Day 353: Resolve
Day 353 starts with a scene with Saïx, which even appears in the film! He confronts Axel about his actions, and reminds him that “We don’t need them both. Just one. And pretending won’t change it.” Axel just ignores him. The film then cuts away from another scene, which arguably isn’t as important, but probably could have been included in the film if it weren’t for the fact that, once again, Saïx is in it. Look, I don’t know why this would happen just one scene apart from another, I’m just calling them as I see them.
When Roxas arrives in the Grey Area, he finds that Axel and Xion are going on a mission together, along with Xigbar. Because this scene is shot from Saïx’s perspective, Xion is seen hooded for the first time in ages. Axel remarks how rare it is to be paired with Xigbar (“number II himself”), which is strange from our perspective since we’re paired with Xigbar all the time, but I suppose Xigbar’s taken a personal interest in Roxas, and also the game is trying to pass a hint as large as a kidney stone about things being suspicious, and if we were decent people we would leave the game to its suffering. Roxas asks if he can “trade” with Xigbar, and I think he’s just teasing, but Saïx takes it literally and replies as I would: “What an extraordinarily childish notion. Do you need Axel to walk you everywhere now?” Oh. My. God. How on earth do you write that and not be aware that it’s a problem permeating your entire product?
Saïx remarks that your mission “requires” that you go solo, and that’s how you know something is wrong, because this is one of the hardest missions in the entire game. It’s like I’ve said: they’re clearly trying to murder you, and that’s not a joke. Why they didn’t just stab you in your sleep like I said yesterday, I don’t know. Maybe they were hoping to get a few extra hearts for Kingdom Hearts before doing it, but it seems like a bad plan either way.
All right, Mission 89. This is the big one, a mission that will live in infamy. While this game does have a proper final boss sequence, looking back at it now I can’t help but feel that this is the real final challenge, especially for any poor sucker trying to do the Challenges. But before we get started, there’s one more cutscene. The game suddenly cuts to Wonderland, where we see Axel, Xion and Xigbar’s mission, already in progress. Or rather, the consequences of it. The film joins us here.
It seems Xion has outright attacked Xigbar, presumably realizing that he was sent there to kill her in the first place. A lot of strange things are happening while she does it. First off, Xigbar calls this “a blast from the past,” and secondly, Xion is still hooded. Why? We’re not seeing things from Xigbar’s perspective! As it happens, the game is doing this because she’s actually wearing her hood, and the game used Saïx’s perspective in the earlier shot to hide the fact that she was hooded all along! Okay, cleverly done, it’s rare you see a twist set up by assuming the viewer is at what I called the “Watson” level during CoM, but why is her hood up?
Axel tries to talk Xion down, but she isn’t listening, and Xigbar remarks “Of all the faces… why do I look at her and see yours?” We then cut to Xion from his perspective. This is the first time we’ve seen Xion from a new perspective since it became obvious that perspective influences her appearance, which is an interesting approach. In the film we even get a nifty blur effect to better convey Xion’s change in appearance under other eyes, while in the game we have a rough jump cut. You probably forgot to think about Xion’s weird appearance, but now that it’s back in front of you your gears will probably get into place very quickly, which is where the game needs them to be.
But as we see Xion through Xigbar’s eyes, all we get is confusion. Who is this? At first glance, you’re probably going to say “Roxas?” At a glance, if you’re like me, you might mistake this for Roxas in his plain-clothes from KH2, which you’ll probably find curious… but not so much that you’ll keep thinking about it. As it happens, this is supposed to be someone else entirely: the third Chaser from the “Birth by sleep” teaser trailer, the one who looks like Roxas. There are oh, so many problems with this reveal, however. First off: that trailer was never officially released outside of Japan. Second: they look exactly fucking alike. I can’t believe the devs didn’t take preventative steps! You could come directly from BBS to Days and still not be able to tell them apart. Third: we’ve never seen the third Chaser in his plainclothes, and they sadly those clothes really do look a lot like Roxas’ from KH2! Even the silver pauldron he’s wearing on his shoulder just looks white clothes in a casual glance. What a mess. What a mess, and I mean that to Days and BBS both.
