I apologize for the poor quality of the images in this piece. We didn’t get to make our own screenshots and DS games are hard to get good, consistent pictures for.
There are many ways I want to start out this review with. Firstly: while the title makes sense once you have experienced the game, it is still a silly way of using numbers and it really did not need so many. Second: we got new developers taking on this handheld project: h.a.n.d.. However, while a new team is not necessarily a bad thing, they haven’t had the best record prior to this installment. Third: the PS3-version is actually nothing more than a movie and neglects the gameplay. Fourth: how many of you remember the angered fans, when they had to buy yet another console just to get to play the next installment in the series?
Regardless, this is one of the more controversial titles in the franchise as you can already tell. It would have been easy to just watch the movie version, but I would actually like to interact with this universe. I do question why it was changed to this format, however, as I can’t remember it was that bad of a game. With that said, we leave nostalgia outside and venture back into the worlds of Disney.
The origins of a nobody
While previous entries had us focusing on Sora’s journey, we take control of Roxas this time, one of the main-characters from Kingdom Hearts 2. 358/2 Days tells us about his origin and how he ended up with Organization XIII, a controversial group to say the least. With a story focused on how Roxas came to be, existentialism becomes a major theme throughout the game. It tackles many aspects of what makes one exists and other philosophies connected to it, such as what a heart really is, and themes of duality. This is very interesting, especially considering that Roxas is a so-called “nobody”, which I won’t spoil further. The philosophies are tied in well with the main character’s progression and discussed throughout without any clear answers, only thoughts. This is also very welcome, as it makes the characters feel like real people, with no right or wrong answers, just theories.
Roxas and his two companions are an enjoyable trio, making it easy to not miss Sora, Donald, and Goofy from previous games. They share a clear bond with each other, while also showing the complexity and struggles with their own pasts and present events. This gives them a lot of personality, and it is fantastic and charming when the story focuses on these three characters. However, the overall plot is unfortunately not interesting until the very late part of the game. It basically focuses on giving a nod to those who are already invested in this series and especially for those who have played Chain of Memories. The plot is thus not very engaging in general, as it only retells bits of events from that game from another angle. The other members of the organization, are also shallow and one-dimensional, making it hard to relate to or even care about them. It is at least decent fanservice, but even then it is rather barebones.
Sadly, the Disney-worlds don’t fare much better. Roxas works in the shadows and avoids interacting with the main characters of these worlds, with only a few exceptions. This makes you easily become disconnected from the worlds, and it is hammered in when you have to visit the same places multiple times without any story-elements. Making it even worse is that the stories and struggles the main characters face in these worlds are never interesting. They can usually be summed up in a few words and don’t have any big revelations in the end. This is a terrible shame, as you will be visiting familiar locations from previous entries, without much enjoyment.
Despite this, the story is centered around Roxas and his two companions, with good philosophical questions being pondered upon. You will feel with these characters and the final act always breaks my heart on so many levels. The game also includes a diary to keep track of what happened, which is nice so you won’t feel lost if you should return to this title after a break. It is just a shame that the Organization and the plot are not interesting. It almost seems weird that they did not neglect the Disney-concept either, as they did away with the Final Fantasy-characters completely.
Story Score: 7/10
Errand for the hearts!
Being a 3D action RPG, 358/2 Days takes many elements from both the first and the second game in the series, while still adding in some originality of its own. The command-menu returns, which tells you what the A-button will do. It has been reduced to 3 options: attack, magic, and Items. This is a smart move, as you can only use the X-button to change between these 3 options, making it easy to have a fast-paced combat. There is also a shortcut for quick-selecting between 4 items and magic-commands by holding L, which is great.
With the physical attacks, it is well executed. A deals normal combos, and Y makes different attacks, dodges or defends if you have the abilities for it. As for magic, it comes in plenty of flavours, such as different lightning, fire, and healing spells. They work as a good support and are limited in the number of times you can use a specific spell, instead of a magic-bar. This works quite well and makes it so you will have to plan which spells to take along with you for a mission. Items works like always, where they will disappear once used.
Another new addition to this installment is the limit-bar, which can be activated when your health-bar has been reduced to the yellow part. Once you decide to activate it, you will be powered up with fast and devastating attacks for a short time. The yellow bar will be reduced each time you use it, so don’t think of this as a broken mechanic, but rather a desperate move. All forms of magic, physical attacks, and items are useful, so it is up to you to choose how you want to make Roxas turn out as a combatant.
What might be the most unique feature of this installment is how you add new abilities, magic, items, equipment, and even level ups. When you enter your stat-screen, you will be shown a panel, which can be expanded as you do missions. Here, you can put in abilities shaped in squares to create the character you want. This, however, gets very complicated when you also add in longer and larger shapes, that can be linked to other upgrades, making it like a puzzle-piece or a stationary Tetris-setup.
This is not just a creative way to create the playstyle you want, but also a fantastic brain-teaser where you must find out the best way to put in the abilities you want. You can’t do this during a mission, so planning is important. Making it more creative and helpful for certain occasions, you will eventually be able to create 3 different decks, making it easy to change your playstyle should you wish to do so. This all gives 358/2 Days a fantastic combat-system with a lot of options to tackle. Supporting this, are enemies that are always a joy to fight against, due to their varied strengths and weaknesses.
