I’ve been waiting for a new Kingdom Hearts game for ages. Ok, maybe not ages, per se, but more or less three very long years. With that in mind, rest assured that I am the person to review this game in the most honest sense. I’ve been a loyal follower of the franchise since its inception on the PlayStation 2 and have gone through just about every iteration of the game through its constant bounce from the PlayStation 2 onward to the Nintendo DS – each giving a unique experience in their own right.
When Square Enix first announced that they were releasing a new Kingdom Hearts my day went from great to amazing. I went outside and closed my eyes with a smile on my face to intake the polluted air that engulfs New York City. Down the steps I went humming made-up tunes and dancing in circles as pigeons flocked to me and joined in the delightful music that I hummed. Crackheads across the street cheered me on as they smirked revealing decayed and missing teeth with chapped lips which resembled Rhino skin. I stopped and bowed as a Broadway actor would do after a show finished and continued circling myself around the pigeons that smelled like sulfur and boiled potatoes. In front of me stood a little squirrel that moved its head to the rhythm of my humming; I stopped, smiled at him and asked, “How’re you doing today, Mr. Squirrel?” dug in my pockets, and pulled out a Trident in which he refused and bit my hand. I kicked him across the street, cursed at him and continued my day prancing and humming tunes as one would see in a Disney movie – except that I, of course, live in the ghetto. All this in finding out that another installment to the Kingdom Hearts series was coming on the DS.
Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, Kingdom Hearts is a concoction of combined famous heroes from both the Final Fantasy series and Disney’s most noteworthy characters, and thrown together in an original and appealing story. Of course, a lot of folks are skeptical because of its “kid-like” atmosphere that the games give off, but if you’re a fan of RPGs and enjoy a good story and a good experience, then you should consider the franchise for sure. Kingdom Hearts has gone through two actual games – which were released on the PlayStation 2 – and a spin-off on the Nintendo DS. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is the newest game in the series, and a spin-off, which follows the story of the side character, Roxas, during his time with Organization XIII which, basically, takes place between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2.
The game, in its entirety, revolves around Organization XII – a group of extremely powerful Nobodies (Nobodies are people who don’t have hearts and, in some ways, no “human” traits or emotions). Their primary goal is to use Roxas and his Keyblade in an attempt to create Kingdom Hearts – a powerful seraphic collection of hearts – so that they themselves can reclaim hearts of their own and complete their existence. If you haven’t stayed true to the series, this might all sound a bit perplexing. But, if you’re familiar with the previous Kingdom Hearts games, you’ll get the gist of this game.
As stated before, the game revolves around Roxas – the Nobody of Kingdom Hearts’ main hero, Sora. Accepted into the ranks of Organization XIII as its 13th member, Roxas is given the job of collecting hearts from defeated Heartless in order to complete Kingdom Hearts. The reason why Roxas is needed, and no other member of Organization XIII can collect these hearts, is because Roxas is able to summon the Keyblade – which is what is needed to collect the hearts. Without the Keyblade, everyone in Organization XIII is basically, to be subtle, screwed.
Although it was released on the Nintendo DS, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days makes virtually zero use of the stylus (except if you want to use it to rotate the screen by touching it with the stylus, which, personally, is more of a hassle), as most games use traditionally. Instead, you rely on the old-school scheme of actually using buttons to perform attacks and so forth which, at first, can take some time getting used to since it isn’t the more recognized PlayStation 2 controller. The trickiest thing about the controls was the time needed getting used to the camera. In the original games on the PlayStation 2, players have more to work with with regards to the amount of available buttons that one can use. The DS, though, is limited to six buttons. However, although the game itself does not make use of the DS’s stylus, the two screens are definitely used (I mean, it would be pretty stupid if they didn’t).
Veterans of the Kingdom Hearts franchise will notice the familiar combat system once they get their chances to first bitch-slap the Heartless with Roxas’s Keyblade; it’s the traditional button mashing combo system with the use of the “Y” button to perform familiar defensive moves such as the dodge-roll and block. To target your opponent, you will need to tap the Right Trigger twice in rapid succession. The fighting scheme might feel welcoming to old schoolers of the franchise, but the overall anatomy is way different. For example, anyone who’s played the previous PS2 versions of Kingdom Hearts will recall how Sora and his idiot-savant sidekicks Donald and Goofy would travel between worlds with the use of a “Gummi Ship” whilst experiencing an exciting in-between cut of shooting space crap. 358/2 Days isn’t like this, though. Instead of exploring various worlds in one monumental adventure, the game is entirely composed of missions. There’s no free roaming crap going on like you’re used to in the previous games. No, no. You’re not allowed to “go to town” and shoot the poop with random folk. As a member of Organization XIII, you’re basically given a bunch of tasks at the hub world which you must complete in order for the story to carry on. If you’ve missed some stuff in the world(s), you’re more than welcomed to replay the missions as many times as you like. This is good for those of you who are “trophy whores” and get sheer satisfaction in beating things to perfection. Ya missed a treasure chest? By all means go back and get it. Oh, what’s that? A heartless beat your ass repeatedly while you were Level 2? Get to Level 10 and go back to kick his ass.