Xigbar then says one of his most famous lines in the original game, which was cut in the film despite Xigbar being off screen, meaning there were no lipsync concerns! “Do you always have to stare at me like I just drowned your goldfish?” A tragic loss for the film, though at least the film actually gives Xion an look like he just drowned her goldfish, which is more than I can say about the game’s gold-fishface. Urm… fishface. Xion attacks him, and is able to knock him out cold. Why she doesn’t just finish him on the spot, I don’t know, but she may have been trying to “help” Axel by letting him get home with a somewhat less disgraceful report.
Axel asks what the hell she’s thinking, and she says “I have to do this, or else.” In way of explanation, she removes her hood. We don’t see what she’s showing Axel, but Axel is so shocked that he stops resisting. He does ask how she plans to deal with whatever it is he’s seeing (in the game that is, in the film he says “But… you’d be…” simply implying that she’d be putting her life at risk at the hands of the Organization), but Xion doesn’t answer and flees.
We return to Roxas, who seems to be having a much less exciting day than the others given how he was deployed to lazy old Twilight Town. But the dozy background music will be set aside rather quickly, because Mission 89 is a boss rush. You need to scour Twilight Town for no less than six boss and midboss Heartless out of a total of seven, all presumably put here by the Organization to eat you. You can’t get the seventh without the other six, so there aren’t as many options as it may appear! Your prize for 100% is the final synth item in the game, the Premium Orb – in fact, since the seventh boss drops a Premium Orb, you’ll get two! – but don’t count on it. You’re going to have enough trouble surviving through the six you’re forced to deal with before you even consider the seventh, and once you learn about the seventh…
You can only battle the bosses in a certain order, as there are only so many ways to travel in Twilight Town. Let’s start with the weakest: by going to the Underground Passage, you can refight the Poison Plant from the beginning of the game. No problem. Next is the Gigas Shadow, which was never technically a boss to begin with. Even easier. But this is where it gets tricky.
You have a lot of places you can return to the surface, but let’s say you go to the Station Plaza. There, you fight a Stalwart Blade (from the Olympus Coliseum tournament in Mission 73), and if you make your way down the hill to the Tram Common, you’ll fight an Orcus. The Orcus in Mission 89 is weaker than the one from 88, but you get more EXP because the fight is actually completed. That seems a little unfair to Mission Mode players of Mission 88, who have to fight a stronger monster for smaller returns, but these things happen.
After the Orcus, you can head down through the trees for one of your rare visits to the Old Mansion, where you fight a Veil Lizard in the spot where you fought the original. Finally, you have to make your way to the Sandlot, where many players probably got started (since Roxas is pointing that direction when the mission starts). This is home to the only “major” boss in this boss rush, a Guard Armour recolour called the Powered Armour. This is no harder than the original, but the true threat in this mission is attrition: by the time you’ve cleared six bosses, you’re probably very short on spells or health, and should you make it, you should take a good long pause before you consider going after the seventh, optional boss. And you’d better take an even longer pause, because this isn’t a regular boss: this is the game’s one and only Superboss. Many have said that what really makes it a Superboss is the attrition from the other six, and that’s very true, but it’s still incredibly powerful in its own right. Mind yourself.
Should you choose to face the Superboss, you need to go up to Station Plaza (or “back” to Station Plaza, if you defeated the Stalwart Blade last). The boss then rises up over the hillside: it’s one final Tailbunker recolour called the Dustflier. This is fairly disappointing: true, KH2:FM+ re-used old bosses as Superbosses (and BBS will do so once again), but it only did so alongside proper new superbosses! But oh well. Just wait until you see what Re:coded tries to pass off as “new” superbosses.
The Dustflier has a fairly predictable pattern: it stomps the ground, causing an incredibly large shockwave reminiscent of the Darkside. It will then either charge you, do a flip attack that causes Halve HP, or launch fireballs at you. Annnd that’s it. That’s honestly it. You simply have to work out a way to deal with each of the three follow-up attacks, and to stay off the ground as much as possible. The rest of your strategy is your own. I’m probably not the right person to ask for advice on this front, since I’m not very good at the fight myself, even if I have cleared it in the past. Jolt can rush the fight along if you can inflict it (at a x0.01 rate!) but don’t count on that.
Your only prize for that hell-hole of a boss rush is synth materials, which is just one last parting gift from that little slice of hell.
