Ever since its inception back in 2002, Kingdom Hearts has been a staple of the action-RPG genre, combining the intense and fluid combat of an action game and the customization and narrative of an RPG to create one glorious, genre-defining IP. Many have become engrossed with KH’s overarching story as they’ve been counting down the years, months, and days for an epic continuation; and to you I say, that day is finally at hand.
Grab your keyblade, slug that potion down, and come join me down the dual screened rabbit hole in the wold of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.
First, don’t let the title mislead you. As terrible as it may be, the title in no way reflects the quality of this game. With that said, 358/2 Days plays surprisingly (and gratifyingly) like its predecessors, almost “to a tee.”
The game does little with the touch screen, and focuses instead on keeping with the traditional KH gameplay that fans have come to love. While some changes have been made to keep it fresh, (via the introduction of the “Panel” system), 358/2 Days looks, sounds, and plays like the original.
However, this isn’t necessarily a completely positive situation.
Whether you’re entering the world of Kingdom Hearts for the first or fourth time, you may notice that leading teenager Sora and his two lackeys, Donal and Goofy, are missing from the limelight. Instead, you’ll take on the role of Roxas, who is a “Nobody,” an imperfect copy of a person that lacks a heart.
Roxas is part of Organization XIII (also Nobodies), the antagonists from KHII, and is the key to finishing “Kingdom Hearts,” the main goal of the organization. While we ultimately know what becomes of XIII at the end of second main installment, 358/2 Days serves to fill in the gaps left by both the first and second game, as well as clarifying the events in Chain of Memories, which occur simultaneously.
The narrative, in its simplest form, is one about friendship and its affects on someone “without a heart,” but remains true to the prolific storytelling that Square Enix and Disney are so well known for. It fits in with the rest of the series quite well, though it loses its whimsical feeling due to the darker and more serious backdrop and the loss of significant “relief” characters.
Accompanying the stellar plot is equally stellar gameplay that boasts some interesting and welcoming changes. First, you’ll notice that normal story progression has been dumped for mission based play, and that the menu can only be accessed in between missions. As you travel through each world with keyblade-a-swinging, you’ll find that how you equip your weapon has been altered quite a bit. Instead of the more traditional form of equipment, abilities and magic, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days features the all new Panel system.
Every weapon, spell, ability, item, and even “level up” comes in the form of a panel to be placed on a eight by five grid. While items, “level ups,” and spells will only take up one slot, weapons, abilities and special enhancements take up multiple spots. But these empty slots can be linked, as a weapon’s stats can be altered by power or magic units, an ability can be made stronger or given additional effects, and special panels will allow for doubling the power of magic or grant two levels for every “level up” panel you equip to it. Each spell panel is a one time use only during a mission, but can be refilled with ethers and will recharge after returning to headquarters.
The panel system offers an incredible amount of customization and strategy previously unseen in Kingdom Hearts. The panel grid has limited slots and really makes you plan according to the mission at hand, for there are hundreds of panels to equip. Making myself a magical powerhouse or a swift, highflying combo master was just a simple change of panels, but altered how I attacked each mission substantially. You may find, at first, that the panel system isn’t the best idea. But stick with it, and wait until you’re about fifteen missions deep and you’ll see the greatness firsthand.
Where change and innovation is apparent in gameplay, it seems to have only reached so far. As good as the soundtrack is and fun the worlds are, they are almost exact replicas of their predecessors, besides the expanded Neverland. While its fun and reminiscent to explore old ares with Roxas and his Organization XIII partners, its slightly difficult to look past the recycled music and levels. If it weren’t for the panel system, I could have sworn I was playing a rehashed version of the original, minus a manic duck and a yokel dog.
Though worlds and music have been (heavily) recycled, they have been rendered beautifully onto the Nintendo DS. No game on the handheld even comes close to the visuals that 358/2 Days has to offer. Some jagged edges and slightly bland intricacies are the graphic’s only downfall in an otherwise superb recreation of the likeness of the PlayStation 2 installments on cartridge based hardware; the visuals are truly impressive.
Like the graphics, the voicework and sound effects equally enhance the experience. Used sparingly for key plot points, voice work is very solid and features members of the original cast reprising their roles. Sound is also top notch throughout the game’s entirety, as each keyblade strike jingles out from the tiny speakers with an unexpected ferocity.
Like its predecessors, KH358/2 Days will clock in roughly at 30 hours after story mode is all said and done. There are a tremendous amount of extras to be had once the game is completed. Each of the 90 plus missions can be replayed in a Challenge Mode, which allocates more difficult objectives (finish in a set amount of time, take no damage, ect.) to be completed in a given mission. Completing these objectives will prove troublesome, however, the rewards are certainly worth it.
Each level can also be played in Mission Mode, which lets you connect with up to three friends over the DS wireless connection and take control of every member of Organization XIII, as well as some unexpected unlockable characters. While I applaud Square Enix and Disney for offering such a vas array of character for play, I don’t see why they limited multiplayer to just local. I hate friendcodes as much as the next gamer; they are the bane of my existence. But at least friendcodes offer worldwide connections. Hypothetically, when you’re 23 years old, its kinda hard to find someone to play with and not look like a pedophile.
Keeping to the roots of the series, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a fantastic interquel sporting great visuals, tight controls, and an innovative Panel system make the game a worthy continuation of the series. Though recycled levels and music and some problems with the camera (especially when flying in Neverland) prevent 358/2 Days from being really great, its a solid experience that should not be passed up.
Though the graphics are unrivaled on the DS, the recycled levels are hard to look over.
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Tight controls, a great new innovative ability system, and traditional Kingdom Hearts combat make for a solid experience.
The sound effects are spot on and the music is lovely, even if most of the soundtrack is from previous games.
There are a ton of things to do after you beat story mode. Too bad multiplayer is only local.
A great continuation to the Kingdom Hearts saga, 358/2 Days offers great customization options, fluid gameplay and awesome visuals, but suffers from recycled material.