Kingdom Hearts 358 2 Days Music Extended Essay

Day 357: Tears

Trigger Warning: Suicide.

After a brief cutscene involving Hayner, Pence and Olette, we regain control of Roxas, who has come to Twilight Town out of his typical stupidity. Ah yes, go exactly where they’ll look for you, you bright and shining moron. This game truly is Crisis Core’s daughter.

You have free reign of Twilight Town, with no enemies to impede you. It’s a mournful and nostalgic trip that feels almost like a death-march. When you finally arrive at Station Heights, the game throws a few prompts at you. It seems that Station Heights is going to serve as your new “Grey Area” from here on out. You can visit Holo-Missions and Challenges here (a pure game abstraction – naturally there’s no way the Organization is going to let you run around in their holo-programs and give you Challenge Sigils), and the Moogle has even followed you to the site, saying you’re his best customer. I like you, Moogle. Come back in one of the sequel games, would you? Here you can get ready for the end of the game, because once you go up the clock tower, there’s no going back.

Atop the tower, Roxas admits to himself that he has nowhere to run. He mopes for a while, but is eventually surprised when a hooded Xion arrives at the scene and sits next to him (almost without him noticing), bearing ice cream as a peace offering. Roxas, I think I could have killed you by now. The Organization actually employs a sniper – you understand that, right?

So what is Xion doing here after what we just saw, you ask? After they sit and eat for a while, she announces: “Roxas… I’m out of time,” and she unhoods. This surprises Roxas like it did Axel a few days back, and the camera gradually pans up Xion to give us the same reveal as she makes a speech. Xion says Roxas has given her so many memories (Sora’s memories) that she’s changing. “If you see somebody else’s face… a boy’s face… then that means I’m almost ready.” Xion has transformed into Sora.

…Except for her voice? The juxtaposition always jars me: that face should not be using that voice, and coincidentally, that voice should not be coming from that face! Curiously, this is the only example of voice-and-face juxtaposition I’m familiar with that bothers me like this (I don’t mind, say, the Harry Potter films doing it when someone is transformed), and I’m not sure why this has me so in a tizzy. In any event, I would ask you both to please collect yourselves and get back in order.

Xion is acting strangely, even if you set aside her face. She says that she’ll have to “play her part” if she transforms any further. It’s not clear what she means, though a lot of that has to do with her motivations in this scene, which you won’t understand until later. In the film, one of the game’s final boss themes plays during this scene, as the battle it belongs to obviously doesn’t occur in the film. The absence of the upcoming final boss battle is yet another letdown, but I’m glad they remastered the music. Not everyone likes it, but Yoko Shimomura definitely does, since not only did she remaster the whole song when she didn’t have to, but she included another remastering in her album memòria!

Just then, Xion walks off the ledge of the clock tower and into the air, but doesn’t fall! Are we inside some kind of simulation? It’s Twilight Town, you can see why I might jump to that conclusion! Xion suddenly announces that she has to absorb Roxas to become whole, and begins to gather darkness around her! The PS3 and unpatched PS4 film then fades to black, and fades back in several game-minutes later on a (mostly) unrelated shot of darkness breaking, which is maybe a little too clever, as it makes it look like the two scenes are directly connected even though there’s a entire missing boss battle in between!  The film just… makes it look like Xion fainted!  Thankfully, the PS4 version received an incredibly unlikely patch adding a brand-new film cutscene illustrating the final phase of the upcoming battle, which was a hell of a surprise!  This patch adds a short, entirely new scene where Roxas runs up to Xion (as he used to know her) in a black void, before the void consumes her.

Xion is often considered this game’s final boss, though in practice there is another boss after this (anyone familiar with KH2 can probably guess who it is). This is something Kingdom Hearts starts doing during this era, and you can find similar Arguable Final Bosses versus Technically-Final Bosses in all the completed games to date (Days, BBS, coded, DDD, even KHX to a degree). Xion summons a strange set of armour to her, which for me has always been undercut by its helmet, which combines the Organization emblem with Sora’s hair to create a morning star look that’s just awful in my eyes. The rest of the armour seems designed after Sora’s clothes if they were armour.

Xion’s first wave of darkness transports her and Roxas to the Bizarre Room in Wonderland, both of them shrunk down, and we see another of the Organization’s Devices (from Mission 90) sitting on the table. This device seems to power Xion up somehow, causing her to transform before the device itself collapses.

