Days 301-4: Vacant Place
It’s your first optional mission block since just after Xion ran away, and given how few days are left on the clock, bound to be one of the last few in the game! If you speak to Xion in the Grey Area, she’ll apologize for all she’s put you through and give you a Shining Crystal. I suppose the Shining Crystal does stand for group unity given how it can only be used to synthesize Curaga, but if you’re not playing multiplayer the gift won’t have much impact on you.
It bugs me that Roxas and Xion only talk about what happened in this one Grey Area text block. Roxas complains about this in his journal as well, so it’s not just me, but I wish the devs would explain why the two of them don’t talk, say, during the evenings. Is Xion avoiding Roxas? Did Roxas just forget that evenings exist? We’ve seen plenty of signs that the writers seem to forget that evenings exist…
Xaldin’s offering a sidequest here, for completing the Bonus Bar on Missions 66-68 in exchange for a bonus mission. Unless you have trouble with Emerald Serenade missions (67), this is relatively easy stuff, but you may not like the prize.
The Bonus Gauge in this set is funny: Bonus Mission 80 is worth 2 ticks on the bonus gauge, while mandatory Missions 78 and 79 are worth one. Mandatory Mission 81, however, is worth eight. You don’t get x2 until you’ve earned at least 9 ticks this time around, and you’ll only be able to triple a single mission at the very end of the bar. The knee-jerk reaction is to go to 81 first and fill out the bar, but you may want to hold that thought and consider your possibilities. The new Blizzaga spell is tied to Mission 78, so I can certainly understand your wanting to triple that, while Mission 79 is offering both a Mithril and an Adamantite. Mission 80 is offering a somewhat rare Luck Tech if you can get 100% (mind that getting 100% here will be a challenge) while Mission 81 itself is offering Power Tech++ and Rune Tech++, which are both brand new. Personally, I do recommend tripling Blizzaga in the end, as it’s easier to farm synth items than final products like Blizzaga, but it’s going to be up to the individual.
Mission 78 sees you straight back to Neverland, where it’s time to find the area boss anuggghglglgl… I’m sorry. I just remembered which mission this is. As I said earlier, this game has two of the worst bosses in Kingdom Hearts history. Depending on who you ask, the worst of the worst is either Leechgrave or this. My money is on Leechgrave, but that doesn’t mean I feel any better about this one. This one’s trouble, not because it is dangerous, but because it is boring.
Roxas arrives on Neverland to find the last of the Neverland maps, just out front of Captain Hook’s hideout in Skull Rock. Despite Skull Rock in the background, this area is more of the same: rocks over water, just in a different pattern. Roxas meets up with Tinker Bell instantly (this mission is going to waste enough of our time to waste more of it dawdling with plot) and he flies over to Hook and Smee, who are apparently digging up the last treasure map. Why they didn’t dig up the spot in front of their base earlier, I can’t imagine. There were a lot of maps, so maybe they just didn’t notice that one of them marked a place by Skull Rock?
It seems Pete has actually planted a treasure here this time, with gold and everything, and of course this get Hook all riled and summons up the boss Heartless. Naturally, given that it was summoned by treasure as a result of some’s greed, it takes on a treasure-like form: a massive skeletal bird with a treasure chest making up half of its beak. Its “feathers” are finger-like golden swords, and its tail a string of skulls. Naturally, it’s also wearing a tacky crown on its head. It’s known as the Ruler of the Sky, and it’s a hell of a sight. Roxas heads in to get to work.
Well, that’s enough admiration, into the crapper we go.
The Ruler of the Sky begins the fight by… ignoring you. This is initially kind of funny, but gets obnoxious almost at once, as the boss spends what at least feels like the vast majority of the fight flying lazily around while paying no regard to you whatsoever. Your job is to chase it and attack its skull-tail, all while it drops magic into the seas to cause ice pillars to shoot up in what will be your general area. I won’t say they ice pillars are completely ineffective, but they are mostly ineffective, which only adds to the sense that the game is taking a nap.
