Day 297: Contact
Like I said in the last entry, Day 297 essentially picks up where 296 left off. Axel and Roxas were talking about Castle Oblivion… and here’s Saïx with news about Castle Oblivion! It seems the imposter (whom we know to be Riku) has been sighted for the first time in nearly five months, skulking around Castle Oblivion. Roxas volunteers to go to Castle Oblivion in hopes of searching for Xion, but Saïx isn’t eager to do it. He says the Imposter is too dangerous to engage alone, implying that when he was railing on Xion for failing earlier in the game, that had more to do with his hating Xion than anything to do with the mission, as he obviously learned a lesson from her defeat.
Axel volunteers to go with Roxas, pointing out that he knows Castle Oblivion best. Saïx is too pissed at the Imposter to keep the two friends apart like he does on the average day, so the mission is on. I’m excited. This would be a prime opportunity for an unusual mission, say a trip into Roxas’ scrambled memories, maybe something truly unique that you wouldn’t be able to do in Mission Mode if needs be. Are you ready to go?
But just then, strange signs in the GUI. Where’s the mission prompt, and the mission select? And hold on, where is everyone else in the lounge? Something really unusual is going on. Is Roxas asleep? Is this a dream? It was an awfully convenient coincidence. Sadly, no. The game is about to do something weird that justifies half of these irregularities, but others (like the empty lounge) seems to be happening for no reason!
Roxas and Axel head off to Castle Oblivion together, but aren’t there for more than five words of dialogue before Roxas begins clutching at his head. Soon he starts complaining about memories, saying he can almost see something… but why? He’s not in the memory chambers, and Sora has already been moved to Twilight Town (based on Riku and Naminé’s meeting in the white room). There’s really no reason the castle should act differently to Roxas than any other Nobody! Believe it or not, this question won’t be answered until a later game in the series. I wouldn’t make this spoiler if it weren’t for the conspicuous way the game forgets about the plot element in a few minutes. For the time being all Axel can do is suggest they fall back. Roxas tries to stick it out, but faints from the strain.
He wakes up the back alley in Twilight Town, his and Axel’s safe space, and—oh, come on! There’s a giant Organization “X” across the stairs in the background! I mean you can all see what’s wrong with this, right? You’re not supposed to be on a mission here! So… ugh… obviously we’re about to start a surprise mission here. Couldn’t they at least have shot the scene to avoid the Xs?
Roxas wakes up, shouting Riku’s name – a name he must have drawn from Sora’s memories. Roxas doesn’t remember anything that came to him in Castle Oblivion, however. Axel refuses to let him go back to Castle Oblivion, and doesn’t seem like he’s going to go back himself, when they have a lucky break… or so it seems. They look up, and “just so happen” to see Riku and Xion looking over them, both their hoods up. Xion then slowly walks off into a corridor of darkness, and Riku cuts Roxas off from following her.
You’re noticing the sarcasm marks I put around “just so happen,” and that’s because, if you think about it, this… display Xion and Riku are putting on must be a show for Axel and Roxas. There’s no way this is both 1) a coincidental encounter or 2) an accident where Xion just happened to see them and darted away. She just stands there for a while, then walks off just as slow. But why? Riku then breaks off, forcing you to chase him and forget about Xion. This meeting is clearly staged. So why is Xion still with Riku, and what is their aim here? Sadly, even I’m not 100% sure on that second part, as the game never confirms either way, but I have my guesses, and as we go on, the game will throw on even more hints.
By the way, this is the scene I was talking about in KH2 when I mentioned Naminé’s possibly-retconned drawing of Axel and Roxas facing two cloaked figures.
So here’s the impromptu mission: you have to chase Riku and attack him as he deflects nearly ever one of your attacks. The mechanics here are confusing. Hitting the cloaked figure causes a “ting!” sound, which has since KH1 has meant “attack blocked.” This sound effect is used to tell you that Riku is blocking your attacks, but this was a horrible decision! Riku actually is taking damage, but the sound effect tells the player to stop. What’s funny is, sometimes you do hit them, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference!
There are two chests worth talking about in this mission, both behind you on the Side Street while you’re supposed to be chasing Riku: a Magic Lv 4 panel, and an Aeroga Recipe. I’ll discuss both in the rewards section.
You chase Riku into the underground, where ultimately he unlocks a grate and heads down the tunnel towards Sunset Terrace. There, he runs around a room full of essentially infinitely respawning Dire Plants that will knock you out of your combos. While this is basically harmless in the main mission, for the sake of the Challenge, the Brick Wall ability can be handy here.
