Continuing the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days brings the Disney/Final Fantasy mash-up onto the Nintendo DS. This time you control Roxas and explore the story of the mysterious Organization XIII. Utilizing the combat system from the first two Kingdom Hearts games, you will fight your way through some familiar worlds from the Disney universe. There are a few tweaks to the tried and true system, but doing similar missions over and over again will make you very familiar with the game by the end.
358/2 Days puts you in the gigantic boots of Roxas. He is the 13th member of Organization XIII and he can wield the keyblade. He is the only one who can release the hearts captured by the heartless, the enemies of the game, and finish Kingdom Hearts to get a heart of his own. He also pals around with his friend Axel, another Organization member, and the Organization’s newest member, Xion. Most of the game is filled with Roxas and friends hanging out, Roxas being sad when his friends don’t show up and copious amounts of sea-salt ice cream.
Unfortunately, by most of the game I mean the first 13-15 hours. You progress in 358/2 Days by completing missions given to you by the other Organization members. Up until the end of the game there is a very familiar cycle of doing the mission and watching the cut-scene of Roxas and company hanging out. The process gets very repetitive and every time you think something different is going to happen, it hardly ever does and you are thrown back into the cycle. All of the interesting points in the story are brought out near the very end and although they are interesting, it is a little too late and nothing that happens is very surprising.
Another disappointment in the storyline is the lack of characters outside of Organization XIII. Throughout the game you team up with various Organization members on your missions. You also see and briefly interact with a few Disney characters. In the series that started as a mixture of the Disney universe and the Final Fantasy universe, there are no Final Fantasy characters in the entire game besides the moogle that sells you stuff. There are also omissions of staple Disney characters such as Peter Pan in Neverland and Alice in Wonderland. You can play as a few Disney characters in the mission mode not attached to the story, but as far as the story goes there are a severe lack of characters outside of the Organization.
As far as DS games go, this one looks really good most of the time. 358/2 Days does an admirable job of trying to look as good as its Playstation 2 counterparts. The cut scenes look a bit blurry, but other than that they could pass for PS2 graphics. The in-game character models look great for a fully 3D DS game. The only problem I noticed is when you walk a certain distance away from characters they appear to have no face, but with the small screen and the DS’s graphical constraints, it’s not a big deal.
Although the characters and the cut scenes look great on the DS, the actual worlds you travel to leave a lot to be desired. Instead of being animated and full of life like Disney environments should be, the locations you do visit during the game are dull and boring. Most of them consist of a few large open areas with nothing in them except for the various heartless you fight and a few scattered treasure chests. For example, there is no treasure room in the Cave of Wonders. Just a few large, empty spaces. Since the missions you do require you to return to these locations many times, it gets very boring having to drudge through the same vast rooms full of nothing over and over.
Also, the Coliseum is in the game… again, and you get to train for the “games”… again. Repeatedly breaking boxes and barrels with Phil wore out its welcome in Kingdom Hearts II and it feels really out of place in 358/2 Days.
Featuring no original soundtrack of its own, 358/2 Days gets all of its music from the Kingdom Hearts games for the Playstation 2. The music sounds good and it fits the environments well, but I was disappointed there was nothing new. Overall, the lack of an original sound track, or even changes to the old music, makes the game feel half-baked and unoriginal.
Even though the soundtrack was a letdown, the voice acting is still great, when it is present. Even though most of the game is represented in text with laughs or grunts from the characters to convey happiness or concern, they actually talk in the cut scenes. The English voice tracks make the characters sound believable and make you care about them for the short time you hear them talk, which can be pretty challenging when one of them has to have a serious conversation with Mickey Mouse.
The game play is a mixed bag. There are some good things and there are some things the game could have done without. The most obvious thing that stands out is the battle system. The keyblade is back in action and the controls are solid, most of the time. Sometimes when you lock onto an enemy, it will only stay locked on for a short period of time before the targeting reticule unlocks from said enemy. Also, when you’re using the automatic targeting, it tends to change your target from the enemy you want to attack to an enemy not even on the screen, which can be frustrating if the first enemy is almost dead.
There are a couple of other small problems as well. For some reason you cannot cast spells as rapidly as you could in previous Kingdom Hearts titles. You have to wait a little while between spells. Also, navigating the menu during battles takes some getting used to, but there are hotkeys to remedy that problem.
Odds are you are going to be bashing the crap out of your enemies most of the time and thankfully that mechanic is nearly flawless. The hit detection can be a little weird on some enemies, but overall the keyblade mechanics are fully functional. This is good because they have ramped up the difficulty from Kingdom Hearts II, so you might find yourself dying a few times throughout the game.
You also get a handful of different keyblades to use and some abilities like the high jump and dodge roll. Some keyblades increase your combos, while others can increase your strength and magic. Unfortunately, only a couple of these are useful in the long run.
One aspect of the game that changed is the item management system. In the PS2 installments, you had a set amount of points to distribute to what skills you wanted to use. In 358/2 Days, you are given a certain number of blocks to put your skills, items and even the levels you gain in. Some of the blocks for various skills take up more than one space, so it turns into a game of Tetris trying to find where to fit all of the skills you want. While this can be mildly entertaining at times, it can get a little annoying when you have enough spaces to put a new skill, but the skill itself is a different shape.
The most obnoxious aspect of this game is the AI of some enemies, most notably the flying enemies. Most of the time when I would attack these enemies they would run away, but they would not stop. A majority of the time they would run into a wall and start ascending and I would have to wait for them to come back down so I could continue my assault. However, sometimes the little floating magicians would run away until they disappeared altogether only to re-spawn with full health back at their original spawn point. There is one mission in particular where this is a huge problem, and trying to complete that mission is like pulling teeth.
Besides fighting heartless you also have a couple of other mission types. Examples of some extra missions are collecting emblems to show you know your way around the empty levels and running around the levels doing reconnaissance by finding interesting things and making Roxas point them out to either himself or the Organization member with him. Sometimes these missions are nice escapes from the constant repetition of fighting, but overall they never seem to accomplish anything.
Once you get past the fact that this is a Kingdom Hearts title, you will find yourself with a very mediocre game. The game play holds itself together well enough, but the mission based game play gets very repetitious and boring, especially when the story doesn’t really kick in until much later in the game. The worlds you visit are barren and dull, and the borrowed soundtrack screams unoriginality. I really wanted to like this game since I’m a fan of the PS2 installments, but I really cannot recommend this title to anybody but the most hardcore Kingdom Hearts fans.
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Published by: Square-Enix, Disney Interactive Studios
Developed by: Square-Enix, h.a.n.d.
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Genre: Action RPG