Days 225-227: Quietude
The next day, Axel reminds Roxas in private that Saïx never gives days off, so their “go to the beach” plans are fairly weak. Still, the plans are as solid as it’s going to be. Xion, being unwell, is sitting down in a chair next time you see her, a pose I don’t think is used at any other point in the game.
Having cleared another major boss – even if it was an underwhelming one – Roxas is promoted to Expert. Between Xigbar challenging you and the meaning of the word “Expert,” I’m starting to suspect that Roxas may be pulling ahead of the Organization’s curve at this point, towards becoming the serious threat he was in KH2. In addition to your usual promotion benefits, Saïx hands you a new panel directly: the Final Limit panel. This is attached to an ominous warning that “The Heartless grow ever more powerful.” You must be fun at parties, Sai.
The Final Limit panel is an enhancement to the normal Limit Break, even though that wasn’t an extendable panel. During the traditional Limit Break, a small vertical line runs across the player’s health bar as a sort of timer. With Final Limit equipped, once the line crosses the health bar, it will then cross back, with the new extended Limit now in play. For Roxas and Xion, this means a series of four light pillars that spin out from them in all directions.
Of course, you also get the usual set of new prizes from the Moogle with your promotion. Notable upgrades include a Quadcast panel, a Glide Lv+ panel, and Treasure Magnet with slots (but once again, no upgrade panels).
Expert rank is the only promotion in the game that doesn’t provide any new Gears in the Heart shop, but we are able to start looking at Gear Component Cs, which start showing up in this section.
- The Crisis Gear+ leads to the Silent Dirge+, a barely distinct upgrade from the Gear Component B-level Silent Dirge, with paltry stat upgrades and 1. Striker in place of the original’s 1. Defender.
- The Hazard Gear, which unlocks Roxas’ hilariously named “Darker than Dark,” a magical Keyblade. The Darker than Dark’s abilities are defensive: 1. Magic Bracer, 2. Vitality Barrier, and 3. Damage Control.
- The Rage Gear+ gives you the Astral Blast+ Keyblade. Besides the usual statistical difference you’d expect from a +-level Keyblade, the only difference between this blade and its Challenge Sigil-original is that it has 1. Combo Boost instead of 1. Chain Boost.
- Last of the Gear Component C items is the Champion Gear, which unlocks the Maverick Flame, an obvious reference to Axel. The Maverick Flame is most remarkable for its air combo, which is very short and ends with Roxas spiking towards the ground. That might seem counterintuitive for an air combo, but its low combo length and sheer damage output make it a personal favourite. As for its abilities, the Maverick Flame offers 1. Combo Boost, 2. Combo-Jump and 3. Critical Boost, an ability that lets you “deal Critical Hits with any kind of attack,” whatever that means. I suspect it allows you to deal crits on attacks that aren’t finishers?
On the subject of Rings, the Heart Point shop is offering:
- The Critical Ring, which grants Striker.
- The Rainforce Ring, which grants you Thunder Finish!
In terms of synthesis, we can discuss Silver Rings. Silver rings include:
- The Double Up, which gives you EXP Boost LV2.
- The Storm’s Eye, which grants Magic Bracer yet again, this time with added Water resistance.
- The Full Circle, which provides a handy 20% magic defence against all elements.
- The Fairy Circle, a curiously underwhelming Ring in comparison to the Full Circle, as it provides a 30% elemental resistance but only against relatively obscure elements – Space, Time and Illusion – which I’ll remind you are already covered 20% by the Full Circle!
Expert also unlocks a new secret character: Donald. As you might expect, Donald is the magic master, outclassing even Zexion, but don’t let it get to your head. Magic isn’t a very viable strategy in many situations and Zexion at least had a high attack speed to make up for his combat flaws, whereas Donald has to rely on Magical Strike, his third slot ability, to even cope at close range. I don’t recommend you solo Donald on a mission with a numerous mandatory minor Heartless. A midboss, on the other hand…
Donald’s Mage’s Staff weapon grants him an impressive set of abilities: 1. Magic Bracer, 2. Magic Finale, and like I already said, 3. Magical Strike.
Two sidequests this time, both of which unlock bonus missions. In fact, the game is fairly determined to hide these missions, as you have only one mandatory mission available this time, and the Bonus Bar doesn’t even show up unless you unlock a Bonus Mission! To unlock Mission 63, Axel wants you to earn at least one Challenge Sigil in Mission 58’s Challenge. This was the Artful Flyer mission the two of you did together in Neverland. This may be the first time the player has faced a heart collection challenge where the chain is critically important. Like all heart collection challenges, you can get at least one sigil just by clearing the map no matter how poorly, but chaining is an important lesson to learn, and that was probably the reason this mission was selected for this sidequest. That’s a lot more sophisticated than the usual sidequest lessons!
Meanwhile, Demyx wants you to find all the treasure in Mission 51. I imagine this sidequest was created to teach you about the secret passage to the Hatter & Hare room (the one you can reach by gliding in the Lotus Forest). In reward for doing so, you’ll get a mission supposedly “intended” for Demyx, according to the man himself. This Bonus Mission is the only mission worth multiplying on the bonus gauge unless you have something particular in mind, as it gives you Megalixir Recipes. The other missions have nothing of value but synth ingredients.
The only mandatory mission in this set, 62, sees you back to Halloween Town. This is a doozy. The mission starts with Roxas being pumpkin-bombed by the imps, because we have to stick to tradition. In town square, Roxas spots Finkelstein and Jack discussing another improvement they’ve made to this year’s Halloween: ice pumpkin bombs. These bombs seem to do a little more damage will freeze any survivors instead of igniting them (it’s surprising the imps didn’t throw one of these in your face. Don’t act like that wouldn’t have been hilarious, and at least would have given the bombing prank scene a little more connection to the Jack plot).
