I remember when SquareSoft would come out with a game and it meant I was about to be sidetracked by something grand for a good month. SquareSoft definitely made sure to hand out nothing but RPG gold, and it did so pretty effortlessly. Enix eventually came along and, well, ruined that. Not being a huge fan of much that’s come out of the SquareEnix group, the Kingdom Hearts series has not yet hit a real snag and has maintained interest for me as an RPG lover. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a portable spin of the console series and is between the first and second games.
The story focuses on the wayward doppelganger of Sora, Roxas, who only exists in Sora’s absence after the events of Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days tells of Organization XIII and what transpires while Sora slumbers and how Roxas fits in to it all. The components that make up the rest of the tale will truly show you how crazy the SquareEnix rabbit hole goes, as the Kingdom Hearts series is known for its humble beginnings and its crisscrossing plot twists.
I’ll say from the get go that I had my hesitations. My least favorite part of Kingdom Hearts II was in fact, Organization XIII and how misled its inclusion seemed to be. Obviously through plot, the organization revealed itself as one of the driving forces of the series, but that did not temper my dislike for the outwardly fan-boyish appeal. So having a game based entirely around Organization XIII was going to be an uphill battle going in — as far as how my interest would be maintained throughout almost a year of ongoing in-game events.
I was thoroughly surprised by hour one of the game for a number of reasons. The story elements, despite the game being based on a group of characters I didn’t like, were not only interesting, but the dialogue was elevated above boring and kept me quite entertained. RPGs of this caliber will most certainly throw some corn the players way as far as personality exchange and feelings go, but Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days handles plot and dialogue alike with some very well-maintained culture. The cinematics and sections devoted to story completely miss being forced, corny or even robotic and possessed a decent delivery to keep someone who didn’t care whatsoever right there wanting to see how it all turned out — impressive on console or portable, alike.
I’d say the bravado doesn’t stop there, as almost everything you do in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days acts as a great omen of things to come. Organization XIII preps and readies throughout the entire game as a precursor to all of the acts they commit in Kingdom Hearts II, and the game gives you some great insight into unexplained events and other events you just want to know more about. Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t be so without the Disney portion, and you will be traveling to all of the main places you went in the original Kingdom Hearts with all of the Disney characters you presumably love.
I’m sure you are now waiting for me to rain on the celebration parade by washing away your hopes and dreams of the gameplay and combat. Have no fear! The story was not the only element of the game given special treatment in the DS shrinking process. You’ll be happy to know the combat remains intact from the series, with a new armament system that works very well, even if it had been used outside the portable realm.
Instead of regular equipment and spells, you have a panel system to harness for your own destructive ways. This treats all of the items you obtain as attachments that you can hook on to Roxas before you go into the field. Instead of a proper open world, the game is divided into sections. These missions will have a prep statement, making you aware of how you should better ready yourself. From here, you can create and improvise on the spot, any number of ways — through swords, spells or specials — how to best smite your foes through ways of your own customized panel sections.
The panel system has a dizzying amount of customization and lets everyone from seasoned RPG vets to helpless beginners that you can make or break combat with some conventional or outright bizarre choices as far as power goes. The implementation of the panel system I thought was incredible and really helped define the game and how many different ways you could make Roxas your own.
Besides interesting story, and a newly delivered way of customizing in Kingdom Hearts, the game provides not only a console game’s worth of material as far as gameplay goes, but startled me with an array of unlockables. Ranging from challenges, to synthesizing your own material and weapons, to discovering every chest in the game, it will delight anyone to hear that the DS has done little to hamper the longevity Kingdom Hearts is known for.
Any purists out there who might naysay the graphics will also be pleasantly upset. The game looks and sounds wonderful on the DS, with all of the music and worlds from the original Kingdom Hearts represented in well-deserved glory. Some of the environments aren’t as fleshed out as I remember, but the ever-changing missions always make sure you are exploring somewhere different and using more and more of the terrain at your disposal.
With good story, good combat, good visuals and, thankfully, good controls that are very comfortable and don’t cramp the hand, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days delivers anything you want on a main console — and then some. While the game also brags about multiplayer, which is always cool in any game, the function does not support download play, which means everyone has to have a game cartridge. This severely hinders the perk of having multiplayer in the first place, as not everyone should have to buy the game to play it. The rules are different for consoles obviously, but most great DS games before have offered this, and the fact that Kingdom Hearts does not means a cool new addition will probably be severely underused, as convincing a buddy to get a DS game he might not enjoy as much as you will be a hard sell.
As someone who began dubious and slowly morphed from the opinion of OK, good, great, awesome is happy to tell anyone that Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days will surprise the hell out of anyone who isn’t sure whether they will put some serious hours into it. All of the elements of a good RPG are here in the guise of a bite-size form that will keep you full and satisfied for an old-school SquareSoft release amount of time.
The tricky thing about spinoffs, and more so portable adaptations, is how well the spirit of the series is captured without sacrificing much or any of the original material. The constant struggle between underpowered hardware and controls, especially for a game noted for its graphics, has to perform its execution pretty flawlessly in order to deliver the same experience. I think Kingdom Hearts has walked this line excellently and carves out for itself a great niche in the ways of get up and go gaming while maintaining what Kingdom Hearts is all about.