While working your way through the story, missions will be unlocked along with additional challenges for Mission Mode – which is the alternate choice you have aside from Story Mode. Mission Mode allows you to do things like gain experience points for leveling, uncover treasure, and all that nifty stuff with the help from some friends. When I say friends, I’m not saying Mickey and the rest of the Disney crowd, I mean real life friends: Four-player multiplayer, folks… and it’s the first time that this has ever been done in a Kingdom Hearts game. Each player, however, will require their own legit copy of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Although it might leave some sort of disgusting morning breath taste in your mouth at first thought, know that the multiplayer is one of the greatest strengths of this game. The fact that you’re able to choose any member of Organization XIII to play as is great and shows you just how badass these mofos really are. Things get pretty much screwy, though, once you bring in all four of your peeps to join in on the mayhem of molestation that goes on between your weapons and your foes. The game starts eep-opping (my word for stuttering) during this massive 4 player orgy. It might be tolerable if you have the patience of a Shaolin monk, but other than that, the experience is fun as hell – a feat that separates this installment of the franchise from the others.
In addition to the multiplayer, a new system has been introduced: the panel system. The panel system governs how you build up your character. Every level-up, item, weapon enhancement, spell, whatever the hell it is, is represented by a panel or a block that must be fit onto a block styled board, giving players the potential to customize their character beyond belief. You can, realistically, build the character you want. Want a character that solely relies on casting fireballs up Heartless ass? You can customize a character to do just that by equipping an array of different magic spells. Abilities are also equipped using this system. Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t be what it is if your character couldn’t glide, roll or block. All these abilities can be equipped in the panel system to tune your character to your specific needs.
Visually, the game looks amazing for a DS game. You’d think because of the DS’s hardware limitations and because of the limited space that the cartridge has that Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days would look like the offspring of doo-doocompared to the PlayStation 2 versions. Not at all, my bewildered readers. What Square Enix has done with the visuals is stunning in every way. Of course, you’re not going to have a full 3D game because of the limitations of hardware and what not (i.e. objects like trees appear flat, poles appear flat, it’s almost like the damn game took place in a school play), but what the DS puts out is definitely impressive considering the things that I’m pretty sure Square Enix had to omit.
Followers of the franchise will quickly notice – from the start – the music and sounds which were migrated over from the previous games. Although it might sound pleasing to hear at first, it kind of takes away from the originality of 358/2 Days. I wasn’t expecting anything out of this world, of course. But I was expecting different. Some cutscenes are voiced, which is awesome, but the majority of the game is just text – something I’m not really knocking Square Enix for due to the limits that the DS cartridges have in contrast to other media. The fact that the entire music score was derived from Kingdom Hearts II, though, is a bit of a let down, personally.
One of my biggest beefs with the game, though, will have to be the repetitiveness that will eventually consume you. You will travel to different worlds like in other previous Kingdom Hearts games – which is great. What makes this game a little incontinent with regards to this part of the presentation is the fact almost everything, if not all, is the regurgitation of a previous scenario or setting which can become relatively discouraging and annoying for players. Is it enough to pry you away from the overall experience? Absolutely not. There are many things that this game does right when comparing to what it does wrong.
If you’ve been following the story since day one, this game should definitely make its way to your list. The perplexing questions that plagued you before with regards to Organization XIII are now answered giving you a much clearer perception of what’s been going on. Although voice acting is not a key feature in this game, the dialogue quickly makes up for it by providing a captivating tone and story.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is definitely not for everyone who owns a DS. Fans of the series will definitely need to pick this title up for the sheer purpose of both nostalgia and overall experience. Although I would recommend it for anyone just for the sheer kicks of the combat system and story, the fact that there’s a lot to know before playing this game will become an issue as it is with the story in itself – aside from the gameplay – that makes Kingdom Hearts what it is. I solely recommend this game for the fans – it’s a heartfelt experience that will have you smirking during certain moments as you, once again, meet old friends and travel to familiar worlds. As a fan of the franchise myself, I can dare say that, even though it does have its disappointing moments, this is one game that should be considered by followers of the series. Now, Square Enix, when are you planning to bring this series onto next-gen consoles?
Title: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (DS) Developer: Square Enix Publisher: Square Enix MSRP: $34.99 Release Date: September 29, 2009