Review by lilithdarkstorm
"Fun in short bursts, a drag in long"
If Kingdom Hearts was a person; it would be that shy, bullied kid in school, fully grown up, holding a handful of £50s, and happily pointing and laughing at those who ever mocked him. When Kingdom Hearts was first announced, most were unsure of the collaboration between mega power houses that are Disney and Square. But many years later the franchised is loved, making loads of money and has plenty of cosplayers dressing up in its name. 358/2 Days is the 3rd (so far) sequel from the original game, and the second to be on a handheld console. Is it as polished as the previous instalments?
358/2 Days follows Roxas, a newly made Nobody who has just joined Organisation XIII, a group formed of powerful Nobodies with the goal of collecting hearts that they lack and becoming whole again. Roxas is shortly joined by the 14th member, Xion, who seems to share the same ability as Roxas wielding the keyblade.
If you've never played a Kingdom Hearts game before, turn around, go play Kingdom Hearts 1 on the PS2, and THEN come back. This is no place to start your Kingdom Hearts journey, this game is set between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, whilst coinciding with the Gameboy Advance game; Chain of Memories. This game is made for fans who'll know the entire back story. Sure, 358/2 Days does try to introduce things gradually, and reminds players what Heartless' and Nobodies' are, but if you've not played at least the first game you will be completely lost!
The first complaint I have to raise is the story; it moves very, VERY slowly. It's probably one of the slowest RPGs I've played (and I've been playing them since the Sega Mega Drive days!) It took 4 hours before Roxas and Xion actually SPOKE to each other and many hours after for the first major disaster' concerning the plot to happen. There's very long gaps in-between story developments, and there's plenty of cut scenes where the characters just set around, eating ice cream, talking about nothing relating to the plot (and sometimes not even talking!) Gamers will spend hours waiting for the next plot twist' to be thrown at them to feel like there're actually getting somewhere. Another thing this game lacks is the joy of getting reacquainted with Final Fantasy characters in new settings while discovering Disney worlds. There are NO FINAL FANTASY characters in this game at all, so those who only tune in to see their favourite heroes in a new setting will be sadly disappointed. The Disney card is played strong here, unfortunately no new Disney worlds or characters are introduced here (apart from Neverland, which is introduced very late in the game), you'll see your old favourites here but you can tell that there were very limited when it comes to dialogue and plots relating to the worlds, as they have to slip neatly into Kingdom Hearts II. Overall, this is not the title to get your crossover kicks from, this title is simply here to bridge the gap and tie plot holes between the already released games.
The game is set up with a mission structure, so instead of roaming huge worlds and become part of the Disney story, you instead get set a task in one world, complete it and head back to base. This works well with the DS system as most people will play it on the bus or train, you can save in between missions and exit at any time. Being mission based, you'll get plenty of tasks where you get a chance to simply complete it, or go for the gold and achieve extra (such as kill extra heartless). This adds lots of replay value as the more determined players will want to beat their previous scores, and there's plenty of side missions from the start that players can embark on that aren't part of the story. The game also very nicely rewards you for participating in all aspects of the game, either with more missions to keep you occupied or items to boost up your characters stats. However, missions do have a horrible habit of repeating the same objectives over and over again, sometimes within the same world but just with a different Organisation member to help you out, or just a different breed of heartless to deal with. Plus you only visit a total of 8 worlds and only explore a small portion of them compared to the main games. This game is needed to play in small doses, if you sit there for hours performing the same missions with a different background, you will start to pull your hair out.
Having never played a DS game previously, I can only base the graphics on its own merits. The pre-rendered cut scenes are gorgeous and look pretty damn close to the Playstation 2 versions, but of course on a smaller screen (like watching it through youtube). The character models also look nearly exactly like the originals, worlds are near replicas and the amount of details gone in to create a 3D Kingdom Hearts DS experience is spectacular. During standard cut scenes and gameplay, the finer details are still there but you will notice that everything looks a little pixel-ly, character models faces never show emotion and weapons are as thin as paper, like playing an old Playstation game. This was obviously done as the DS uses a cartridge rather than a disc, but it's quite clear that Square-Enix got as close to the real thing as possible, considering their limitations.
Music is still composed by the talented Yoko Shimomura, although there's only a handful of new tracks to be heard here. Most of the tunes are recycled from previous games, but when the music is as delightful to hear back then as it is now, why complain about it? Voice acting is a mixed; there's only a handful of pre-rendered cut scenes, so most of the story progresses via scrolling text. Every now and then you'll hear a grunt' or sigh' to accommodate the text to add emphasis, but it seems that Square didn't know what to do with it. You can easily go hours without hearing a word, then all of a sudden an entire conversation is filled with Axel's laughs and Roxas' gasps. When we do finally get voice acting it isn't as strong as previous instalments, it probably doesn't help that a few of the characters have been recast. It is a heck of a lot more professional than most games, but you can tell the cast weren't feeling the latest script.
