And finally we come to the peak.
The Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days manga was released in five volumes from 2010-12, famously interrupting the KH2 manga as we’ve already discussed. English releases began when the rights to the Kingdom Hearts manga series was acquired by Yen Press and ran from 2013-15. The Days manga also marks the final manga adaptation for Kingdom Hearts to date, with Amano deciding not to continue with the series after going back to finish KH2. There have been light novel releases for most of the games in the series to date (excusing KHX and KH0.2). Thankfully, the Days manga can be considered a triumphant end to the manga series… to whatever degree it can be considered the end!
There are a lot of factors that helped Days become the best of the KH manga adaptations in my eyes. Some have to do with Amano finally fixing some of his long-running adaptation issues, like winding back his penchant for tone-breaking comedy. Like I said in the KH2 manga review, this mostly came about because Amano redirecting his comedy efforts to Demyx, where they were a better fit, but Demyx isn’t the only one who gets a few laughs. There is an uproariously funny three-chapter visit to Wonderland that benefits from Wonderland being a dedicated home of surreal humour as well. It might be that Amano just got lucky by not blowing his whoopie cushion somewhere where it actually worked, but I’m happy with it all the same.
That said, there is one scene with a bad whoopie cushion-level joke, during the manga’s adaptation of Mission 83. In the game, this mission has Xaldin going to Beast’s Castle to sow the seeds of his plot in KH2, and was a pretty solid sequence showing how Xaldin misunderstands emotions and implying how that would lead to his downfall. It essentially contained all the Organization’s problems in miniature. In the manga, Xaldin goes missing because… no joke, but you’re not going to believe me… he secretly had a habit of drying fruit, and so dried and ate some weird mushrooms, and became so stoned that he babbled about fruit drying to Roxas for the rest of the segment. That was… that was less admirable an adaptation.
But what really makes the Days manga legendary is that, in my mind, it makes marked improvements over the narrative of the game itself. Amano’s version of Roxas is simply more interesting to me in the manga than he is in the game, though I have a little trouble putting my finger on why. Amano’s Xion is also more interesting and in her case the changes are obvious: she’s given numerous opportunities to develop her as her own character, she’s given chances to be happy as well as sad, and to even make plans for the future! Xion’s arc is probably topped in an adorable side-plot where Riku sends Pluto to the Organization with a microphone bug on his collar, and Xion snaps him Pluto up, adopts him and spoils him rotten. In fact, Amano gives Xion so much energy (alike to his depiction with Kairi) that if you checked any random panel with Xion in it, the odds are good that her hair will be in a muss. In that regard she diverges from the original, but that does help the manga stand out as its own product worth reading alongside/instead of the game, as you will.
Days’ original repetition is also torn to shreds by limits of format. Instead of boring the player with something in the neighbourhood of 60 trips to the clock tower, the Days manga can only afford one or two trips a volume, and the Grey Area appears even less than that. The main trio is also allowed to interact with the Disney characters with greater frequency, which cuts down on repetition even further (the game’s lack of interactivity with Disney characters was probably a consequence of Days’ multiplayer format, but a price paid is a price paid no matter what the reasons).
Amano also seems better at preparing for upcoming events than the Days team, especially when it comes to foreshadowing. Naturally there are no times when the timeline seems messed up and where someone goes missing for a month and no one bats an eye, but it’s better than that. Amano’s version does things like foreshadowing Xion siphoning Roxas’ power as early as her missing Keyblade arc, and as I discussed two posts ago, the manga makes use of the beach trip to focus Roxas’ grief at Xion’s death. Amano also tackles some of the game’s deficiencies head-on, to such a degree that I’m not sure if some of my critiques were originally mine, or if they were originally his. Remember when I complained about no one wanting to do things together during the “Vacation” storyline? Yeah, come to think of it, that may have been Amano’s complaint before it was mine, because he spends the entire story with Xion trying to drag her friends into doing stuff together instead of spending it alone.
