Day 296: Confessions
Should you ask around the Grey Area on Day 296, Xigbar teases that he knows you’re looking for Xion. “Heh heh… Keep running wild and somebody might have to throw a leash on you.” Despite this, Saix promotes you to Master, the last promotion you’re going to get prior to the final boss.
Prizes directly attached to Master include another Magic Lv 2 (which will be largely useless unless you keep a huge spell library, or in case you wanted a new block pattern), an upgradable Block panel with one Lv+ to go with it, an Air Slide Lv+ if you’re still using that, a temporarily useless but highly intriguing High Jump Lv+ panel, some Treasure Magnet Lv+s (wait, they gave you the upgraded Treasure Magnet for the Expert promotion but only let you use it with Master?), and the cream of the crop: the last Auto-Life+ panel, which will cause Auto-Life to restore you all the way to full.
While we’re here, we should also discuss the last notable in-story Mission Crown reward (the remainder are all post-game), which you arguably could have been ready for quite some time ago, as it only requires 110 Mission Crowns. This is the Ultimate Gear, a late-game gear which unlocks the Twilight Blaze, and the reason I’m discussing it now instead of earlier is because the Master promotion unlocks its + version (listed below). The base-level Twilight Blaze has 1. Combo-Jump, 2. Combo-Block and 3. Critical Boost. Again, you can get this much earlier than I’ve listed it, so all the more reason to do so. It might make things like Leechgrave a lot easier.
Gear Component Ds start becoming available around this point in the game, so I’m going to discuss the next set of Gears, but mind that many of these are tied to equally rare secondary ingredients.
- You can buy a Champion Gear+ from the Heart Shop. The Maverick Flare+ uses entirely different abilities from the original’s combo focus: 1. Chain Power, 2. Chain Time and 3. Heart Bonus. If you’re particularly observant, you might notice that this is the same ability list as the Abaddon Plasma you might have picked up way back at Rookie rank.
- Moving on to synthesis, the Hazard Gear+ gives you the Darker Than Dark+, a curious upgrade considering it gives you Fire Finish, Thunder Finish and Blizzard Finish. Not suitable for all situations, but with a chance of doing all three status effects with every finishing attack, it’s definitely fun to mess with.
- The Omega Gear+ is available if you can grab some “Mithril” (Days spells the word differently than the rest of the series). You’ll remember that the original Omega Gear was the 160 Challenge Sigil prize. The Omega Gear+ gives you the Lunar Eclipse+, comes with a stunning +110 strength, 1. Magic Bracer (ooh!), 2. Brick Wall (ahh!) and, 3. Vitality Barrier (boooo!).
- The Ultimate Gear+ is available with Orichalcums. The Ultimate Gear unlocks the Twilight Blaze Keyblade, another Keyblade that seems inspired by Axel. This weapon is all about long combos. The + version’s abilities are 1. Combo Boost, 2. Chain Power and 3. Chain Time, entirely distinct from the base-level Twilight Blaze.
The game also allows you to synth the Pandora’s Gear+ (Omega Weapon+) at this point, with an expensive mix of Mythrils, Luck Techs and a Premium Orb, none of them cheap or easy to all that easy to find, but you’ll probably have enough by endgame. That the game allows you to unlock the Pandora’s Gear+ simply by synthing it is confounding to me, as the normal Pandora’s Gear (in international releases) is the prize you get for finding every Secret Report – an end-game challenge! In the original Japanese release, the Pandora’s Gear was a a Mission Crown prize available at 180, but is outright locked until post-game! The trouble is, the + version is almost better in every way.
Let’s take a look at them: For Roxas, the Pandora’s Gear gives you the Omega Weapon, the name of a powerful Final Fantasy superboss. Both versions come with identical abilities: 1. Vitality Surge, 2. Vitality Barrier and 3. Alive ‘n’ Kicking, a new ability that lets you stagger enemies so long as your HP is full. Here’s the trick: the base-level Pandora’s Gear has the Risky Play ability by default – a punishment ability that costs you HP whenever you attack and miss! (Unless you’re Xigbar – Xigbar gets off scot free.) Since the Pandora’s Gear uses abilities that are largely only triggered at full HP, this means you lose those abilities if you miss a single attack! But with the Pandora’s Gear+, you don’t have Risky Play and that dynamic is lost! The only real advantage of the original Pandora’s Gear is that it gains more stats from attached Units, but I’m not sure if that justifies the danger of Risky Play. What do you think? Feel free to comment below.
