced the last one. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe both of these recolours are exactly the same as the other Aerial Masters we’ve seen, except with their stats shuffled. This is an unusual lack of variety for a Days Heartless, since Days usually has the dignity to swap the enemies’ elemental alignment between recolours. I can see how it might seem silly to change Aerial Masters away from the Air element, but in the fight against boredom and repetition, maybe they just… should have done it anyways?
In this mission, we visit the second of the three Neverland zones we’ll be seeing across the course of the game. This one is made up of one long island and a lot of individual spires coming out of the water. Most of the available land here is bare rock, and it’s all very boring. The level is practically monochrome, but with blue and grey instead of black and white! Roxas remarks on how long it’s been since it was just him and Axel on a mission together (you don’t have to think too hard to realize Saïx is trying to keep them apart), but discussion soon turns to Roxas flying like he bragged so long ago. This leads to a funny bit where Roxas just… stands on his tiptoes. It’s honestly hilarious. He’s lost the ability to fly somehow! You know… have you ever watched Dragon Ball Z Abridged? Kyle from the Marathon wanted me to append a “Roxas Owned” counter to this Retrospective like the one DBZA does for Krillin, and there are times I regret not following his advice.
Roxas presumes he somehow ran out of fairy dust (good educated guess, considering he was never told the dust gave him the power to fly), but is rescued from embarrassment by Hook shouting in the distance. We then get the exact same “Sora hearing something” Static as the one in Mission 57! Using these two right next to one another! I expected better, even if we are in the game that’s been re-using the same “sitting and eating ice cream” animations for a quarter of its run time.
What Roxas has just heard is Smee is digging up another chest, another Heartless is summoned, and they run away. But there’s a difference this time: last time they had to run back to their dingy. This time, the long island runs directly to the Jolly Roger, and they’re able to make it at once. Hook vows to destroy the Heartless himself with “the Long Tom!” referring to his ship’s cannon. This could be trouble.
While they’re still running, Roxas explains his theory about Hook summoning the Heartless and… Axel doesn’t know how Heartless are summoned either? The fuck? Was the Organization missing from the first half of KH2 because Xemnas was giving classes on basic black magic? Why doesn’t Axel know this?
You head to the first chest, and Tinker Bell shows up, furious at Roxas for leaving her alone over a month ago. Roxas fills Axel in on what Tinker Bell did for him last time (“She’s the one who helped me fly.” “Yeah, I already saw your demonstration.”), and asks her for another helping of the pixie dust. She obliges, because she’s a nicer person than anyone else on the scene, and note that she’s doing this despite feeling incredibly angry. That’s almost maybe too practical for Tinker Bell, who’s famous for not wanting to help out – heck, famous for not wanting to distribute pixie dust specifically! – if she’s in a tantrum, but we’ve got to keep pacing in mind and I suppose a tantrum is no reason for Tink not to be practical.
Roxas takes off into the air, freaking Axel the hell out, and he tries to explain to Axel how he can do himself. This is a lot harder without Sora’s memory on-hand. But in a sweet moment, Axel pulls through because he trusts Roxas. Aww. It doesn’t even feel all that hammy! Mostly because Axel makes it clear how much he feels like an idiot. I love this moment for their friendship. It’s got to be said, Days does the best it can, but showing still is better than telling more often than not, and even though Axel says, “I trust you,” Axel flying is showing.
Also: nice touch having them repeat “I can fly!” a few times in reference to the song from the film. Dorks.
Tinker Bell again insists they go to the ship, and for all we know they might have, if Hook hadn’t started opening fire. It seems he’s mistaken the duo in their dark cloaks for being Heartless (I told you this was awful camouflage!). Axel insists they do the mission instead, almost exactly repeating Roxas’ excuses from the previous mission even though the cannon fire gives him a perfect excuse to not help Tinker Bell this time around (he gets to the cannon fire eventually, but this just sounds like a writer who’s run out of decent excuses). It does make a certain degree of sense that Axel would just echo the company line, but I have to emphasize, triple-underline and repeat, even at the cost of being guilty of the same problem in turn, that this game’s repetition is so, so, so frustrating and boring. Plot points, clock towers, ice cream, excuses, copy and pasted, copy and pasted! It’s like they were given a script half the size they needed and just doubled it up!
As irritated as I am at the writer in general, I do like that they had Axel say, “Let’s find those Artful Flyers.” This isn’t the first time – actually it’s not even the first time in Never Land – but I wanted to say how nice it is that he mentioned the actual objective. Games tend to avoid mentioning in-game elements during the narrative for some reason, probably because the script and gameplay are set out in different portions of the process, and it usually leads to a break in immersion when no one ever mentions the tasks you actually perform. It addresses a problem that’s present in Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, the entire industry.
The rest of the mission is rote. Find the chests, kill your targets, same as ever. The only new additions are the active cannon fire, which will target you, nearby Heartless, or nearby areas of empty space at random. If the ball hits a target or the ground, it will explode in a Fire-type attack and probably Ignite the target. If it hits the water, it will send up a giant splash of Water-damage instead!