As you (slowly) catch up to the Ruler of the Sky, you’ll eventually destroy one of the skulls that make up its. The base-level Fire can be helpful here thanks to its homing capabilities, but you still have to get relatively close or it the spell will peter out before it reaches its target. Destroying a segment of the tail causes the Ruler of the Sky to become invincible and to actually take notice of you, swooping around the arena and firing a barrage of coins from its treasure chest (Eamonn informs me that this attack actually gives you munny if it hits!). This is easily dodged so long as you keep rotating around the arena, which is just… such a break in pace after sleepily rotating around the arena to catch the monster’s tail! After a few shots, the boss calms down and you continue to rotate around the arena to catch its tail, which is now shorter and harder to catch or hit with a combo. Your finger begins to tire.
I wonder if the Ruler of the Sky was designed like this because you were supposed to pincer it in multiplayer? I’m not sure if that strategy is any more effective, but if it is, shame on the devs for not adjusting it back for single-player yet again!
Once the tail is gone, the Ruler of the Sky essentially starts the proper fight, which is to circle you deliberately while raising ice towers and firing at you. You continue to circle aimlessly around the arena. A strange ache sets in on your hands. Death will come soon.
Finally, the Ruler of the Sky calms down, but only to begin firing coins again. This is your chance to attack it, which not easy when the best defence against the coins was circling, and your thumb has locked permanently over the left or right side of the D-Pad. Thankfully, the boss will die soon, but “soon” is relative. The Ruler of the Sky has a time trial challenge attached to its Ordeal Blazon, and the minimum challenge time is 7:45. That shouldn’t just be seen as the time it takes to kill the boss, but the amount of time it costs you to fail. Congratulations, you fucked up again, and that means you lose somewhere in the neighbourhood of 7 minutes and 45 seconds from your life. Thanks for playing.
Yeah, now that this is on the table, I think I can reveal that not many hearts were broken when Square Enix announced that Days wouldn’t be remade as a full game in 1.5HD. Some hearts, but I think Nomura put it best when he said they wouldn’t be able to put in the effort required to remake the game to fans’ satisfactions, or something to that extent. It was a tacit, whispering admission that the amount of effort they’d need was the amount of effort it would have taken to make an entirely new game, because the original did not deserve to be resuscitated. Yes, I was harsh of KH2’s gameplay, but I still consider Days to have the worst gameplay in the franchise. I think its narrative is much better than its gameplay, but if we rate gameplay and narrative separately, the gameplay is rock-bottom. Why do I rate it lower than KH2’s? Well, I suppose in the end, as critical as I am of KH2 relying on junk food spectacle to carry the day, those junk food spectacles are still there, while Days… Days has nothing to redeem its single-player gameplay. It’s… it’s portable? I’m ripping apart the bottom of the barrel with an icepick here, what do you want from me? Let’s just get this game over with so we can move on to anything else.
As the Ruler of the Sky dies, it crashes into the Jolly Roger in the distance, sinking it. You know, Hook and Smee are lucky they’re immortal. I hope they enjoy the next few weeks of repair work. Oh, and Roxas encounters Pete one-on-one. Pete mentions his private army, but we won’t be seeing any more of that. In fact, Pete just runs out of the game at this point, and won’t be seen again!
Was this strangely anticlimactic to anyone else, even for a Days storyline? Neverland seems to have so little to do with the overall plot and has so little effort put into its maps that I can’t help but wonder if it was the map that replaced Prankster’s Paradise, maybe even at a fairly late stage in development. Or maybe the world is shallow for its own reasons? Decide among yourselves.