Combat is set up pretty much exactly like a standard Kingdom Hearts game, with the menu in the bottom left corner. However, because the DS lacks an analog stick and several buttons compared to a PS2 controller, some sacrifices have been made. For example, in the PS2 games you'd use the analog stick to control your character and the D pad to select your command, but on the DS you use the D pad to move your hero and the X button to go down the selection of actions. This does feel very weird and won't settle in so easily if you have the PS2 controls firmly placed in your memory. I did find myself looking down on my buttons to remind myself what I had to press. Also, instead of having the button closest to you (so the bottom of the diamond) to accept/attack, it's used to cancel actions and jump so a similar set up to how a Japanese controls would be on a Playstation remote, again causing minor brain meltdowns during difficult battles.
The gameplay resembles closer to the first Kingdom Hearts rather than KHII; so the difficulty level is more balanced (whilst KHII was too easy), there are no reaction commands and no summons. But you do have Organisation members to help you out in most missions. The A.I. for the helpers are, at times, happy to attack the nearest heartless, and other times they'll just stare into space as you struggle by yourself. The sad thing is you cannot equip your helper with items or armour in story mode, and you have minimal control over their behaviour in battle, so how useful they are depends on whether the game engine decides to play nice or not.
Instead of the standard levelling up, learning magic/attacks and equipping weapons to boost your character, 358/2 Days makes use of the Panel system'. In the main menu you access the panel' tab and get taken to a menu full of small squares. On each square you can store icons that are essential to your character performing well in battles; including items to use, magic, accessories and weapons. At the start of the game you get given 15 squares (with 120 squares in total), as everything takes up 1 square (so 1 spell/1 potion/1 accessory = 1 square) you need to plan what you need for all missions. On top of that, you also get panels that can link up with other squares to make a particular kind of square stronger grouped rather than singular. For example if you equip a weapon link that takes up 3 squares, the 2 spare squares can be used to equip panels to increase its stats or unlock that particular weapon's hidden abilities.
I have to admit that when I went through the tutorial, my first thoughts were oh god!' but it does sink in quickly and it's quite a deep system. The immediate benefits are that you can customise the panels however you want to whatever kind of fighting style you have. A heavy magic user? Equip nothing but spells and accessories to accommodate. If you prefer to use physical attacks you can use each square to up your combos and attack stats. You can also make the game as easy or as hard as you'd like too, for those players who like to challenge themselves regularly. This isn't completely flawless though, as you have to equip level ups. That's right, levelling up isn't automatic. You can to equip EACH AND EVERY individual level up. So you'll get times in later, harder missions where you're debating whether to equip a level up or a dodge roll! It's an incredibly stupid decision and I'd like to give the guy who thought it'd be a great idea a slap on the face! Nevertheless the panel system, on the whole, is well thought out that I'll happily see again in future games (as long as level ups are automatic!)
Other game play niggles include the camera, which can be controlled with the R shoulder button but has a horrible habit of taking too long to get into the position and getting lost easily, making it tough to see the enemy. The game also includes limit breaks (a Final Fantasy staple, and introduced in KH2) where your character performs a killer move when HP is low, but in order to activate it you need to hold down the B button for a few seconds before it registers, so you've left wide open to be killed while you wait for your character to kick arse. Another downer is the cut scenes, when you revisit old missions or perform the challenge version of an old mission, the cut scenes that top and tail the mission are replayed! There were riveting to watch the first time, but do we really need them repeated again when we all know we've just come back to collect lost treasure and/or achieve a higher score?
The stylus is not used for this game, it can play a part in navigating the map but since the other 99% of the controls are button based you probably won't want to bother. However I have to say that the dual screen was used very effectively. Whilst the top screen is where you'll be viewing all your combat and cut scenes, the bottom screen will display maps as well as play parts in some cut scenes that are more story driven I won't spoil it here how it's used but it is very effective.
On top of the multiple side missions, hidden items, challenge mode and more, you also have a multiplayer function - a first for the franchise. You can team up with 3 other players (who must own their copy of the game) and take on various missions together. The major downside is that you can only play missions you've already completed in the main game, there are no exclusive missions for you and your friends to play. But I have to admit that it is very cool to play a member of the Organisation (basically a baddie), or any of the hidden characters on offer. Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, move sets and weapons to customize, which makes it fun to play around with them. You can also alter the difficulty of missions to challenge yourselves, and the best player is rewarded at the end. On top of this, if you have no mates, you can play solo and use the rewards and any items picked up in your main game!
358/2 Days may not be strongest entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise; the story, character development, and in some cases, game play, leaves some to be desired, but it's a worthy addition that helps clear up some lose ends and get reacquired with the universe and characters before Birth By Sleep is released in English. This game is recommended if you have other games on the go and therefore only have an hour or two to spend on this title per day, as long durations of playing and repeating same missions will bore most players.
+ Soundtrack is strong
+ Plenty of extras, long life span
+ Multiplayer is fun, plenty of characters to use
+ Decent story, develops characters only briefly seen in previous games
+ Graphics and character designs are as close to the PS2 counterparts you're gonna get on the DS
+ Panel system is deep, interesting and fun to customise
- ...but why the hell should you need to equip levels up?
- Voice acting is average and sparse
- No exclusive missions in multiplayer mode
- Lack of crossover goodness, small worlds to explore
- Some conversions from the PS2 to DS controls don't feel right
- Slow story progression and repetitive missions will throw off easily bored players
In a sentence: Fun in short bursts, a drag in long
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/19/10
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (EU, 10/09/09)
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