Xion’s first form is the most inexplicable, and inadvertently makes it harder to understand what’s going on with her later forms as a consequence. (Ed. Hirokey has informed me that the fight is probably supposed to be a reference to the Trickmaster, except instead of folding cutout arms, Xion has card wings.  It’s an interesting approach, and maybe one that would have played out with more success in a higher resolution product?)  The fight here involves… well, actually, the first thing you’re likely to do is to try to fetch the Ordeal Badge and Blazon, but after that… the fight here involves Xion taking aerial dashes at Roxas and you edging in with cuts of your own. It’s a purely responsive boss fight, and after one gets used to her patterns, there won’t be much left to learn or handle. One thing to mention is that she can heal herself here and in the next few forms, but you can interrupt that with an attack, so it’s not so bad. The battle theme here is “Shrouding Dark Cloud,” the Heartless boss theme originally from KH1.

It’s the second phase where things get difficult. Xion and Roxas are teleported to Halloween Town, to the room where you fought Leechgrave (the ruins of Oogie’s Manor), where another device transforms Xion again. Now her wings are gone, while her Keyblade has been transformed into something resembling the Chimera’s arm from KH:FM, a reference lost on international audiences at the time. The Battle theme here is “Vim and Vigor,” the Disney boss theme of KH2, although it’s probably being used more because it was the theme of Leechgrave than for any other reason. Oh and look! One last parting close-up of the awful, flat Halloween Town sky, and it’s the worst shot of the set! Glad we got to say goodbye, isn’t it?

Thanks to the Chimera Keyblade (and the upcoming third stage of the battle), it will soon become clear what is supposed to be going on in this final boss battle, even if the Wonderland stage of the battle didn’t get that across as intended, unfortunately. The Organization’s devices are somehow focusing Sora’s memories in Xion to match the environment, turning her into something from Sora’s past. Xion makes this even clearer after some opening blows, as she uses Ragnorok almost exclusively in this fight, directly connecting her to Sora. Her strategy’s so simple that it becomes hard to overcome for lack of gaps: she chases you, uses combos, and floods the screen with lasers of death. One becomes quickly forced to adapt with long-range attacks or a lot of dodging, waiting for her extended stretches of pursuit rather than lasers. I can’t help but wonder if the player was supposed to hide behind the rocks in the arena here, but it barely works in practice.

The third stage transports Roxas and Xion to the device Roxas planted in Agrabah, where we get a rare one: a reference Japanese audiences might not recognize instead of the other way around!  This time it’s Kurt Zisa (remember, he wasn’t included in Japanese Vanilla!). Kurt Zisa Xion has four arms and some killer close range attacks, including the dreaded Ars Arcanum and a stomp attack, but she’s also one fo the weakest of Xion’s forms defensively. The glass cannon tactics she’s employing make it a lot easier to take her out than the previous form, or maybe even the first, if she doesn’t outright kill you first. The battle theme here is Days’ own “Fight and Away.”

The final boss form transports you back to where you probably expected a final boss fight to take place: the Clock Tower in Twilight Town. This is the scene included in the film. The boss music here is the true final boss theme we already heard in the film: “Vector to the Heavens,” a theme that was sadly marred by the DS hardware until the release of the OST and HD remake. It’s been noted that the title, “Vector to the Heavens” is just another way to say “Way to the Sky,” with “Sora” being a word for “Sky.”

Roxas is now the one standing in the air over the clock tower (though lower than the actual ledge) while Xion has become needlessly giant and is standing more-or-less on the ground. You already know how I feel about giant humans, and the same goes here, undercutting the drama for me considerably. Roxas can attack Xion at waist level here while she launches her attacks against you and the invisible floor. Dual-wielding two Organization-themed Keyblades (which are so easily dodged that they’re almost harmless), Xion has several Light attacks, not to mention a vortex attack that she usually follows with Roxas’ famous Limit Break from KH2:FM+, Magic Hour. She tends to shout “Stop holding back!” when she casts it as well, it’s all rather surprising. Xion also uses Trinity Limit to flood the arena with Light. The KHWiki notes this isn’t a Light-based attack (neither is Ragnorok, apparently?) but rather Nil-based, so that’s something you can take into consideration.

