Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Forget Xaldin

days-2016-12-29-10h34m02s901Days 321: Waning Power

At the start of Day 321, Roxas has a dream about Sora (he’s been mentioning these dreams in his journal for the past few days, but we never saw any). This dream covers the early events at Hollow Bastion in KH1, where Sora lost the Keyblade and was abandoned by his friends. As he sleeps, Roxas sheds a tear of sadness, something he should not be able to do as a being without emotion. In the game, he finds the tear and wonders if something got in his eye, which is in my eye how the scene should have gone and I have no complaints with it. In the film, he doesn’t seem to recognize what a tear is for at all, in what’s probably the most ridiculous juvenliziation of the entire game. Not only does this go back to Roxas having command of language but lacking its basic context (i.e. Roxas should have picked up what a tear of sadness is somewhere in the past year), but the writers seem to have forgotten that there are also multiple kinds of tears!  For someone who is constantly injured, and for that matter fights in desert sandstorms and Olympic sandlots, Roxas should know what a tear is. Goodness’ sake.

Back in the Grey Area, everyone comments on how wretched Roxas looks after his bad dream. So Nobodies don’t have emotions but they do… look… sick? But it’s not all bad news: it seems Saïx has decided to pair you up with Xion for the first time in ages, so maybe the two of them will talk?

days-2016-12-29-10h35m26s911Before you head out, you might want to do another of Xigbar’s sidequests to play Phil’s Training for prizes, but I don’t recommend it. This one is the worst of them all: 150 points in Mission 46 for a rotten Frost Crystal, and you have to do it right now hurry hurry hurry, because it’s attached to a single mission block instead of a multi-mission block. Unless you’re going for 100%, I truly recommend you get over any personal pride and farm the Frost Crystal somewhere else, because this is bogus.

Mission 82 sees you and Xion off to Agrabah to defeat something called a “Spiked Crawler.” While this might sound like some kind of cool, brand new new late-game Heartless, maybe some kind of centipede or caterpillar, don’t get excited. It’s really just a Morning Star recolour, with all the problems that come from that. But there’s a problem: Roxas is having such an “off-day” (as the game calls it) that causes his level to be halved for the duration of the mission.

While this sounds like a simple gimmick mission, Mission 82 actually introduces something new: you might remember that the cracked wall in the Cave of Wonders collapsed ages ago, and the Organization has finally seen fit to let you in. Once through the wall (make sure to pick up a new Sight Unit along the way), you find yourself in a room with a simple block/platform puzzle, after which you’ll reach the lamp chamber, which seems to resemble its incarnation from KH1. There’s a good reason for this: Xion points to the back end of the room and says that she recognizes it as a Keyhole. She suddenly get a Static of her own, showing Sora sealing the Keyhole, and nearly faints. Roxas catches her, which prompts her to whisper: “You look so much like him,” a call-back to Xemnas’ line at the Dark Margin.

days-2016-12-29-10h36m25s542The two of them are interrupted by the arrival of their target, so any further discussion will have to be shelved, as-is-usual for Days, until “never.” I should have made a list of how many times they pulled this same dialogue trick, it feels worn and tired as anything else I could imagine.

You probably remember the Morning Star from earlier in the game, and this is really no different. Thankfully, the spell that stops the Spiked Crawler from spinning is good old Thunder.  If you’re like me, you might even have it on-hand, but if you don’t, well at least the mission won’t be any worse than usual. Even better, you only have to take away half the Spiked Crawler’s HP before the fight comes to a sudden end, perhaps to make up for Roxas’ halved level. After you get to that point, Xion suddenly launches a powerful Light attack that kills the Spiked Crawler on the spot.

As she wonders where on earth that power surge came from, she notices that Roxas is faint. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s happening, even if we hadn’t had that scene with Xemnas and Saïx. Roxas remarks that he’s been having trouble using the Keyblade “these days.” Hrm, but this is the first sign we’ve seen of it in-game? Did they cut a mission or two from this for being too annoying? Bless them for doing it. I suppose we can imagine he’s talking about something that happened during the time skip, but ideally we would have seen it in a cutscene.  Not the worst job and maybe even a good job, but not the best either.

