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February 1, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (Part 4)

Go back to read Part 1, Part 2 and/or Part 3. With such a complex story, you’ll need it. When we left off, we had reached the great big battle against Pete. Armed with his brand new Keyblade, Sora is ready for a long battle!

Pete can take a lot of hits before going down.
He's covered in an armor of lipids.

The first stage of the battle pits Sora against a normal Pete; when the cat's HP are down a first time, a second stage occurs and Pete moves on to serious attacks – including one that, somehow, turns him into a sphere of light that chases Sora around and shoots thunder. Pete can throw balls that cause Sora to lose his special attacks if he’s hit. Last but not least, Pete can make himself temporarily invincible. It's not easy, but after a moment he's down.

No, Data-Riku! Don't fall to the stereotypical possessions
your namesake is sadly known for!
Just give up, Pete! …what’s that? …he reprogrammed Data-Riku, the spirit of the journal, to fight Sora? …Oh yes, you better believe it. The kid gloves are off, this is the really tough fight. It’s also a heavy fight on the emotional side since this is a battle between friends, however virtual they may be. Oh, and by the way? This is a three-stage battle coming off the heels of a two-stage battle, forming what’s basically a five-stage battle. With no way between fights to change your setup. On the first stage, it’s just Sora and Riku sparring, with the occasional teleportation thrown in. On the second stage, Data-Riku often slams the ground, sending a bunch of blocks in all directions. The third stage features Data-Riku using teleportation to repeatedly attack Data-Sora from all angles, and the only course of action during this attack is: Run the fuck away. Dodge-roll. And when that damn attack is over, slash all you want.

Oh, by the way, you want a real challenge? Do this five-stage battle without any healing Action Commands whatsoever. When I reached that part of the game, I hadn’t yet grasped all the mechanics of the game, which means I was not ready to do this battle. It took multiple tries (and thankfully I was allowed to restart at the stage I died in, and not from the very start of the five-stage battle), but I eventually made my way through.

Either way, it takes a while and all the player's resources, but eventually Data-Riku is defeated and falls unconscious. As the group approaches him, an odd keyhole appears over him. Since the journal took the shape of the virtual Riku, and the journal was corrupted by Pete, then the source of all of the journal’s problems are currently inside this Riku, so it’s only by entering his mind and defeating the bugs there that the journal will be returned to normal.

I have to say, I kind of like the updated cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts
HD 2.5 ReMIX. Much better images for this review.

Ans stop helping you? Oh no! I went this far, I'm not
going to back out!
I’m sparing you a lot of story here, but the general gist of it is that when Data-Sora enters Riku (Try not to make this sound like it’s straight out of a lemon fanfic), he meets a smaller Riku who managed to free himself from the bugs… but since Pete rot him to the core, this means that even Data-Riku’s memories – the backup data inside the personification of the journal – are also corrupted, and since they’re needed to reboot the journal and bring it back the way it was before… this means that Data-Sora has to go deeper, into the backup data, find a System Sector in each world, beat the viruses within that System Sector, one world at a time. Oh, by the way, the worlds have changed. They’re EXTREMELY buggy, covered in blocks, and there are MANY, MANY enemies.

See how Data-Sora's Level is back to 1? Re:coded, that's just mean.
Oh, and by the way? The bugs also had an effect on Data-Sora while within Data-Riku’s memories… Data-Sora’s Level, no matter where it was when you got to that point, has fallen back to 1. But then, how do you get it back? Well, the core memories of Data-Riku are made of five worlds: Destiny Islands, Traverse Town, Wonderland, Agrabah and a final core. A percentage appeared on top of the screen, showing “0/20%” when the portal to Destiny Islands open. In each world, you have to seek prize blocks (those neat yellow blocks containing items and other useful stuff), and break them to regain percentage, to a maximum of 20% per data-world visited. As your percentage increases, so do your level and stats, which come back slowly but surely. If you were, say, Level 40 at that moment, and you regain all 20% in Destiny Islands, you’ll be back to Level 8! Just be careful, these ultra-buggy locations have some nasty surprises…

