Our time with the Nobody Roxas in Kingdom Hearts II was far too short. Square Enix rectifies this oversight with Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS.
358/2 Days tells the tale of Sora's Nobody Roxas from the time he first came into being up until he finds himself among friends at the beginning of the second PlayStation 2 Kingdom Hearts title. Roxas is a member of Organization XIII, undergoing missions to help the group restore Kingdom Hearts. Soon he begins learning more about himself and his friends, leading him to question the motives of the organization and ultimately guiding him on a path to becoming the boy we meet at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II.
It's the first Kingdom Hearts title for the Nintendo DS, and the first Kingdom Hearts title with multiplayer, but is it a game worthy of the name?
Behind The Scenes: A major factor in the success any prequel, or in this case, interquel, is how much it enhances the original titles. 358/2 Days takes a character with a large yet brief part in Kingdom Hearts II and fleshes him out in a way that gives you an entirely new appreciation for Kingdom Hearts II. Sure, the story doesn't always make perfect sense, and there are a few contradictions within the twisting plot, but the character development alone is enough to change the way you experience the second game in the series. I have to admit: I cried when Sora returned in KHII. After playing through this game, I can easily imagine my tiny black heart breaking.
The Panel Puzzle: I am completely in love with Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days' panel customization system. Basically you have a grid, and on that grid you can slot powers, abilities, items, weapons - everything you need to power up your character. If you need to level up, you slot a level up panel. Need to level up more? Slot an oddly-shaped level multiplier onto the board and your +1 level panels suddenly become +2 level panels. Every aspect of your character's skills are handled in this manner, and different missions call for different powers and abilities. Once you get several odd-shaped panel frames in your inventory it almost becomes a puzzle where you see what powers you can fit together for the highest level of effectiveness. This is exactly the sort of micro-management I love in an RPG.
Ready, Fight!: Combat in 358/2 Days took me by surprise. I was expecting something like a simplified version of the console games' fighting engine or a clumsy facsimile, but I was delighted to find a system that manages to give you all the functionality of those titles while being tailored specifically to take advantage of the Nintendo DS control scheme. Once you get the hang of assigning shortcuts, switching between magic, items, and abilities feels like a little less of a hassle than it did with its PlayStation 2 cousins. The addition of Limit Breaks you can unleash when your health gets too low is also very much appreciated.
So Much To Do: Between story missions, optional missions, challenge missions, and the Mission Mode itself, there is plenty to do in Kingdom Hearts 358/2. There are treasure chests to collect, high scores to beat, time attacks - just a whole slew of content. The mission-based format of the game also suits the Nintendo DS rather well, making this a perfect game to pick up when you have a spare moment, run through a few missions, and then put back down again. Between the content and the portability, this is easily a title I could see myself playing for weeks if not months...if I didn't have to review it.
Mission Mode: While I sadly did not have the opportunity to play through the Mission Mode with friends, it's easy to see how it would be a hell of a lot of fun just by playing through the missions in single-player mode. Mission Mode starts you off with your choice of Organization XIII members, allowing you to experience first-hand some of the unique weapons and abilities they possess. Up to four players can link up and play together, competing for points, or you can play through it on your own as I was forced to. Playing as key villains from Kingdom Hearts II is guilty pleasure enough to recommend the mode, and once you start unlocking old friends it gets even better.
One Fine-Looking DS Title: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days features some of the best 3D graphics I've seen on the Nintendo DS. To the hardcore graphics whore it might not look like much, but the fluid movement of the characters and the amount of detail Square Enix managed to maintain without the game slowing down noticeably is quite impressive.
Camera Concerns: I spent far too much time being trapped in corners while being attacked by enemies that were off screen then I generally like to while playing through Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. I suppose it's the sort of issue you're bound to run into when you've got so many functions to map and so few buttons. To their credit, the developers did include a secondary control method that allows you to map the camera to the left and right shoulder buttons, but that method means you have to hit both shoulders to fire off shortcuts, which can lead to some confusion.
Recycled Assets: Maybe you have to be a big Kingdom Hearts fan for it to matter, but I was supremely disappointed when I fired up the game and heard Hikaru Utada's "Sanctuary" ("Passion" in Japan) was the opening theme. It set the tone for a game that recycles a great deal of the music and art from the console titles. It's not that the music and art are bad - I just would have liked a little more new material in the game.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is effectively the Kingdom Hearts version of Final Fantasy VII's Crisis Core. It features the same sort of mission-based gameplay, perfect for pick up and put down portable play; a protagonist that is relatively similar to the series' main character; and it tells a side story that, while not entirely necessary, serves to give players a more complete look at the story behind the games. Like Crisis Core, the game does take some gambles when it comes to core gameplay mechanics, but on the whole those gambles pay off, creating an experience that is at once fresh and familiar.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days presents a lost chapter in the Kingdom Hearts saga in a way that will leave Nintendo DS owners feeling completely satisfied, save the sudden craving for sea-salt ice cream.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was developed by Square Enix and h.a.n.d. and published by Square Enix for the Nintendo DS on September 29th. Retails for $39.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through single-player story on default difficulty. Tried each of the available characters in Mission Mode single-player.
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