We return to the Grey Area after the mission (what, no ice cream?) to find Saïx fighting with Axel and Xigbar. This is another rare Saïx scene in the film, though maybe that isn’t surprising, as he’s not really in it. It seems Xigbar was conscious enough to realize that Axel was letting Xion go after their fight, though Axel denies it. Saïx storms off, muttering that the Organization is left with Roxas, “the one we can’t use.” I’m not 100% certain what he means by that, since they seem to be “using” Roxas just fine. The implication was probably supposed to be that Roxas is still losing his strength, but I dunno, is that how you’d phrase that in English? Say that you had two remote controls that work on your TV, one charged and one dying but not dead: would you say the latter couldn’t be used at all? It just isn’t natural language and I outright couldn’t follow what he was saying as a consequence! On the other hand, I suppose Roxas is getting more rebellious by the day, and perhaps Saïx recognizes that instead.
Roxas asks Axel and Xigbar what happened, and Xigbar explains that “Flamesilocks here” (a joke that was carried over to the film) let Xion escape. Roxas is furious, and Xigbar leaves laughing. Roxas asks why he let Xion go. I understand that, in a way, he’s asking why Xion left in the first place, but since he never asks that question outright, I’m bothered by Roxas’ unspoken insinuation that Xion doesn’t know best for her own good and that Axel should have stopped her. I’ve been trying to point it out by highlighting the game’s constant references to Xion being a girl and other gender essentialist garbage (which I admit comes mostly from Xigbar, but there was also that instance with “The Wrong Buttons” and the game as a whole leaves a similar taste in my mouth), but let’s just say that just because they put a Keyblade in a woman’s hands from game’s start to game’s end doesn’t mean that Days has entirely shrugged off the attitudes left over from KH2.
Axel then proceeds to give the most preposterous explanation for his behaviour that I could possibly imagine. Barely a word he says makes sense, and the only reason I can parse his speech in the first place is because I’ve played the game multiple times and know what he’s trying to say, even if he’s not saying it right. I’m not even sure how to recount this for the Retrospective without any spoilers and without copying and pasting every single line, because it’s just gurgling nonsense if you don’t already know the game’s secrets, especially if you consider Axel’s speech from Roxas’ even less informed perspective. It’s fine that they needed Axel to screw up his explanation to Roxas and to make things worse, but like this?
Axel opens by telling Roxas that “Xion is like a mirror that reflects you,” before explaining outright that she’s a “puppet.” Roxas doesn’t believe him, probably because Axel doesn’t explain what a Replica is in any fashion, making it sound like he’s just calling her a puppet the way you might insult a politician, or worse, in the same way Saïx uses the word! Axel then complicates things further: “When I looked into the mirror… It wasn’t you I saw.” When Roxas complains that this doesn’t make any sense, Axel makes things even worse than that by saying “It was only a matter of time before somebody had to break the mirror.”
I understand that Axel is confused, but this is too much. This is too extreme for me to believe it as a character moment. This is the writers being cryptic for the sake of being cryptic, and I’m not just irritated at it, this is just outright bad writing. It’s bad word choices, it’s bad relations with the audience, it’s bad characterization, it’s a bad way for Axel to speak in this situation (it’s easy to imagine him screwing this up in ways that don’t involve esoteric metaphors), the whole scene is junk.
Axel’s last line understandably only makes Roxas angrier, so Stupid here says that Xion has to die, or “You won’t be you anymore.” Roxas insists that he’ll always be himself and storms out, leaving Axel to mutter “Why can’t you understand…” Why can’t you understand. John Musker’s glasses, Axel! I just can’t imagine!
Elsewhere (Beast’s Castle, specifically), Xion makes her rendezvous with Riku and is given instructions to find Naminé in Twilight Town. These instructions deliberately mirror DiZ’s vague instructions to Riku towards the end of R/R, and it’s where we leave off for the day.
Day 354: Truth
Day 354 begins with a meeting in the Round Room, reminiscent of the last time Xion ran away. But this time, Xemnas decides to open up with everyone, telling them about the Replica Program. It seems you’re not the only one out of the loop: Luxord, Xaldin and Demyx are just learning this now themselves. Oh, hey, Demyx, where have you been? It feels like it’s been a quarter of the game!
While we’ve previously been led to believe that the Replicas were created just out of Vexen’s love of mad science, Xemnas says that it was always intended to copy “the Keyblade wielder’s” power for the Organization. He says they were “caught off guard” when Xion started to show a personality of her own. Saïx then asks Axel a pointed question about whether or not any other Replicas at Castle Oblivion started to show signs of a personality. It’s doubtful Saïx knows anything about the Riku Replica, but since Xion did what she did, he’s rightly suspicious. Axel does not answer.
