Review by Crono09

"A solid game that fills in some gaps for the series"

I am taking a temporary break from my survey of the Final Fantasy series to review Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, the next game in the Kingdom Hearts series. This oddly-named sequel (pronounced "three fifty-eight days over two" for anyone who is curious) was released last year for the Nintendo DS. It is overall the fourth game in the series and the second game outside of the main Kingdom Hearts series.

Unlike the previous games in the series, this one focuses on the character Roxas rather than Sora. The game is an interquel that takes place between the two main games in the series. It spans the 358-day period beginning with Roxas's creation and recruitment into Organization XIII near the end of the events of Kingdom Hearts up until his arrival in Twilight Town at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II. During this time, Roxas is trained by the Organization and befriends some of its other members, including Axel and the mysterious 14th member Xion. As he carries out missions for the Organization, he learns that he is very different from its other members. He begins questioning their motives, and eventually, he doubts the reason for this own existence.

Unlike Chain of Memories, the previous portable game in the series, 358/2 Days eschews the card system and uses a similar control scheme as the other Kingdom Hearts games. Where this game differs is in its play structure. The concept of "days" is emphasized by organizing the game into missions with every mission corresponding to one day. Once the mission is selected, you must complete the mission to advance to the next day. For the most part, the missions are predetermined and required. However, there are some occasions where Roxas has several missions that can be completed in any order with many of them being optional. It's no problem if you skip a mission or don't collect everything on a mission. The game lets you go back and replay past missions as often as you want without penalty.

Another unique feature of the game is the grid system. Roxas starts out with a grid that contains a few open slots. Any weapons, rings, abilities, magic, items, and level-ups must be placed on this grid for them to take effect. With nothing on his grid, Roxas is just as weak as he is when the game begins. Some grid items take up more than one slot on a grid and can be linked to other abilities to enhance them. More slots can be opened on the grid by finishing missions, opening chests, or completing challenges. Part of the challenge comes from arranging the grid items so that you can fit as much on it as possible. I enjoyed using this system, and my only issue with it was the requirement to place level-ups on the grid. By the end of the game, more than a third of the grid could be full of level-ups, and since they were necessary, this limited the creativity you could use in customizing the rest of the grid.

As with previous Kingdom Hearts games, many Disney characters and worlds are featured in the game. Roxas and Organization XIII will visit worlds and witness characters from the films Aladdin, Hercules, Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland, and The Nightmare before Christmas. This is a far smaller selection than previous Kingdom Hearts games. Also, the worlds serve as little more than settings for the events of the game. There is not much interaction with the characters (a deliberate decision since Organization XIII operates in secret), and none of the plot points from the movies play any role in the game (with the exception of Beauty and the Beast). Also notably lacking are any Final Fantasy characters. However, many designs in the game are clearly inspired by the Final Fantasy series.

The story is not often considered the strong point of this game. After all, most of the cutscenes involve the three main characters eating ice cream on a clock tower. In contrast, I found the story to be perfectly acceptable given the context of what the game is about. It satisfies our curiosity regarding what Roxas and Organization XIII had been doing in the time between Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II. While some people complain about retconning certain events of the story, I found the explanation completely plausible given the context of the Kingdom Hearts universe. The game is more about the characters than the story, and we learn much about Axel and Roxas that explains their behavior in Kingdom Hearts II. I honestly was a little disappointed to learn so little about the Organization XIII members in Chain of Memories since they were killed off before we got to learn much about them.

There is a decent level of variety in the missions. Most objectives involved collecting hearts, which are obtained by defeating Emblem Heartless, although many missions required defeating one or more extra-powerful heartless. There are some oddball missions, such as reconnaissance (which required simply exploring certain parts of the world), collecting emblems, or destroying jars. For most missions, Roxas would be accompanied by another member of Organization XIII, each with their own fighting style. My only problem was the lack of variety in the worlds themselves. None of them is very big, so you ended up exploring the same small area over and over again. This was particularly noticeable in the beginning of the game where Twilight Town is the only world you have access to.

The game can be very challenging on the highest difficulty level, particularly at the certain points in the game where the enemies soar in difficulty while Roxas does not yet have access to the right equipment for them. For the most part, I rarely felt like the difficulty was beyond what it should be, and it would have been almost too easy on lower difficulties. Some enemies did have too many HP, which led to marathon battles that were not challenging but required doing the same monotonous routine for the whole battle. Also, far too many enemies use evasion strategies that require you to chase after them. This really isn't much fun, and it causes even basic battles to string out longer than they need to be.

Once you're done with the game, there is still more to do. By collecting certain badges in missions, you can open up one or two challenges for that mission. The challenges are more difficult versions of the missions with additional objectives, usually finishing within a time limit. Completing challenges awards the player sigils that can be exchanged for grid items, some of which cannot be obtained any other way. In addition, many missions have badges that unlock the mission in Mission Mode. This is the multiplayer version of the game that lets you replay the mission with up to four players using a wireless connection. The best part of Mission Mode is that all of the 13 members of Organization XIII are playable, and up to 6 other characters can be unlocked by completing the story. Getting the best score on a mission will award the player crowns, which can also be exchanged for grid items. Unfortunately, I have not been able to experience playing with other people, but I did enjoy experimenting with the different characters available in this mode.

In spite of the naysayers out there, I found 358/2 Days to be an excellent entry into the Kingdom Hearts series. It's not up to the level of the two main games, and no one should expect it to be, but it is an enjoyable portable game that has can keep you entertained for a long time. The story is not essential to understanding the Kingdom Hearts cosmology, but it does fill in some gaps that will be essential for fans of the series. If you have a Nintendo DS and are a fan of action RPGs, this is a great game to add to your collection.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/07/12

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

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