days-2016-12-29-10h37m00s837Roxas and Xion go to the tower together, meeting up with the film, and Roxas very blatantly leaves her on her own for a stretch, which is a good show of trust but honestly shocking to me. Did Saïx not leave any orders for her to be guarded? The two of them talk, and Roxas remarks that it seems Axel isn’t coming today. To my surprise, Xion says: “What, did you two have a fight?” Um, no, but you two did? Like a physical, violent one that ended with you unconscious? Does Xion honestly not care about the time that Axel dragging her back to the World that Never Was by the short hairs? She claims she’s all right with it because now she’s with her friends again, which not only contradicts her previous behaviour (and for that matter, some behaviour described in a Secret Journal around this time) but let’s just say that “I’m so happy he physically assaulted me, dragged me here against my will and is keeping me forcefully imprisoned” is what we would even optimistically call a “huge red flag” and the writers should be keeping that in mind. I’ve talked a lot about how Square Enix ignores minor enemy encounters when it comes to narrative, but I believe that this stems from a bigger problem that they actually forget that they’re telling violent stories to begin with? For what it’s worth, I get the impression that Xion is mostly lying for Roxas’ benefit. Sure, she wants things to be back to normal with her friends – even Axel – but I don’t think she’s necessarily “happy” here like she implies.

In the next scene, we see Axel and Xion reunite for a conversation after nearly a month apart. Naturally, it’s not immediately friendly: Xion wants to know what’s wrong with Roxas, and Axel points out that that should be obvious – both to her and the player. Axel drops a few heavy hints and sounds awfully bitter about it too, so it seems fairly definite that he knows what’s going on at this point.

days-2016-12-29-10h40m25s624But then, much to our surprise, Axel drops another surprise, the start of this game’s big twist. In the film, he’s incredibly blatant about it, but the game shows more tact: “What, did they forget to build you with common sense?” He says she must already know by now: Xion is a Replica, a sudden and shocking call-back to CoM after KH2 spent its time trying to burn CoM into cinders. One of the best things about the Replica twist is that it comes after a one-game lapse, long enough to be surprising but not so long as to have been forgotten. BBS would do something similar, but that was after a three-game lapse (back to KH1), and to me it felt like they were just picking up something dusty. One game seems to be the exact right span of time. But whose Replica is she? Did they just make an original person as an experiment? Axel says she was made to duplicate Roxas’ powers, to give the Organization two Keyblade users, but unfortunately the power transfer is going too strong for some reason, but that doesn’t answer our question.

The film is far less subtle about this whole reveal, favouring blunt clarity… at least until the point where it trips. Instead of saying “Did they forget to build you with common sense?” it just says “Is that because you’re a puppet?” muddying the question of Xion’s identity because Saïx has been using “puppet” seemingly as an insult when it’s actually been a fact all along, and this replacement line doesn’t break the illusion quite as strongly as the original. The film also implies that Axel didn’t know that Xion didn’t know about her being a Replica until she acted surprised. It’s all very confusing, so I easily prefer the game.

days-2016-12-29-10h41m00s240So let’s talk about this! Xion is a Replica, made by Vexen (as we’ll confirm in the Secret Journals) but activate after Vexen’s death thanks to Axel and Saïx’s power-play, the Organization was unable to work with Xion except through trial and error. She gradually gained power from Roxas, but after developing a personality and friendships, Xion also gained an identity. This is why people only see her as her if they know her well, while others, like Saïx and Xigbar, see a puppet (“poppet”): a lifeless thing they’ve moving about by pulling the right strings. Hints for this have been up and down the entire game, sometimes big and sometimes small. Indeed, I find myself wondering about some of the smallest ones, wondering if they’re intended or just lucky accidents. How about the line: “I want to be—with you two” from Xion’s Destiny Islands dream? It almost sounds as though Xion both wants to be with her friends, sure, but also that she wants to be, a clever use of the pause in Stoner’s dialogue. It’s hard to say with Kingdom Hearts, Proud Capital City of the Vocal Pause Empire, but I’m optimistic this time around.

Xion asks Axel what he thinks she should do, but he isn’t saying. But to her surprise, Axel says that she can easily work it out herself, as he has full faith in her as his best friend, and a full person. The way Axel has been avoiding Xion, it’s clear he only just made up his mind they’re still friends as he was speaking, but it seems to have come to him pretty strong. It’s a super-sweet response to the revelation that he knows she’s a Replica, and would have been one of my favourite scenes… if it weren’t for the “red flag” moment from earlier. Between Xion being attacked by Axel and those earlier scenes where Roxas seemed to need Axel to approve every basic decision in his life, it feels like the writers were trying to create a sweet relationship while having no idea what a real-world ugly relationship looks like. Let’s be clear about this: when one person seems to feel the need to ask someone else to permit everything in their life, that’s usually a sign of an abusive relationship, and I shouldn’t have to say that hitting someone so hard they fall unconscious, followed by restricting their movements and freedoms, is absolutely abusive. Days would have been considerably improved if, say, Saïx had attacked and captured Xion. Later scenes focusing on Axel could possibly be kept (you know the one I mean) for reasons I’ll get into at the time, but Axel attacking Xion on Day 298 is hard to forgive, and probably shouldn’t be forgiven. And hell, would it kill Axel to openly apologize?