Also in your way are the new Bubble Beat enemies, which are just Water-aligned Loudmouths easily dealt with using Thundara (since they typically appear in groups). Being the only grounded enemies in a flying map, Bubble Beats have the weird ability to climb almost any incline less than 90 degrees. You’ll often find them bouncing happily in place on a wall that would be a dead end in even the most acrobatic 3D action game. Also, they can bounce on the water, which I suppose might be a special ability, but unfortunately just makes it clear to me that the water is just a differently-textured floor rather than being liquid. Like the Turquoise Marches, the Bubble Beats are only really a threat while you directly engage them, making it easy to pick off more dangerous enemies before tending to them.
This mission also introduces an irritation: Ordeal Badges, Blazons and Unity Badges are hidden in truly arbitrary, unfair spots in Neverland missions, like along the slopes of nondescript rock, or just randomly in the water. Just wait until Mission 86, which is infamous for the way it “hid” one of its collectibles, but the complaints about Neverland start here.
Roxas regrets leaving Tinker Bell behind, but they RTC nevertheless, what with the incoming cannon balls. But as they leave, we cut away to one of the chests, and see Pete walk up to it! Pete laughs at Hook, and it’s easy to deduce his clever, if over-elaborate plan: he set up the treasure maps just to influence Hook into building him an army of Heartless. Is this how he gained the rest of his KH2 Heartless, or is this strategy new? I guess we’ll never know! Naturally he’s pissed that his Heartless are all gone, but since he hasn’t spotted you yet, he’s not sure how to fix the problem!
Come to think of it, Pete being here helps to scrub away a nasty implication of KH2: in KH2, it appeared that Pete had a Heartless army because he had gone from world to world, wiping them all out in a deliberate genocide of darkness! Now it seems that he spent most of his time goading random Emblems out from under rocks, which could have come from anywhere and are probably just descendants of Ansem’s artificially created experiments. Probably for the best, considering the alternative.
After the mission, Axel and Roxas go to the tower. “You think that sparkly dust would work in other worlds?” Roxas asks. Hey man, if your series wants to bring magic from one world to another, I’m already on record as loving that (and also on record expecting you to do nothing of the sort!). Roxas tells Xion about the flying, but she seems somewhat distant. Just then, Roxas clues in to the fact that Axel has been quiet ever since Xion has shown, as well. This cutscene shows us exactly why the game tries to avoid plot during optional mission blocks. Spoilers here, but it’s inevitable: Axel being distant from Xion only makes sense if he’s already read the book about Naminé after Mission 57! If you came to Mission 58 first, he’s just being a dick! Mission 57’s cutscene probably should have been attached to a single mission block set before this optional block. Unsure what to say to his friends, Roxas descends into what’s become a mutual silence.
Bonus Mission 59 sees an unusual “Mission Type” that you’ll never see again: supposedly to help you prepare for future dangers, the Organization wants you to collect Shining Shards. …Are you serious? Not only is this one-time-only mission bizarre, but I have like… three dozen of these wretched Shining Shards. I didn’t take an exact count when I played Mission 59 during my Retrospective Playthrough, but by the end of the game I had 55 Shining Shards, not to forget the Shining Shards I had already synthed into panels, and arguably panels that I could have synthed with Shining Shards but actually picked up from chests, because what’s the difference in the end? I could heat my home with these things! In fact, I checked: if you’ve opened every chest and done every mission and sidequest prior to Mission 59, you will have at least 15 raw Shining Shards, plus Bonus Gauge multipliers, plus Random Bonuses, plus any Cure/Cura spell panels you collected through other means, plus Shining Shards are a common drop of Loudmouths, who have been dogging you since your first trip to Agrabah.
The real reason this mission claims to be about Shining Shards is because your actual objective is a little over the top. You head to Twilight Town, where a Tailbunker attacks you, entirely unrelated to the rest of the mission. Then you have to seek out enemies with Shining Shards… which turn out to be Guardians. You know: midbosses. Four of them (three mandatory), on top of the Tailbunker you just killed. Thankfully they’re midbosses from the start of the game, so no big deal, but you can imagine how that would sound a little excessive in the mission brief.
There’s not much else to this mission, except a Duel Gear+ on the old Synth Shop’s roof. This gives you the Abaddon Plasma+, which shares abilities with the Abaddon Plasma++ but has generally higher stats, like I was complaining about earlier. The ++ has a higher crit damage, but I’m not sure exactly how the math checks out here between one blade and the other? Anyone wanna… calculate the DPS for a mid-game blade you’re sure to toss aside after another few missions? No?
Mission 60 pulls up the boring rear with a return to the first set of Neverland islands. For some reason, Roxas can fly here without meeting up with Tinker Bell this time, but that’s going to happen in all the Neverland optional missions, so you’d best get used to it. It’s not clear why the Jolly Roger is back here in the first Neverland map instead of the second, so perhaps you could say this mission makes more sense if you play it first and not second?
There are actual chests in this mission, but all you’re really here for is the Avalanche, which hasn’t changed from Mission 44, except I don’t believe it can collapse to the ground any longer, similar to the Wavecrest. For some reason, this mission inspired the devs into giving it a Blazon challenge, god knows why. Both Challenges for this Mission have No Attack Magic penalties, and I won’t pretend they’re not challenging with the Avalanche constantly swooping out of your range, but it’s still strange.
And with that anticlimax, we go on with our lives another day.
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).