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Review

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (DS) Review

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’ve been fairly neglectful of my Nintendo DS in the last couple of months. But, seriously, who can blame me? There’s been so much good stuff being released on the Nintendo Wii that it’s just so hard to pull myself away from it. That being said, when a shiny new copy of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days arrived on my door step, I saw it as reason to pull myself away from my Wii. Just why, though? When the game was first announced alongside the PSP iteration, I was naturally sceptical as to how the game would work in a competent manner on the DS, as well as having concerns regarding whether the graphical quality that the DS can provide would suit the Kingdom Hearts games. Thankfully, neither of my concerns really held up as I played through the game; in fact, I’d say it’s one of the best action RPGs that the Nintendo DS has to offer. Oh, and for the record, this is pronounced “Kingdom Hearts: 358 Days Over Two”. Yeah, it’ll make sense once you play it…trust us.

For those not in the know, here is a quick crash course on the basics of the Kingdom Hearts universe. Kingdom Hearts takes place in a world in which the worlds of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy collides with the whimsical worlds of Walt Disney, with a few original locations and characters thrown in for good measure. In this world, characters consist of three principle components: the body, the soul, and the heart. When characters lose their hearts, through corruption, they turn into Heartless, the game’s primary villains. If a character loses their heart, the remaining soul and body turns into what’s known as a “Nobody”, a “nothing’ that still exists, despite not having a heart. Essentially, individuals with strong hearts do not lose their human bodies when they become a Nobody, while those with weaker hearts become unrecognisable, inhuman forms. A group of “strong hearted” individuals formed together to become Organisation XIII, an organisation bent on reacquiring their hearts from Kingdom Hearts, the “source’ of all the hearts in the world, in order to recomplete themselves.

This is where Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days’ story becomes a little bit more relevant. Players take the role of Roxas, the “Nobody” of Sora, the hero from the original Kingdom Hearts game. Set between the first and second games, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days follows Roxas from his first induction into Organisation XIII up until his original introduction at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2. It’s a little hard to go into the story too much without ruining it for you, but Roxas befriends a member of the organisation, Axel, an older male, and Xion, a mysterious female who shares similarities to Roxas, and they complete missions for the organisation together throughout several Disney themed worlds, bumping into Disney characters along the way. Eventually, things start to go a bit pear shaped, as Roxas recovers his memories that he was meant to be “born” with.

Kingdom Hearts has always been a series about presenting a lush environment with colourful characters, and thankfully, this DS iteration is no exception. The pre-rendered cutscenes that the game plays every now and then are the same graphical quality of the PS2 iterations, while the in-game graphics are almost on par. Character models are surprisingly detailed, with the odd jagged little edge here and there. Environments are structurally similar to their other appearances in the series, providing a nice sense of continuity, but players will notice low resolution textures here and there – but for the amount of stuff Kingdom Hearts has going on, it’s a very impressive feat to have pulled off on the DS.

Quite possibly one of the biggest concerns I had with Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days was that the gameplay from the original games wouldn’t transition well to the DS’s simplified control scheme. Thankfully, this is both true and untrue. While the gameplay is largely similar, a few things have changed that I’ll go into detail with later. For those not aware, Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG, and as such there are no random battle encounters, and everything occurs on the same screen. Enemies will appear randomly, and players battle by selecting commands from a menu that is always on-screen, similar to classic RPGs like Final Fantasy. Scrolling through this menu is done by pressing the X button on the DS, while the A button executes the selected command, with jumping mapped to the B button. This menu system, which is essentially lifted directly from a turn based game, when combined with real-time combat leads to some pretty intense scenarios, but will definitely take some time to get used to.

What Kingdom Hearts does do differently on the DS is how it handles item management, skill assignment, and equipment. Kingdom Hearts utilises what’s known as a “Panel” system, where all weapons, items, spells, and even levelling up is managed by assigning panels to a board. When players level up from experience, they gain a level up tile for their board, but the effects of levelling up and the statistical increases that come with it are not applied until the panel is placed on the board. Similarly, weapons can be upgraded by placing upgrade panels in neighbouring spaces, spells can be doubled in power by placing them in close proximity to special panels, and the effect of level up tiles can be doubled by placing them close to double panels. The system is an interesting take on your typical management of items, and really does a great job at streamlining the item management into one simple system, as well as providing players with a great way to customise their character exactly how they like it.

So, after you’ve got your head around the gameplay and the brand new “Panel” system, just how does Kingdom Hearts’ gameplay compare with the original game? Like the previous handheld iteration, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days provides a different experience to the original game, in which missions are assigned to the players and they must complete them in whichever order they feel. Upon completing key missions, the story advances, and players unlock the next round of missions. While this mission based gameplay really assists the handheld/portable nature of the game, it does feel much more dumbed down than previous games in the series; sometimes it’s hard to remember that Disney characters are even in the game. Regardless, though, the crux of the gameplay allows players to approach it with as much depth as they want – completing each mission’s bonus objectives yields extra bonuses for the player, while completing the minimum objectives is more than enough to get players through the story. 358/2 Days is as deep as you make it.