Finally, Riku leads you down the tunnel, and ditches you through a Corridor of Darkness. Kingdom Hearts characters really need to learn how to catch people slipping through these damn portals. Axel is fuming, first about the fact that the imposter was at Castle Oblivion. This is meant as another hint that this encounter with Riku and Xion was staged. Think about it: Riku went to Castle Oblivion when he had no reason to be there where he was sure to be spotted! Riku and Xion most likely intended to stage their appearance at Castle Oblivion, and when Roxas and Axel were forced to leave, Riku and Xion simply followed to stage their appearance somewhere else.
Roxas mentions Xion, only for Axel to snap: “Ain’t no way that was Xion!” It’s not just that he’s aware of the consequences of Xion siding with the Imposter. In this moment of passion, it seems Axel is casting aside his usual morass of lies and expressing both anger at the idea of Xion betraying them and trust in Xion that things must be different, because he really does trust Xion after all. Unfortunately Roxas is adamant that he saw Xion. Since Saïx gets wind of these events, I imagine Roxas, who has been dumb as a brick at every stage of this game, was the one who filled him in, not realizing the consequences.
Just up the hall, we see Xion listening in on the duo in the dead-end hallway, with Riku at her side. Last place Axel and Roxas will look! She and Riku leave together, though Xion seems reticent to leave her friends.
Back at the clock tower, Roxas and Axel discuss the possibility that Xion was with Riku, a scene that seems mostly unnecessary and ruins the punch of the last scene. The film was wise to cut it.
Your impromptu Mission 74 rewards you with sweet hallelujah it’s the expanded High Jump panel! Sadly, while you have one High Jump upgrade panel out of two. This doesn’t really change your situation very much, as most ledges are either accessible by normal jump, High Jump Lv 1, or by High Jump Lv 3! High Jump Lv 2 is sort of left in the garbage! You also get your first guaranteed Adamantite for this mission, a fairly common late-game ring synth ingredient.
I also said I’d discuss those two prizes from the start of the mission. Magic Lv 4 is strange. Think about it: Magic maxes out at Level 5, so if you want a Lv 5 spell using this Lv 4 panel, you’re going to have to use one spell panel in Lv 4 and one in Lv 2 or 3. Simple math. But wait! You could get the same effect from a Lv 2 and a Lv 3, and are probably already doing so! I’m of the opinion that the Magic Lv 4 panel exists for its own sake: stick your best spells into combos that give you Level 5, and stick your secondary spells in the Lv 4 panel to be Level 4 spells. The Lv 4 panel can stick around as a “close enough” solution is there if you want it.
You also got your first Aeroga Recipe in this mission, and since Aero’s upgrades are never given to you except in recipe form, I may as well touch on Aeroga now. Aeroga generates a medium-sized whirlwind at your current location, about the same radius and in the same fashion as Thundara. The difference is that Aeroga vacuums up nearby enemies and of course has a different status effect. It’s not a bad crowd control ability, definitely better than Thundara, but is limited by its lack of vertical height, a problem Thundara doesn’t have… although Aeroga can’t be blocked by low ceiling so I suppose it’s a toss-up. Aeroga’s biggest deficiency, and the thing that really puts it to bed, is the need to synth it (and to synth Aerora spells as a component!). The base-level Aero spell still seems ideal for Air-Tossing, so given the sheer cost of Aeroga, I usually ignore it entirely!
Day 298: Fracture
In another scene questionably cut by the film (and another I can only blame on the film’s aversion to Saïx), Day 298 opens with Roxas overhearing Saïx talking to Axel. It seems Axel has been given orders to kill Xion on sight now that she’s openly betrayed them. Saïx tries to convey similar ideas to Roxas, though his orders are to kill Riku instead, “like I expected you to do yesterday.”
Roxas and Axel are furious, but Roxas is putting up the louder fight, saying the Imposter may be coercing Xion, but Saïx says “Spare me your repulsive displays of would-be sentiment.” Saïx still hasn’t caught on to Roxas’ emotional independence, and he certainly isn’t suspecting that Axel is doing the same. Saïx caves to a certain degree: he rephrases Axel’s orders to bring Xion back by any costs… but to kill her if that proves impossible. In private conversation, Axel assures Roxas that he’ll think of something once he catches Xion, and they hurry off to business.
By the way, an additional problem I have with Roxas’ emotional juvenilization is that he claims not to understand words like “love,” but he does understand nuances like how he knows Saïx wants Axel to kill Xion when he requests “A more permanent solution.” Days tries to convey Roxas’ emotional juvenile state by… making him inconsistent at English?