The Pandora’s Gear is also unusual in that it gives Bonus Characters an actual, alternate weapon instead of just another version of their starter. Riku gets the Oblivion, Donald gets Lexaeus’ Centurion (just like FM+, except the stats are very different from Vexen’s own version).
(Curiously, every character in the game also has identical abilities attached to their Pandora’s Gear and their Pandora’s Gear+ weapons… except Axel. Axel’s Prominence has 3. Alive ‘n’ Kicking, while the Prominence+ has 3. Grand Slam. Since Grand Slam is a low-HP ability instead of a full-HP ability like Alive ‘n’ Kicking and nearly every ability attached to the Pandora’s Gear for other characters, I suspect that this was a coding mistake)
Moving on to the subject of Rings, your promotion to Master rank offers you the Lucky Star for Heart Points (Prize Power LV2, Lucky Strike), and roughly marks the point where we’ll begin collecting Gold for synthesis. I say “roughly” because unlike Iron, Bronze, Dark Ingots and Silver, which all become relatively common after a point, Gold is a fairly rare synth material at all times. The only regular enemy that drops it are Ice Cannons. Several Gold rings also require relatively rare materials on top of the Gold, like Ankharites, Adamantites, or even lesser Rings! Gold rings include:
- The Charge Ring, giving Potion Boost LV1 and Ether Boost.
- The Eternal Ring, which provides an HP boost and the Chain Time ability.
- The Frozen Blight, which provides Blizzard Finish.
- The Safety Ring, which gives Potion Boost LV2.
- Curiously over-expensive is the Carmine Blight, requiring a Gold, an Adamantite, 2 Ankharites and 2 Power Tech++s, despite only giving Fire Finish, which is honestly no more remarkable (and I’d argue lesser) than Rings giving you Thunder and Blizzard Finish!
Last of all, your promotion to Master unlocks Goofy in Mission Mode. You might expect Goofy to be king of defence, but nope, that title belongs to Lexaeus. Goofy is actually a fairly balanced character in every category but Magic, being faster than Lexaeus in exchange for negligible attack range. Frankly, I feel he has limited appeal, they could have done a little more to differentiate him from the other characters. If anyone is a fan of Goofy in this game, feel free to describe a few more strengths in the comments, because I’m not finding him that interesting.
Goofy’s Knight’s Shield weapon grants him some unsurprising abilities: 1. Offensive Block, 2. Defender and 3. Combo-Block. His Pandora’s Gear weapon is Vexen’s Frozen Pride.
Moving on to gameplay, there’s only a single mission in this block, though there’s a total chest count sidequest available if you speak to Xaldin, returning a Blazing Crystal if you have 240. This is certainly handy news if you’re a fan of Firaga, but I’m not exactly going to get up and dance.
Curiously, Mission 73 asks you to return to Olympus Coliseum to “Defeat Heartless in the Games,” even though the story of Olympus should have ended by now. Personally, I like the fact that this mission breaks the trend of stories stopping cold, since I’ve already come out in favour of KH2’s second loop, and it’s for similar reasons. Also, I like how the Organization has caught on Roxas’ being part of the Games, and that they’re just sending you off there deliberately. Xigbar requested this mission, I just know it.
Phil is just as surprised to see you as we are to be back here. Phil isn’t happy about your disappearing act after the Guard Armour showed up, and also chastises Roxas for “lying” about being Hercules’ prospect, even though it was really Phil’s fault for constantly interrupting Roxas when he tried to explain otherwise (this sparks a static of Sora, Donald and Goofy talking to Phil, letting you put in your own joke). I really like this scene: it’s clear Phil was mad, but also that he was deeply concerned, and the conversation feels like the first time in the franchise we’ve talked to him like an equal.
Phil asks who you really are, but after Roxas hums and haws his way towards what I’m sure would have been a legendarily bad lie, Phil decides to put words in his mouth again and assumes it’s a secret, which he also respects! You see what I mean about the sudden sense of equality: Phil trusts that Roxas is still a good person despite a shady past. Oh, sure, Phil purportedly trained certain Greek and Roman heroes that were real douchebags in the myths, but I don’t think the Disney incarnations of those characters would be such awful people.
Phil says it’s great Roxas is back, because the games are on (it’s funny to me that he assumes Roxas didn’t know the Games are on, because he never seemed to know these things in the past!), and off you go.
