Review by Mykas0
Harder to define than I first thought of...
A couple years ago, Kingdom Hearts was first transposed to an handheld console, under the form of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The result, instead of a pure action game, was a card-based adventure, and most fans appeared to have mixed responses; some liked it, some didn't, but ultimately it was a fun game.
Now, rest assured that you won't find any cards in this new game. In fact, what you'll find here closely resembles this series' main games, from equipment and abilities up to the way you control your character, either while walking around or during battles. If you've played any of the Playstation 2 games, you'll feel mostly at home around here, and that's something you can even realise by looking at screenshots, or videos, taken from this game. But, deep below that familiar cover, lies a game where there's more than meets the eye.
First of all, shortly after you start playing you'll notice something quite original about this title - unlike its predecessors, it is a mission-based adventure. Some missions are required for you to take, others are simply optional, but all of them lead to various rewards, ranging from simple items up to whole new modes and, ultimately, even secret characters may become available.
So, in what exactly consist these missions? Sometimes, you're asked to completely explore an area. Others, you simply have to locate and defeat a boss, or vanquish several enemies of a certain type. More difficult ones consist on grabbing badges in a certain order, or completing several (small) goals in a row. One can easily understand these aren't the most original thing in the gaming industry, but they are mixed in a way that makes you want to play, that makes you long for what's next, either in the form of a whole new magic spell or a cutscene with a Disney character you just love.
Soon, you'll figure out that the 358 days that populate this game hold around 100 different missions, ones that you'll have to complete in order to see the entire storyline. Be aware that most of these hold secrets, elements that can only be reached, or fully unlocked, later on, and that leads to as many as 200~300 levels you'll have to play on your own. Eventually, and as you can probably comprehend, this would make the game pretty old quickly, since nobody wants to play particular missions time and time again, right? Despite the various changes that are inducted later on - you can, for example, be asked to complete a boss battle in a certain amount of time, or without even being damaged - that's actually one of this game's flaws.
Even if you decide to grab a couple friends (they'll need a copy of this game, too) and play some missions together, the game gets old fairly quick. No matter what, you'll still have to defeat the same enemies, except that you'll be accompanied with your friends, and you'll be rewarded for your common achievements. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to fully explore this mode, and I cannot tell you how well/badly it works, but unless you have some friends who also own this game, and who can actually be next to you, you will never have real reasons to play the game, once you've finished the main storyline.
The few elements that could add to the replay value are basically thrown on your path. If you want to synthesise, let's say, Ultima Key (one of the best weapons available in the game), you simply have to play your way across the game, and you'll magically find all the components required to form it. You're not even asked to look around for them, you simply have to play across the game and they'll come. I'm not advocating that, instead, they should have used the 1% item drop rate that many games have popularized by now, but... at least something that isn't just throw in your path would be fine by me.
On the other side, if you're a Kingdom Hearts hardcore fan, this game holds some secrets for you. As you complete what may seem as side goals, reports on the adventures of Roxas (this game's main characters) and Xion (a new girl, which first appears in this game) will be made available, shedding some light on events that, so far, were clouded in deep mystery. Besides (and in case you haven't noticed that by now), this is a game where you play with members of Organization XIII, and Sora, alongside with his usual companions, are mostly absent. While the main storyline focuses essentially on Roxas - although some mission grant you up to two companions - by heading to the multiplayer mode you'll be able to play with whoever you want, including Larxene, Marluxia, Roxas, Axel and Xion, among many other surprises.
Although my reference secrets could you lead to think that this game is heavily plot-driven, that's not exactly the case. In fact, you'll get to see countless scenes where your characters eat ice cream and talk about daily stuff; later on, as the game reaches its climax, the last 10 missions hold all sorts of important details, ones that you may really want to know, unlike what happens with all those ice cream parades. Personally, I even found myself skipping several scenes in order to reach the next level as quickly as possible, and due to this game's slowness, in terms of important events, I'm afraid that'll be a solution that many other players may end up miming.
Then, from a technical standpoint this game is extremely impressive. Characters' models are extremely detailed, and they have nothing to envy to the looks of the main Kingdom Hearts games. The same goes for every special effect, from your character's limits up to magic spells, they're rather impressive, and they clearly show that this particular console is here to stay, and its kernel holds many, yet to be unveiled, technical feats. Even its sound quality is beyond any possible reproach; you can hear character's voices during major dialogues, and the music that plays during levels is extremely good, to the point that you could even think that you were listening to tunes produced by a much more powerful console.
In the end, this game just doesn't deserve a perfect score due to its predictability, due to the fact that some aspects aren't very well planned. In my view, nobody wants countless ice-cream eating sequences, nobody wants to have an easy mission in their pocket, and 10 minutes later one that'll frustrate him to death. Sometimes, this game is one of the best things this console has ever seen, but then, when it comes to the actual point of delivering its checkmate, it appears to fall out of its real appeal, and give players less than what they asked for.
Its quality is not really consistent, it's hard to create an actual list of strenghts and weaknesses, due to its unpredictability that, awkwardly, beholds more predictable moments than not. Fans will certainly love this game, but what about the nameless player out there, one who sees this game in their local store? In my view, the only way they'll truly love this game is if they have friends to share it with; otherwise, it turns into just a glorified Square-Enix experience, where you'll buy it to be the cool kid on the block, play it for a few hours and, in the end, put it away because you can't complete a certain secondary objective.
Oh, and yes, until a Western release is made available, you'd better have some knowledge of Japanese if you want to fully enjoy this game.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (JP, 05/30/09)
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