Just in case the inanimate ones weren't annoying enough.
Oh yeah… remember those horrible yellow blocks I keep getting mad at, because they hurt Sora when he attacks them? …They’re an enemy now. Remember those black blocks that grew legs, the Bug Blox? They’re not alone. Some yellow blocks gained sentience too, and these Danger Blox will still hurt Sora if he touches them. You can circumvent that by using special attacks, especially long-distance ones that keep you far from those damn yellow menaces. The metal blocks have their monster variant, too, but they’re not too bad… well, aside that they can turn back to normal, indestructible blocks for a moment. I guess that’s all I have to say about the new enemies... Enough with the blah blah, we got some data cleanup to do!

Five doors. They all lead to different levels of danger.
From that point on, things are pretty straightforward. Data-Sora goes inside Destiny Islands, clears it and reaches 20%; then clears Traverse Town and is back at 40%; then it’s Wonderland and he’s at 60%; and finally, Agrabah at 80%. And of course, each new world within the memories is harder than the last. Every time a location is cleared, Data-Sora and Riku reminisce on the good times, both before and during this adventure. After Agrabah is cleared, the fifth and final zone is unlocked… and it leads directly to the bugged core of Data-Riku. What, the boss already? Oh… And it’s pretty basic, too; just another fight against a Data-Riku, kind of simple considering the lengths at which the actual Data-Riku went in the previous fight… When this Data-Riku is defeated, Sora feels all of his strength come back, meaning the real Data-Riku is free!

…But since all the memories are repaired, the place starts shaking. The memory Data-Riku creates a portal to send Data-Sora through so that he can come out of the memories; Riku also mentions that, unlike what Sora thinks, their first encounter was on Destiny Islands, and not on the circular platform just before that world... Okay, time to go in! Past that portal is a 2D level in what’s one of the trippiest landscapes. At the end of that level, Data-Sora has an encounter with Maleficent, and has to fight her dragon form. Maleficent has a lot of hit points, but it can be depleted rather easily since the place is still two-dimensional, Maleficent doesn’t take flight – as a dragon? Shaaaaaaame – and gets taken down after multiple slashes at her chest and face. This final enemy defeated, Data-Sora appears out of Data-Riku’s memories.

Ah, Maleficent. It doesn't matter how powerful you are; if you keep using the
same schtick over and over, of course the heroes will know how to defeat you!

He is greeted by Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Jiminy and Data-Riku. The latter sends the other four through a portal leading to their real world, and once they’re back at the real Disney Castle of the KH universe, Data-Riku informs them that with all the bugs wiped out of the journal, it can be restored to its original form… which means that it will be reset, and with it Data-Sora’s memories erased, along with any traces of the adventure against the bugs (since it wasn’t part of the actual data).

What? No! Do you have any idea how long it took me to get there? You’re just gonna erase it all? Curse you Nomura!!!

As if that was not enough, a problem appears when it turns out that not all the bugs may have been taken care of! The procedure may lead to bugs spilling out into the KH world! Data-Riku orders Mickey to lock the journal, which will reset it… and most likely make it impossible to salvage the data characters’ memories. But why are the bugs still there? Oh, and another thing we're forgetting: both Pete and Maleficent are still in the journal and might be erased! Sadly, this means Data-Sora has to find them and get them out of the journal.

Because nothing is ever simple in Kingdom Hearts, is it?

