Review by KMA2

"This game is a work of art."

Overview.

Six years ago, I played the very first Kingdom Hearts, and it totally blew my mind. Then, three years ago, when Kingdom Hearts II came out, I was basically flabbergasted. "Stop it," I said, sitting captivated as the end credits began to roll. "Just stop the series right now. There is no way you could do better than this."

But time goes on, and people grow up. And, truth be told, I don't see things the way my thirteen- or sixteen-year-old self did. I've been to college, for example. I've voted in my first election. And, like a lot of things, the tide of my love for the Kingdom Hearts saga began to recede. It was still there, of course, and the series always stayed my favorite, but the more time went on, the more flaws I saw. It was actually a good feeling, because my admiration honestly was a little blind, pretty hardcore, and at times, almost life-consuming. So, it was good to see things a bit more clearly. It was still a very fine story -- essentially amazing, sometimes. But, through it all, I never thought the series could inspire the same kind of magical inspiration in me.

Well, 358/2 Days has done the job. Actually, it did both jobs. Not only did it recapture the wonder of my younger years, but it absolutely blew every expectation to shreds. It did the impossible, and it surpassed that pinnacle of gaming achievement, Kingdom Hearts II. So, without further ado, let's dig into it.

Storyline: 10/10.

When the game starts up, we find ourselves in the role of Roxas, a very major character from earlier games. But, for all you newcomers out there, not to see. You see, these are his early days, starting with his very birth itself. We enter the story from the eyes of a newbie, an average everyman just waiting for development.

And develop he does! Upon his birth, Roxas finds himself inducted into the Organization, a mysterious league of humanoid "Nobodies," and every day, he's sent on a mission to explore the outer worlds, battle fierce monstrosities, and investigate the enigma of the human heart and psyche. That makes up the majority of the story structure, with at least one colorful member of the Organization helping you as you go. The basic plot explores Roxas' growth from a perfectly blank slate into one of the most complex characters in the series, with a huge emphasis on his relationship with the other members. That's especially true when it comes to two members in particular: his best friend, Axel, and a truly unknown fourteenth member named Xion. It's a very character-driven plot that's, frankly, more emotionally hard-hitting than any game I've seen before. We get a huge look at the Organization's intimate inner mechanics, the daily lives of its members, and the most personal thoughts of the central characters.

If the story has any flaws, it only has one, and a very small one at that. The opening scene is really kind of confusing for anyone who's not a hardcore fan, and the plot is a little slow-moving at first, drawing out the tutorial a lot longer than it really needs to be. Still, it's definitely small enough that it doesn't diminish at all from the rest of the story's beauty.

Graphics: 10/10.

Simply put, the graphics here are basically the best you could ever dream of. The game is fully three-dimensional, just like the main series, with textures, environments, and sheer creative design that push the system to its very limits. The levels are lush, the characters are reasonably detailed, and the animations and frame-rates are constant and smooth. All in all, you just could not ask for more.

What amazes most people, though, are the cinematic scenes. You could literally swear you're suddenly playing the Playstation 2 again. The game has over forty minutes of fully voice-acted, richly animated, knock-your-socks-off cinematic fun. Speculation positively surrounded these scenes, prior to release. Surely, they had to be enhancing them? They couldn't actually look this good in-game, could they? How could the DS even do this? But they're real, baby. They're real, and they're fantastic.

Music: 7/10.

The sound quality is great. Let me say that first. It's absolutely marvelous. But beyond that, the sound's nothing too remarkable. The Kingdom Hearts series always had an amazing soundtrack, courtesy of Miss Yoko Shimomura, and that continues here, too. But the vast majority of the tracks are completely reused from the other games. So, they are good, but just not...especially exciting. We get a good mix of both the first and second games' songs, so that's a plus, at least, but long-time fans might be disappointed that a few of their favorites were left out. There's a handful of new songs, too, but they're kind of a mixed bag. The "ice cream" theme is fitting but monotonous, while Xion's character and battle themes are masterpieces, simultaneously heart-breaking, heart-warming, and unduly creepy.

Overall, a very good effort, but not truly exemplary across the board.

Gameplay: 10/10.

If I could go higher than a perfect ten, I'd sure as heck do it here.

Kingdom Hearts II was always praised for its battle system. The fights were smooth, and the moves were many. Sora had dozens of abilities, half a dozen transformations, all kinds of partner attacks, summons, spells, and just about everything you could imagine. But believe me when I say Days goes above and beyond even that. The battles are smoother and more fluid. The abilities are admittedly fewer, but far more customizable and so much more useful. I honestly find it hard to go back to the other games, now that I've played through this splendor in here. Even the series' former best seems clunky and slow now.

This game captures every triumph of the PS2 titles and cranks it all up to eleven, with quite a few unique innovations of its own. The difficulty is way up there, for one; it's very easily the hardest "Kingdom Hearts" on the market. The platforming and exploration is taken to simply staggering heights, with every level featuring dozens and dozens of puzzles, gimmicks, and hidden treasures. No longer do we see the the shoddy platform work of the first game, nor do we the bland flatness off the second. Instead, we have a positively death-defying level of depth and adventure. The combat is deep, detailed, and unbelievably varied. There are nineteen total characters, most with over twenty weapons and each with over a dozen unique combos, not to mention countless spells, abilities, and other little foibles. The level of customization is nothing short of immense. And the sheer amount of content is purely prodigious, too. With over 170 separate missions, plus time trials, two-, three-, and four-player modes, a virtual New Game+, and so much more, you will never run out of things to do in this game. And, most amazing, all this amazing action takes place in a fully three-dimensional world, as lush and colorful as it is rich, interactive, and just plain huge. Never, in all my days, would I have dreamed this could be possible on the DS. Square truly pushed the envelope here, and it really, really paid off.

Final Score: 10/10.
Final Recommendation: BUY.

In all honestly, this game is a great purchase. You'll never regret it! It's a very welcome addition to the already phenomenal DS library, not to mention a sure highlight of any player's collection.

You want this game. You need this game. If you have a DS, there's no excuse not to have this game. If you're a Kingdom Hearts fan at all, there's very little excuse not to have this game. Get this game.

Get it.

Now.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/17/09

Game Release: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (JP, 05/30/09)


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