Day 255: The Longest Day
Here we are at last: the day that was so important to the game that we were shunted here at the start of the narrative despite no obvious signs that this day was important. By all writing guidelines, this should be the most important day in the entire plot, short of the ending itself. Let’s see how it lives up to the hype, shall we?
The day starts with the Organization’s commanders meeting in the throne room. If you weren’t sure of who was in charge before, this will certify it: Xemnas, Saïx and Xigbar. Not that they’re cooperating. Saïx says that Axel has been sent to Castle Oblivion to shut down their operations there permanently. Xemnas turns the subject to Naminé, only for Xigbar to start acting like he knows where she is! This is very strange, as it is never followed up on as a plot point, and no one asks Xigbar what he means. I suppose they’re just used to him being a dick like this?
The discussion then turns to Xion’s breaking into the computer a few days ago, because this is a franchise where Sora once tried to operate a computer with his fists, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the other teens in this franchise aren’t exactly master hackers. Everyone present seems to know that Xion is responsible, but to our surprise, Saïx doesn’t seem to care, despite how he normally hates Xion. Specifically, he says “I see no problem whatsoever,” and Xigbar replies “Ha ha! Well no, apparently you don’t!” In the game, Xigbar adds: “If people see with their hearts, Saïx, then you’re even blinder than the rest of us.” This hint is easy to miss, but if you look close, it seems Xigbar is aware of Xion’s odd “hood effect,” and Saïx is not! But what does it mean?
Xemnas doesn’t seem to mind Xion’s hacking either way (in the game, Saïx 180s on his position that Xion was no threat by suddenly saying she is a threat, something the film wisely corrected). Xemnas says that Axel, Xion and Roxas are all behaving perfectly, Xion especially, and all the Organization’s leadership need to do at this stage is wait.
In the next scene, we see exactly what it was Xion found on the computers: the location of Castle Oblivion. She arrives in the front hall of Castle Oblviion, where she immediately recovers one of her earliest memories: that of Saïx retrieving her from her birthplace, hood still up. She collapses under the weight of this, only for Axel to step out of a dark corridor. I presume he just arrived from somewhere else in the castle… perhaps that room with the crystal ball, because he doesn’t seem surprised to see her!
Axel asks what Xion was doing here, saying there’s nothing left to see, but Xion insists “the answers are here.” Axel points out that she’s dodging a mission to be here, and they’ll kill her for that. Xion – and I, for that matter – recognize that this doesn’t sound correct, and she asks if she’d get special treatment just because she’s “useless.” In the game, Axel says “I didn’t say that,” while in the film, he says “That’s not it,” which is… not denying that she’s useless, movie-Axel! Not the best friendship moment in his repertoire. Axel is being fairly cruel to Xion in this scene, which I take as a deliberate but still cruel “tough love” approach (it’s one of the few scenes that benefits from the wooden puppet models, since Axel comes across as stern and implacable). On the other hand, we’re also still in the stage of the plot where Axel is acting distant towards Xion, which is why I feel the game’s touch of kindness is important, as it shows he’s coming to recognize what an asshole he’s been lately. With the game’s line setting the tone, Axel spends the rest of the scene being kind, the film relying on Quenton and Alyson to seal the nuances. They do well enough, but the “I didn’t say that,” line would have made it stick together.
Xion says she’s been remembering things, including things about Axel. Axel says that’s impossible, since they can’t have met before, before or after becoming Nobodies, but Xion insists she not only remembers him, but remembers meeting him here in Castle Oblivion!
In the film, Axel puts a hand on her shoulder, encouraging her to leave together. This was a good call – Axel and Xion presumably know one another well enough to know when contact like this would be okay, and the film benefits from the physical contact even more than Xion. The game keeps in mind that Axel has a mission here, and so he simply asks her to leave on her own, suddenly changing gears from his earlier kindness to be all business for no reason (I mean that: even putting aside Axel’s feelings for Xion, remember that Axel doesn’t think his work in Castle Oblivion is worth beans, so there’s no reason for him to suddenly act like it’s important). Xion escapes from him, saying he has to help her find out who she is, and he is unable to prevent her from reaching the first memory-door. Axel either gives up chase at this point or is unable to track her in Castle Oblivion’s maze, as we do not see them interact in the Castle again.