Ugh, don't you just hate it when virtual characters
become something more than the code they were made from?
Listening to his heroic heart, Sora goes to look for Pete and Maleficent, and goes through another shoot-em ‘up level (dammit! Another one?), eventually reaching them on a battlefield where the two villains are fighting… Darkside? Oh no, you again? You're at the wrong place, Clichés Land is right next door! Sora gets the two villains to leave and faces off against this returning glitch monster, and Data-Riku explains who this really is: See, in the first Kingdom Hearts, Sora temporarily turned into a Heartless. As I told you already, I don’t know all the details. All I know is that, for a short time, Sora was a Heartless, and since the journal described all that happened, it also described this event. And thus Sora’s Heartless exists within the journal’s data. And it took the form of Darkside. However, when the boss of Destiny Islands was defeated, it wasn’t erased; instead, it waited and collected the data of all those Heartless Sora defeated afterwards on his quest to repair the Datascape. See, when a Heartless is defeated in the normal KH world, it turns back into the person it was before. But these people do not exist in Jiminy’s journal, so the data those Heartless were made of instead went… somewhere else. As a result, they powered up the large monster, who hid outside of the main events of the plot up until that point, until Darkside – Sora’s Heartless – was powerful enough to pose a real threat to that world.

"Congratulations! You have defeated me. But can you
defeat... yourself?"
Are you still awake? Look, I know this was long and tedious to read through, but dammit, I try to explain those things to the best of my abilities. Come on, wake up! This is one of the toughest bosses in the game, this is not a time for sleeping! The first stage of this battle is against Darkside, who uses upgraded forms of his old attacks as well as new ones. When that form is defeated, it shrinks, and appears on the ground, as a completely black Sora with yellow eyes. What’s strange is that, despite this being a Heartless, it’s still using light attacks against Data-Sora… This one is pretty tough, but manageable. When the second stage is defeated, the main Data-Heartless Sora summons two clones. You have to deal with THREE of this guy now. Seriously, good luck. Oh, and when you defeat all three? Data-Heartless Sora summons the clones AGAIN, and they’re even nastier than before! Okay, this HAS to be the final battle, right? Well… almost. The evil Sora reverts to Darkside, but Mickey is summoned on the battlefield in the journal, and helps Data-Sora use a light spell on Darkside, reverting it to the lowly Heartless shadow it started off as. A few slashes at it, and this evil is – Finally! – defeated.

Took long enough, huh?

"This is but a goodbye."
Eyes, you better not start your crying!
When this tough fight is over, Data-Sora and Mickey go back to Data-Riku, and sends Mickey, Pete and Maleficent back to the real KH world. This time, the journal’s data really will be reset. Data-Sora is really sad that he won’t get to remember his friends, but Mickey reassures him that as long as Data-Sora is in their hearts, he’ll never really quite be gone. Oh, so the Power of Friendship? The power of memory? Will it really be stronger than an electronic procedure meant to erase everything?

Actually… no. Not everything. After the resetting procedure is complete, we learn that Data-Riku, who’s still the spirit of the journal, hasn’t lost his memories of the event. However, the new Data-Sora has. What’s more, a strange new world has opened in the repaired data, a world that wasn’t there in the first place: Castle Oblivion. Mickey asks Data-Riku to bring him into the Datascape again.

Data-Sora wakes up in Traverse Town, with Pluto licking his face, and he quickly meets Mickey. Of course, this Data-Sora’s memory having been reset, Mickey has to explain who he is, after which the mouse explains about the new world that just opened. Data-Sora, who’s still able to use the Keyblade innately (as if he never forgot that), opens the portal to Castle Oblivion. There, Mickey is nowhere to be seen, but a cloaked figure is standing there. I doubt it's Data-Riku.

No, a digital cake holder with a mustache and monocle.
Yes, it's a card.
The figure hands Data-Sora a World Card of the Destiny Islands. Okay, bear with me, this is gonna be complicated. (Big surprise there. I said it, I repeat it: nothing’s ever simple in Kingdom Hearts.) The World Card will reshape the current room into a piece of that world and will create illusory images of the people in that world. The hooded figure explains that Data-Sora can do whatever he wants to these illusions; they’re not the real deal. For some reason, Data-Sora will still remember them when they appear, and until the World Card expires; but when it does expire, the room will go back to normal and he’ll forget almost everything that happened – oh no, wait, he’ll have this lingering feeling that he forgot something important, or someone important. And this memory of what has never been will keep tormenting him, his virtual mind will fail him but the heart will know… Damn, that sounds corny.

