Roxas, Roxas, Roxas
Although Kingdom Hearts II was thought of by fans to be a fair improvement over the original, one of the biggest complaints was the opening gameplay that revolved around the then-unknown character of Roxas. This mysterious character, who only appeared briefly at the end of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, became the focus of the opening gameplay, and he seemed to almost preempt Sora as the game’s hero. Needless to say, many followers of the series were miffed by this decision and harbored a certain grudge against the character for this reason. But, love him or hate him, Roxas is back, and this time he has his own game: Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.
The story in 358/2 Days takes place in between the events of Kingdom Hearts I and II, and explores the genesis of Roxas’ involvement with the nefarious Organization XIII. The game opens with Roxas and Axel sitting on top of a building eating sea-salt ice cream and talking about when Roxas first joined the organization. From there the game flash-rewinds to the day Organization XIII’s Xemnas found Roxas, gave him his name, and took him on as the newest member of Organization XIII.
However, even though the beginning of the game treads a lot of covered ground, the game wastes no time dropping bombshells. In the opening minutes of the game you learn about a mysterious 14th member of the organization that has never before been mentioned in a Kingdom Hearts game. This new member, Xion, has a lot in common with Roxas, and the mystery behind her appearance is intriguing to say the least.
Although the game features plenty of cameos and single fights from the Kingdom Hearts principal characters, make no mistake, the story really does revolve around Roxas. Though certain events do give insight into some of the plight of other characters in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II, 358/2 Days forms its own complete storyline and does not leave much to conjecture where Roxas is concerned.
For this reason, I think some Kingdom Hearts fans may be a little put off by this title. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to love about the title, but the decision to focus on a character whose fate is already known (and whom fans weren’t exactly receptive to in the first place) is just a little weird. However, I would encourage even the most stalwart of Roxas haters to give this game a chance. His character is developed quite a bit, and the information you learn about the events that set Kingdom Hearts II into motion are quite interesting.
Aside from the weird story choices, 358/2 Days does play quite well. The battle system retains most of the action RPG characteristics from its predecessors with a few notable improvements. The game uses the signature active menu system to control the main character, and the DS controls fit quite snuggly within this model. You’ll use the X button to cycle through the menu and the A button to engage the current option (be it a standard attack, magic spell, or consumable item). This entry also brings back the ever-popular shortcut system, which allows you to access your most-used items and spells by pressing and holding programmed shortcut buttons.
Although the core controls are very familiar, one thing that has been improved for 358/2 Days is the leveling system. Instead of spending points to improve certain attributes, the game has a panel system that has an increasing number of slots to keep your unlocked abilities and items in. In addition to abilities, the panel system also requires you to keep your levels in the different slots as well. Unlocking new panel slots and gathering items for panel synthesis does require a little bit of grinding (which the Kingdom Hearts series is not exactly known for), but it does make the experience that much more rewarding.
The only part of the panel system that can be a little cumbersome is managing the contents. While it’s a breeze to drag and drop 20 items/abilities/levels into the boxes at first, dragging boxes between multiple panels (each with 40 slots) can be annoying later in the game, especially if you are trying to swap out duplicate abilities. Although there is a nice filter on the unused abilities, there is no way to sort through the abilities you already have equipped (which are only labeled by a picture), so finding something specific becomes even more of a chore.
The story progression can also be somewhat of a task, as 358/2 Days has a fairly rigid mission-based structure. Although other entries in the series have directed you towards certain tasks, this one is more explicit with your objectives, and it also gives you tiered completion levels. Although the mission-based progression can get a little repetitive after several hours of playtime, the handheld format lends itself a little better to the structured mission format, and if you play in small chunks at a time, it shouldn’t bother you.
Still, despite these minor grievances, the battle/leveling system in 358/2 days is the most solid iteration of the battle system I have seen thus far. The panel system injects some much-needed strategy into the mix, and even though prior iterations did allow for targeted leveling, this one takes that aspect to the extreme and forces you to really focus on your character development.
In addition to the regular gameplay, 358/2 Days is the fist Kingdom Hearts game to feature a multiplayer component. Although it is not part of the story, players can join up with up to three other people (over a local connection; multi-cart) and replay missions from the story with additional help. There isn’t much of an overarching goal to the multiplayer mode, but it is a nice inclusion, and as long as you have friends close by to play with, then there’s some decent fun to be had with the multiplayer aspect.
As for production values, 358/2 Days is quite solid. The visuals replicate the original Kingdom Hearts quite well, and many of the revisited locales in the universe look just as good as they did on the original. My only complaint with the visuals is that the environments seem a little less detailed and a lot more restrictive than they did previously. Still, given the portable format, some form of truncation is expected, and the world of Kingdom Hearts retains just as much charm and whimsy as ever.
The audio is also of very good quality. Characters are fully voiced during animated cutscenes, and the voice acting is top-notch. The music is also very good, despite being recycled from both console entries. 358/2 Days is certainly a title that is as pleasing to the ears as it is to the eyes.
I’m sure many Kingdom Hearts fans will opt to skip this title, as Roxas isn’t exactly the most popular character, and many wouldn’t be interested in an entire game based around him. But if you don’t mind Roxas, or are curious about the inner-workings of Organization XIII, then you will certainly find the story entertaining and satisfying.
Aside from the story, 358/2 Days still has the signature Kingdom Hearts style of action RPG combat, which is a boon all by itself. The more strategic leveling system also helps keep this title feeling fresh, and the multiplayer options are just icing on the cake. As a Kingdom Hearts game, 358/2 Days does not disappoint, and fans who don’t mind the focus on Roxas will find a lot to enjoy with this entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The look of the original Kingdom Hearts is very well preserved, and the different Disney Universes are nicely presented, despite lacking some detail. 4.0 Control
The combat controls feel very familiar to the PlayStation 2 entries, and the use of the shoulder buttons for camera movement works extremely well. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
All of the music is sampled from previous Kingdom Hearts games, but original voiceovers sound great. 3.8
The single-player mode is really only good for one playthrough due to its linear nature, but the multiplayer mission mode is a great addition to the experience.
3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.