Saturday, February 5, 2011

Video Game Level Review # 2: Days 356, 357, and 358

Okay, after that last rant, it is now time for another level review. Actually, I'm going to review three levels. Why? Well, all three are from the same game and happen one after the other after the other. Also, all three levels are relatively short, so I don't have much ground to cover. The main reason though is that I love all three levels. They are three of the best levels in video games. They are the final three levels in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.

Now, naturally, with these being the very last levels there will be massive spoilers in this post, especially since I have to give background information first. So, if you want to play this game and don't want the story spoiled, you probably should not read further than this sentence since from here on out it will be almost entirely spoilers.

I will give you all of the background information necessary to understand what Iis going on in these three levels. I will not bother explaining everything, because the Kingdom Hearts series is more convoluted and confusing than the Zelda time line (which is so confusing that I could write an entire post about it and still have nothing).

Kingdom Hearts is the product of a collaboration between Disney and Square Enix (the company behind Final Fantasy), which means that Mickey Mouse appears with Final Fantasy characters. In addition, there are new characters, such as the main character, Sora. However, he has very little to do with this particular story (at least directly).

In the Kingdom Hearts universe, there are people and creatures called Heartless, which are created when people's hearts are swallowed by darkness. However, if such a person has a strong will, their mind and body will act without the heart, whereas normally they would disappear. These people are called Nobodies. The most powerful Nobodies created a group called Organization XIII, which has the purpose of regaining their hearts. Their plan is to do this by creating Kingdom Hearts (a gigantic heart-shaped moon), by killing Heartless and collecting their hearts. Unfortunately, this can only be done by killing them with a special weapon called a Keyblade (a cross between a key and a sword; yes, it can in fact unlock any door), which can only be used by certain people, such as Sora.

Now, at one point, Sora turns himself into a Heartless (it's complicated, he gets better). This creates a Nobody, who joins the Organization as its thirteenth member to help complete its goal (being Sora's Nobody means that he can also use the Keyblade). His name is Roxas (an anagram of Sora with an x added), and he has no memories of his original life (unlike the other members who remember their original lives). More importantly, however, he is the main character of this game. He goes about killing Heartless while slowly gaining memories (also complicated, don't even bother asking), and making friends with number VII (named Axel) and number XIV (a girl named Xion). However, their happiness does not last, and eventually Xion, confused about her origins, leaves the Organization. Roxas does not stay much longer, because he is also confused, and learns that Axel actually knows most of the answers, but refuses to tell Roxas.

And so we come to Day 356. This is the third to last mission, and is the day that Roxas leaves the organization. I'm not going to say much about the gameplay since there isn't really anything remarkable about it, and I'm going to focus on other aspects. You fight your way through the Castle That Never Was (is that not the best name for a location ever?) fighting other Nobodies (not the ones with names, just random grunts) until you come to the end. Standing in your way is Saix (number VI in the Organization), the second in command. If you read my list of the most evil video game characters, you will remember that I ranked this guy the second most evil character ever. He tells Roxas that resignation is not an option, but Roxas is not really interested in talking, so they fight. This was a really good fight, largely because after about 24 hours of playing this game and watching Saix be his evil self I was ready to kick him around a bit. The music is awesome and Saix's battle quotes are even awesome (example: "I will leave you with nothing!") . Actually, Saix in general is awesome (though it pains me to say so with how much I hate him). He uses a huge sword called a Claymore and goes berserk, changing completely from the rest of the game (he was completely calm but now he's screaming and aggressive). After the fight Roxas walks away while Saix acts all dramatic, as if he's dying (he doesn't, and lives to be evil another day). Before I move on, though, I do have one point to make. I'm not sure why this is happening at all. Throughout the game it is demonstrated that it is possible to teleport from Roxas's starting point to any other point in the Kingdom Hearts universe, so I'm not sure why Roxas has to go through the trouble of walking out the front door (or why there is a front door, for that matter). Maybe he just wanted to fight Saix; perhaps he hates him even more than I do.