Roxas is clueless to all these events, and sets off to Wonderland for Mission 65 with Luxord in tow. Their target: yet another Pureblood recolour, a “Novashadow,” which made me roll my eyes so hard I think they’re stuck. Together, they head to the throne room, where the Queen is still shouting about that trio she was looking for earlier (and we get another static of Sora, Donald and Goofy). The Cheshire Cat arrives with a nice line (“You might say they’ll look for absolutely nothing until they find it,”) and he directs the pair to a second hedge maze. Yup, there’s two, and this one’s bigger. The Cat adds something about four switches. I suppose it wouldn’t be a maze if we didn’t have to find something in it!
The new maze appears to be two rooms wide, though in practice the first room is divided in half by a permanent guard, forcing you through one full and two half mazes. The switches you’re looking for are small hemispheres placed on the ground, which also serve as your checkpoints should you be caught by the guards. The Card Soldiers will actually abandon the maze once you hit switch #3, but the Heartless will show up to replace them. This is an unfortunate surprise for a new player, but on replays you’ll have to ask yourself: would you rather go looking for chests when there are guards around, or when there are Heartless around? I imagine most players will choose the Heartless. They’re easier to dodge than the guards if you’d rather avoid both, and those who enjoy fighting Wonderland bell wizards will find them a juicy source of EXP… lucky you.
(There’s a cute formation of Heartless you can find in this segment, which includes a Grey Caprice, Sapphire Elegy and Pink Concerto that spawn in a stack, biggest at the top and smallest at the bottom, like a weird inverted totem pole.)
Activating each switch turns on a lamp in… the Bizarre Room? After you’ve lit all the lamps, they force the Novashadow out of hiding, not unlike the Trickmaster in KH1. The Novashadow is exactly what you’d expect: a Neoshadow with higher stats and a taller wave attack. It’s a complete disappointment and waste of your time, though to the game’s credit the boss is strong enough that when it shows up in later levels, you’ll never want to fight it for combination of its threat and the total lack of Heart Points. But what a disappointing mission for “big,” “important” Day 255! I have a theory that Wonderland may have been somewhat shuffled around and that this Mission used to be a lot more notable, but we’ll have to get to a later mission to explain.
Back at the clock tower, we finally get that cutscene from the opening of the game, where Axel and Roxas talk about why the sun sets red – don’t worry, the scene hasn’t been changed from the opening of the game, if you want to go grab a drink or something. It is obvious now that Axel is being avoidant, as though he’s trying to stall for time before Roxas notices that Xion is missing. Once we get to the end of the original scene, the game returns to in-engine cutscenes and we lose the film. In this game-only scene, Axel starts to tell Roxas what happened only to suddenly break into an elaborate lie, for all the world like some kind of Berenstain Bears character about to learn a Very Important Lesson about fibbing, just like I teased would happen to Axel’s last lie, except this time he will be paying for it.
Axel says Xion was sent on a long-term, “really important” mission, implying that he thinks Xion will either be at Castle Oblivion for a long time or that she will continue running away to avoid the Organization’s wrath. I feel the film shouldn’t have cut this part of the scene, but I imagine they did so because the original game split the scene between the pre-rendered portion (used in the intro) and the in-game section (used now), and there was some sort of worry that they would have to be separate in HD?
Back in Castle Oblivion, and briefly rejoining the film, we see Xion has discovered the crystal ball chamber. In the game, she says, “No… Then… I’m not… The person I was before… wasn’t me.” In the film, she says, “Wh-what? …Then I… wasn’t who I am…?” The latter line has a more natural flow (ellipses aside), and both are almost just as opaque. That ends our very important, extra-special Day 255. The so-called “longest” day (that qualifier, “longest,” is the strangest part of the whole day, because the day is decidedly normal-sized), wherein everything of importance happened in Castle Oblivion’s crystal ball, out of sight of the viewer. Please all rise, and join me in the ceremonial slow clap of shame.
Your prize for the day is a Lv Tripler, nice and shiny.
Day 256: News and Days 257-258: Empty
Day 256 opens with every surviving and present member of the Organization gathered in the throne room, where Xemnas announces that Xion has abandoned the Organization. The shock behind this is palpable, not just for the characters but possibly for the player. This is because, for me at least, the game often drags these revelations out (note that it took them a month to detect her breaking into their computers), but in this case, Xion going AWOL is discovered the very next day. It also adds to the sense of betrayal in Axel’s lie on the previous day that Xion was going on a “mission,” which is one of the reasons why I felt his lie shouldn’t have been cut from the film.
