Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days - Staff Review  

Organization XIII: Member XV Wanted
by Rexmire, Nobody of Alex Reimer

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20-40 Hours
- Clunky controls
+ Solid customization options
+ One of the best examples of DS 3D
- Soundtrack ripped from previous entries
- Too many angsty lines about lacking a heart
+ Comprehensive local multi-player
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   At the end of Kingdom Hearts, a secret promo for the next entry spurred rumors of the future game's adventure. However, Kingdom Hearts II did not come until after the interim title Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Again, a secret promo in Kingdom Hearts II pointed towards Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep as the next major entry to the series. Once again, fans will have to wait, as the newest title in the series, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, is another interim title. Staring the main villains of Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II, 358/2 Days invites fans to uncover few more secrets in the series' mythos.

   Good news for fans of main console entries: 358/2 Days uses a portable rendition of the original action battle system—no cards battle systems this time. Unfortunately, the limited buttons on the DS hampers some of the controls, particularly the camera. The DS's touch screen acts like a second analog stick to control the camera angles, but this camera choice rarely plays out well. In both camera settings, the R button is part of the camera, hence the conflicts with targetting. To lock onto an enemy requires rapidly tapping the R-button, but, if hit too many times, then the lock on will be turned off as soon as it was activated. Overall, the camera often works against the player.

   In the single player story mode, Roxas typically fights alone or with a rarely supportive ally. Like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, players must customize Roxas in order to meet any challenge alone. 358/2 Days's panel system is one of the largest highlights due to the simplicity and level of customization. Each ability, item, spell, weapon, and even character level takes up space on a grid. However, players are occasionally rewarded with various size blocks that open up expansions on basic abilities. Instead of equipping single levels, the level up panels can be linked up with a level doubler, tripler, or quadrupler to increase levels at an exponential rate to save room. For example, blocks for double cast exist to utilize a single spell for more. However, players must organize their setup within the space determined by how many slots have been unlocked. Squeezing in all of the abilities and their linked blocks quickly turns into a puzzle game, but the level of customization with the abilities pays off in the end.

 Warning: This game contains copious amounts of sea-salt ice-cream. Warning: This game contains copious amounts of sea-salt ice-cream.

   358/2 Days follows the 358 days of Roxas's tenure as an Organization XIII member. The body of the plot builds around Roxas's development into a human and is easily one of the more enjoyable elements. However, the true focus of the game is centered around the new fourteenth member of the Organization, Xion. Despite her absence from the rest of the series up to now, she plays a critical part of Roxas's development and various other plot twists, including some cryptic nods at the yet to be released Birth By Sleep. The story alone may alienate fans due to the high levels of retconning. The game progresses through daily missions (with an occasional one to two week skip; not all 358 days are playable). Due to the slow paced nature of the mission system, the plot becomes monotonous as the main characters muse over the existence of their hearts, which quickly grows tiresome. In terms of cameos, no Final Fantasy characters beyond the shopkeeping Moogle appear in 358/2 Days, and the Disney characters tend to keep to themselves as they rebuild their worlds after the chaos from Kingdom Hearts. The series' original characters take the spotlight of the plot with little other competition.

   Outside of the story mode, players can locally team up to tackle missions that are unlocked as they progress. The multi-player mode features all of the original thirteen members of Organization XIII from the start and more characters from the series can be unlocked to reach a combined roster of nineteen characters. Each character has their own stat bases, but their equipment uses the story mode's panel system. Since all of the various characters in multiplayer will be using the story mode's panel system, 358/2 Days only offers purely defensive ones. Many weapons feature additional combo commands to supplement the lack of offensive skills. Lastly, each character possess a unique Limit Break available while on low HP.

Retconning makes Roxas Retconning makes Roxas' head hurt.

   For a DS game, 358/2 Days exhibits very detailed replicas of the original character models and worlds from the console entries. The cutscenes near perfectly emulate the quality of those from Kingdom Hearts II with only the background taking a hit in the polygon count. The game's real time engine resembles the graphics of Final Fantasy VIII, but DS's smaller screen helps condense pixels to produce a clearer model. While only a half dozen worlds are visited, each world closely follows their original layouts in Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II with a few adjustments.

   Unfortunately, 358/2 Days also emulates the original soundtracks of the previous games. However, no liberties are taken to remix the soundtrack. "Passion" by Utade returns as the J-pop vocal theme, and all the original world themes and battle themes reprise their roles. While the songs sound fine on the DS, the complete lack of any new pieces soils the experience turning once decent tunes into annoying jingles that refuse to die. Fortunately, the limited voice acting is up to par with series standards. All of the old rolls have their previous actor return, except Naminé is voiced by her Re:Chain of Memories actress.

   358/2 Days's story lasts for twenty-five to thirty hours depending on how many optional levels the players commits to. However, the unlockable multi-player missions and various challenges (such as mission time trials) present dozens of hours of extra monotony. Unfortunately, to unlock the last two secret characters for multi-player, players must fully clear each of the hundred or so missions in the story mode. The game's overall difficulty can be designated at the start of the game by choosing from three settings. On the standard difficulty, 358/2 Days' difficulty parallels the standard difficulty of Chain of Memories due to the general solo aspect in the story mode. To compensate for frequent deaths, the game allows for players to quickly hit continue and start from the where they left off. Similarly, all of the missions can be aborted in case players chose the wrong setup. While harder than the standard difficulty of Kingdom Hearts II, 358/2 Days presents various commodities to circumvent the typical game over screen, making the game much more player friendly.

   358/2 Days excels in only a few areas. The top-notch graphics demonstrate some of the heights of the DS's 3D capabilities, and the local multi-player mode allows for groups of friends to compete against each other in dozens of scenario missions. Each character uses the same simple but highly customizable system, and setup is important in order to conquer the game's challenges, both with friends and in the story mode. Unfortunately, 358/2 Days' attempt to emulate the PS2 games falls short in various fields. The limited controls make the battle system overly clunky, and the plot is largely a retcon mess. Easily the worst offender is the complete lack of originality, with the sole exception of the panel system for customization. The completely recycled soundtrack is the height of 358/2 Days's lack of originality. Fans of Organization XIII will enjoy some insight into their favorite characters' daily lives, but many fans of the series may be turned off by the lackluster controls and odd story directions taken with this portable spin-off.

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