There’s a catch, though; each World Card has three possible outcomes. A normal ending, an alternate ending and an extra ending. It is some kind of bonus challenge to get all 18 endings through the six World Cards. Depending on which ending cards you get, the outcome of Castle Oblivion will differ.

After the bit in Destiny Islands is completed, the cloaked figure gives to Data-Sora World Cards representing Traverse Town, Wonderland, the Olympic Coliseum, Agrabah and Hollow Bastion, restating exactly what I explained previously: Since Data-Sora will never remember what happened with those six World Cards, he’s allowed to act in any way he wants. He can be the same Data-Sora he always is, helping people unequivocally. But he can also go neutral and not do much. Or, he can be a complete jerk or do everything wrong, which is also an option. This kind of reminds me of that recent game, Undertale, where the path you choose to take and the interactions with the other main characters shape up what’s coming afterwards. There are still too many differences to consider it a true parallel, but Castle Oblivion still represents one of the rare cases in video games where your actions matter, where they have different results based on the outcome. (It's still a lot less complex than what the team behind Undertale did, which is sad, but hey, who cares? Undertale is awesome.) However, no matter how many times memories are wiped, how many times World Cards are used and completed, one thing remains: That nagging impression that something is forgotten. But the impossibility to know what. And if Sora causes any scenario that will lead to him feeling any kind of remorse, he’ll still feel it.

This is an extremely difficult concept to set up in fiction, but it can be pulled off. Here, the entire point of this constant playing with Data-Sora’s memories of the adventure that just happened – which he can’t remember due to the reset – and of the actual events described in the journal is to make him realize that he’s a virtual character… Or, if you prefer, someone who can be modified, someone whose memory can be rewritten easily... Someone who does not actually exist. A figment of data, nothing of importance, a nobody. Those of you who know the Kingdom Hearts series know exactly what I’m talking about right now. Admit it.

What can I say? I like beating up the fat Pete. It's fun. And just desserts
for this horrible bastard.
Every World Card replicates, more or less, one of the things that happened in that world during the main story seems to test something from Data-Sora; Destiny Islands tests his basics, Traverse Town tests his memory (as once again you need to bring Huey, Dewey and Louie in the right order), Wonderland tests his interactions with characters (by having to do four tasks to help the characters of Wonderland), the Olympic Coliseum tests his fighting abilities, Agrabah tests his platforming speed (as he has to chase and catch Iago again). The Hollow Bastion card mixes all of this in a miniature level, at the end of which he must fight Pete, and then get to Maleficent, both in the fastest time possible. And yet, despite never remembering these people once the World Card stops projecting its illusion, he still dearly misses them and feels that pain in his heart…

When all these trials are over, Data-Sora is visited by the hooded figure again… but instead of succumbing to the darkness and depression at the thought of all these people, Data-Sora instead chooses to accept the pain and grow with it. For some reason, this enrages the hooded figure, whose entire goal was to make Sora feel as useless, as unreal, as much a Nobody as he is…

…Wait, a Nobody?

…Yup, a Nobody. This hooded figure is NOT Data-Riku. In fact, it’s Roxas, Sora’s Nobody. I could spend a moment explaining what the Nobodies are, but I feel this Wiki page will do a much better job. Long story short, Nobodies aren’t supposed to exist. For Data-Roxas, it’s even worse as by all accounts not only shouldn’t he exist, he’s a Data version of a character who shouldn’t exist. Double the suck. And this is the final boss, too…

So I’ll discuss this in Part 5, the final part of this – really long – review. See you next Friday.