days-2016-12-29-10h46m54s921If we put aside the critical lens and see the scene how it was (however foolishly) intended to be seen, Axel and Xion truly do come off well here. One of my biggest draws to any character is simple competence. I’m not necessarily put off by incompetence (though Roxas’ infantile “Huh?” “Huh?” “Huh?” has reached a level of thoroughness that’s gone past my patience) but a consistently competent character will win my respect much more readily than an average character or a lucky one. This is one of the things that draws me to one of BBS’ lead characters, and it’s what draws me to Axel and Xion here, and their foundation of open communication and emotions (as emotions go with these half-emotion-capable Nobodies). Being open and forthright is how Axel shows Xion that he still trusts her and that this revelation hasn’t shaken his feelings. It’s a much more solid, even more real friendship than the one they share with Mr. “Huh? Huh?” While sadly they won’t be 100% honest at every point to come, not only is that true of many friends, but when push comes to shove, watch them closely, and see what you can see.

We also see something important in Axel’s acknowledging Xion as an independent person, not a Replica. This is something I feel the English localization did right in casting Stoner instead of Panettiere to play Xion is actually very important, important to the central message of the whole piece: it allowed Xion to be voiced by someone who sounds like Kairi… without being Kairi. It allows Xion to stand in her own identity, similar to Roxas and Naminé, without being muffled or erased by Kairi. As the series proceeds from this point and develops certain central themes, I feel it becomes more and more important that Xion maintain her own identity – preferably by retaining Stoner even when Panettiere is available.

days-2016-12-29-10h47m29s134That’s enough chatter. The scene finally ends with Xion asking Axel one more important question: who’s the boy she sees in her Statics and dreams? Axel tells her about Sora, something he hasn’t even done for Roxas the baby, seemingly in response to her initiative, while we see Xigbar eavesdropping on them form nearby.

Your prize for Mission 82 is a Sliding Dash+ panel, though like nearly every mobility upgrade we’ve gotten lately, this comes before the group panel that would allow you to use it.

days-2016-12-29-10h47m54s233Days 322: The Program and Days 323-326: Fleeting

This is going to be another of those posts that switches the story arc in the middle of the post, with the previous conversation arguably ending the previous arc (in my eyes) and this conversation starting the next, even though they take place not long apart!  Day 322 begins with Xigbar reporting the conversation between Xion and Axel to Xemnas and Saïx. The three leaders of the Organization hold a meeting in their thrones, and Xemnas asks Saïx about “the devices.” Saïx says that “all three” will be ready in only a few days (in the film, he simply says that “they” will be ready soon, not “all three,” as the film doesn’t account for two of the three devices in any detail. This little change would arguably harm a future Days remake that might make use of this cutscene, but it’s a small damage). Unfortunately for the curious, neither of them says anything more about the devices.

Instead, the trio turn their conversation to Roxas and Xion. Xemnas declares that Xion is “the more worthy vessel,” but suddenly announces that they only need one of her and Roxas and that they should destroy one or the other so the survivor can have all of Sora’s power. “It makes no difference to me. Either way, Sora’s power will be outs.” This is getting dark fast, and yet, I can’t help but note how similar it is that Xemnas doesn’t care about his Keyblade wielder’s identity, just like how (but far worse than) DiZ being willing to let Sora go “without a memory or two.” The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

days-2016-12-29-10h48m40s315In the Grey Area, there are a few conversations to be had. Xion is worried about you and gives you an Elixir Recipe, while Luxord wants you to open every chest from Mission 82 (the one you just finished) to unlock both Secret Missions 84 and 87! I’m surprised they didn’t break that into separate sidequests. Xigbar also warns you that “Xion [has] the face of an angel. […] girls her age have many faces”. Ew. Go away.

There are five missions in this block, and none of them move the Bonus Bar very far on their own. Mission 83 offers you an Aeroga Recipe, 84 offers two Mithrils that could easily become six with a tripler, while Mission 86 offers a very tempting Ankharite for getting 100% (remember, the only way to farm Ankharites is a brief window during the Mission 74 tournament… though on the other hand, you’ll only need 4 if you want to make one copy of everything). As usual at this stage in the game, most of your options come down to synthesis. If you have a certain project in mind that these rewards can benefit, by all means shoot for it, but I imagine many players won’t care one way or another!

