Review: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

The original Kingdom Hearts, released in 2002, was a fantastic success. Though skeptics were unsure how the union of Disney and RPG behemoth Square Enix would fare, the quirky, fresh, and exciting offering changed many a gamer’s mind about Disney and the characters inhabiting the universe. Riding off of the first game’s success, a sequel was quickly ushered into the open. While it was in many ways a triumph and superior (at least in my opinion) to its predecessor, Kingdom Hearts purists were turned off by the fact that half of the game would be spent running around as a character completely unrelated to that of Sora, Kairi, and Riku — a plucky new hero named Roxas, along with the company he kept and his very own tale.

Because of this abrupt change in narrative, fans of the franchise were left with far more questions than necessary. Unlike GBA offering Chain of Memories, a title has been developed to specifically address these concerns: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.

To those who have never picked up any of the Kingdom Hearts series, do not start with this one. You’ll be completely and utterly lost, with no one to hold your hand throughout. 358/2 Days takes place between the events of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, conveniently enough so that you can begin piecing together parts of the puzzle yourself. In the most simplified nutshell I can provide for you, you will enter the shoes once again of Roxas, Sora’s “Nobody.” After a heart is (literally) stolen from an individual, a being known as a Heartless is created. After this strange process has been completed, you’re left over with the remnants of the person who once possessed the heart — a Nobody.

Roxas is entangled within Organization XIII, a group shrouded in mystery whom series vets should be quite familiar with. 358/2 Days explores Roxas’s time spent as a member of the populous division of leather-coat wearing, hair gel abusing, pretty boys (and the occasional girl) who have taken him in as one of their very own. Small details are revealed about what’s exactly taking place, though you will become accustomed to the game, its control scheme, and the day-to-day grind of a member of the Organization.

At first, Roxas is tasked with collecting hearts from the Heartless in worlds you should be familiar with from the Disney universe, as a spy with insidious intentions, most of which are unknown to him. As his membership is still in its infancy, Roxas follows directions issued to him with few questions, though he begins to ponder his existence when he begins to remember a life that he has supposedly never lived. After these revelations come to pass, suddenly the world Roxas thought that he knew is turned upside down. From there, I felt that the game did a decent job of introducing several characters from the Organization whom you may never have heard of or wanted to in the first place.

kh2This kind of meticulous attention to detail for the sake of fanservice and giving the series loyalists what they were looking for was something I wholly appreciated. As someone who has completed all of the other Kingdom Hearts titles, I delighted in meeting these lesser-known characters and frolicking about with secondary cast members rather than the same old boring team of Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Still, at the game’s climax, I never felt as though all of my questions were answered in the most crystal clear fashion. I won’t go on to ruin anything for those of you who will undoubtedly pick this up regardless of what I say, but know that you will look forward to uncovering the story of Xion and her ultimate place in the Kingdom Hearts mythos –  though, to be fair you might end up guessing what the end result will be. Still despite the multiple plot holes you are sure to encounter along the way, if you’re a fan at all of Kingdom Hearts you should end up pleased with the juicy morsels of narrative you can sink your teeth into here.
Progressing through the game is done by completing missions that comprise each “day” within the game. Occasionally you will be given optional missions simply to extend your gameplay time, and sometimes you’ll only be faced with one option that simply advances the story via cut scenes. Occasionally you’ll be accompanied by fellow members of the Organization who will provide aid, though it’s prudent to note that once you set off on a mission, you cannot save or make any changes to settings within your party.
Similar to Chain of Memories’ attempts at setting itself apart from the rest of the games in the series, 358/2 Days changes up the typical Kingdom Hearts battle system by introducing a panel system. Roxas is limited to what spells, weapons, abilities, and even items that he can have equipped through this intuitive new system. The different types of panels fit together snugly and have their own unique shapes. You must fit these shapes together like pieces of a puzzle in order to ensure you’re optimally equipped. If you don’t feel like pulling a Professor Layton simply to perform competently in battle, then your only other option is to complete more missions to unlock more slots — that, or rely on moogles to sell you more slots for your grid. I felt that this added an interesting new challenge to what could be another standard grindfest that I’ve seen many times over, and since it’s not such an extreme change as cards and decks were, it does simply fit — pun intended — with the overall atmosphere of the game. When I felt that the game was becoming too simple, this inventory system did tend to hinder my progress, providing an admirable system of checks and balances that probably greatly improved my Tetris skills. 
kh3Though I wholly appreciated the blatant attempt at fanservice and brand new spin on combat, I must say the controls brought my experience high down considerably. You must realize that the Kingdom Hearts titles rely exclusively on the PlayStation controller in order to properly function. Imagine the same control scheme ported over to the Nintendo DS — no analog sticks and far less buttons to contend with. This shoddy design decision resulted in muddy camera control and very awkward navigation. Because of the lack of extra buttons that can be used to manipulate the camera angles, you’re stuck with using the stylus or using the DS’s shoulder buttons in order to properly maneuever onscreen. I’m not sure whose bright idea this was, to completely ignore the fact that the DS is lacking integral buttons, but it works out exceptionally horridly, and was one factor that significantly marred my enjoyment of the game.

As far as the graphics department is concerned, expect some ruddy 3D models that look absolutely dreadful compared to the cutesy sprites featured in Chain of Memories. They’re workable, though sprites would have been a much better fit. I suppose emulation of the original Kingdom Hearts style was what they were going for, though. Unfortunately, much of the soundtrack was recycled as well, including the wonderful “Passion” by Utada Hikaru, though I certainly did not mind hearing it again.


While this DS exclusive is an acceptable attempt at ameliorating the process of truly “getting” the Kingdom Hearts saga, it is unfortunately marred by poor controls, recycled music, scenes, and a veil of confusion. Though these issues should not be overlooked, it ultimately triumphs as a link between two games that unfortunately reached a sort of disconnect between an ultimate plot line and the audience who never expected such an intricate exercise in storytelling. If you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan, I’m probably wasting time articulating my thoughts on the subject — you’ll get it anyway, but to those of you who are on the fence, this is a very competent and engaging entry to the franchise. Don’t pick it up if you have no prior knowledge, but if you enjoyed the other games and are hungry for more, this is a great way to kickstart your interest in the saga again, at least before the next game is released.

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