Review by Etrurianmage
"A great addition to the Kingdom Hearts franchise"
Well, as stated in the title, this game is a wonderful addition to the series. In addition to covering some area on the storyline that has been thus far ignored, this is also the first time that a true Kingdom Hearts experience is available in portable form (Chain of Memories, decent as it was, does not count). Now to discuss exactly what makes this game so much fun...
The first thing that the player will probably notice is that, once again, Square Enix has taken full advantage of the hardware at hand when it comes to the presentation. The game looks very good for a DS game during gameplay, and some FMVs have even been included to make the game look nearly as good as its PS2 counterparts. The world and environment design is very aesthetically pleasing, and the look of the Disney worlds retains the charm of Kingdom Hearts on the PS2. Overall, the game looks wonderful considering the limited hardware at hand.
What's more, the music is just as great. While most of the tracks are taken from previous installments in the series, it's hard to complain considering that those tracks are this good. Also, some great new tracks have been added to add to some of the games more significant storyline events and boss battles. The sound quality is very close to the level of the console games, and the tracks sound nearly identical. The voice acting in this game is generally pretty good, spare some lower points. Several story points can feel very touching thanks to the great job on voice acting. However, you will only get to hear the VA work in those few scenes due to technical limitations.
The game takes place shortly after the first Kingdom Hearts and focuses on Roxas' time with the second game's antagonists, Organization XIII. While I can't go into much detail without spoiling the events of previous installments, let's just say that this new protagonist and viewpoint really fleshes out some of the details left uncovered during the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II.
Your fellow members of the Organization appear as some of the more interesting characters in Kingdom Hearts II, though for what I felt was too brief a time. 358/2 Days allows you to look into their characters a little more to find out what really drives them. The added character development, I felt, was a very nice touch for fans of the second game dismayed by the lack screen time for the Organization.
While the Disney licenses are still there as always, the Disney plots are not as big a focus in the storyline in this game so much as Roxas' personal struggles and the aims and workings of Organization XIII. While I do like the Disney licenses in this series, I welcome this change in the story. I felt like too much of Kingdom Hearts II was spent going through Disney movies with your cast as added characters to the plot, and am very grateful that this game stays true to its focus of telling Roxas' story rather than retreading old ground.
While some may have had doubts about how a 3-D Kingdom Hearts game would work on the DS, the end result has efficiently put those fears to rest. The interface is surprisingly smooth, and the controls work very well. There is very little difference that can be solely attributed to the fact that you are playing on a handheld.
One of this installment's more interesting new features is the storyline progression. Instead of traveling conventionally from one area to the next, as in most RPGs, 358/2 Days progresses the story on a day-to-day basis. In this system, Roxas will be assigned one daily mission to complete by his leaders in the Organization. The aim here was most likely to strike a fine line between the "Quick fix" factor needed for a portable game while maintaining the level of depth that players want from an RPG. The system proves about as effective as could reasonably be expected, and the balance usually flows well. However, the missions range in length from a few minutes to a half-hour or more, and there isn't really any pattern as to how a certain length will show up (though most will be about ten to fifteen minutes). As a result, the game can sometimes feel too light to be ready for long gaming sessions or too heavy to be available for a twenty minute bus ride. The limited saving options don't help either. But like I said, this system works much more often than not and generally proves to be fun and effective.
The other major gameplay innovation of Days would be the "Panel" system. While you will acquire levels, skills, items, and spells through conventional means, putting them in place and customizing your character proves to be much deeper and more enjoyable than any Kingdom Hearts title to date. Your levels, magic and item uses, and skills are all received in the form of small squares. These squares are put into effect when placed inside a grid that can be accessed from the Organization's stronghold (the central town-like area for the game). The grid starts small, but is expanded by the player to accommodate more levels and abilities later in the game. Squares placed inside the grid can be linked to similar other squares to produce a variety of effects. The possibilities for customization are impressive, and Roxas can develop his fighting style and stats to match the player's preferred style of gamplay.
One of the game's major hooks is the multiplayer options. Based on my somewhat limited experience, I can say that this is one of the more enjoyable multiplayer games of the past few years. This game strikes one of those fine lines between competition and cooperation that retains the best parts of both types of experiences. Also, the replay value of this game is very nice, and the player is likely to find themselves coming back long after the credits roll to expand on their character as much as possible.
Despite my general love of the gameplay, I do have some complaints. First and foremost, I feel that enemy design and balance is not as good as it should have been. Several enemies, namely those that fly, are in general a complete pain to do battle with, and can be an annoyance when trying to complete a mission. I would have preferred that this game stick to generic designs that are enjoyable to fight than resort to annoying enemies in an attempt at variety. Also, while the much greater amount of your time is still spent fighting, platforming, exploring, puzzle solving, and other such action-adventure gameplay, every now and then you get a level that involves some adverse goals that just aren't much fun. Not that the mini-games and diversions are a bad thing in and of themselves, some of them are a lot of fun, like the new "Reconnaissance" levels that can act as a form of observation and puzzle solving. (Trust me, it works great.) It's just that some are really not so hot. But you will rarely encounter such a level, and therefore this isn't too much of a problem.
If you're a Kingdom Hearts fan, or just anyone looking for a nice Action-Adventure game for the DS, I would highly recommend 358/2 Days. One of the better DS titles to date and a ton of fun.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/01/09, Updated 11/02/09
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (US, 09/29/09)
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.