Mission 83 is one-of-a-kind: it seems Xaldin never RTC’d from his last mission at Beast’s Castle, and you’re being sent to look for him! I’m glad this is such an important mission for the Organization that it’s not even mandatory. No, really: the only mandatory mission in this set is 85, in the middle of the list (even though mandatory missions typically appear clustered at the top or at least partially at the top of the list in the past), which is a generic heart-hunt in Wonderland. I wonder if they accidentally marked the wrong mission as mandatory, or maybe forgot to mark 83 alongside 85?  Or did the Organization really just not care about Xaldin?

days-2016-12-29-10h50m07s841Mission 83 is unusual in how you don’t technically need to fight a single enemy, though you may as well do so as they’re starting to drop some powerful synth items, and there are no less than four Elixirs in chests in this mission. Still, if you’re not into that, you can easily glide from place to place and avoid all the trouble.

About the only real irritations in this mission are minor: when you first enter the Ballroom, you’ll appear through the main doors even if you entered from above, which is irritating since there’s a chest upstairs and no way to go directly back to the second floor via the secret passage without leaving the whole castle again! Second, a new Zip Slasher recolour called a Blitz Spear appears in this mission, though there’s no reason to risk your life fighting it.

Early in the mission, you encounter Belle, who remarks on the Beast acting unusually. Roxas wonders if Xaldin has something to do with this, and you guessed it: Xaldin has become so obsessed with the Beast that he’s gotten started on his plan from Kingdom Hearts to draw him into the darkness. When you catch up with Beast, you learn that Xaldin told him that Belle would betray him. After all that fuss, Roxas ultimately finds Xaldin waiting back at the RTC portal (the last place you’d look, which is kind of clever), and they go home without any fuss. It’s just here to connect the plot to KH2, but I like it in its own little way.

At the end of the first two missions in this block, Roxas is seen eating ice cream alone at the Tower. He gets a journal entry on this same subject after Day 322. It’s okay, game. We get it. Shhhhh. It’s allll right.

days-2016-12-29-10h50m31s568Bonus Mission 84 sees you back to Olympus Coliseum to defeat a Scorching Sphere, yet another a Morning Star recolour. You’ll be teamed up with Xigbar and… wait a minute. I’m getting this incredible sense of déjà vu. Didn’t we already do this? Yeah! We did! This a carbon copy of Mission 41 with a different recolour! The only notable differences are the lack of a barrel this time around, and the fact that a Scorching Sphere stops spinning when hit with Blizzard, not Aero (in hindsight, the Morning Star recolours are all stunned by base-level spells, and the Zip Slashers by –ga level spells). What a joke.

Mandatory Mission 85 honestly is just a generic heart hunt, and the minimum mission requirements are real low, though you’ll have to work a little harder to get 100%. The only thing remarkable about this mission is that it’s dotted with midbosses you can easily ignore: a Novashadow that doesn’t even offer Heart Points, and a Veil Lizard that you can kill for 100%, though I don’t believe you have to (it’s very close to the wire though, and probably best that you do so). There’s also a Slot Releaser in the chest, but I can’t understand why this was pegged as a mandatory mission unless, as I suspected above, it was pegged by mistake in place of Mission 83.

Mission 86 returns you to Skull Rock on Neverland to do the game’s last “Collect the Emblems” mission. You’ll be doing this entire mission while flying and pursued by Phantomtails. The Organization emblems are mostly in a single path, so honestly the hardest part about this mission are finding its Unity and Ordeal Badges, one of which is hidden in essentially a random patch of air near the edge of the map. There are no landmarks nearby, leading to a lot of walkthroughs and forum threads trying to direct players to the collectibles through text alone, and almost all the forum threads have someone come back asking for clarification!

days-2016-12-29-10h51m02s977Last of all, Bonus Mission 87 sends you to Halloween Town’s for yet another cage match in the town square of doom against multiple mid-bosses. This time it’s a brawl against three Windstorms, Tailbunker recolours, accompanied by Detonators. Windstorms are weak against Thunder spells, so Thundaga makes this fairly easy – and mind that you hit, because if the fight goes on for more than a minute, you’re going to be in deep trouble with three bosses trying to pummel you. You don’t even need to kill them all, just one for the minimum requirements.

As a hidden secret, an Invisible appears in the graveyard in this mission, guarding a chest and the Ordeal Blazon.

Well, that’s it folks. Believe it or not, that was the last set of optional missions in the entire game (actually, I do believe it: they were especially shoddy and it feels like the developers were out of ideas). After it ends, we’ll be time-skipping to the game’s final week, to Day 352 of 358.

By the way, I just now updated the KH2 Retrospective’s appendix to take a look at KH2’s mysterious block of unspecified “Additional Voice Actors.”  I believe all voice actors deserve full credit for their work and even if Square Enix and Disney didn’t give us their exact roles, I still want to be able to give them the full credit that’s in my power to give, and that means voice actor bios.  If you’re curious about the actors that created some of your favourite games, give these new bios a look!

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Halloween on the Rocks
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – “You Look like a Demon to me” is not a compliment

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).


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