Amano is also more blunt than the original game, which works a lot to his advantage. The game version of Days is just way too cryptic and invested in its plot twists. For a great example, consider v2 #14, which features a full page spread of Saïx’s vision of Xion as an empty coat instead of a person, and that’s only a quarter of the way through the narrative! While there are times where this approach is arguably weaker, I find I prefer Amano’s approach over Nomura’s. Even today, several games later, you’ll see people asking for full explanations of Days’ plot, and while there are some things that even Amano doesn’t explain in detail (like why Xion dying removes her from people’s memories), I still think those poor confused fans would have a much easier time with the manga version than the game or film.
In short, not perfect but still excellent, and quite possibly outright better than the game and film! To give you a hint of just how much I love the Days manga: I genuinely considered covering it alongside the game and film in the main body of the Retrospective. I ultimately backed away for a number of reasons (including the way Amano spoils stuff earlier than the game and film, even if I prefer that he does), but let me be clear: if you can get ’em, do. If you already have, read ’em again.
Magical Puzzle Clash
Magical Puzzle Clash was a promotional Flash game for Days released by Square Enix and Disney on Disney’s website. It’s since been removed, but it was around for years, and even outlasted coded’s tie-in game from 2011! As it happened, I got a chance to play the game a few years back, and I can tell you that if you missed it, you’re not missing much.
The game was a tile puzzle game like Bejeweled and its lot, except in a “vs” variety not unlike Puyo Puyo or Super Puzzle Fighter. I’m sure fans of title puzzles and drop puzzles, versus or otherwise, could have given you a better comparison than the one I’m making here. You match tiles, earn special powers by destroying larger clusters of tokens, and can use a special tile tied to your character (Roxas, Xion or Axel) to accomplish special effects. You could also trigger spells to heal or mess with your opponent (or yourself, if you hit Confusion).
One problem with having me talk about this game is that I’m just not a fan of the tile puzzle genre. In fact I’m sort of hostile towards the genre and wouldn’t dare critique a game from it, since who wants to hear the opinion of someone who doesn’t like the game from the moment they see it? Thankfully, there’s an aspect of this game I can judge without bias, and so condemn the entire product without actually touching on the game’s particulars! How is this possible you ask? Simple! Magical Puzzle Clash was the worst-optimized tile game I’d ever played. Let me repeat this with context: I used to police the Flash Portal on Newgrounds.com back in the day, and first-time amateur programmers often create Bejeweled clones when they’re feeling ambitious, regardless whether or not their ambition matches up with their skill level. This means you’ll get some real stinkers thrown onto the internet by first-time programmers. Magical Puzzle Clash was the worst-optimized tile game I’d ever played.
To represent the experience, I made sure that every screenshot attached to this comes from a moment of lag: you can tell the first screenshot does because the cursor is over a stone but the stone is not highlighted. There aren’t any such telltale cues in the other two screenshots, because I took them in moments where the game just stopped fucking registering any visual effects at all, including cursor movement, and just had to have them.
The problem had something to do with resource loading, I think: the game was so heavily invested in loading authentic Kingdom Hearts sounds and authentic (heavily aliased, low res) Kingdom Hearts images that by the time it finally loaded everything, Flash’s infamous memory management has strangled the game into an unworkable lag. It got worse as the stages went on. Now, full disclosure: I did play this several years after its release, so it’s possible the failing was actually the fault of a latter-day version of Flash Player messing up the somewhat older game, or perhaps something went wrong with Disney’s servers. But if it wasn’t Flash Player’s or the server’s fault, then this game performed poorly even on a computer that outpaced the original specs. Not a good sign.
You can find a handful of videos of Magical Puzzle Clash online, many of which have the lag I’m talking about. It doesn’t seem to be universal, so maybe the game was okay if you got lucky? If you’d like to play the game yourself, I don’t know what to recommend. I doubt a working downloaded copy exists (as it seemed to be loading external resources, which would render an offline version unworkable), and if it did, it would be little more than an archival curiosity.