Review by Field Ranger

"Discover the truth about your employers."

The debut of the Kingdom Hearts series was a shock to role-playing and Disney fans alike. A game combining the cheerful, upbeat nature of Disney icons with the more serious, moody, and deep personalities of Square had woven elements of companies normally serving completely separate audiences into an intricate tale of light versus darkness, hope, friendship, and betrayal. Today, Sora, the main character of Kingdom Hearts, along with his friends Riku and Kairi, have become staples of the gaming world. Critically acclaimed, the original installment spun several successful sequels, some of which including Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days explores motifs similar to the first game, as well as a few new themes. Old characters return, while a few neophytes add more flavor to the plot. This time, however, the player is put in control of Roxas, at first a lowly scrub of the radical group for which he works: Organization XIII.

Organization XIII's purpose, unbeknownst to Roxas, is to collect hearts to complete the realm of Kingdom Hearts, the ultimate source of all light and the final destination of lost hearts, so that its members may have hearts of their own. The ends to which they go to achieve this goal are also elusive to his awareness. Near the start of the game, a mysterious fourteenth member of the group, known as Xion, is inducted. The story essentially revolves around the relationship between Roxas, Axel (the fiery eighth member), and this new girl on the block, especially during its latter half.

In Story Mode, the course of the setting spans over a period of 358 days, hence the title. For each day that is not skipped, the member Saix will assign Roxas a certain number of missions for that day, either alone or with a partner. Their exact objectives range from collecting hearts by destroying Heartless to recon, collecting emblems, and destroying dark matter. The presence of a "large Heartless" usually indicates an upcoming boss fight. As the player progresses, the Organization's trust of Roxas will gradually increase, and more solo missions will be assigned. Completing more missions than what is required and exceeding the minimal requirements for each mission will yield rewards that the player is free to spend on shopping, synthesis, and character customization.

Roxas's performance in combat is improved through the use of panels acquired during missions. Panels are used for all combat functions; without them, Roxas will simply not improve. Panel types include level-ups, accessories, weapons, spells, items, and abilities. Several panels have "link" functions that allow supplementary panels to be used to increase their effects. Unfortunately, only a limited number of panels may be equipped at once. However, more space can be unlocked by attaining slot releasers through missions and by purchasing them in shops. As the Organization notices more competence in Roxas through his accomplishments, they will promote him, unlocking additional items for purchase and synthesis in the Moogle shop.

Challenge Modes are also available for each mission in Story Mode. Challenge Mode versions of missions are far more difficult, accompanied by more powerful Heartless and more difficult mission objectives to achieve. Complementing Story Mode is the Mission Mode feature, which allows the player to embark on Holo-Missions as numerous characters, unlocked by progression and completion in Story Mode. This mode can be tackled either solo or with friends by local wireless. Auspiciously, current panel status from Story Mode is transferred to Mission Mode for use with any of the playable characters.

There are effectively two types of currencies in Days. The first, known as Munny, is used with synthesis materials gained in missions to synthesize panels. Heart Points, the second, are collected by defeating Heartless, and are used to directly purchase items from the shop. As Munny is more abundant, the player will desire to scrounge for synthesis materials in order to save Heart Points for the most important HP-exclusive items. Overall, this system of purchasing and synthesizing panels used to enhance Roxas's combat functions is vital and, delightedly, convenient.

The game's default controls are surprisingly efficient for the DS. B is used to jump, while A and X select and switch commands, respectively. Y activates a control panel that allows the player to set panels, engage in Holo-Missions, read files, review tutorials, configure game settings, save, or return to the title screen. The right shoulder button controls the camera, while the left toggles a shortcut menu where magic and items can be assigned.

Although the graphics are not of PS2 quality, they take full advantage of whatever processing power the DS has to offer in rendering 3D models and environments. The worlds and music are, sadly, not of much note, as most of both are recycled from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II with the exception of Neverland, remodeled for the purpose of showing how the Organization interacted with the world. Disney characters also take a backseat as Roxas and his outings with various Organization members assume priority.

Storytelling is, by far, one of this title's strongest points. The moods and intentions of characters are easily recognized through their words and actions. Roxas is, initially, nearly a zombie, completely unsure of himself and knowing not what to say or do when confronted by nearly anyone. Eventually, however, he gradually develops a distinctive personality, and his relationships with other characters evolve and develop. Xion acts much the same way, but remains unsure of herself. Axel is upbeat, easygoing, and arrogant. His relationship with Roxas and Axel wavers between close and trusting to apathetic and indifferent as he struggles to decide, in an internal conflict of his own, whether his friends or the Organization's dream is more important to him. Saix is strict, commanding, diligent, and cynical, as let on by his facial expressions and confrontations with Roxas and Axel. Xemnas is calm and patient, Luxord is a risk-taker, Demyx is lazy and unreliable, and Xigbar is pompous and sneering. Each Organization member has his or her own unequivocal personality made obvious through well-written interactions with one another.

Regrettably, the precise reuse of old environments and songs is not this portable action role-player's only flaw. Repetition runs rampant as it reeks from rascals at h.a.n.d. While a few different types of mission objectives are undertaken throughout the game, these same few objectives are thrown at the player many, many times, located at the same, recycled worlds fans have already traversed in the first few games, with no better excuse than mere lack of creativity. Thankfully, despite such a glaring drawback, the development team still managed to incorporate a unique, convenient, and even addictive method of character customization that engages players as seamlessly as the title's immersive, fitting dialogue.

Undoubtedly, this installment will appeal more to Kingdom Hearts fans than followers of everything Disney. Where plot is concerned, this entry in the series serves mainly to answer previously ignored questions dealing with the whereabouts of Roxas at and between the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II. To the average role-playing gamer, the immense repetition of mission objectives and locales will classify the game as mediocre. To the average Kingdom Hearts fan, h.a.n.d.'s masterful implementation of storytelling and character customization will more than recompense for any flaws observed.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/05/10

Game Release: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (US, 09/29/09)

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