Day 355: Unsaid, Unheard
And here’s where it starts to get uncomfortable.
Trigger Warning: Suicide, and I’m afraid that warning is sticking with us to the end of the game.
Day 355 starts with Roxas moping in bed, recounting the plot for the benefit of anyone who’s fallen behind. He ultimately concludes from all the plot threads that Axel probably knows even more about what’s going on that he has yet to tell Roxas. Roxas says: “If he knew, why did he wait so long to tell me?” I couldn’t tell you how infuriated I was at Axel, which I suppose is effective to a degree, though I still think his reaction was kludged, and furthermore I’m not happy with other people for less respectable reasons besides (and my dislike for Axel’s kludging was hardly respectable to begin with!). The Organization not telling Roxas basic information hurts them more than it helps, in fact I’m often not sure how it helps them at all! This arbitrary storytelling is just as bad as any other bad storytelling, and it runs up and down the game in every direction.
And it’s here, here at the point where the game lost me at last during my first playthrough, that the narrative tries to pretend that KH2 Roxas is fully-formed and ready to march out of the Organization via the Dark City.
Angry, Roxas decides to confront his friend in the Grey Area, and he finds Axel leaning against the back wall. Ominously, you gain control of Roxas at this point, giving you a chance to save and strongly implying that talking to Axel will send you directly into a Mission right afterwards. When the conversation starts, Roxas asks Axel about Xion (in the game, he just asks about “the truth,” but the discussion veers to Xion all the same, so the film’s edit is for the best). Roxas calls back to what Xigbar said ages ago, that he and Xion are “special,” and it seems for a moment that he is starting to wonder if he’s a Replica! This isn’t touched on much further, which is almost a shame. Roxas continues to hammer Axel with questions, asking who Sora is, and where he (Roxas) learned to use the Keyblade, even though nothing led him to that second question except the kludge the script to match up with the scene from KH2 where he leaves the Organization out of his curiosity about the Keyblade. So close, and yet impossibly far.
Axel says that the truth won’t make Roxas feel any better, and that Roxas needs to trust him about that. Uh, yeah, maybe give it a try anyways Axel, for fuck’s sake. But Roxas has heard this enough and refuses to listen any further, storming out and promising that he’ll find someone else to trust. As he goes, he makes a pit stop at his bedroom, where he takes a moment to contemplate the WINNER stick he was going to give to Axel ages ago, once he had one for everyone. Nevertheless, he chooses to leave.
This begins Mission 91, “Escape the castle,” a sequence entirely cut from the film, much to some very common laments. The Mission essentially has you go through the final dungeon of KH2 in reverse, from the Proof of Existence to Nothing’s Call (Roxas starting at the Proof of Existence has led to a common fan theory that Roxas’ portal in the Proof of Existence simply leads to his bedroom!). You fight Dusks and Samurais along the way, because the game has no other Lesser Nobodies to confront you with. If you’re wondering why the Lesser Nobodies have turned on you so quickly, you get your answer at the exit: Saïx has learned about your betrayal, and remarks that “We don’t accept resignations.” It seems Roxas has finally grown part of his spine, as he simply replies: “I’ve got nothing to say to you,” which works just find for Saïx.
I don’t need to point out how silly it is that the film cut out a battle that essentially caps off a major character relationship, right?
Curiously, should you confront Saïx in Mission Mode, he will appear as an all-black Heartless known as “Anti-Saïx.” This is to ensure that the players can’t confuse the boss with a player-controlled Saïx, which means that this otherwise intriguing “Heartless” is simply a gameplay device that’s no different from the original boss. Ah well.
The boss fight against Saïx (or Anti-Saïx) is multi-staged, though each stage simply consists of different patterns of attacks when Saïx goes berserk. The fight ultimately isn’t very challenging in single player, which just goes to show that Days wasn’t up to the tactical level of even KH2 when it came to bosses. It’s just… a small-scale MMORPG, in a manner of speaking? You should keep in mind that Saïx can easily Silence you, but that’s not a huge problem, since you can just as easily fight him as cast against him. Silence isn’t a game-changer here like it is in a party-based RPG where your spellcasters genuinely can’t do harm with their regular attacks! After the fight, Roxas leaves Saïx in disgrace. Like with Xion and Xigbar, I’m once again not sure why he didn’t kill him, since the line between killing someone in battle and not is so thin in KH, but I recognize that it was inevitable given that this game was a midquel. I just wish Saïx had… I don’t know… escaped or something!