Another important element added, are the returning Moogle-shops. As you get better ranks by doing more missions, you get better stuff you can make and buy at their vendors. You buy blocks for your panel by using collected hearts, and munney and collectibles to create more items. It might not sound like much, but you will acquire a lot of drops from enemies, chests, and completed missions that can be used for creating new and better items. This will be a very common way of upgrading yourself so you will strive for the better items and it always feels rewarding. There is no grinding, so you always feel a form of progression as well.
Again, Kingdom Hearts has created a fantastic combat-system, but the worlds haven’t always been interestingly designed. In this installment, we are presented with a mission-setup where you will be given objectives to tackle. Missions are quite varied, by making you look for clues, fight a certain amount of enemies, stealth your way forward, and time trials to name a few. All missions are enjoyable, with the exception of 2 which could be a drag to tackle with drawn-out objectives, but were thankfully optional. The combat missions are the highlights, as enemies vary in design and attacks, and the bosses are no slackers either.
Each is a huge fight and reuses old bosses from previous entries, while still providing some new ones. The platforming has gotten much better than before, thanks to Roxas being able to equip moves that will make him agiler early on, such as higher jumps and air-dashing. This, as well as the ability to hang from edges, makes the exploration-, and time trial-missions enjoyable and engaging. You will also team up with one of the members of the organization from time to time, each having their own attacks. While they aren’t much to brag about, they certainly help and will heal you both, if their health is low.
The objectives are very enjoyable as you won’t be doing the same thing twice, and they all have great mechanics to them. However, the worst part about this is the originality of the levels. While the missions are often short, the levels are borrowed from Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, with some having minor new areas to spice things up. This is not a problem in itself as they are fun to venture through, but you will be visiting the same locations and areas multiple times, making repetition very noticeable. They are fun in short burst, but more variations from the beginning would have made this much better. The beginning is also terribly slow, with many missions being about telling you the absolute basics.
Despite the repetition, I found myself doing all missions, including the optional ones, just because they were enjoyable. You also get good bonuses for finishing more missions, by possibly multiplying rewards for the next one, or some missions having a secondary objective, showcasing you will get more if you do more in a mission. The rewards are well worth it and, given how fun they are, it was always a blast. It is just a shame about the repetitive areas, as it can get a boring to visit the same levels over and over again. At least the areas are usually small and missions don’t go on for too long, making it function well as a handheld experience.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Borrowing or copying?
While the DS was never a powerhouse when it came to 3D, the graphics are very good. Character models look great and memorable, despite that some more facial-animations would have been welcome. Surely, there are the portraits when dialogue occurs, but less stiff expressions would have been nice.
Weapons have unique and intriguing designs to them, but it is hard to not notice the 2D keyblades being held by a 3D characters. The areas are about 90% copied from Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, with mixed results. We do get a decent amount of worlds to visit, such as Beast’s Dark Castle and the hot desert of Arabia, so there are some variations. However, due to the game’s repetitive nature and the reuse of older areas, they often come off as uninteresting. They can also become incredibly empty, with only the enemies filling up the screen and no details like furniture. Porting the capabilities of the PS2 to lesser hardware was done with impressive results on a technical level, and the backgrounds are pleasing on the eyes. Despite this, they can easily become lifeless, repetitive and feel slightly lazy.
At least the enemies have great animations to them and more intriguing designs, with even some new ones appearing. The bosses are impressive to fight against and the attacks every character can do are as hypnotizing as always with fast-paced animations that make them literally fly through the air. The framerate can drop when there are a lot of elements on the screen, but this was rare and not distracting. The cutscenes in the game use the PS2’s presentation, and are all a joy to watch, with great facial expressions and fantastic voice-acting. The music is on par with the visuals. There are some newer ones and they are incredible, with great usage of DS-capabilities and varied tones and vast tracks. Sadly, like with the rest of the presentation, most are taken from previous installments and I wish 358/2 days had more originality to it in general. You can only rely so much on previous work.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Not only keyblade-wielders can show some moves
Doing all of the optional missions was fun, but the sidequests the Organization could provide were poor. They ranged from mere fetch quests to silly achievements, such as open a certain amount of treasure-chests. The rewards you get were not worth it either.
However, you can also acquire Ordeal Badges for harder missions to tackle for more rewards, and Unity Badges to play missions in “Mission Mode”. While the harder missions are great fun, the Mission mode can be played with up to 4 other players and you can change even what character you want to play as. You can play as anyone from the Organization and unlock more characters through the singleplayer-game. Each member has their own playstyle, stats, and weapons, giving the game lots of replay-value in how to tackle a mission and experimentation. The character you choose will also use the same panel you had from the singleplayer-campaign, affecting your playstyle even more. Through this, you can upgrade your characters even further, with more panels to equip more blocks on. The missions will also differ to make them more challenging and become different from the main game, which is a good design choice. This makes it so multiplayer requires some strategy, and it is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, despite repetition still being present.
Extra Score: 8/10
It is a shame that the HD-version neglects the gameplay-portion, as it has one of the best combat systems in the series. With fun customization and missions being a blast, it adds a lot
to an already entertaining game. However, I suppose due to the repetitive nature of the game and the loss of multiplayer, it was better to just retell the story for the console release. Despite some negatives, it always brings a tear to my eyes and it is a good watch. I would still highly recommend the DS-version instead since you will find a fun and easy to pick up, yet repetitive experience. Having more friends owning this installment is also a good idea.