A Filthy Casual’s Thoughts On Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days

A Filthy Casual’s Thoughts On Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
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Welcome back to the next chapter in my “A Filthy Casual’s Thoughts” series. If you’re stopping by for the first time, in this series I’ve been playing through the Kingdom Hearts series in release order as featured in the Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far collection. Judging by the title of this article you can bet we’re taking a closer look at Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. You may ask: why am I doing this? Well, I think Kingdom Hearts III looks fantastic. I have my own copy of the game, but I refuse to play it because I’ve never played through the series before. Thusly, I don’t have the faintest grasp on the overall plot of Kingdom Hearts. That’s why I want to play or, in some cases, watch every game in the series before finally playing Kingdom Hearts III. I think the payoff is going to be worth it in the long run. That said, there are spoilers ahead for Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.

In years past, I found the bizarre titles of the Kingdom Hearts games something to scoff at. 358/2 Days? Are you serious? What does that even mean? Even now I don’t even know the right way to pronounce that when attempting to use it in a sentence. What I find ironic, however, is that by the time that the credits rolled, I believed I had my own interpretation about what the title of 358/2 Days implies. But more on that later.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is a sequel that released after Kingdom Hearts II, but acts as that game’s direct prequel. Are you still with me? Good. Here’s the rub: 358/2 Days tells the story of Roxas who, if you recall at the end of the events of Kingdom Hearts II, is the Nobody of Sora. Roxas, it turns out, came into being when Sora was transformed into a Heartless in the original Kingdom Hearts. Now, according to the lore of the series, when someone who is strong-willed loses their heart, a Nobody is formed. It would make sense that Sora, being the main protagonist and central hero of this series, would seemingly spawn a Nobody at the cost of his heart.

I had mentioned in my thoughts on Kingdom Hearts II that I found one particular member of Organization XIII to be rather invigorating, and that character is Axel. In each game he’s appeared in, I found Axel’s true intentions to be hard to read. I was always suspicious of him at practically every turn. What I admire about this character is that I thought he was a creep when he was introduced in Chain of Memories. Then Kingdom Hearts II hinted to us that we probably have him figured out all wrong. It’s 358/2 Days that, well, made me feel for the guy quite a lot. I was legitimately surprised by that considering how often I would roll my eyes each time Axel would appear on-screen. So what does that have to do with Roxas?

Well, curiously enough, shortly after Roxas is “born,” he is found by Xemnas, the leader of Organization XIII, and who also happens to be the Nobody of Xehanort. In a scene that sends shivers down my spine, an aimless Roxas is promised by Xemnas to give his existence purpose. Xemnas welcomes Roxas as the thirteenth member of the Organization. Shortly after being given his new name (Roxas), he is paired up with Axel to begin his work of benefiting Organization XIII.

I’ll just get this out of the way now, but holy cow there were a lot of digital sea salt ice cream bars harmed in the making of this video game. Yeah, 358/2 Days’ main characters shoot the breeze on many, many occasions atop Twilight Town’s clock tower over ice cream bars. Little did I know that that mystery ending I encountered at the end of Kingdom Hearts II was going to get a touch more poignant in this next chapter. When Roxas resigns himself to the clock tower at the end of a day’s work, I was expectantly wondering what was going to unfold for the character and those around him. My interpretation is that, sure, while there’s ice cream involved with a few individuals, the clock tower of Twilight Town stopped having the trappings of a clock tower in the literal sense, and became more of a metaphorical acting stage for several pivotal characters. It’s a device that gets you to think, perhaps even when you’re not consciously aware of it. It’s an opportunity to grant the characters scope, believability, and even a chance to empathize with them. But, seriously, how much sea salt ice cream can one person eat? And how did these characters maintain good figures when consuming that much ice cream?

Well, no sooner than Roxas begins working with Organization XIII is when a mysterious fourteenth member joins. This Nobody’s name is Xion, and she has the uncanny ability to appear different to everyone who looks at her face. Because 358/2 Days takes place parallel to the events of Chain of Memories, Axel is assigned to report to Castle Oblivion and leaves Roxas alone to carry out his own missions, but is then paired with Xion.