Hm, I’m just realizing that the light bridge is here, leading out of the castle. I had previously assumed that the Keyblades made this bridge during the events of KH2, but I guess it must actually be a part of the castle the Keyblades would later activate?
Technically there’s no Clear Bonus for this mission or any of the ones to follow, as the Organization is no longer paying you (and certainly not for beating up Saïx! I mean, maybe Demyx would toss you a Potion, but…), but you can get a Random Bonus from the mission if you’re lucky.
Finally, we come to The Scene: the scene from KH2 where bitter, independent Roxas leaves the Organization and he and Axel share a final confrontation. There’s no need to talk about the scene itself – let’s instead talk about the impression it leaves now that we’re seeing it in a new context. “No one would miss me,” Roxas says. What? What? They just attacked you because they would “miss” you! We’re just now getting to a line from KH2, the lines that established Roxas’ personality, and yet the very first line no longer seems like Roxas’ personality or situation! Where is the passive, push-over who cares only about what other people think? Where is the child who tugs at the pantlegs of adults demanding answers to infinite rudimentary questions as though unsure of his ability to proceed emotionally on his own? Most importantly: where did that anger come from? Roxas has barely voiced anger in this entire game, and in every instance I can think of, it was anger about his friends’ wellbeing! You might say that this emotional change is recent, but not only do I consider that sloppy writing and have talked about that exact problem at length in the past, but the anger is also only here in an island of existence, and Roxas will be back to moping in the very next scene!
Furthermore, even if this was supposed to be an island of defiance for Roxas, a single moment in a life of mopes, it defies the promise made to us in KH2: that the small sample we were seeing of the character was true enough to Roxas to help us understand Roxas. Surely, even given what I said about change in premise at the outset, even with the addition of Xion, this game was supposed to be at least partially about Roxas. But if we’re disagreed that the game is supposed to be at least partially about Roxas, then here, in this moment where the differences between KH2 Roxas and Days Roxas become most obvious, I have to say they may have broken the simple, implicit promise of a prequel: the promise that we would at least be seeing the same familiar characters at a different stage in their lives, at least familiar when we finally get to overlap existing scenes, and not an entirely different character whose motivations do not seem to match the characterization we were given in KH2. It’s remarkable that in just one game, BBS would go generally to lengths to function as a prequel to KH1, but Days? Oh no. Oh no.
Yet again I find myself flashing back to my first playthrough, realizing that Roxas wasn’t going to storm out of the Org because his personality was fiery or individual, but out of a more-or-less temporary temper tantrum. I remember thinking those words. “Temper tantrum.” I don’t think I fully realized the implication until I was outright seeing the scenes from KH2 play out in front of me, but Roxas certainly didn’t match up, not even with the perspective in my head of what Roxas was before I realized that he being treated by the narrative like a grim baby. The game started off asking me to picture Roxas as a blank slate instead of the character I knew from KH2, and I gave it the best shake I could. And when we tried to synch up with KH2, all I could tell you was that they no longer matched, indeed that the gap between the original Roxas and the new was a gap made very heavily of failure. His friendship with Axel and Xion had enriched the character, but as he put it himself, at this moment, they weren’t informing his actions. His actions were informed by nothing but the worst parts of Days, and all of them a failure to meet up with the standard set in KH2. Here, having finally met up with KH2, if only in regards to Roxas, Days has finally, absolutely, failed.
Day 356: Place to Belong
Day 356 is spent entirely without gameplay, just showing us a few final cutscenes to put all its pieces in place for the finale. It begins in the White Room in the Mansion at Twilight Town, where Xion and Naminé are finally meeting. Notably, Naminé’s walls are bare, except for the drawing of the Days trio. She must have drawn the rest of sketches we see in KH2 after she started making real progress with Roxas in hand. I can only assume that Xion was stalling before going to meet Naminé, because it certainly shouldn’t have taken her three days to find the place, certainly not if Naminé was expecting her. But this game has a lot of time issues for something that claims to be about time.
Naminé opens the conversation by taking off her hood and asking Naminé if she is able to see “my face.” Oddly enough, Naminé can see her face (I suppose because Xion trusts her), though there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual about her face, certainly not anything that would make Axel react as strongly as he did when she ran away. A clever player will realize that that’s exactly why Xion is asking – and I don’t claim to be that player. It was a very good bluff.