The biggest problem here is that giant bosses as a concept are really starting to show their age, and even Days’ stiff movement controls have you easily dodging almost all of Xion’s attacks by accident. Most of Days’ giant bosses have succeeded by hitting you with area attacks, not precision strikes like Keyblades. To recapture the spirit of KH2’s late-game duels, Days would have to pit you against a human-sized opponent for the finale. I still wish the game could have ended with a dual against Xion herself, maybe even in her familiar human form (or if we must, even against her Sora form) rather than this Attack on Titan shebang all over again.

After the battle, Xion returns to regular size, causing Roxas to fall from his place in mid-air and down to the ground. There, Xion’s armour dissolves into darkness and the film returns, finding Xion in her natural form. Roxas instantly no longer recognizes her, as she is dying and the chain of memories is already starting to snap right in front of our eyes. Roxas gradually comes to recognize that she’s going to die and that he’s responsible, but he still can’t remember who she is or how they got to be here.

Xion insists that this was her choice to die here: “Better that, than to do nothing… and let Xemnas have his way.” The implication here is one of “Suicide by Cop“: Xion intentionally provoked Roxas into killing her by pretending to be an evil clone that out for his identity.  Very dark!  And upsetting!

According to interviews, it’s been said that in early plans, Xion was actually going to turn evil and try to absorb Roxas! They apparently backed off because the writers saw Xion as “too pure” to do this. A lot of discussion on this topic has been directed at that line about purity, and how it makes Xion the same as every other female lead in Kingdom Hearts.  Others have talked about flaws in Xion’s character overall, some advocating that Xion should have gone evil to make her “more interesting.” I think the discussion needs to be turned away from that. Naturally I agree that the writers have a consistent, boring sexism dragging them down, and I agree that the “purity” interview frames this as boring sexism, but that’s not my point.  No matter what their reasons, the writers changed the plot away from one of the oldest clone clichés in the book, and that’s good enough for me. Highfalutin things like “science” tells me that thoughts have no weight, but I’d swear the “clone tries to kill the original to become real” plot has happened so often that you could bring every instance of that tired old plot together and crush someone to death. Ultimately, the idea of Xion using the evil clone plot as a red herring seems almost new and refreshing to me, even if it’s only one degree removed from the cliché!

Xion begins to fragment into memories, saying she’s going back to Sora now. Xion is insistent that this is a positive thing, but it’s unclear to me if the writers agree or disagree. The scene is shot as per a tragedy, not even a necessary tragedy.  It’s as though the writers recognize that, in the end, Xion’s death was not positive, and thank goodness for that.  The only scene that seems to feel Xion’s death was unapologetically a positive thing is upcoming, but reeks of an edit to me.

My thoughts on this are as follows: Xion is an excellent depiction of a depressed and suicidal person, and I presume this was an intentional characterization, though a lack of intent would hardly nullify their bullseye. In fact, for the first time, I feel I can say that someone at Square Enix may actually know what they’re talking about, despite pervading problems that suggest a lack of research in other parts of the project, like the juvenilization of Roxas seeming to stem from a poor understanding of how to write teenagers. Xion follows familiar steps to a depressed person seeking death, and her attempts to justify her own death are not only textbook but genuinely strike me as presented as coming from depression and suicidal urges, something writers of suicide narratives often fail to accomplish.  This is especially important in Days, as Xion is trying to imply that her suicidal urges come from an urge to rejoin Sora because that’s “right.” Oh, she says it, and I’m sure that thinking in that way is of some comfort to her, but in the end I still feel that her self-destructive urges come more or at least as much from depression than what she thinks is “right.”  In the end, I feel that Xion is depressed and suicidal, and the game is (excusing the upcoming scene, which infuriates me) speaking against her suicide, saying that she should have had value and should have been allowed to live, and that her death is tragic.

The capstone on this has always been the fact that fan backlash against Xion has also always struck me as specific and familiar: as resembling attacks on the real-life depressed and suicidal people. Fans seem particularly eager to call Xion “pointless.” Kingdom Hearts fans will reflexively damn any scene they don’t like as “pointless.” Anything that doesn’t advanced the A-plot at mach speed is “pointless.” Character development: pointless. Slow advancement of the main plot: pointless. The main plot going in directions they don’t like: pointless, and in this we see how the argument has lost a considerable amount of steam in favour of being a generic bludgeon used in all debates. This kind of “generic bludgeon” happens all the time in any discussion group, from fandom to academia, and it always undermines actual discussion. In the end, “pointlessness” evaporates the need for an argument in the eyes of KH fans: you say something is “pointless” and you “win.”