At this point I really should have put two and two together, or is it three and three… this is Kingdom Hearts, so I get to think irrationally out loud. What I wasn’t really interpreting on a full scale was the point in which the apprehensive Xion slowly begins to open up to Roxas. It’s Roxas who follows in Axel’s footsteps by inviting Xion to the clock tower for sea salt ice cream. It’s a literal sweet gesture. Because of this gesture, eventually Xion feels comfortable enough to reveal her face to Roxas. Surprise! She looks like Kairi. And, wouldn’t you know it, Xion also has the ability to wield a Keyblade like Roxas. Though, this early on in the game’s story, I wasn’t seeing the obvious use this pair was to Organization XIII.

Soon after Xion and Roxas begin to bond, Roxas falls into a mysterious coma. Perhaps not so mysterious as I begin to recall this means Sora has entered his induced sleep by Naminé in Castle Oblivion as seen in Chain of Memories. When Roxas awakens, he finds that a lot of the Organization’s members assigned to Castle Oblivion, with the exception of Axel, have been destroyed. Yet out of this apparent tragedy is where some tenderness is found. Axel, Roxas, and Xion start to form a friendship over daily ice cream and the back and forth discussions between them becoming endearing over time. More and more I became perplexed by the circumstances of Roxas’ and Xion’s roles as Nobodies. More accurately, I should say I gained a little more insight and astonishment in what it means to be a Nobody.

The trio begins to discuss the concept of a Nobody’s memories. Roxas does not seem to recall any of his own memories, though it seems possible for a Nobody to retain the memories of their true self. Almost as if Square Enix wanted to take candy from a baby, Roxas prods Axel for his memories about his true self. Naturally, he doesn’t share, much to our chagrin. Though I can’t help but wonder if those origins are eventually revealed in the series’ lore.

At one point I thought my game was glitching out, because I recall early on that there’s a moment in which Xion is seen without her hood in one frame, and then has it on in the next, only to have it off in the next frame after that. What I failed to realize is that this was Axel’s early depiction of Xion according to his own relationship with her. Quite devious that Axel would see Xion with her face concealed, indicating his thoughts of her being a puppet of Organization XIII.

Eventually, seeds of mistrust begin to take root in Roxas. As memories of Sora come to the forefront of Roxas’ mind, he begins to question his role in the Organization and why he is even able to wield the Keyblade at all. The upper echelon of the Organization only continues to be reclusive about their intentions, but I remember that their ultimate goal is to free more hearts from the Heartless in order to create a new Kingdom Hearts and presumably obtain hearts for themselves. At the same time, Xion comes across Riku in Twilight Town, and he proceeds to let his charming attitude do the talking. Riku chastises Xion for her ability to wield the Keyblade and suggests that she’s better off merging with her true self. Poor Xion, because of this she has difficulty even summoning the Keyblade and fears what the Organization will do to her if she no longer serves their purposes. But the sweet endeavors of Roxas come to the rescue, and he pulls double duty on destroying Heartless to mask the scent. Still, Xion begins to alienate herself from Axel and Roxas.

Wouldn’t you know, another bombshell drops and a new keyword takes its place in my mental Kingdom Hearts dictionary next to “Heartless,” and “Nobody.” That word is “Replica,” and, within the context of Kingdom Hearts, a Replica is apparently a Nobody who’s an artificial copy of another person. Xion is revealed to be the Replica of Roxas, and you bet I didn’t see that coming because I believed Xion was her own wholesome Nobody (as very odd as it is to say that in a Kingdom Hearts game) and thus a blank slate. So, in some convoluted sense, the fact that Xion can use the Keyblade, and takes on the appearance of Kairi (in Roxas’ eyes) would make sense if she turns out to be a copy of Roxas. Xemnas tells his council that the power of Sora embodied in both Roxas and Xion will be theirs to control. Whether one overpowers the other, it doesn’t matter, but only one subject is needed to fulfill Organization XIII’s schemes.

It’s only now that, while writing this, do I have an epiphany about Xion and the Riku Replica from Chain of Memories. These poor souls. Firstly, Xion slowly begins to have the worst case of an identity crisis. Vexen is responsible for creating Xion from Sora’s stray memories. Remember, Sora, during the events of Chain of Memories, is slowly having his memories of Kairi fade away. That kind of explains why Xion looks like Kairi to Roxas. We also know that Naminé is restoring Sora’s memories, but they’re having an effect on Xion, causing her to occasionally take on the appearance of Sora (again to Roxas). Very, very clever Square Enix. What is that saying? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” That’s speaking volumes about Roxas if you’re reading between the lines. Yet, poor Xion is so overcome with confusion that she abandons the Organization and, with it, her friendship with Axel and Roxas. Her goal? Well, if she’s a Replica like the Riku Replica, then Xion wants to become her own person and forge her own destiny.

