It always felt like Kingdom Hearts was developed just for me. I am a massive animation fan, and there’s no greater animation house than Disney. To combine their classic characters with the Final Fantasy aesthetic, it was like my dream game had been made. While most thought it was destined to fail, I saw the potential of the game. The final product exceeded even the possibilities I imagined. Square-Enix tapped into the darker side of Disney stories while still keeping it accessible to kids. Unlike Final Fantasy, however, the Kingdom Hearts series strives for continuity between games. 358/2 Days (pronounced 358 Days Over 2) is perhaps the greatest victim to this due to its specific placing in the timeline. That’s not to say it’s not an excellent game. It just isn’t the best jumping-on point for new fans.
The major reason for this is because the main character has changed from series mainstay Sora to a Nobody, a being with no heart, named Roxas. 358/2 Days is essentially Roxas’s life story and covers the 358 days between a certain event in Kingdom Hearts to the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2, which also means that parts of it coincide with the events of Chain of Memories. Because of this, the only way to get the complete story is to play Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories. That caveat makes it great for fans of the series but a difficult starting point for new players. It is entirely possible for new players to enjoy the game. They just won’t get the full picture.
With that said, the story is excellent and one of the best parts of the game. It takes a lot of cues from Crisis Core in that it isn’t about saving the world; it’s a personal journey for Roxas to discover who he is. His tale focuses on friendship, sacrifice, and what makes up the heart. Refreshingly, the Disney worlds featured in the game center more on giving Roxas an idea of what makes up the heart than retelling the plots from the movies. The story follows the same structure of previous games where an overall mystery and character development take up the first two-thirds of the game with the final third providing all the major payoffs. It’s a slow build but one that works. The only real problem is that it references plot points of the other games but never resolves them since they were resolved in their respective stories. 358/2 Days is designed to provide a greater insight to Roxas and the rest of the Organization while showing the backstory of some elements of Kingdom Hearts 2. That’s what makes it such a hard game to break into plot-wise.
Even though newcomers may have some trouble with the story, they’ll have no problems getting into the battle systems. For the most part, it’s the console experience of Kingdom Hearts on the DS, which is an impressive feat. A new move was even added in that Roxas can perform Limit Breaks when his health gets low. The major difference for 358/2 Days is that everything is dictated by panels. Every action Roxas can take and all of his stats are linked to panels. These panels can be found in chests, dropped by enemies, and bought or synthesized in shops and can be everything from potions and ethers to keyblades and even levels. As you complete missions, you collect slot releasers that allow you to use more panels. The more powerful the weapon, ability, or magic, the more panels it takes up. It’s a brilliant system that allows for a lot of customization and strategy. No two players will have the exact same set of panels and game plan.
358/2 Days also changes things by getting rid of the natural flow of past games and opting for a mission structure instead. It’s a perfect fit for the handhelds as you can jump in, play a few missions, and go about your day. The missions generally focus on taking out Heartless but there’s a few where you must explore the worlds or collect emblems in a timed challenge. Surprisingly, a few of the bosses can be difficult and I scraped by on a few battles with the smallest of health. Death doesn’t really derail you as you’re brought back in before the battle with full health. Even if you do become stuck, it’s possible to withdraw from the mission and train in the holo-missions of previous days. As much as the mission structure has going for it, by the end of the game, it’s just too repetitious. You’re doing the same missions over and over again except with different enemies and in a different world. Even by the end, you have likely seen every world three times over. Fortunately, by that point, the plot really kicks into gear and helps drive you forward to the end.
The game also boasts a Mission Mode where players can take part in missions as any member of the Organization as well as a few secret characters that can be unlocked. Each character feels unique and can be a lot of fun to play as. Then there’s the option to play through the missions with up to three of your friends. Unfortunately, I was never able to try this feature out so I can’t say how fun it is but if it works like the rest of the game, you’ll likely have a blast. Even without access to the multiplayer, the game provides a 25 to 30 hour quest depending on how much you try to unlock. It all adds up to a game that plays like its predecessors but has enough new features to stand out on its own.
It’s become expected at this point, but it’s still impressive to see the handiwork of the artists at Square-Enix. 358/2 Days is one of the best looking 3D games on the DS. The character models can be quite detailed when viewed up close but the clarity dissipates the farther you are from them and often some characters have no face. That’s not a huge issue especially since they somehow found a way to squeeze entire worlds from the Playstation 2 games into it. They are faithfully recreated even though the resolution isn’t as high. The tradeoff is that there are very few worlds to visit, seven in total with a few smaller areas in-between, and few characters to interact with. It makes sense for the Organization to avoid most characters, but it’s still disappointing.
The art of the game truly stands out in the enemy design. While many are rehashes or reappearances by old enemies, there are plenty of new ones with fantastic designs. There are even some sections of the game where the screen is filled with enemies, though of the simpler variety, and there’s not a hint of slowdown. It’s quite the impressive display. The sound design also has great quality but there aren’t any new tracks in the game. If you’ve played any of the other Kingdom Hearts games, then you’ve heard these songs. It’s not bad but I wish more effort had been put into it. The voice acting mostly consists of battle grunts, laughs, and sighs though the voice acting in cutscenes is top-notch. I never would have imagined listening to Christopher Lee in a DS game.
358/2 Days is a definite step up in quality over the last portable Kingdom Hearts game, Chain of Memories. Somehow Square-Enix was able to fit the console experience on the DS with only a few sacrifices. The game, while not essential to the overall plot of Kingdom Hearts, does provide some precious tidbits and backstory to the series. It’s a game about character development, and it succeeds on that front. However, I can’t see this game pulling in new fans. It’s more of a love letter to the existing fans. One that I’m sure they’ll appreciate.
MC Chris on Kingdom Hearts: