I’ve waited long enough to write up my review of the Nintendo DS title Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and I figure it was best to get it done with before the English release. It’s quite long, but I think I managed to keep it spoiler free for the most part and engaging for fans of the series.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Japanese Version
“Three Five Eight Days Over Two”
Pros: Superb cutscene graphics, new enemies, character depth, multiplayer mode
Cons: Repetitive gameplay, slow storyline, choppy in game graphics
Needless to say, like most Kingdom Hearts fans, I was greatly anticipating the release of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Not only was it going to expand on storyline that didn’t have the chance to be explored in the previous games, but it was on the lovable handheld Nintendo DS.
After months of changing release dates, the Japanese version finally was available May 30 2009. I didn’t buy it immediately; I wanted to secure one of the Limited Edition Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days Nintendo DSi along with it. This was after all, going to be worth it. So after selling my DS Lite a week or so later, I had my copy, and for the sake of this review, we’ll pretend I hadn’t already watched my sister play a quarter of the game already.
In numerous interviews, the game’s director Tetsuya Nomura and other members of the development team had lamented that even if the player wasn’t familiar with the storyline that the game would be enjoyable. Likewise, they wanted to keep fans of the series entertained. Unfortunately I’m not entirely sure that they succeeded with that notion. It seems to me there idea of making it easier on people who’d never played Kingdom Hearts games before was by packing the gameplay full of tutorials ranging from “How to jump” to a multi-day long mission set exploring the aspects of what a Heartless is and how to kill them.
The most unfortunate part is that it makes the beginning of the game unbearably slow, to the point I honestly fell asleep playing more than once. To make matters worse, these are the only interactions Roxas will have with the Castle Oblivion half of the Organization, including: Larxene, Zexion, Lexaeus, Vexen, and Marluxia. So after this group teaches you the basics of being an Organization member and boring the player to tears, though they have their moments (including many insults and a punch in the face), you never see them again. They are barely talked about in passing as well, but I suppose that’s what multiplayer mode is for. Of course, there’s always Chain of Memories if you’re curious about their storylines, speaking of which…
Chain of Memories – Part 2
I think out of fear, most fans don’t want to admit that 358/2 Days really is just repeating the spin off title that takes place between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2. But seeing as that is the case, players should be prepared to revisit a plethora of worlds already explored in the previous games. Excuse me, you do get to check out Peter Pan’s world a bit more, but the annoying missions that take place there quickly kill the buzz.
Don’t count on exploring The Castle That Never Was more than when you’re escaping it since the only active part of it is the Lobby where Saix sends you off on missions. The highlight here is that Roxas can talk to whatever members are floating around there, who often have advice or complaints, and occasionally, a gift for you. My favorite experience in the Lobby had to be on a particular day, Roxas woke up and wondered out only to find a small note pasted to a glass window reading “Day Off” in English. How nice, even Xemnas gives vacation time, much to Demyx’s glee.
The other aspect relating it to Chain of Memories is that it introduces a new method of equipping your character, the Panel System. While it is intimidating at first, I believe its easy enough most fans shouldn’t have any trouble with it. But I also enjoyed the Card System that Chain of Memories introduced, so my opinion on it may not be trustworthy. To explain it in a nutshell, the player collects panels that can be equipped to a grid; everything from your Potions to your Level is equipped here. As you play through missions and progress the story, you are awarded more panel slots and collect panels along the way. I don’t want to elaborate too much on it since better experienced than explained, but the concept is good and it makes for challenging gameplay. Just make sure to refill your Potion panels after each mission, things like that are one time use only.
Kingdom Hearts v2.0
One of the most praised features of this game has been its graphic capabilities. Not only is the entire game in 3D, but it also features cut scene graphics comparable to that of a PS2. The system uses the Mobiclip Video Codec in order to play these high quality scenes, a video format originally intended for playing HQ videos on mobile phones. Fans that have played other DS titles, including Professor Layton and the Curious Village, may be familiar with the technology. As my experience with those titles and this one, the cut scenes in 358/2 Days are not immune to the slight graininess that comes with the format. In other words, as pretty as they are, they aren’t HD quality. Imagine a great but not perfect quality YouTube video; great for a DS, but not perfect.
