Review by corran450

"Corran450's Review Series Vol. 10: Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days"

The product of a chance meeting in a Japanese elevator, the Kingdom Hearts series has emerged as one of the most popular video game franchises of the last decade. Combining the video game quality and story-telling prowess of Square Enix with the production values and back catalog of Disney, this mutant franchise has spawned multiple games across multiple platforms, selling millions of copies, and creating a whole new universe with a compelling mythology for gamers to play in.

The series' first entry for the Nintendo DS, the oddly named "Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days", does not buck the trend of quality entertainment with an original, if sometimes confusing, storyline. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, as we delve deeper into the events that preceded "Kingdom Hearts II"

"Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days" is a fun and engaging entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. Unlike previous entries, it utilizes a mission-based structure, perfect for gaming-on-the-go. You can accomplish something in this game, even if you only have ten minutes to play. The Story Mode is where all the missions are played initially, but by collecting special sigils in each mission, you unlock that mission in Mission Mode. Mission Mode is notable for allowing you to play each mission with a different member of Organization XIII, as well as other characters integral to the series. It's possible to unlock Riku, Donald Duck, Goofy, even King Mickey and Sora. Also, previous missions can be revisited to complete special challenges, which impose restrictions on you and force you to meet certain requirements to gain Challenge Sigils, which can be redeemed at the Moogle's Shop for special prizes.

Character progression is managed through 'panels' which are installed on the character to provide access to abilities, items, and even increase your levels and weaponry. Only a limited number of panels can be installed at a time, requiring you to manage your panels according to your style of gameplay, and what each mission requires. as you progress, you unlock more slots in which to install panels. Purchasing panels from the shop, finding them in the field, or synthesizing them in true Kingdom Hearts tradition, allows you to expand your abilities and become a more efficient Heartless-killing machine.

Control-wise, if you've played previous entries, you'll feel right at home. It plays and feels much like the PS2 entries, with a very similar control scheme mapped out to the DS's controls. But there are some inconsistencies in the gameplay. The battle controls can feel particularly loose, and the shortcuts, which were useful in previous games, never felt natural to me. I suggest using the alternate control scheme than the default setting, as it offers better control over the series' trademark wonky camera.

The story of 358/2 Days revolves around Roxas, thirteenth member of Organization XIII, and the nobody of Sora. Roxas was formed during the events of the first Kingdom Hearts game, and was introduced in the first act of KH2. Parts of his story were fleshed out in the second half of KH2, but there were many gaps in the story. Finally we see Roxas' entire journey, which takes place over the course of a year.

Roxas begins his journey mute and confused, but grows to become one of the Organizations top members. Of course, the fact that he wields a keyblade is of great importance as is his connection to Sora, the Keyblade Master. Along the way, he develops a friendship with Axel, another member of the Organization, and Xion, the mysterious (and previously unknown) 14th member. Xion also has a mysterious connection to Sora, and wields a keyblade as well. This trio, Roxas, Axel, and Xion, and their friendship, form the basis of the entire story of "358/2 Days", as well as setting into motion the events that eventually led up to Sora's awakening at the beginning of KH2.

Like previous entries in the series, the story is very complex and deals with many heavy themes, such as loyalty, friendship, and loss. Ultimately, it reveals the difference between Roxas and the other Nobodies that comprise Organization XIII. You start to see the effect that he has on other members as well, especially Axel, who becomes more and more human with each day he spends with Roxas and Xion.

That said, the story does take for granted that you know certain facts, or can infer certain assumptions. Naturally, you will probably be lost if you haven't played "Kingdom Hearts II", which is counter-intuitive, since this is technically a prequel to that game. All told, though, the story is interesting and moving, in the vein of the other entries in the series.

The scrappy DS's processor can actually handle some pretty impressive graphics. This is true in "358/2 Days" as well. The graphics are better than most PS1 games, but they don't really come close to the splendor of the PS2 entries in the series. That said, these graphics are colorful and detailed. Many of the different Heartless you will encounter are variations on about ten or fifteen different models, "recolors" if you will, although the difference between enemies of the same class goes far beyond simple recoloring.

The characters are animated well, with natural-looking movements. The facial expressions on the in-game models doesn't change, however. Any expressions are handled by highly detailed portraits that accompany the in-game text boxes. This can get annoying after a while, since Xion has a slight, dopey smile on her in game model, even when she's supposed to be crying or angry. But I'm just being nitpicky now. For the most part, the graphics are outstanding.

FMVs accompany important scenes, and are beautiful and well directed, as you've come to expect from Square Enix. They look great on the DS's little screens.

The music of "358/2 Days" is very similar to KH2's soundtrack. In fact, I don't think I heard many original tracks for this game that were not in a previous game, but don't quote me on that, as it's been a while since I played one of the other games. That said, I think the tracks are timeless, and I love the soundtrack. If you haven't heard them before, the songs are pretty piano-heavy, as composed by Yoko Shimomura. Of course, there's the series staple, Utada Hikari singing the intro and ending themes.

The voice acting, while sparse, is excellent. All actors retain their roles from previous games, which is as it should be. It's a little strange though to hear the bass rumble of Christopher Lee emerging from your DS, but not unwelcome.

Other than that, the basic sound effects haven't changed much since the first game.

Play Time/Replayability:
This is by far the longest DS game I've ever played. My play time clocked in at around 40 hours (!!!), which did seem a little long for a handheld game. I don't feel like it overstayed it's welcome though, and there were many Challenge Missions I didn't complete. So I would say that replayability is medium, since there's so much to do, even after the game is complete.

Final Recommendation:
Rent or Buy? It depends. If you're a fan of the series, you can't go wrong with this title. I definitely don't regret buying this game. But if you've never played a Kingdom Hearts game before, you may enjoy the gameplay, but you will definitely be lost at sea as far as the story is concerned. Then again, if you're reading this, you've probably played at least one other game in the series, so I highly recommend "Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days" as not just a portable entry, but a full-fledged chapter in the Kingdom Hearts saga.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/10/11

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

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