At the end of their discussion, Finkelstein brings up the imps, mentioning their “secret hiding spot” on the edge of town, saying Sally thinks they’re up to something. Roxas was wondering the same thing, but you know Roxas: just because he’s not a zombie any more doesn’t mean he has an initiative. We’ll be sticking to the mission plan today.
Though perhaps it would be better if you… bend the mission plan somewhat? This mission has an infamous death-trap. If you try to go through the graveyard the normal way (through the coffin to the Mayor’s game of Simon from KH1), you will be ambushed by twenty Hover Ghosts. Twenty. Remember: if a Hover Ghost catches you in its grip, you will all but die. Twenty. Thankfully you can die and continue the fight where you left off in the story mission!
It seems you’re supposed to use the ice pumpkins to kill these things, but Hover Ghosts can teleport at any moment where they’re not stunlocked, and pumpkin bombs take a long time to explode!
The best solution to this problem is fairly abstract if you haven’t already set it up yourself. By blowing up the imps’ secret passage back in Mission 52, you circumvent the Hover Ghost room, allowing you to proceed with the mission without their fuss. This is essentially required for the time trial Challenge mission. There is a chest in the room, but it’s easy enough to grab on a replay, after which you can simply abandon the mission!
Of course, that’s not the end of your ghostly misery. Inside the treasure room from KH1 (the one that was unlocked in the Curly Hill room after clearing the world), you have to battle a Carrier Ghost midboss, unlocked by triggering one of Jack’s long-forgotten particle effect balloons. Being a resized boss, it’s no surprise that this is essentially just a normal Hover Ghost, complete with nigh-instant death attacks. You just can’t win!
To make this miserable mission even worse, you’re attacked on the way home. After you finish the mission, you see a cutscene of the three imps cowering before something. Seemingly in connection to this, once you approach the Dark Corridor, a thin, thorny black arm shoots out of the ground and attacks you. The game identifies this as a “Tentaclaw.” These things are worse than worse. Their hotbox is a tiny spot at the palm of the hand. Well, sort of the palm. It’s more of a… mouth? Because they thrash back and forth, it’s tough to get a clear shot, and even using magic is tricky, though magic does more damage than any of your might-as-well-be-Blinded attacks will do. I like to bring Fire since it solves most of the targeting issues on its own.
After clearing the Tentaclaw, Roxas reports this to Saïx off-screen and signs out for the day. He and Xion head for the clock tower… but Xion seems lost in thought. Actually, Xion seems to be looking warily at the edge, and I can hardly blame her for that after she nearly fell off the other day, but the film’s text summary of the scene implies she was simply depressed. Once again, Xion leaves only for Axel to come down the same route the next second. Roxas tries to bring up Xion’s depression to Axel, but Axel just sort of blows him off. It may seem like he doesn’t care, but the film and Roxas’ diary imply that Axel is supposed to be misdirecting. I… don’t think the game conveyed this scene exactly as intended?
Meanwhile, in a room we’ve never seen before and will never see again, Xion is at a huge computer (pictured below), and finds some file she was looking for.
Bonus Mission 63 is peculiar. It actually pairs you up with Xion, but neither of the characters interact in any way. The next mission, with Axel, is the same! You’d think the game would have thrown in a “Hiya Xion, been a while, hasn’t it?” to no response, but nope, nothing.
Mission 63 sends you and Xion to Wonderland to destroy Shadow Globs. You know, we never do learn what the shadow globs would do if they kept growing? Would have been cool to, say, come to a new world and find the Shadow Globs already set in.
If you’ve already found the secret passage to the Hatter’s, there’s not much to say about Mission 63. There’s an optional Lurk Lizard in this mission, but it’s better left ignored. The only really notable thing in this mission is how the developers played with the weird papercraft rooms in Wonderland, including a Shadow Glob in the dark void of the fireplace (which in any early 2000s game should have been blocked off) and another on the Queen’s construction paper sky!
Optional Mission 64… ugggggggggggggggggggggggh.
Optional Mission 64, set in Neverland, is the last of the cross-world, “standard” mission types: the Emerald Serenade. The Emerald Serenade is a giant green bell wizard, which flies around the area in a strict, set course. It has a lot of HP, and as you drain that HP, it gets faster. With the right strategy, they can be quite manageable, but without the right strategy, you are going to be miserable.
Probably the best way to beat the Serenade is to employ status effects, either Freeze or Jolt, though Jolt is so infrequent that you can’t rely on it. I find the best strategy is to Freeze the bastard (since the Serenade follows a rigid set path, you can see how the land mine nature of Blizzara works double here if the Serenade is going too fast for you to hit it with Blizzara-in-flight) and then immediately Thundaga the Heartless, but you don’t have Thundaga at this point! Thunder will have to do, though Freeze will only multiply the first hit.
Really, the lack of any killer damage-dealing spells (-aga level) is your real cause of death. You only have Firaga, which is often too slow to use when capitalizing on a frozen Serenade, though Axel may cast Firaga at just the right time and earn himself a cookie. You’ll also want to avoid ambushing the Serenade under the bridge, where Firaga and Thunder spells can’t hurt it.
Once you get Blizzara and Thundaga, the hunt is really no problem at all, but if you don’t discover a magical combo you’re going to regret ever meeting our friend in the green hat.
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).