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Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days - DS Review

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Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days

DS | SQUARE ENIX / h.a.n.d | 1-4 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now 
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1st June 2011; By Patrick

Kingdom Hearts is a series that does not release its titles chronologically. While the original Kingdom Hearts was the first title in the series, it is preceded by the PSP title,
Birth by Sleep. The direct sequel to Kingdom Hearts 1, titled Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, connects it loosely to Kingdom Hearts II, which is followed by (Re:) coded. 358/2 Days begins at the end of the first Kingdom Hearts, runs concurrent with Chain of Memories for a small section, and then connects straight to the opening scene in Kingdom Hearts II.

    Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (pronounced 'Three Hundred Fifty Eight Days Over Two') is the first of two titles in the series to be released on the Nintendo DS, dating back to 2009. It runs on a custom engine created by developer h.a.n.d. that beautifully renders the details of the game world. Walking is designed from the ground up for the DS' D-Pad while the camera system can be manipulated with the R button or the Touch Screen. The only drawback to this engine is that when too many enemies appear on screen, the framerate drops a little, but these dips are usually only about 3 seconds long at most.

    One of the great parts of the game is the cutscenes. It's been said countless times before that nobody knows how to utilize the Nintendo DS hardware as effectively as Square-Enix, and this is the icing on the cake. Not only are the cutscenes great by DS standards, but they equally match those found in Kingdom Hearts II.

    The story follows the character of Roxas, who is Sora's Nobody. A Nobody is a being that exists without a heart, and is born when someone strong-willed gives into their inner darkness and becomes a Heartless (beings of darkness). He is picked up by a special group called Organization XIII, originally made up of 12 other Nobodies, until early in the game when they add a 14th member named Xion (She-on). Roxas is able to wield the weapon known as the Keyblade (by being Sora's Nobody) to destroy Heartless. The Organization's plan is to collect the hearts that Roxas releases, and use them to create the Kingdom Hearts they desire.

The gameplay is an Open World Battle RPG, broken down into missions. As you progress through days, new missions (sometimes with other members of the Organization) will open up for completion. These range from collecting hearts for the Organization, to gathering intelligence on a new world, to taking out an extremely powerful single enemy. However, even though there are 358 days, there are not 358 missions. There are 93 missions -- many of them optional -- ranging from one to twenty minutes in length, so it feels like the perfect length, especially considering there are three difficulty modes.

    Once you walk into an area with heartless or other enemies, the battle will begin. While your allies will auto-attack, you attack by hitting them with your Keyblade. You can preform combo attacks on them, or use magic spells on them. Spells include Fire (Fire, Fira, Firaga), Blizzard, Thunder, Cure, and more, and are limited in their number of uses per mission. And if you need to heal and don’t have the cure spell, or wish to regain a cast of magic, you could use items such as potions or ethers.

    Character customization is done via the all-new Panel System. As you progress throughout the game, you gain panels that you can be installed onto an ever-expanding grid. Some panels include items you can carry with you into missions, magic to use, and abilities. You can get multiplier panels as well, which can multiply connected panels up to 4x. There are a few drawbacks however, including the leveling system. As you level up, you actually just gain a level up chip to install. This comes with the benefit of being able to use these same panels to dramatically increase your level above what it would normally be, which helps with the game's somewhat steep difficulty curve.

    While the backbone of the plot is the Organization and it's goals to obtain hearts, the main part of the story comes from the interactions between Axel and Roxas, and the relationship between Roxas and Xion. As the story progresses, these close friends begin having doubts, which leads to a plot twist that's hard to see coming. While the end is already known to anybody that played Kingdom Hearts II, the journey along the way is what makes the story.

The soundtrack, done by Yoko Shimomura, is mostly old tunes, but even when one of the few new tunes isn't playing, the old tunes are still present, and are extremely high-quality. It's amazing that all the music was put near-losslessly on the DS cart with everything else in the game.

    The game also features a mission mode next to the main story mode. You can choose to tackle levels from Story Mode again against a timer or in an up-to-4-player multicard match. Multiplayer allows you to play as any member of Organization XIII, with more characters (including Xion, Sora, Mickey, etc.) unlocking as you progress through story mode. This is where most of the game's replayability lies, as you can also re-do missions with Challenges, such as completing it in record time, not getting hit, etc.

    The final point about this game is playing it on the 3DS. While it may seem like a good idea to play with the Circle Pad as you're moving around in a three-dimensional space, it doesn't work as well as you'd like. h.a.n.d. created their engine specifically for D-Pad input, and that is what works best.

    Overall, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is an amazing title on the DS. While it may suffer from a few small problems, the gameplay is good and the story is engaging enough that those flaws are easily negligible.

29/30 - Excellent

Gameplay 10/10 - Controls are well-suited to system, 93 missions, 3 difficulty levels, engaging multiplayer, battle system is fluid and entertaining
Presentation 9/10 - High-quality graphics and sound, cutscenes stunning, small framerate drops when screen is crowded
Enjoyment 5/5 - Being a fan of series helps but is not needed, lengthy title, mission mode makes replayability high
Extra Content 5/5 - Challenges, over 15 characters in missions and multiplayer, optional missions along the way, panels are a great addition

Equivalent to a score of 97% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by Patrick
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