Your prize for this mission is again, the new Blizzaga spell. Blizzaga is very tricky to use. It essentially sets a barely visible ice mine in mid-air, waiting for someone to collide with it. It’s very small, so you have to guide the enemies into it, but it causes a lot of damage over an area. Then again, that’s all essentially what Blizzara was too, wasn’t it? Except Blizzara fell to the ground and then stayed there for a short time, affecting only one enemy, while Blizzaga stays in there air for a long time, and effects groups. Personally, I still prefer Blizzara since it seems to have a higher rate of Freeze, but there’s certainly something to be said about its upgrade.
After the first mission of the set, Roxas finds that his temporary reunion with his friends didn’t last, and he’s once again the only one at the clock tower.
Mission 79 may very well be the most suspicious mission in the entire game. Something is weird here. In spirit, it’s just another optional filler mission starring a recoloured midboss, but it’s backed with an irregular amount of plot. Roxas’ orders are to meet up with Xigbar in Halloween Town and defeat a midboss. Unfortunately, Roxas keeps getting trapped in ambushes of Hover Ghosts and Icy Cubes before finally catching up with his missing teammate. Xigbar even gets a big dramatic, surprise entrance when he finally shows, it’s all very strange. To make things even more curious, the Organization even X’s off the graveyard shortcut you may have made, for the only time in the game, simply to force you to brawl through more enemies! That has nothing to do with Xigbar’s dramatic arrival in-and-of itself, but hold that thought.
Now that you’ve teamed up with Xigbar, it’s off to the bridge area, where Roxas spots a Snowy Crystal and to my astonishment, assumes this is his target. “That looks giant enough to me.” Roxas you’ve fought nearly two dozen of these since Mission 35, you have to be kidding. Naturally he’s wrong, and the real boss is a Chill Reaper, an ice-aligned Zip Slasher recolour. Once again, it can only be stunned by a specific spell, in this case Firaga, which means that for the first time in the game you might actually have that spell with you when the Zip Slasher appears!
Let’s take a look back at this weird mission, shall we? Xigbar is given a huge spotlight despite not accomplishing much in general, Roxas shows no awareness of the rest of the game, an enemy new to Days is dramatically revealed, the game arbitrarily forces you to follow Halloween Town’s original layout rather than the modified shortcut layout… it really feels like this Mission was meant to appear earlier in the game? In fact, it feels like this mission was meant to introduce Xigbar or something, but that doesn’t make any sense. Was this mission tied to a demo that I’m not aware of? A trade show presentation of some kind? Or is it strange all its own?
In comparison to this relatively simple goofiness, Bonus Mission 80 is just mean. It’s another “test your luck” mission, except not in The Castle that Never Was. No, apparently the Organization has politely rented the entire west wing of Beast’s Castle for a company party, and filled it with jars and monsters. Once again, you’ll have to break jars while hoping not to free a dangerous enemy. This time, the dangerous enemy is far more deadly than any Samurai. Instead, you have to deal with a Hover Ghost resize called a “Living Pod.” Like most Hover Ghost resizes, the Living Pod will kill you instantly if it can grapple you, but in its case your death is almost guaranteed even at high level. Fighting the Living Pods is certainly out of the question if you plan on 100%ing the Mission, so it falls to you to make effective use of the west wing’s architecture to trap them in some small corner of the room, like the entrance or exit.
Oh, and make sure not to miss the one jar placed on the bloody crown moulding over the secret passage, that one’s just underhanded.
Mission 81, the one that fills so much of the bonus bar, is another Emerald Serenade mission in Wonderland, this time in one of the hedge mazes. This mission can feel frustrating at first, since you can see the Serenade at almost any time but can’t get to it over the hedges, but I have a certain fondness for it, since this Mission was where I learned how to play Serenade missions effectively. Too bad it’s so late in the game, but that’s how these things happen sometimes. Long story short: now that you have Blizzara and Thundaga (or other powerful spells of your choice), the Serenade can finally be trivialized. Make sure to grab the Slot Releaser in a chest nearby and you can get on with your life.
That’s it for this mission block, and it ends our long-lingering stay around Day 300 with our first time skip since Day 296!
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).