Five rounds again. Round one sees you battling Air Battlers and a new Sky Grappler recolour, which like all the other Aerial Master recolours seems to be… exactly the same? Am I missing anything with this line of enemies or are they really just that unoriginal? No matter how boring it may be, make sure to grab the Premium Orb after it dies, as its one of the game’s rarer synth items and is guaranteed to drop here.
Round two puts you up against a tall wall with Li’l and Jumbo Cannons on top. You can’t reach them without post-game upgrades, so you’ll be forced to defeat them with barrels (the Jumbo Cannon can drop an ultra-rare Ankharite synth material if you come back once you have those post-game upgrades. In fact, they’re the only way to farm Ankharites in the entire game!). Don’t forget the sneaky Ordeal Badge hidden behind the wall!
Round 3 sees you on a ledge around a shallow pit containing Snowy Crystals. It would be a deathtrap to jump in there without a few Fira spells to your name, so the barrels on the ledge are critical for everyone who doesn’t (and of course, Firaga’s mortar fire is perfect here). But barrel hurlers beware: the Snowy Crystals are accompanied by a new, one-time Cannon recolour, the Switch Launcher, which fires mortar-style versions of the switch-shot used by Grey Caprices, which will dump you right in the middle of the crystals. Once the Launcher is switched out, it teleports back into the pit to start its mischief all over again. I think I would have liked to see Switch Cannons in a few other circumstances like this, but the one time is still a nice effect.
Round 4 sees you fighting Watchers and an Ice Cannon on a pyramid. The biggest threat here is that the Watchers will Shoe Glue you on the lower levels, leaving you at the mercy of the Ice Cannon, but it’s one of the less impressive rounds.
Round 5 is the pseudo-boss, a Zip Slasher recolour called a Stalwart Blade. This one’s weak against Aero – yes, the original Aero, a spell you almost certainly aren’t carrying. Underwhelming either way: you may have just fought two similar enemies simultaneously in Mission 72!
After you take the title, Phil is all compliments, not just in your win, but in your personal conduct. “You musta been sticking to your training while you were gone. Trust me kid, it shows.” It’s the kind of compliment you’d never see him give Sora, and Phil seems ready to say something more, but cuts himself off, and says he has to go set up for the next match. But as he’s going – and without turning around – he adds: “Don’t be a stranger.”
This is a really tender moment with Phil, and solidifies Olympus Coliseum as one of my favourite worlds in this game, but it blows past Roxas, the giant baby, who says “What, he wants me to come back? For what? More training?” It’s here where I sort of have to give up. The devs aren’t making Roxas stupid by accident, this is absolutely the intended plot arc: Roxas is an idiot on purpose, and here we are at the end of a plot arc, where he remains an idiot instead of maturing. And that drives me up the wall, because it goes against everything I’ve been trying to say about this series from KH1! The Kingdom Hearts series, and indeed most good children’s and YA series, can pull of cliché plots by applying them in a quality manner. But this game… oy! Roxas is fundamentally the same zombie he was around, let’s say, Day 74, and he deliberately stagnates for the rest of the game with no character arc. That’s your plot, people. Of our central cast of three, one of them has officially checked out. They took on a cast of fourteen but couldn’t handle more than two. Roxas is an idiot ball wearing a wig and stuffed with straw, and if Axel and Xion don’t pick up the pace with good character development, the whole game is going to be torn to pieces by hungry birds.
Returning to gameplay, in my first time through this mission in the Retrospective Playthrough, I managed to win a Blizzaga Recipe from the Random Bonus, but I’m going to stick to policy and not mention the details of that spell until the spell itself arrives as a set prize. The mission also returns a Magic Unit for your Keyblade, but… sigh… the days of big prizes attached to every mission lasted a long time, but they seem to be over.
At the clock tower, Roxas and Axel talk about how they haven’t had any luck tracking down Xion. Casually, it occurs to Roxas that they haven’t been to Castle Oblivion, and the more he thinks about it, the more obvious it seems that Xion would go there. It seems Roxas still buys into Axel’s lie that Xion went on an important mission before she fled, and concludes that people sent on important, extended missions seem to get sent to Castle Oblivion! Come to think of it, that may have been a Freudian slip on Axel’s part, since he had just been there on a mission exactly like that.
Axel sighs and decides to tell Roxas that Xion came from Castle Oblivion, lying that he only learned about Xion a little while ago. In the game (though not the film), Roxas realizes that Xion must have plenty of questions about her identity, and… the conversation essentially ends there. This is because Day 296 flows directly into 297. But that’s not how things work here on this blog, so hold your damn horses.
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).