Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – Staff Review

Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II, many players wondered what Roxas’s time in Organization XIII was like. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days answers that question: it was like being a real-life cubicle worker, a cog in a corporate machine that grinds away at its work. It’s almost like “Walt Disney presents Office Space.” And like Office Space, it’s at its best when things start to unravel.

One of the few happy times.
One of the few happy times.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days begins right after Roxas is created near the end of Kingdom Hearts and continues through the events of Chain of Memories up to the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II. It shows what was happening outside Castle Oblivion as Organization XIII put its grand scheme into motion. While it doesn’t provide a whole lot more insight about the other Organization XIII members, it does show the scope of Axel and Roxas’s friendship. Overall, the story is very pensive and melancholy with few lighthearted moments — a stark contrast to the other Kingdom Hearts games, which are more upbeat and colorful. There’s more discussion about the nature of Nobodies — whether they have actual emotions or only memories of emotions — and it leaves one wondering if Nobodies are just misunderstood by others or really good at deceiving themselves. Above all, like Chain of Memories, it fills in the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, and it gives Roxas proper treatment as a character rather than simply making the player think, “Who the #@%* is this guy and why do I have to play as him for the first three hours of Kingdom Hearts II?”

The game opens with a tedious, slow-paced tutorial spread over several missions. Each mission teaches you one simple lesson about the game, like how to swing the keyblade or how to jump on a ledge. It takes just under an hour to get past this “Kingdom Hearts for Dummies” nonsense. The “story” explanation is that freshly-minted Nobody Roxas is too much of a newbie to do much of anything, like understanding complex commands or forming a sentence. But this doesn’t apply to the player, so it comes off as intellectually insulting.

Oh, quit your whining. They're just wimpy Shadows.
Oh, quit your whining. They’re just wimpy Shadows.

Once you get past the tutorial, you have to settle in for several hours of Roxas’s daily grind: receiving orders, killing Heartless, eating ice cream, and getting up the next day to start the process all over again. The story slowly drips out in between, and you begin to think that you just can’t make it through the game. It’s the same Disney worlds, the same stories, and the same music. Interaction with Disney characters is at a minimum due to the Organization’s shadowy nature.

Then Day 150 rolls around and things suddenly get interesting. On Day 170, you get to visit Never Land, only it’s not the ship and the clock tower; it’s a group of rocky islands with different music. Wonderland has some new territory to explore as well; you can access the Queen’s garden hedge maze, which includes missions that involve sneaking past card guards and chasing a highly evasive Heartless. There are plenty of new kinds of Heartless to fight as well; some are clever variations on classic Heartless, and some types that have never been encountered before. After 300 or so days, the story becomes pretty intense. Everything is unraveling and the events are leading up to the inevitable conclusion. It’s only a matter of “how,” and that unfolds in an epic and dramatic fashion.

The Panel system is a nice change from the usual bland point allocation systems.
The Panel system is a nice change from the usual bland point allocation systems.

The first part of the game makes it difficult to keep playing, and the interface doesn’t help either. The default controls — the ones that gave me so much trouble at E3 — are so terrible that they shouldn’t be in the game at all. The alternative controls, which let you use both shoulder buttons to move the camera, are much better. Battle menu controls are unchangeable, and while they are usually very easy to use, you can only scroll down through your lists of spells and items. If you accidentally pass what you’re looking for, you have to scroll through everything again. If you have extra backpack space equipped, it becomes pretty frustrating. Fortunately, you can hotkey your favorite items and spells, so that helps somewhat. The Panel system, which lets you equip items, spells, abilities, and levels as panels in a grid, is very easy to use, fairly customizable, and almost puzzle-like in the sense that you have to make different shapes of blocks fit together efficiently.

At least the game itself is easy, aside from the ridiculous new ghost Heartless than can drain most or all of your life with one move. Standard mode in 358/2 Days seems easier than Standard mode in other Kingdom Hearts games.

Like the other games in the series, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days has high production values. Graphics are top-notch, exceeding most DS games out there, and there’s plenty of FMV. For obvious reasons, most of the worlds are recycled from the other Kingdom Hearts games, but they’ve transitioned well to the DS. The same goes for the music, which sounds pretty decent coming from the DS’s speakers. Voice acting is of the same quality, though Axel sounds too melodramatic at times and Xion is just a little too flat. What’s notable is that the game features the final performance of Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse — a class act who will certainly be missed.

Still, the first several hours bring down the game and will most likely cause some players to abandon it before they get anywhere. It simply takes too long for the game to become what it should have been right at the start. Just as Reverse Rebirth redeemed Chain of Memories, the latter two-thirds of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days make it worth toughing it out.

This game was played to completion and reviewed using a copy provided by Square Enix.

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