Thankfully, none of the game’s aural offerings have been compromised in the transition to handheld, with some of the best voice acting appearing on the system, complimented by a soundtrack consisting of some classic themes from the previous games along with some new ones. Battle themes are fast paced and change depending on the environment that you are in – with a very Arabic theme playing when battling in Agrabah, and with some very nicely Halloween themed music during Halloween Town. It’s nice to see that the composers didn’t hold back for this iteration. Series veterans may recognise a lot of tunes being recycled from previous games, but it’s really not that much of an issue for newcomers, and those who haven’t played them for a while. After all, if it isn’t broken, why try to fix it?

Of course, Kingdom Hearts also allows players to jump into “Mission Mode”, in which the game’s main missions can be tackled with a friend through wireless co-operative play. In this mode, players can choose from between roughly 13-14 characters with different abilities and tackle the missions together. In addition, for completionists, several more characters can be unlocked and used in Mission Mode, including some familiar faces from the original games. Mission Mode and the co-operative element are a very nice addition to the game, with the option of customising each character using your already obtained panels a very nice touch, too. Of course, as with all games that are multiplayer, online functionality would’ve been nice to extend the game’s life.

All in all, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a very enjoyable game that still keeps in line with the previously established conventions of the Kingdom Hearts series, while mixing things up a little bit to take advantage of the platform it’s delivered on. The graphics and presentation of the game are very high quality, especially for a spin off title. The gameplay manages to retain everything that made the originals great, but still introduces a new system that allows for endless customisation of the characters. Top that off with a brilliant soundtrack, an extensive multiplayer functionality, and an engaging story, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Those looking for an extensive experience with both Disney and Final Fantasy characters will be a bit disappointed, but those looking to build upon the deep and engaging story in the original Kingdom Hearts games will no doubt be fulfilled. While I do find 358/2 Days to be a great game, I also acknowledge that if you do try this as your first Kingdom Hearts games, remember that the other games offer a different experience, and should be tried as well.

For now, you’re getting a lot of value for money, and living proof that the DS can handle beautiful three dimensional graphics as well as engaging gameplay.

Graphics 8.5

Quite possible some of the best graphics on a Nintendo DS available, the developers have done an excellent job in proving that 3D on the DS can be done properly given the correct artistic direction. Worlds are faithfully recreated from console versions, but series veterans may see themselves yearning for new worlds instead of recycled ones. Textures need work in someplaces, and you will notice some jaggies, but all in all a good offering.

Gameplay 8.0

A very well constructed “adaptation” of the classic gameplay formula. Replacing general item management with the Panel system is new and unique and also simplifies the process for those who hate micro-management in typical RPGs. Mission structure provides varying levels at which players can complete missions at, giving some depth to the game for those that want to explore it. Only downside to this is that its very easy to keep thinking what this “couldve been” – an open adventure game like previous games in the series.

Sound 8.5

Some of the best tunes from the first two games are still present here, with a varying amount of tunes playing at various points within the game. Once again, series veterans may grow tired of the recycled music from the first two games, but the music is great enough to still hold up today. Voice work, while scarce, is well done.

Tilt 9.0

Theres quite a bit to do here. Missions can be further completed to earn bonus panels, and completing the game at various percentiles unlocks characters for use in the games multiplayer mode. For the series first multiplayer component, 358/2 Days provides a very comprehensive system with over 15 playable characters once all unlocked, and the co-operative element gives players a great excuse to visit their favourite Disney worlds once again.

Value 7.0

Being a huge fan of the Kingdom Hearts series, I thoroughly enjoyed Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days if only for what it adds to the storyline. The gameplay has transitioned quite well from the previous games, the Panel system provides a unique way to manage items and these two elements combine to create a rather unique experience for your Nintendo DS – which I sunk hours and hours into without question upon first booting it up. As a fan, though, the lack of Disney compared to other games was very disheartening, as was the recycling of worlds from previous games, but, I cant complaing too much, I still had fun.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is one of the best RPGs available on the Nintendo DS and one of the best games available on the Nintendo DS. There are a few inherent flaws that hold it back from being truly great, like a lack of original content, but an amalgamation of great story, beautiful graphics, engaging gameplay and a stellar soundtrack makes this a game that almost every DS fan should try.

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About The Author
James Mitchell
Avid gamer since I was as young as three years old when I received my first NES. Currently studying full time and consider myself a balanced gamer. Enjoy games on all systems, from all genres, on all platforms. Sometimes feels like he's too optimistic for this industry.

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