Visuals aside, the sound quality certainly isn’t lacking. The voiceovers in the cut scenes are all done excellently, fleshing out the characters and providing that familiarity fans expect in Kingdom Hearts games. The sad part is only a handful of characters are featured in the scenes, setting back the chance to expand on characters like Demyx, Xaldin, and Luxord who appear somewhat haphazardly in Kingdom Hearts II. Most of the sound effects and scores are the same as they were in the old games, so re-mastering them for the Nintendo DS was a success on that part.
The in game graphics are great as far as 3D games for the Nintendo DS go. These are most comparable to the graphics of a Playstation title like Final Fantasy VIII. The characters are displayed in the closest thing to their likeness, but sometimes it can still be quite ugly. Luckily the developers must have had this in mind, thus whenever a character speaks in game, a sprite of their head in good quality appears alongside with it, as well as an unnecessary name display. They aren’t bad however, and providing an experience very much like the original Kingdom Hearts game on the Nintendo DS is a mighty feat indeed. The only real setback I discovered was moving about in a 3D world with a control pad versus a more versatile control stick. A long boss fight (and there are many) can become painful on the player’s left thumb, but you eventually learn to deal with it.
Speaking of bosses, be prepared to meet some new Heartless that will have you upset with fury. And a few old ones too, who have also been updated for more of a challenge. They are the best part of revisiting worlds since they embody the new content 358/2 Days provides, sans storylines. If you liked the Trickmaster before, you’ll enjoy fighting two at the same time even more. The catch? If you don’t kill them both within seconds of each other, they regenerate all one million life bars. Don’t ask me how to fight the boss in Halloween Town, I had to let my sister beat it for me, I swore it was impossible. And the final boss… I won’t reveal who or what it is, but I will say it was the most challenging boss I’ve experienced playing a Kingdom Hearts game. Perhaps I should mention I was playing on Expert mode, so of course it was challenging.
Testing Your Patience
As most fans will remember, the reason Roxas stands out from other Nobodies is the fact he has no memories of his former self while the other members retain those memories even without hearts. This adds to the slowness of the story’s beginning, as his mentor, Axel is forced to constantly remind Roxas who he is, what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and repeat. Nearly every mission ends with ice cream on the clock tower in Twilight Town, which gives Axel a chance to test Roxas to see if he learned anything. The opportunity for Roxas to corner Axel on his activities or badger him with questions you’d expect a curious kindergartener to ask also arises.
“Why do we defeat Heartless Axel?”
“For Kingdom Hearts, and because Xemnas says so.”
“What’s a best friend Axel?”
“I don’t know, don’t have one.”
“What’s love Axel?”
“Dunno, think you need a heart to figure that one out.”
I think you’ve caught the drift. It seems watching all the Disney characters in the worlds he visits unlocks his curiosity about emotions, relationships, and other things Nobodies like to pretend they’re void of. Eventually as the year goes on Roxas wises up a bit, but we all know how that one ends. Carrying on…
Eventually the timeline catches up with the story and Axel leaves to Castle Oblivion for awhile; where in the meantime Roxas befriends the 14th member of the Organization, Xion. Finally, the first female character in a Kingdom Hearts game that fights for herself; or so it seems. I’ll try to talk about this character without revealing too much, but it may make things confusing. After going on missions together, Roxas and Xion figure out they make a pretty good team considering Xion has nothing but magic unless she is using Roxas’s Keyblade. In a particularly cute mission to Beast’s Castle, Roxas lets her borrow it while he proceeds with using a stick. And he means it; the whole mission is played with this sad excuse of a weapon. Long story short, the more powerful Xion becomes, the weaker Roxas gets, which creates great turmoil among the friends… But I’m stopping right there.
Xion’s true identity is hinted at throughout the entire game but I won’t spoil it here. However I do want to talk about Riku’s role in this game and in doing so, I have to talk about Xion some. Xion is almost like a magic looking glass, as in she appears differently to whoever gazes at her. The player sees her for the majority time appearing in a form probably closest to representing Xion herself. That is, the blue eyed girl with black hair resembling Kairi. Only people she trusts see her this way, best represented in a clock tower scene where Roxas, Axel, and Xion are sitting together, and Roxas introduces her to Axel as his friend. When the camera shows Xion from Roxas’s point of view, we see her without the hood. But when we see her from Axel’s point of view, her face is hidden by the hood of her coat. It isn’t until she asks Axel if they are friends too, to which he replies, “If you’re a friend of Roxas’s, you’re a friend of mine.” Then the camera zooms out, revealing that Axel now sees her without the hood.