Xemnas declares that while Xion is harmless, “she knows our secrets” and orders Axel to recover her, even if it means harming her. The Organization members leave one by one (Demyx remarking: “All this time I’ve been talking to a puppet?” I imagine Demyx has just been babbling on and on to Xion for hours while he plays his sitar), until only Saïx and Roxas are left.
Roxas bitterly complains to Saix that Xion is still a member of the Organization and shouldn’t be treated like this. Saïx harrumphs, and says that “A puppet, one of us? Don’t be absurd. Count the seats. When have we ever been more than thirteen?” As he speaks, the camera pans across the thrones. I do like the shot of the seats, and Kirk Thornton’s delivery, it’s very effective and to-the-point. It even feels surprising, but… it’s also misleading. Xion was announced as No. XIV at the very opening moments of the game. Maybe if they had, say, said “Welcome a new member of our Organization” but then never given her a number? As stands, this isn’t a plot twist based on existing evidence, lurking in the back of your mind for a big reveal. They’re arbitrarily declaring the evidence to be false to do a plot “twist.” It’s like I said about Crisis Core not much more than a month before posting this entry: there’s misdirecting the player and then there’s lying.
Returning to the Grey Area, Roxas finds Axel proceeding on his mission to hunt down Xion. Roxas tells Axel that he thinks it would be better if he let Xion escape, but Axel won’t do it, as he claims to be too afraid for his own hide to do so (but we’ll see about that). He tells Roxas that there’s more at stake here than just Xion, and finally points out in plain words that she’s draining Roxas’ strength through their connection. There, was that so hard? Plain language, you dip. But despite this breakthrough, Roxas realizes that Axel must have known Xion was a Replica for some time, and takes this as another break of trust. And I suppose that’s Roxas’ right to feel that way, but the phrasing is pretty clear, and we’ve got all the buildup in front of us so I’m going to say it: the Days team is once again ignoring Xion’s right to have her own thoughts on the manner, saying her opinion doesn’t matter. It wasn’t Axel’s job to tell Roxas Xion’s secrets. It was Xion’s right to tell who she chooses, but Days doesn’t care. I don’t think I’m going to be surprising anyone to repeat that Kingdom Hearts has a problem with women, but… Kingdom Hearts has a problem with women, and it hasn’t entirely gone away just because the KH2 team was condemned to FFXV purgatory.
Before you go on your mission, you get your last sidequest of the game from Xaldin, who hands you an Adamantite and asks you to synth it with a Combo Tech+ in exchange for a Luck Tech (in addition to the Dodge Combo panel you get from the synth). Goodbye, you silly scribbles of content we called “sidequests” for lack of a better name. You will not be missed, but mostly because you will not even be remembered.
Mission 90 is introduced to you as a “special project” from Saïx. You have to install a “device” from the Organization in the lamp chamber on Agrabah. As you might suspect, this is indeed one of the devices Saïx and Xemnas were several days ago, though you still don’t know what they’re used for. The walk to the lamp chamber is relatively simple, even though you’re forced into a fight in the old block puzzle room. An Invisible shows up in this room after the fight as well, but is easily avoided.
The lamp chamber itself is initially undefended, and Roxas sets up the strange device. God knows where he was carrying it, as it’s larger than him! The device is an odd, staff-like mechanism with a number of accoutrements that I’m at a loss to explain. Unfortunately, placing the device attracts the attention of a midboss, a Land Amour. Given its name, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Land Armour had Earth attacks (and thus Halve HP), but I’ve never seen it happen. Why? Maybe I’m just lucky, but also because it’s weak to Aero, Saïx warned you it was weak against Aero, and I’ve already fought dozens of these Armours by this point in the game. The Land Armour doesn’t even get to stand up when I fought it for the Retrospective playthrough, and you can easily do the same. Okay, okay, I admit, I should have taken a few hits for the sake of completeness. In any event, avoid the Invisible on your walk out, and the mission will end.
After the, Roxas realizes he doesn’t know what the device is for, in fact he doesn’t know why he does anything for the Organization any longer or why they never tell him anything. “Hmph, the biggest mystery is me–the idiot who keeps doing everything he’s told.” Here at the end, Roxas clues into his own cluelessness, but sadly that does not in and of itself make him not ignorant, juvenile, etc, just that he’s aware of one of the above.