In any event, Xion is “pointless.” She is pointless because she takes time away from Roxas’ story. She is pointless because she doesn’t advance the main plot, but only her own. How dare someone who is upset distract the plot by being upset. She is pointless because they didn’t want her, and don’t want her still. The fans will tell you – eagerly – how glad they are she has died, and that she deserved to die. I should hate to make a spoiler, but it’s justified here: Xion may be coming back in KH3, and fans are eager to tell you how little she deserves life, and how much she deserves to be dead, even more than any other character they despise.

Coincidentally, a depressed person is often called pointless, or useless. They are useless because they can’t accomplish basic tasks, because they must spend so much time tending to themselves instead of others. They are useless because they aren’t the friend, or lover, or child that someone else wanted, and they don’t want them still.  People are happy to tell them how little they deserve to have life.

I could say more, but we would be here for a great deal of time. In short – and I’m going to say this as deliberately as possible to make myself clear – I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the attacks directed at a character with suicidal depression, who expresses herself in the way a person with suicidal depression would express themselves, so precisely match those insults used to harass and condemn real-world people with suicidal depression. Certainly not when there are so many other approaches they could have taken. Fans have gone out of their way, repeatedly and with force, to say: “No, Kingdom Hearts is wrong, the depressed really are pointless and don’t deserve to live.” Indeed, it is the disturbingly frequent calls for death and the not-so-frequent but still adamant declarations that the series is wrong to continue in this direction that push this from being an ugly and suspicious “coincidence” of behaviour to being a grim certainty in the face of the open suicide narrative that is Days.

I also think it is no coincidence that the first truly prominent female character in the series is seen as interrupting the plots of the men, and that fans think this is deserving of death (indeed, calls for Xion’s death actually predate Days’s release and go back to the shipping community’s fears that she would get in the way of Roxas and Axel’s relationship).  I also don’t think it’s surprising that people accused of misogyny in this case will deflect to arguments of pointlessness, because society might not support your “right” to attack women for being women, but they will happily support your “right” to attack women, especially mentally ill women, for being useless. Society is like that.

And even if, after everything else, there were some morally justified reason for these attacks, certainly we can agree that no depressed or suicidal person in the fandom experience their fellow fans telling someone a character who is depressed and suicidal that they do not deserve to live.

There’s a reason I always footnote that a piece of media is at its worst when it does real-world harm: the real-world harm outstrips the rest of it.  The rest of it becomes irrelevant, and I have no particular urge to discuss the gameplay or narrative as though the hate could be pushed aside.  The same is true in other situations as well. I’ve long since stopped listening to the arguments of Xion’s hatedom, because their real-world harm outstrips their media analysis and renders it irrelevant in its shadow. So for those who aren’t fans of Xion, I say this… maybe it’s not important to talk about how a fictional character from 8 years ago deserves to be dead, how her very existence disgusts you, and how she was pointless and only got in the way of more important things, and how her having life again will only do more harm to the people who “matter.” And while you’re at it, maybe take the time to reconsider how you interact with other people, because I find that that sort of attitude rarely comes exclusively from media criticism. No one sat down and said “Of course, she’s mentally ill!  I’ll attack her like this!”  They said “She behaves in a certain fashion, and I believe this kind of behaviour deserves to be punished by removal, silencing, and death.”

Of course, one of the many offenders on this train is Days itself, which will itself say that Xion’s death – and later Roxas’ death – is justified. This is the later scene I referring to earlier. The only reason I can so much as stand to look at the series after it made an atrocious claim like that is because, 1) the game itself doesn’t seem so certain, so much so that the later scene feels like some kind of poorly-advised, last-minute addition, 2) Kingdom Hearts continues to be brutal to its own past, and will tear apart this ambiguity in later games, like a constant process of revision.