Naminé asks if Xion is sure she wants to be reintegrated with Sora, clearly more interested in Xion’s well-being than DiZ, and Xion says that while she’s upset about separating from her friends, she feels Sora has a right to his own memories. Naminé is insistent, however: she says that Xion is not Sora, nor is she Roxas: “You’re Kairi as Sora remembers her.” That certainly explains her appearance, and the idea that Xion contains Sora’s most important memories – the one of Kairi. At the same time, this doesn’t seem to back up what I feel is Naminé’s intended point: that Xion is her own person. It goes against her previous two lines, and naturally Xion concludes that yes, she’d like to go back to Sora, since she’s got his most important memories after all! Well, you tried, Naminé. …At least I think you did…
Actually, she’s still trying: Naminé informs Xion that because of the esoteric nature of the chain of memories, undoing the memories tied up in “Xion” would not only kill Xion, but will undo those memories for everyone. “There won’t be any ‘you’ to remember.” When I first heard this, I thought it was utter tripe set up to erase Xion in time for KH2, but I came to reconcile with it not during Days itself, but during my next playthrough of CoM, where I decided… oh, yeah, okay, that does make sense in the established framework after all. Oh sure, that’s a sign of bad writing on Days’ part, not getting aside that their idea actually worked (and you can really see how many players are confused on the fourms and the like), but the series as a whole technically holds up on this point. Let me explain in case it’s still unclear.
Memories in Kingdom Hearts exist as a sort of platonic concept in the ether. Since Xion’s identity is based on Sora’s memories of Kairi, once Sora’s memories are gone, the chain of memories that make up her identity will collapse. As a Replica and Nobody, this would cause her to disappear, because as Days has established, memories are all Nobodies have and it turns out that that’s incredibly literal. At this point, we return to the concept of platonic memories and see that with Xion’s identity collapsed, other memories tied up in memories of Xion also begin to unravel through the platonic, shared chain of memories. Ironically, this might erase whole blocks of memories remembered by others, but that almost creates a more coherent narrative than the alternative! Better a day you can’t remember outright (among the thousands of days in your life you’ve naturally forgotten outright) than a day where you remember talking to “empty space,” right?
Xion says she’s ready to go back to Sora nevertheless, and even says that it would be right for Roxas to do the same, apparently thinking more of Sora than either of them. I have to wonder which part of her is talking here. I can’t imagine it’s the part of her that’s Sora: Sora’s too selfless for that. It seems it’s either coming from the part of her that’s Kairi, who cares about Sora, or better still the part of her that’s uniquely Xion, so convinced that this is for the best that she’d spend her own life on it, in which case this becomes all the more tragic.
Xion asks Naminé to look after Roxas, I suppose as a weird justification for her meeting up with Roxas on Day 3 of the KH2 Prologue, which frankly made sense to me in the way it was already presented, but whatever you say Days. Hell, I think I prefer Naminé taking an independent interest in Roxas, because goes further to justifying their weird, barely-met-but-probably-attracted-to-one-another subtext from the end of KH2, since you can assume Naminé at least partially made contact since she found Roxas attractive?
Just then, DiZ enters the room, shouting that the Organization has found them and that “this blasted puppet led them right to our doorstop!” Taking this personally, Xion rushes out against their protests to defend the mansion herself. Oh good, that’s exactly what we all want. Now Sora’s restoration is basically doomed by default. Do you see what your bigotry has bought you, DiZ? I hope you’re taking notes, you toilet paper shit golem.
Xion runs out past the front gate, and the franchise once again raises questions about how teleportation works by having Axel step out of a corridor of darkness only right now, and not earlier when DiZ was shouting warnings! Axel remarks, as he does, on this being another of those “icky” jobs, and unlike last time, the two of them are willing to talk to one another instead of going directly to blows. “The Other Promise” begins to play. Axel seems to understand what’s going on here to a certain degree, at least that Xion is trying to sacrifice herself to revive Sora, and when Xion says “I have to go back to where I belong,” Axel replies: “Well, to be honest, I always felt that was best, right from the very beginning.” The double meaning is clear: Axel feels Xion “belongs” with him and Roxas in her own life, since to him, that was the beginning. He only learned she was a Replica later on, remember!