Keep that in mind when we see Riku take center stage in the game for the first time. He’s fought with hooded Xion at Beast’s Castle and is interrogating her for wielding the Keyblade (she wields it without Roxas by this point). She’s overpowered by him and refuses to answer his questions, leading to Riku ripping her hood back, lifting his blindfold, and immediately recognizing her, much to his shock and dismay. An important thing to notice is the camera conveniently never shows you what he sees. Hint hint. Anyways, from that moment on, Riku’s role changes from not just being Sora’s caretaker, but also as the primary force in convincing Xion to leave the Organization. See a pattern here? From there, Xion helps convince Roxas to leave, making Axel rebellious, etc. I feel I should also mention that it takes nearly half a year to pass before Riku appears. In other words, many missions before the storyline starts going somewhere.
But that’s enough about the single player experience; the true highlight of this game lies in its multiplayer capabilities.
Four Is Better Than One
The most fun I had playing 358/2 Days was definitely in multiplayer mode. Even though you can traverse this mode singularly, it’s extremely boring and you miss out on the opportunity to win golden crowns which can earn you prizes in the Moogle Shop. Save your energy for trial missions, which are essentially the same as missions you’ve done on story mode but with minor tweaks to make it more challenging. So find some likeminded friends and schedule some get-togethers if you want to play this game at its full potential.
To explain how it works briefly, you need up to 3 other friends to play with, each with their own copies of 358/2 Days. One player hosts while the others join in. The host remains leader throughout the gameplay, choosing the levels and so on. You can only pick one character at a time, so no two people choosing the same one. Each character has their own bonuses and setbacks, so if you have a favorite it’s a good idea to be quick when choosing. My personal favorite is Saix.
Since each player is playing off their own cartridge, you have access to all the panels you’ve collected in story mode. In other words, if you aren’t far in the game before playing in multiplayer mode, you’re equipping options are going to be rather slim. Each Organization member has their own set of weapons that change according to the gear panel you equip them, including joke weapons which only add to the fun. This isn’t always the case with the unlockable characters, but it isn’t really a setback.
Anyways, once all the players are ready to go then the real adventure begins. There are collectable little crystals on each mission and the winner is determined on whoever collects the most. During gameplay you have the ability to attack the other players and steal their crystals, which was probably my favorite part of competitive playing. You have the option to turn it off and engage in more of a cooperative play, but I can’t imagine why you’d want to. The competitive spirit of playing is emphasize by collecting the most golden crowns in order to get the Moogle Shop prizes, which include things like extra panel slots or the joke weapons. So have fun and challenge your friends!
One of the downsides to multiplayer mode is the lack of Nintendo Wi-Fi play, so you’re limited to friends in a close proximity with their own copies of the game. I don’t know if the Japanese version is compatible with the English version, or any other types for that matter, but I imagine they should work alright since each game is connected directly to the individual’s cartridge. The other bad thing is if everyone playing in your group is at different levels in story mode. It’s best to play after you’ve all beaten the game that way you have access to all the missions. If for instance one player is only level 13 and has only finished a handful of missions, then every other player in the group is limited to playing only those missions. And like I mentioned before, you’re character will be weaker and you won’t have as many equipping options, plus you’ll miss the benefit of trying out the unlockable characters and everyone else will be kicking your butt. I suppose the only time it isn’t an inconvenience is if everyone playing hasn’t gotten very far in story mode.
All of that aside, multiplayer mode offers hours of entertainment plus the chance to earn bonuses. Not only that, but you can play as all the members of the Organization and then some. I forgot to mention that along with them having unique weapon sets, they also have unique special Limit Break attacks. So even if you aren’t playing with friends, it’s good to go into multiplayer mode and check out each character’s playability.
My tone so far may seem kind of negative, but I must be honest. I adore the Kingdom Hearts series, doesn’t mean I adored this game in particular. That being said, I wasn’t disappointed with the story of 358/2 Days. And as long as other fans play it recognizing it as a rehash that allows for character building and a chance to tell a heart wrenching story, then they won’t be disappointed either. This game does offer many hints and clues to the mysteries revolving around Xehanort, Xigbar, Roxas and the others that point toward the upcoming Playstation Portable title, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. In a way it almost feels like a really long teaser that read, “If you can’t stand knowing the answer to these mysteries, buy our next game!” It’s really a clever marketing ploy by Square Enix, those smart business chaps.