Then we move on to Day 357. Roxas finds himself in a world called Twilight Town (yes, it is always twilight there), unsure of what to do. He decides to go to the top of the clock tower, the place where he, Xion, and Axel ate ice cream every day. Once there he actually runs into Xion, who has her hood up, obscuring her face.

I should explain (HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD!!! IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR BUT DON'T WANT MAJOR PLOT POINTS SPOILED DO NOT READ!!!) that it has been revealed (to the player) that Xion is not actually a Nobody, but a being created by the Organization to absorb Sora's power, giving the Organization a Keyblade wielder easier to control. She says that she has absorbed so much of Roxas's power that she is actually turning into Sora, and that she has come to fulfill her purpose and take the rest of the power. And so begins the mission, a four-round boss fight against Xion, who takes the form of a strange armored creature. You fight in Wonderland (from Disney), Halloween Town (from The Nightmare Before Christmas), and the Cave of Wonders (which they can somehow enter despite not being Aladdin). After these three rounds Roxas runs through a dark tunnel before emerging onto the air around the top of the clock tower in Twilight Town (which he can somehow walk on). Xion appears, now as tall as the building, and fights Roxas one final time.

This is one of my favorite boss fights of all time. The best part is the music. Its a really depressing piano song which more than any other boss theme I have ever heard is perfectly suited for the fight. This is literally a fight to the death between two best friends, and the music perfectly conveys that. According to YouTube videos I have found this song is called "Dirge of the Fourteenth." Even the name is appropriate! (with Xion being the fourteenth member of the Organization) Eventually Xion is defeated, and the two wind up on the ground, and Xion back to her normal form. Roxas temporarily forgets who she is, but that doesn't stop her from giving a long death speech. As her body crystallizes Xion sort of reveals that she was really trying to get Roxas to kill her so that he would not be eliminated by the Organization, and asks him to destroy Kingdom Hearts because Xemnas (the leader of the Organization) has some evil plan for it. This scene would be one of the most tragic I have ever seen, but Roxas screams "Who will I have ice cream with?" OK, I may be a horrible person for thinking this, but I found that line hilarious. When I first heard it, I laughed non-stop for several minutes. At the very end, we see Xemnas and Saix discuss Xion's death, and Xemnas orders Saix to bring Roxas back.

And so we come to my favorite of the three missions, Day 358. Roxas shows up on the path to the Castle That Never Was, a dark city with a rainstorm. You know that this is going to be awesome because it's raining, and rain makes everything better! Roxas walks in, now wearing his hood up (the Organization members all wear long black hooded coats). Some Heartless called Neoshadows appear, and in response Roxas summons not one, but TWO KEYBLADES! Yeah, you get two weapons for this mission! You don't get this power for long, but it is sufficiently awesome in the short time you get it. You fight through the Neoshadows with ease, since you kill them in one hit (for perspective, this enemy was a boss earlier in the game). When you reach the base of the skyscraper, Roxas sees another character wearing the same coat as him (but not an Organization member): Riku, Sora's best friend. He runs up the side of the skyscraper and throws Riku one of his Keyblades. The two destroy the Neoshadows, but promptly turn on each other. It turns out that Riku has come to get Roxas, and can't allow him to proceed any further, leading to a boss fight. And so we get to the final boss fight, a simple one on one sword fight. Awesome (yeah, I use the word "awesome" a lot, deal with it). Once again the music is superb, and the fight is very fun. At the very end we see some really cool scenes, which include such events as Roxas cutting a fireball in half. Eventually Riku takes on the form of another character (once again, it's complicated, don't ask) and overpowers Roxas. For a final treat, Riku (who has now gotten a really cool deep voice) has a conversation with a character whose voice actor is Christopher Lee! Can this get any cooler?

The fact is, these are three of my favorite levels in video game history. They are very satisfying to play through (as evidenced by the fact that I've replayed them many times), tie up the story very well, have great boss fights, and have consistently great music that fits very well with the occasion. This is how you make a climactic level.

There are other climactic levels, however, which are not nearly as great. Their day is coming.


  1. You've got to love the line about the ice cream, that's classic.

  2. My favorite sentence in this review is, "This is one of my favorite boss fights of all time." And now I'm off to YouTube to go hear, "Dirge of the Fourteenth."