Review by horror_spooky

"How could you be so Heartless?"

Back when Square Enix and Disney revealed their Final Fantasy/Disney film hybrid entitled Kingdom Hearts, many gamers laughed in their face. That was until the game was released and blew everyone's minds. Since then, Kingdom Hearts has become a franchise that ranks up there with Square's Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series, becoming a gaming staple and one of the most well-known franchises and best-selling series in history. The series is no stranger to handheld offerings, with the second game in the franchise being released on the Game Boy Advance last generation, and a PSP game entitled Birth By Sleep to be released soon for the PlayStation Portable. There's a lot of story to tell in the KH universe, and Square Enix chose Nintendo's ambitious little handheld to tell more of the story with Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.

Instead of controlling Sora, the primary protagonist of the series, players take the role of Roxas during his days in Organization XIII, events that have been kept in the dark until now. There are a few questions that Kingdom Hearts II created answered in this adventure, and fans of the series will surely love this installment just like they have the previous games.

358/2 Days plays very similar to the other games. It is essentially a hack-and-slash action RPG with platforming and adventure elements sprinkled in for good measure. You will pound on the A button quite a bit as you try to take out the Heartless with your Keyblade, but you will also utilize magic spells to gain an elemental advantage, and perform evasive actions like air dashes and rolls to dodge attacks. Platforming comes into play as you explore the various Disney-themed worlds featured in the game, and adventure aspect of the game is introduced as you explore the environments, sometimes stealthily and other times completing side-objectives to appease the characters that inhabit the worlds.

But if you're a fan of the series, you already knew all of this. This is how all the games work, but there are a couple of issues that 358/2 Days brings to the table. For one, the d-pad on the Nintendo DS isn't very suited for a three-dimensional game such as this, and it can cause precision issues. Casting magic spells is done by cycling through a menu with the X button, and between trying to keep track of all the spells and the items you use, things can get quite hectic during heated situations.

New elements are introduced in 358/2 Days. The Limit Breaks from the Final Fantasy series make an appearance, and it works like this. If your health gets below a certain point, you can hold the A button and then unleash a flurry of attacks to help regain the advantage. Instead of having Donald and Goofy having your back like when you're Sora, you work with other Organization XIII members, and they all have their own unique attacks. The AI is sometimes annoying since they hardly ever work strategically, and generally just attack whatever you have auto-locked.

358/2 Days is presented in a style unique for the games. Instead of just going between worlds, you are given certain objectives to complete and must visit worlds repeatedly as their own little side-stories unfold. You can choose to skip many of the missions, but there are certain ones that you must complete in order to advance the plot.

This game uses a unique system that handles both leveling and inventory management. You use a panel system that you assign icons to before every mission. You place things like potions and ethers here, and they take up slots. As you complete missions, you unlock more panels. You can customize the panels in about a billion different ways, allowing you to play the game how you want. Whether that's playing it by going head-first into action swinging your Keyblade wildly, or whether that's standing back and firing Final Fantasy-inspired magic attacks from afar while your partner picks up the hacking-and-slashing slack. As you gain experience points, you earn level-up icons to place in the panels as well, meaning that if you don't leave room for these, your stats will remain low, so the game forces you to think strategically when customizing your panels. If you want to create certain panels that are suitable for different situations, you can save panels as decks and call on them between missions.

The Story Mode isn't the only thing available to you, however. There is also a Mission Mode that allows players to control a variety of characters from the Kingdom Hearts universe and complete special missions or replay missions they've already completed in the main game. You earn items for doing this for the Story Mode, and it's also refreshing to control someone besides Roxas the entire time. This mode also allows for multiplayer if you know someone else with a DS and a copy of the game. Unfortunately, the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is not supported in this manner, which should be a requirement when there is no Download Play option. I don't know why Square didn't use the Download Play option or the WFC, but they should keep this in mind as they create future titles for the system.

One the key elements to any good RPG is the plot. If the storyline doesn't have an epic and emotional feel to it, then it definitely hurts the overall experience of a role-playing game. While the storylines in the Kingdom Hearts games are a tad hard to follow at times, 358/2 Days helps clear up a lot of the confusion surrounding the franchise. The plot follows Roxas during his days as a member of Organization XIII and his interactions with other members such as Axel and a mysterious new agent named Xion. Things quickly become more and more mysterious as Roxas starts seeing visions of Sora's exploits in the original game. The plotline starts immediately following the first Kingdom Hearts, and then is parallel to Chain of Memories before finally bridging the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. I really like the character of Roxas, and the tragic quality this game carries along with it as a direct result of it shifting the focus from Sora and his adventures to this character. I feel as though Roxas is a much better character than Sora, and he's easier to relate to and his problems are more interesting to delve into. I'm sure a lot of fans of the series will be quick to disagree with me, but I would love to see, somehow, another game about Roxas.

358/2 Days utilizes the potential of the DS quite nicely when it comes to the visuals. The character models are impressive and the graphics are quite good, with varied environments and a lot of bright colors. There are a few issues with objects going through each other, but these things are quickly forgotten when you see the absolutely stunning CGI cut-scenes in place for the game that look just as good as if they were on a current-gen console.

And it just gets better from there. The musical score is touching and sets the mood perfectly. Each world has its own tunes, and they are slightly remixed music from the Disney movies we all know and love. You'll be tapping your feet and nodding your head to all the music throughout every world. I did wish that the game was a bit louder, more like Elite Beat Agents with its volume, but they still did a phenomenal job here. The voice acting was pretty good, even though some of the dialogue missed the mark and came across as too corny.

Around 25 to 30 hours of gameplay is in store for players who take on Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, and that's if you skip all the secondary missions. Going back through and completing the game to 100% will take quite a long time, plus there is the multiplayer Mission Mode to mess around with as well. However, there are long stretches of gameplay, especially towards the beginning, that are just plain boring in nature and do nothing to even attempt to entice you to keep playing. If you're a die-hard Kingdom Hearts fan or a fan of RPGs, I'm sure you'll dump nearly 100 hours into this game easily, but if you're more of the quick-fix kind of guy and will only go through the main storyline, then perhaps you should think about how much money you're willing to spend on this exactly.

Square Enix has crafted a pretty entertaining new chapter in the Kingdom Hearts saga, and it's nice to have Kingdom Hearts on the go. The combat is clumsy, there is no download play multiplayer options, and the partner AI is mainly detrimental and rarely helpful. However, the fantastic storyline, the interesting new mechanics introduced to the series, the great graphics, the equally amazing audio quality, and all the content packed into the game do help win it points. If you're a fan of the series, don't hesitate to buy this one, but if you aren't that into the franchise, then perhaps you should just give this title a rent.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/06/10

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

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