Xemnas then surprises everyone by saying no one is to go looking (or hunting) for Xion without his permission, keeping to his plan to watch and wait. Roxas protests, but Saïx points out he’s being an idiot, because this “do not engage” order also means that the Organization isn’t going to kill her, adding that there’s no way they’d want to bring her back alive. Xemnas says “All will be revealed when the time comes,” but Axel reads between the lines, and realizes that “if the time doesn’t come, things can stay as they are…”
Saïx declares the meeting adjourned, but everyone is still muttering in the Grey Area. Xigbar is standing beside Saix in the Grey Area, telling you to get on your missions, an interesting way for the game to convey that he’s adding his authority to Saïx’s in an effort to enforce the status quo. I like it, it’s natural, and that it feels natural helps a lot when Xigbar hasn’t been throwing his authority around, so it also feels impactful in-universe, without being jarring out-of-universe, and it’s accomplished simply using one text box and the placement of his character model! Also good job on the devs for establishing his authority in recent scenes so that it’s still in our minds!
There is a sidequest here: Luxord gives you a Combo Tech++ and asks you to synth it with a Diamond to unlock the Auto-Dodge panel, a favourite of mine that I mentioned earlier. The direct reward for the sidequest is a Silver.
To add to the misery of Xion’s disappearance, we have the ugly and kind of weird set of missions waiting for you: an Emerald Serenade, a mission in long-forgotten Agrabah (!) where I don’t believe you can get 100% without advanced movement techniques, and of course… the worst mission in the entire game.
The. Entire. Game.
Maybe you’re a fan who hates a certain other mission instead, but this is it for me.
When it comes to the bonus bar, you may as well triple The Worst Mission Ever, Mission 66, since it returns a new spell tile. This makes Agrabah a good chaff mission to clear at 1x, as it’s only prizes are antiquated Fire and Blizzard recipes you probably won’t even need, with powerful chests lying around waiting for you to pick them up to further incentivize your coming here early. The Serenade Mission’s prizes are also unremarkable. The punchline to all of this is that the new spell rewarded by Mission 66 won’t benefit many players in the first place, so the entire mission set falls flat!
…I hate this mission so much!
Mission 66 is a boss mission, possibly chosen in reference to 666, though if that’s not the case, I wonder why this is the first boss that doesn’t seem to be tied to any significant, round day number like every other boss to date? Roxas is sent to Halloween Town with peculiar orders: “The Heartless population in Halloween Town has shown a sudden drop. Find out what is causing this dearth of Heartless and resolve this situation.” It’s interesting to see the Organization’s double-sided approach to their farms, wherein the Heartless both have to be culled and maintained, but that’s it. Nothing praiseworthy is going to happen from here until the time you stop crying onto your DS.
Roxas heads to town square unopposed, and mentions how strange. “Where’d all those weird balloons go?” There is again: another sign that Jack’s decorations were supposed to be everywhere in Halloween Town in some early draft. This is probably why characters like Finkelstein keep talking about Jack’s exuberance during this plot when in reality he just sort of introduces boring things and leaves them sitting around in the half-dozens. I imagine the balloons may have been replaced by the hide-and-seek mechanic (which in the finished game they simply supplement), but it’s hard to say.
Just then, a Creepworm spawns in front of Roxas and is attacked by a Tentaclaw, which swallows it whole. More Tentaclaws arrive moments later, perhaps hoping there are more snacks just waiting to be eaten. Roxas, taking his orders literally, insists on taking out every Tentaclaw he can see, even though we’ll soon discover that this is a complete waste of time, each fight making the entire mission even more painful than it already is.
You continue to chase Tentaclaws to the Curly Hill, where the Imps appear fleeing over a ladder that’s leaning against one of the back walls. Barrel complains: “How was I supposed to know it would grow?” You’re prevented from interrogating them by another patch of Tentaclaws. This group include one Tentaclaw on top of the hill, which you can barely attack at your current level of High Jump.