(Even if you do see Axel’s line as meaning “You should return to Sora,” honestly or sarcastically, he does talk about hating the idea of her going back to Sora later on, so it’s a similar destination in the end, but Axel has a more complicated and confused perspective on the matter, which I think is acceptable.)
Axel is angry, and gets angrier when Xion insists this is “for the good of everyone.” He mutters that “Everybody thinks they’re right…” and snaps at Xion when she protests, pointing out that she’s going to die and she’s doing it willingly. When Xion draws her Keyblade on him, Axel gives one of the most important speeches in the game:
“What’s your problem? You both… think you can do whatever you want. Well, I’m sick of it. Go on, you just keep running. But I’ll always be there to bring you back!”
Axel sounds so tired, and as he speaks he draws his chakrams. And here the game begins its final push by openly equivocating “going back to Sora” with suicide. I mean that: this is indisputably a suicide narrative, and has been for a while, but now it’s going to be out in the open, lacking even the thin, Disney veneer that made cataclysmic events in KH1-KH2 appear kid-friendly. Anyone who’s been suicidal, or has had a suicidal friend, knows this exact scenario, a clash of justifiable selfishness: the self-interest of the person who is suffering and considering suicide as an escape, and the self-interest of the person who is suffering at seeing it happen. Where I was able (or at least attempted) to sidestep real-world issues like the abusive relationship parallels in CoM, or the relationship power imbalance between Roxas, Xion and Axel earlier in Days, I did so mostly because I felt those were unintentional on the part of the writers. But a discussion of suicide as a theme in Days is inevitable. Xion’s story in Days is a suicide narrative. Anyone who was listening to my Retrospective progress posts during 2015-6 knows that progress halted on the Days first draft for two long stretches. The second long stretch came right here, on Day 356, because this is not an easy subject to approach.
We’re asking an important question here: when is a sacrifice – a person’s death – justifiable for the greater good, if ever? All three games in the portable trilogy will be asking different forms of this question. It’s actually the common theme of the trilogy, and all three portable games will come to important, different conclusions – different angles on the same focus. These three conclusions are regimenting for an important final push, though I can’t exactly describe where they’re going until we’ve finished the trilogy. It’s made this section all the harder to write about, simply because I have to squirm in my own spoiler policy as I write.
Xion is hurting – she’s having severe identity issues, depression, she is abused and bullied by her superiors. Roxas is also having identity issues, and he is excluded and essentially also bullied by the Organization, although in his case we have a stronger case of abuse through neglect Nevertheless, Sora, the character we the audience came into this game knowing and presumably care for, needs them both and the fact that they’ll both go back to him seems almost unavoidable at this point. We already know how Roxas’ story ends, and while you could have theorized that Xion might have survived Days prior to now, Naminé’s explanation at the start of the day was perfectly timed to destroy that theory at the exactly right moment. Naminé’s explanation explains Xion’s lack of presence in KH2 and we can’t avoid it. Xion is going to return to Sora, and so we can’t help but see her death as a certain degree of morally “right.” How lovely of us, how heroic.
This is another of Kingdom Hearts’ many instance of whipping its past conclusions with a knotted rope that Axel is here to lash out at the very tropes that are driving the story. He’s the forgotten friend in this mix, the third member of a trio in a game called 358 Days over 2 – Roxas and Xion. Axel’s the one left out. In choosing selfishness, which Kingdom Hearts equivocates with Darkness, Axel is left on the side of the villains at the time of KH2, but his selfishness is one that would stop his friend from committing suicide if he could help it. Axel’s “selfishness” is of the best possible kind, the one person looking out for Roxas and Xion rather than some nebulous “greater good” and a hero he doesn’t care for. He is the big brother. From the perspective of the game, no one here is “right.” All that’s “wrong” is the old presumptions of previous games in the series, and earlier parts of Days itself, which Axel selfishly lashes out alongside his lashing out against his equally selfish friends. And of course, Xion defends herself, because she is “right” as well.
The battle takes place off-screen, but Axel is victorious. Barely. He takes Xion (hooded) back to the castle, where he collapses himself. Xemnas arrives at the scene and collects Xion (DJ Firewolf’s script describes Xemnas picking up Xion “as one would hold a cloth puppet,” and props for that stylistic transcription), and just as heartlessly, Xemnas leaves Axel on the ground, alone.
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).