As he gets out of the Cave, he continues this train of thought. “Why am I going back to the castle?” Because you’re still a zombie? Hrm, now I’m wondering… was that the writer’s intent all along? Maybe so! At least one reader has been trying to make this point for months, and this was the moment where I realized it myself while writing the Retrospective. Unfortunately, just because I can see what they were going for, I still don’t like the plot, even if others might. The trouble here is that even if Roxas’ lack-of-a-character was intentional on the party of the writers, this does nothing to convince me that Roxas was a worthwhile main character. Roxas arbitrarily decides that the real mystery isn’t about Xion, but himself. Oh, good, remember how just a few in-game days ago, I declared that they had forgotten the Roxas of KH2 and were never going to mesh up with him properly? Here’s Roxas concluding that his best friend doesn’t matter to him just so that his KH2 personality will appear to make sense, so long as you discount petty things like context and character development. We’ve already discussed the hazards of this approach to writing when we were covering KH2, but it’s like what I was saying about the programming division between days in the middle of mission blocks: it’s not the ideal way of going about it, but it is faster, and if no one notices, what’s the harm? When you can’t be bothered to write properly: kludge it and hope no one notices! Right Kingdom Hearts devs? No one will notice.
It goes without saying that Roxas realizing that he doesn’t care for his work at the Organization any longer comes as a major character moment, which will absolutely lead to his defection in just a few days, so I’m proud to announce with a great, heaving sigh that the film skipped over all of it. Every word, detail. We don’t even get a summary! I can’t help but suspect they didn’t want to model The Device, which they excised from every later part of the film as well, and so burned the entire mission to the ground. Yeah, the uh… the film is not exactly held in universal regard.
Actually included in the film is the very next scene, which features the surprise return of King Mickey! Mickey is walking in the woods at Twilight Town, when suddenly he encounters a hooded figure, who reveals himself to be Ansem, Seeker of Darkness. Naturally, this is just Riku, who puts on a blindfold to reveal that he still has some control over this form, presumably to set up the reveal of Ansem when Riku inevitably captures Roxas at the end of the game. At this point, the game returns to text, so I should probably note that the few sounds we hear from Mickey in this game (battle grunts and the like) were the last bit of voice recording Wayne Allwine ever did in the role of Mickey Mouse prior to his death in 2009, though other sites credit his voice work here as purely archive work. The game is dedicated to his memory.
Filling in for Allwine in the film is our first encounter with Bret Iwan, who had been an illustrator prior to the role and for all I know still is. Iwan has no other credits to his name but the great Mouse on IMDb, but has done the voice in both Epic Mickey games, Disney Infinity, and of course the children’s show, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He’s Mickey’s primary voice actor these days, though note that he doesn’t appear in the Mickey Mouse TV show that began in 2013, as that role was given to Chris Diamontopolous to achieve a “retro Mickey” style. I wonder if we’ll ever hear Diamontopolous in the future? Iwan first appeared in Kingdom Hearts in BBS.
Riku and Mickey explain what they’ve been up to since they parted after the events of CoM, Riku claims to be trying to get his inner darkness “under control,” and Mickey has been spying on the Organization, wondering what they’re up to. Riku is able to fill him in about Sora’s memories, and adds that they’ve gained control of the memories most precious to Sora: “his memories of Kairi.” The implication is that these are the memories locked up in Xion, which will become clearer in a little while.
In the meantime, Riku wants to ask Mickey a favour. He says that he’s going to have to face “one of the Organization’s members soon,” talking about Roxas. Already suspecting how the fight will end, Riku asks Mickey to look out for Sora, Donald and Goofy if he should give in to the darkness. Remember that in CoM, Mickey promised to always help Riku fight his inner darkness, so this plot point is probably meant to explain why Mickey did nothing of the sort during KH2: he was keeping one promise over the other. Of course, we know that the reason Mickey did nothing of the sort is because KH2 thinks CoM is lower than dirt and didn’t remember the original promise in the first place, so it’s nice to see one of the later games flip KH2 off like this. And we’re just getting started on that!
Realizing the importance of protecting Sora, Donald and Goofy, Mickey agrees to this new promise, ending his only scene.
Your prize for Mission 90 includes the game’s last Sight Unit, which can be helpful in the final challenges, since Critical Hits do some serious damage. If you don’t plan on doing Challenges, however… well, all the other prizes have been garbage for casual players lately, so why shouldn’t this one be?
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).