You head over the ladder, past the room with the bridge, and over to the former location of Oogie Boogie’s manor. The game has Roxas appear already at ground level, so that we can get a dramatic look at our boss and Roxas can gasp at it. He honestly should have seen it before he jumped down from above, so you can see why they cut a few corners. And then…
…You know, while playing these games again for the Retrospective playthrough, only three parts of the Kingdom Hearts series have elicited strong negative reactions from me while I was playing them, because after all these playthroughs, the series’ low points have sort of lost their initial bite. The first item that still bothers me was the Hollow Bastion pre-Battle sequence, with Sora’s keyboard smashing and the retcons and everything. That was a combination of factors that brought about sheer dismay and frustration. Second was when I had to walk away from KH2 for its’ “They’re doing as their hearts command” bullshit. If any more come up in the future, I’ll be sure to report on them. But this! Mission! This mission! This mission isn’t a failure out of nuance, or circumstance. There will be no complicated explanations. This thing is a single, out-and-out, fandom-wide disaster.
I feel my frustration boil to rage in the middle of the Curly Hill battle, as I lose all track of what’s going on and am simply reduced to Roxas’ combo grunts in never-varying sequence. Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! The monster evades all attacks thanks to its trifling hitbox. Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! I do such trifling damage that the bobbing, hand-shaped HP sponge is essentially unaffected. Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! Should have brought a better Keyblade. Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! I’m not going to waste magic, there’s a boss at the end of this that I know from experience nearly requires magic! Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! Huh!-Hugn!-Huya! That’s not an exaggeration for effect, that’s a count. And then I count that there are four more of the things, and an infinitely respawning source of Tentaclaws just over the hill. Should you use magic here? No you should not, because you’re going to need it when you actually get to the boss. I’ve said before that a game takes more damage from a problem that runs from end to end than a problem that’s like a big hole in one place, but this is the largest big hole in the whole franchise. Days has problems running from end to end, but then there’s Leechgrave in the middle, and this is one of those things that everyone remembers. And Days is not remembered well by the fandom.
Leechgrave does have a bit of an interesting design. It initially looks like a sort of onion with a face, except it uses the spiral “false eyes” Heartless use on their butterfly-like false faces, and we soon see why. The plant rises up on its roots (presumably the source of the Tentaclaws – which is why fighting the individual tentaclaws has arguably been a waste of time) and among the roots is a whole coffin, bound by chains and nails, with cracks in it, as though whatever was inside has tried to escape. Through the cracks, we can see one of the boss’s true, yellow eyes, and a blue-ish hand gripping the edge of the coffin from the inside. This is the real Heartless, the part you must attack to cause any damage, but running in for the kill would truly be a mistake.
Should you attack the coffin, the bulb will let out a cloud of poison gas, just like the Striped Aria, and maybe even more lethal given its range (nevermind that the hand in the coffin will snap out to attack you). Like the Striped Aria, this cloud can Blind you, undercutting any attempt to tank your way through the boss fight. I suppose Marluxia could do it, since he has a resistance to Blind, but that won’t help during in the story. There are two major strategies for defeating this monster: either dodge in and out at its main body between poison gas attacks, which is an exceedingly dangerous strategy but also the ideal way to complete the speed run Challenge (I can do only it partially, myself) ooooorrrrrr you could take the scenic route.
During this battle, Leechgrave spawns four Tentaclaws, one for each root. While they resemble normal Tentaclaws, these ones will recoil if you land a combo finisher, which makes them a little easier to damage, but they can also swallow you whole, sucking you down to the main body and causing Leechgrave to spit you out of its bulb after some hefty damage (and even heftier damage to your speed run time). Should you destroy all four Tentaclaws, Leechgrave will collapse to the ground, unable to use the poison gas to defend itself! Unfortunately, it will soon get up again and respawn the Tentaclaws.
I think this explains most of Leechgrave’s problems to us: this fight goes on too long and is too boring to really work, implying that it was designed to be fought in multiplayer and they made no adjustments for single. Each player going after one Tentaclaw would have made a lot of sense and made for an interesting battle! Your limited spell count will really bite you here: you’ll want to use spells mostly on the Tentaclaws themselves, but how many waves of Tentaclaws are you going to have to fight here? And during Challenges: do you use spells on these Tentaclaws, or the time wasters earlier in the mission? If you plan to attack the coffin directly, well, your funeral, but at least you know to drop your magic on the Tentaclaws earlier in the stage. And even before you do Challenges, you’ve got to do this mission at least once without knowing how to fight Leechgrave, so unless you pack a heavy amount of magic with you everywhere you go (and this is even worse for me specifically, because magic is often useless against Kingdom Hearts bosses and I tend not to bring it, so didn’t on my first attempt!), you’ll have to at least fight the boss long enough to learn how you should have done it or, or until you stubbornly win the fight with your Keyblade alone!