This couldn’t come at a worst time for all the pent up feels I already have for these guys. It hits hard because there’s an instance in which the three Nobodies are talking over ice cream when the subject of feelings comes up. A Nobody doesn’t, or shouldn’t be able to, have feelings. They lack hearts after all. Yet, the three of them choose to be friends in spite of their lack of hearts. Best friends in fact. Geez, that’s just touching.

“Each day the three of us meet up there for ice cream. Now, why do you think that is?”, asks Axel. “I mean, if you think about it, I don’t need to go out of my way to meet you guys, right?”, he continues. “It’s because you guys are my best friends.” This, coming from the guy who I was most alarmed about when he first showed up in the series.

Axel even describes Xion as a mirror. In retrospect, this opens up Kingdom Hearts to a lot of wild speculation. Chiefly, this happens when Xigbar confronts Xion in Wonderland, and the face he sees is that of Roxas. However, the exchange between them seems to suggest that Xigbar once had a history with Roxas, but how can that be if Roxas came into being within the course of nearly a year? What a mystery that is.

No matter, Roxas, eventually fed up with the Organization for having no answers about his origins, decides to abandon them to search for the truth on his own. “No one would miss me,” jabs Roxas. “That’s not true,” counters Axel. “I would.” Man, what is it with 358/2 Days? This is more character progression and more emotion than I’ve seen in a Kingdom Hearts game yet.

It turns out that progress on restoring Sora’s memories is halted because of Xion’s conflicted feelings. Eventually, Xion tracks down Naminé in Twilight Town, and she agrees that it’s really her purpose to rejoin Sora again. Xion tracks down an estranged Roxas and reveals that her time is up, but now that Roxas has poured so many memories into Xion she takes on the face of Sora. The two share a climactic battle, and that’s when things get even sadder. Roxas immediately forgets Xion, but the latter understands it’s to be expected. Xion yields all her memories to give back to Sora as she passes away from existence. She asks Roxas for a final favor: to set free all the hearts they captured in order to free Kingdom Hearts. With her dying breath, Roxas then remembers Xion as she crystallizes and disintegrates into light, leaving behind a lone seashell; a reminder of the beach getaway they so wanted to go to. Roxas sheds a tear, and I get choked up watching it happen.

What’s even harder to bear watching is what comes directly after. Roxas and Riku have their ill-fated battle. Roxas makes his intentions known that he is absolutely determined to set Kingdom Hearts free and Riku presumes the name of Xion is getting extremely hard to remember. They both want to help Sora, but for different reasons. Roxas just desperately wants his friends back, and that’s a rather endearing thought. Roxas’ personal mission is all for naught, however, when Riku allows the dark power of Ansem to take him, he overpowers Roxas. He and DiZ proceed to digitize Roxas and place him into a virtual Twilight Town, thereby allowing Sora to regain the last of his memories while simultaneously setting up the events of Kingdom Hearts II.

Whew. What a whirlwind of emotions. If future tales in the Kingdom Hearts series are this poignant when it comes to the cliché theme of the “power of friendship,” well, I’ll admit that I’m going to be intrigued and attentive to what’s going to happen. If anything, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days succeeded phenomenally in completely altering my perspectives on certain characters in one game. For the emotional sake of myself, and this game’s protagonists, I owe it to myself to see if any of these loose threads are tied up. Well, for Axel’s sake any way. As he would say, “Got it memorized?” I can honestly say that I got the emotional weight of 358/2 Days memorized. Oh, and that title that so baffled me many years ago? Well, I think I understand it now. The title chosen by Square Enix is also a very clever one. Although Roxas’ time elapsed more than 358 days, his Replica, or his second counterpart, only had 358 days coexisting “twogether.” Right? I interpreted this game’s title correctly, right?

Thank you for reading once again. Join me next time as we cover the events of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, and be sure to catch up on our other editorials for the Kingdom Hearts series. And for more gaming news, reviews, and opinion pieces, check us out on Mammoth Gamers.

Jason Arriola

One of the biggest Star Wars fans there is. When I don't have one of many gaming peripherals in my hands I probably have my nose in a good book, out amiibo hunting, or contemplating (and never deciding) what game to pull off my shelf next!