IGN Review of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Oh hi there, fellow Kingdom Hearts fan -- it's good to see you. Yes, have no fear, I too am a devoted follower of this venerable Square Enix franchise and I have been since the series debuted on the PlayStation 2. So before you read any further, I can assure you that I care about this game just as much as you do.
For those of you who aren't among the eager fans that live and breathe anything with Sora in it, Kingdom Hearts is actually very easy to grasp: Square Enix combined famous heroes and villains from the Final Fantasy series with memorable Disney characters -- then tossed in some original content for good measure. The result is an action RPG franchise that has made quite a name for itself and has now delivered two proper games (and one smaller spin-off) to the JRPG landscape. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is yet another spin-off that follows integral side character, Roxas, during his time with Organization XIII. These days span the time between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2.
If you've never played a Kingdom Hearts game, I suggest you stop reading and go snag a copy. Not only will this article spoil certain elements of the original two games, but it just won't make much sense to you. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a game for Kingdom Hearts fans and its plot is very difficult for newcomers to grasp, considering its somewhat specific focal point.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days revolves almost entirely around Organization XIII, a group of extremely powerful (and eccentric) Nobodies. Organization XIII's primary goal is to fabricate Kingdom Hearts -- a powerful, ethereal collection of hearts -- so they can reclaim their own hearts and complete their existence. If this sounds a bit confusing, it is. As is the case with previous Kingdom Hearts games, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days can be a bit hard to follow and nearly impossible to understand if you haven't played a Kingdom Hearts game before.
However, instead of franchise hero Sora, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days features Roxas as a main character -- Sora's Nobody. At the time of Roxas' creation, he is accepted into the ranks of Organization XIII and is tasked with defeating Heartless in order to collect more hearts for Kingdom Hearts. The main intrigue of the game comes with the mysterious induction of a fourteenth member to the organization: Xion, a black-haired girl.
And we're just getting warmed up.
As nice as it is to ramble on and on about minute plot points, I do need to review this game sooner or later. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days feels much more like the original Kingdom Hearts to me than Kingdom Hearts II, as there are much less "automated action sequences" and the challenge is noticeably greater. The part-menu, part-action command scheme has returned again which will please most long-time fans, and the DS handles the controls well enough. Although I needed time to adjust to the camera control, I think Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days works nicely, but don't expect any stylus support. Although you can rotate the camera by touching the screen, the most useful stylus functionality present in the game comes with panel management, which I'll touch on shortly.
The game's combat might be familiar to franchise veterans, but the overarching game structure will be foreign. As opposed to exploring various worlds in one epic quest, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is entirely mission based. As a member of Organization XIII, you'll receive a handful of missions at the hub world which you must complete in order to proceed with the story. Missions can also be replayed as many times as you wish in order to find all the hidden items and uncover the many treasure chests just waiting to be snatched by your antsy little mitts.
As you work your way through the story, you'll unlock more missions and additional challenges for Mission Mode, which is the other main element to this game's equation. In Mission Mode, you can continue to uncover treasure, gain experience and refine your skills... and you can do it all with friends! That's right, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days features four-player multiplayer -- a first for the series. Although each player will need their own cartridge, this feature is definitely among the game's many strengths, as you can select any of the Organization XIII members to play as, including a few secrets. The mode runs especially well with two or three players, but slows down slightly when you bring in the whole crew. The choppiness is tolerable, though, so it shouldn't take away from the fun.
Although you can't actually progress the story by partaking in multiplayer, being able to play and compete with your friends really helps Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days stand apart from its predecessors.
Also new to the game is the panel system, which dictates how you build up your character. Every level-up, weapon, item, spell and skill is represented by a panel or block that must be fit onto a Tetris-style board (and you can thankfully use your stylus to maneuver these pieces). This gives every player the ability to intensely customize how his character fights. If you're a fan of magic, you can equip a horde of different spells, add on multipliers and power-up your magic-tuned gear. Or, if you like having lots of skills at your disposal, you can load up on different abilities so your version of Roxas can roll, dash, glide and block like the best of them.
This system also allows players to change their mind halfway through the game, as panel layout can be completely adjusted from the hub world at any time. And, as this game is a four-player affair, groups of friends can actually specialize their teams and create strategies based on each player's interests. It's a pretty smart system.
But not everything is simple and clean in this DS spin-off. This is the fourth time I've traveled to some of these worlds and met these Disney characters -- and it's getting old. The idea of visiting different worlds isn't disagreeable to me at all, but everything in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a rehash of a previous environment or scenario. Even the music tracks are all taken from previous games. This is unacceptable, because the Kingdom Hearts series deserves better.
Perhaps it would have been more tolerable had those similar worlds just been designed differently, but each world in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is just a small collection of rooms that you visit numerous times. It's very frustrating and will certainly wear you down after the hours add up.
This issue of repetition is a serious blow against the game. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days could have been a phenomenal DS effort, but that "been there, done that" dilemma really hurts the overall experience. The problem is exacerbated when you consider the game's slow pacing, which was even sluggish for my tastes (and I usually tolerate slower numbers).
Yet, the one-of-a-kind melancholy and beauty that comes with the Kingdom Hearts games still shines through here and makes the game a worthwhile adventure. You'll find sanctuary in the heart-aching interplay between Roxas and his friends, and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days shines quite a bit of light on the inner workings of Organization XIII. Although the pacing might be slow, the dialogue is surprisingly charming and tone of voice was clearly considered when this game was written. These scenes encouraged me to keep playing, even through all the dreary repetition.
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