I find the best strategy for fighting Leechgrave at this point in the game is counter-intuitive: try to be ready to use a Limit Break the moment Leechgrave collapses. This will shave multiple lifebars off its health. Will you know to do this during your first attempt? Not a god-damned chance, which is why I don’t consider this strategy in my grading of Leechgrave as a drizzle of liquid shit leaking down the pant leg of the franchise, but it will save you a lot of trouble.
And that’s the Leechgrave battle: a fight against squirmy, tedious monsters over multiple waves so you can tediously do just a little bit of damage to this awful, awful, shit-pile of an enemy, which between tediousness, difficulty and boredom, boredom, oh my god I’m so bored, is in strict contest with another of Days’ bosses for worst boss in the franchise.
After clearing the mission, we learn Jack has been spying on you, and he uses his inspiration to construct a scarecrow that looks vaguely like Roxas. Whatever, I hate this place, fuck this cutscene, fuck everything. The last cutscene is of the imps, firebombing you again, having learned nothing from their experience. I’m so thrilled.
No one shows up to visit Roxas in the clock tower after the first mission in this set, as Xion’s loss really sinks in for him, and Axel is apparently too inconsiderate/ashamed to show. I have no pity. I mean… I should, but I have nothing but rage.
Your prize makes this all worse, the final slap in the face. Curaga, typically Christmas day in Kingdom Hearts, is useless for anyone playing single player in Days. Curaga works like Cure in KH2: it heals you and any of your allies within a radius (a humiliatingly small radius). Unfortunately, you’re well into the point of single player where your computer AI allies are useless (indeed, few missions to come will even give you allies) and so it becomes clear that the spell was only intended for use in multiplayer, which many players will never play!
I suppose now is as good a time as ever to talk about AI controls in this game, if only so you can turn them off for the Missions and especially the Challenges to come. They’re relatively simple: you can order the AI to attack either your target, anything but your target, or no one, and can ask them to attack, cast spells only, or to only follow you around (I believe if you choose this option they will not even heal you?). While everyone is going to have their own preferences to whether you want them to attack your target or another, the rest is a matter of challenges: if your friends get in your way or kill a target, your Chain doesn’t increase, so you’ll eventually want them to sit around doing nothing, if only because their attacks have become so weak they’re of no use at all! I’m not sure why the game never increased their stats, but I can only suppose the developers noticed the trouble with chains and realized it was better to discourage you from using your friends at all! I guess that mirrors Roxas’ power curve, but how much we’ve changed from KH1 where your friends were your power!
Optional Mission 67 has you and Xigbar hunting an Emerald Serenade in the Lotus Forest of Wonderland, an obnoxious mission where the Serenade is mostly on the high levels, making a mess of your attacks whether you fight on high or down low (where your Thunder spells will be cut off!). Otherwise, nothing is really different about this mission or honestly any other Serenade mission for the rest of the game.
Roxas is still left alone on the Clock Tower after the second mission of this set. In his diary, he notes that Axel is avoiding him in the castle, as well.
Our curious return to Agrabah in Mission 68 is barely more interesting than the Emerald Serenade mission we mostly just skipped. You find a Glide Lv+ panel almost the moment you arrive, and then head inside the Cave of Wonders to collect hearts. They still aren’t letting you into that hole in the Cave. In fact, starting you at the cave seems to be a troll, since most of the Heartless are back in town, in the opposite direction! Once in town, you’ll fight Solid Armours (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is the Large Armour variant that’s weak against Fire) backed by Loudmouths. Besides the prizes (there’s also a slotted Sliding Dash panel with room for upgrades) and the fact that you can’t get 100% without an upgraded high jump, this mission feels like filler, wrapping up our disappointing set.
If you’ve been keeping up with Challenge Sigils (and god help you against Leechgrave), this mission block might have brought you as high as 165. Once you get to 160, you’ll have unlocked the last of the major Sigil rewards from the main game, since all other Sigil rewards are arbitrarily locked off until the post-game. The prize I’m referring to is the Omega Gear, which gives Roxas the Lunar Eclipse. While the Lunar Eclipse Keyblade is, again, ahead of the curve like most Challenge Sigil Gears, it is also reliant on SOS abilities, which I could live without: 1. Striker, 2. Grand Slam and 3. Damage Control. Frankly, the upcoming Lunar Eclipse+ has my favourite ability set in the entire game, and since I can’t stand SOS abilities, the base level is not a Gear I’m likely to use on Roxas any time soon.
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).