Back to the plot at last. Xion has a dying request for Roxas, which is to free the hearts they’ve encaged in Kingdom Hearts. Urm… well, okay, I mean no good guys showed any inclination in this direction in the past, but… oh, wait, I get it! The game is making another incredibly weak attempt to tie Days into KH2. Okay, I understand, carry on. Just then, Xion begins to freeze from the feet up, an effect I can only explain as happening because she’s a creation of Vexen’s? Even that’s a stretch. Xion insists that they can’t let Xemnas have Kingdom Hearts, which is the end of our strange, under-cooked subplot about Xemnas’ right-to-rule. Xion seems to have realized Xemnas has no right to rule, and it seems to be coming from her sense of being misused, connecting us right back to Beast’s Castle and Beast’s treatment of his servants. It’s all there, it’s right there, and I’m so frustrated because the whole theme is so weakly presented! I can see the lines but they’re faint, they’re fading, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m one of the first to notice this theme was even here!

Xion says goodbye to Roxas, and “see you again.” She calls Roxas and Axel her best friends, and something seems to click in Roxas, causing him to remember her name. And then… the line.

“Who will I have ice cream with?”

Oh boy, I don’t want to talk about this. To some this is the greatest line in the game, but to me it’s…. not. Let’s get out the basic facts: yes ice cream represents Roxas’ safe space, his friendships, his development. In expressing this Roxas is expressing the loss of all of those things. But to me, just because the connections are there doesn’t mean the line works for me. My issues with this line are twofold. First, the delivery: Jessie McCartney just ruins the line in the DS version. I can’t believe this was his best take and the film version is massively improved for at least a better quality recording. My troubles may also have something to do with word order in the English version: yes, Roxas says “Who will I eat ice cream with” but “with” is muttered off at the end. As this line hits us, the stress is on “I” “eat” “ice cream,” as though Jessie were more concerned with eating ice cream than with Xion, while the only word that connects this to Xion, “with,” is treated like air farting out of a balloon.

But my other issue is context: not the context of Xion’s death, but the context of the insulting, 40 hour infantalization of Roxas that runs from the start of the game to the end. Days has spent the entire game presenting Roxas as a baby, and so his final words to Xion don’t strike me as a friend sad at a permanent loss of a friend, but as a child begging for candy as comfort. This doesn’t just complete the infantalization of Roxas at the worst time, but it even severs the connections this scene is banking on: we can’t claim Roxas is thinking of ice cream as representing his friendship when the game is presenting him the exact way that I, at least, would demonstrate that a child character does not understand the impact of death: by having him ask for a childish thing in a way that shows a lack of empathy for the dying person. Yes, that’s right: “Who will I share ice cream with” isn’t just how I would present a scene where Roxas doesn’t understand what’s going on, but how I would present a scene where Roxas doesn’t understand what’s going on, but also doesn’t care that his friend will die. The. Exact. Way.

Let’s take a look at the manga, instead. Remember the beach trip that Axel suggested on the day where Xion nearly fell off the clock tower?  In the manga, the idea of the trio going on a trip becomes a subplot that lingers into the final arc. When it comes to this scene, Roxas only discusses ice cream in the context of the beach trip. This not only let Amano build up the beach trip as a hopeful, happy future event for several issues only to drop it like a china vase, but so Roxas can lament something that was explicitly about the trio of friends doing something together: the key stress with the beach trip delivery is “we.” Roxas and Xion, and Axel lost something that “we” were going to do. The key word in the game is not “we.”  Thanks to Jessie’s delivery, the infantilization of Roxas, and the presentation of the ice cream line in isolation is, the key word in the game is… “eat.”

(Ed. FudgmintGuardian informs me that the original Japanese game line was something like “come on, the three of us are going to eat ice cream together again!”  That’s perfect!  That’s exactly what it needed to be!  Arggh, this is probably lip syncing’s fault again!)

With that final line from Roxas, Xion dissolves into memory shards and light (I’m told that the visual resembles something from FFXIII a year later?).  Roxas is left alone with a seashell left behind by Xion on the ground.  Roxas finds himself crying with no memory as to why.

Far away, in Castle Oblivion, Axel too has also forgotten Xion, but finds an envelope in his room containing Roxas’ WINNER stick.

Xemnas and Saïx then arrive in the throne room to talk on Xion’s death, seemingly having not forgotten her at all! This is never quite explained, but they must have set some kind of countermeasure pseudoscience, it would just be nice if they mentioned it. They don’t say anything particularly notable. The day ends and transitions directly into Day 358, without giving the player the opportunity to save.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Quittin’ Time
Next: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Looks Like My Summer Vacation is Over

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).

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Posted in kingdom hearts retrospective and tagged kingdom hearts days on by marathonrecaps. 15 Comments

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