Mission 75 returns you to Twilight Town, as apparently the Imposter has returned to the scene of the crime. You won’t be surprised to learn that this is also a setup. You head off into the Sandlot to start your search, where you’re forced to battle some Mega-Shadows. This is the first time in ages that the game has used force fields to pen you in a room with anything less than a midboss (if you count the twenty Hover Ghosts from Mission 62 as optional). The game has been relatively quick and free-form lately, so this return to KH1 and 2 standards now seems out of place?
Arriving in the centre of town, you spot the Imposter, and begin another chase, which is much the same as before. The only notable tactical difference is that the game chooses this minute to introduce Storm Bombs, the vacuum bomb type, which summon a vacuum tornado as they’re trying to explode. Shit, why couldn’t that have been Aeroga?
As you catch up to and attack the Imposter, you’ll gradually come to the realization that something is different this time around: the imposter is taking hits on nearly every strike. They aren’t blocking any more, though they do dodge from time to time. Wow, I wonder what this curiosity could possibly be trying to accom–I can’t take it any more, the imposter is clearly Xion, they’re not even trying. You don’t even have to engage the Imposter to realize this. Xion and Riku have similar builds when cloaked, but only one of them has a partially visible hooded face model, and by the long and fulfilling life of Tyrus Wong, she’s plastered all over your bottom screen as your “target”!
Xion eventually leads you to the Twilight Town garbage dump, where she unhoods. My theory is that she wants to talk to Roxas, but (spoilers) she can’t get up her nerve when she tries, and since it’s not really explained in any more detail than that, it ultimately obfuscates her motives over the past few days. The staged encounter yesterday was probably intended to set up the same meeting.
Let’s look at the scene. Roxas doesn’t mention the fact that he’s been trying to thrash Xion for the past three minutes (which worked out well for the film, since the scene still works unattached from the mission). He asks Xion to come back with him. As he does this, we see that Axel is spying on the scene from a distance. Continuing with my theory that Xion wanted to talk to Roxas, I suspect that Riku went off to distract Axel, but failed to keep his attention. I imagine this is why Xion was feigning a fight with you for a while, to make sure Axel was clear of the area.
Roxas is still stuck in the past: he says “I don’t care what [Saïx] said to you.” He seems to think that Xion ran away because Saïx called Xion “useless,” which clearly isn’t the case but I suppose is a fair guess given his limited perspective. Roxas offers Xion his hand, talking about how he and Axel will support her and get Saïx to piss off. But Xion backs away, as if startled by his physical proximity.
Roxas then tries to grab her hand (…dude), and she backs further away, eventually bolting. This time Roxas does get ahold of her arm, only for her to summon her Keyblade. That finally convinces Dumbshit to let her go, and she levels the Keyblade at his face, while not quite able to meet his eyes. It’s one of the game’s most dramatic shots, and is only broken by the arrival of Axel, who throws in one of his chakrams into the scene.
“Why hello there, Xion!” Axel says, or rather: “Why hello there……………………… Xion?” Quenton, voice director, both of you come over here. I need to have a talk with you about pauses and inflection. And yet, despite the awfulness of delivery, this scene reminds me of Axel’s Re:CoM introduction. It feels like a return to Axel’s original persona. Character familiarity has a way of taking away a character’s original edge (the root cause of Flanderism), but here we have a rare return to the original state.
Since Axel opened with weapons, Xion sees no need to mince words, and they begin to fight. The two of them clash until Roxas shouts for them to stop. Eventually, he gets Xion’s attention for only a second, giving Axel the opportunity to crack her over the head with his bare hand, knocking her out. Axel immediately makes a portal, not waiting for Roxas or acknowledging him in any way. It’s just brutal. Since Roxas seemingly doesn’t have the ability to make portals (there’s no other way to see this), he’s forced to walk back to the original Dark Corridor to RTC.
Roxas tracks Axel down to the Grey Area. “Oh hey, Roxas!” he says, as though nothing just happened. Dude! And he keeps up this innocent act through the whole conversation! Coincidentally, this is when I started to notice the juvenilization of Roxas in my initial playthrough. You might be wondering why I would do that when I was so busy being angry at Axel, and it’s simple: Axel keeps treating his “best friend” like a child who doesn’t understand grown-up matters. The Organization members had been doing it all along, but I only noticed at this point. And to make matters worse: they never stop.
Roxas asks Axel what his damage is, and Axel says he had no other choice but to attack Xion, and that “This isn’t about friendship.” He then just brushes Roxas off and leaves the room!
Clearing this mission gives you two Gear Component Cs, which is a little out of date. I suppose they’re trying to make sure your Keyblade is at least near the curve for the late game?
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).