Kingdom Hearts 358/2 DayslikeTBC Developer Square Enix Publisher Square Enix Genre Action RPG Platform Nintendo DS Release TBA Please note: This review was conducted under the current Japanese release of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, this review may be edited at a later date to portray the European version of the game.

Kingdom Hearts was first released on the Playstation 2 in 2002 and was quite possibly the most bizarre RPG game ever envisioned. Not only was it a daring Action RPG which mixed heavy bouts of what we would have once called: "Hack 'N Slash" into an RPG game, but it also added a mix of Disney characters, in-fact, the whole game revolved around them. Over the years the series has grown and diversified with the release of Kingdom Hearts II (also PS2) which I loved and the Gameboy Advance title; Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which, I'll be totally honest with you all: I didn't like much at all.

So here comes Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days another portable Kingdom Hearts adventure on a Nintendo console. My expectations of this game were very low, after seeing just the first handful of screens to be released for this game, I had already assumed that this game would be another Chain of Memories; a gimmicky title which resembled nothing of the game I had enjoyed so much on the Playstation 2. However, upon popping this bad boy into the DS, my expectations were shattered... But for once, in a good way. Shattered so much, that this game could actually be my favourite Kingdom Hearts game of the bunch.

Roxas takes some frustration out on the floor
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days follows the story of new-born Roxas, who was introduced at the end of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and playable in Kingdom Hearts II. Playing as essentially the villains of the Kingdom Hearts series, Roxas seeks to learn about life and his place in it. Following the leadership of the Organisation XIII in the promise of better understanding of what he is and who he is. Roxas also forms friendship with returning character Axel (the red spiky-haired one) and a new character/14th member of the Organisation XIII: Xion. The story also intertwines with Disney-themed 'worlds' which sees familiar characters from popular Disney movies such as Hercules, Nightmare Before Christmas and Alice in Wonderland. The game's story is very nice and doesn't quite drag as much as previous Kingdom Hearts games with world stories and the main story of the game being paced to perfection. There are still some quite boring parts of the game, however your fascination with what will come of characters in the game will keep anyone who enjoyed the other Kingdom Hearts titles going especially since this bridges the gap between the first and second Kingdom Hearts titles (also interjecting with Chain of Memories' story) and expands on characters you once thought very little of.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days' gameplay is very reminiscent of the Playstation 2 titles, the game's entirely 3D with worlds Kingdom Hearts fans will instantly recognise and know how to navigate. Basic controls feature movement on the D-Pad and a standard 4-button layout as found in the Playstation 2 titles, B button to jump, A button to interact with the command menu which is used to attack/investigate, use magic and use items. The X button scrolls through items on the command menu. This does mean that the Kingdom Hearts II "context button" has been removed, however it's no big loss. The left shoulder button brings up the Shortcut Menu which basically holds items or magic so you can easily use healing items and powerful magic in two buttons and able to immediately return to fighting as normal straight after. The right shoulder button controls the camera and a quick double tap on the R button will lock-on to enemies. You can also hit the Select button to rotate the camera freely.

Progression through the story mode pans out in a linear fashion with Missions being the centre of the game. Some missions in the game are 'Key' missions and must be completed in order to progress through the game with other missions 'expendable', basically meaning that once you've completed the say, 2 Key missions and you have an extra 1 non-Key mission, you can just hit the "Next Day" button and skip that mission. When in a mission, you'll be given a constant objective which is usually mixed up between "Defeat heartless", "Defeat the big heartless (boss)", "Collect tokens" or "Defeat this certain heartless". For the most part, some missions could be considered filler content, however the way they're mixed up makes the game seem at least a bit varied. Unlike previous Kingdom Hearts titles, EXP, which is used to Level Up in the game is not given to you instantly when you defeat enemies and is instead handed out at the end of a Mission with certain multipliers added onto the total EXP sum of the Mission along with Munny and Heart Point (used in item synthesis and buying slots respectfully) multipliers which are also gained by defeating enemies.

"Hey, watch this!"
The change in Levelling Up is attributed to the fact that everything but Roxas' basic move-set, clothing and 1st Level are all equip-able items in the 'Slot Panel', which is basically a grid in which item 'panels' are placed inside. These slots can hold anything; abilities such as the tried-and-true "Dodge Roll" technique, Magic such as Fire, Fira, etc, equipment like Rings, "Gears" which form new weapons, Items such as Potions, Ethers, Elixers, etc and Level Up panels which, does as it says on the tin. At any one time, Level Up Panels will take up about 1/5th of your overall slots. When you start the game, you are limited to a very small number of slots, however as you progress through the game you'll be given new Slots as you progress through Missions and you'll even find extra slot openings in chests dotted around in Missions.

Much like older games, the Keyblade, the only weapon the player will be using in the game can be upgraded by using "Gears" which act as 'link panels', an extended slot panel item which takes up more than one panel in strange shapes and no, they cannot be rotated. Inside these gears you can add 'units' which come in a few forms, most commonly "Power" and "Ability" units which increase primary attack power and add new abilities, mostly to do with ground/air attacks or combos. There's also abilities which span multiple slots along with magic/level/etc multipliers which can power up or double/triple the value of each slot. As there is no MP bar in the game, it's best to remember that every Magic panel is one-use-only unless you have a multiplier, however on the up-side Magic is very strong in this game and well worth the hassle.

And here's them-there Slot Panels
Gameplay itself is smooth and very reminiscent of the Playstation games, don't be mislead by the toned-down graphics, you'll find multiple enemies on-screen along with their AI and perhaps one or more team AI working together with you with absolutely no frame drop. There's lots of depth in the game, despite it's silly Levelling system and utterly frustrating bosses. Boss battles are a venture into monotony and bring the whole experience down, they usually have one or two set attacks and a lot of bosses have some of the cheapest attacks with very little or no warning. The final few bosses in the game have the power in them to more-or-less completely deplete your HP with just one move. And you'll just love the 6 bosses you'll be forced to revisit near the end of the game as well. Special mention on the 'crap bosses' list goes to "Parasite Grave" who was by-far the winner of the "cheapest, most difficult to attack, boring-as-hell boss award 2009" with it's ability to wipe out 3/4 of your HP bar with two hits (in succession, very difficult to dodge both) when you get in close... Which is how you'll primarily attack this enemy. Most bosses you'll just find the routine which the boss moves, wait for an opening and unleash a full combo (usually aerial attacks because they're stronger in a shorter time-span) and then dodge-roll or air-glide around the arena waiting for that opportunity to crop up again, cleanse and repeat.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days isn't all about the solo-Story Mode however, there's also a multiplayer Mission Mode which enables you and four friends to play through Missions cleared in the Story Mode. Here is the only time in the game where you're able to play as the various different characters in the game including some unlockable characters, most of which you'll unlock during the Story Mode. It's unfortunate that Story Mode has no co-op attribute, however this may be the next best thing. I can't help but think that this was quite a tacked-on feature of the game as well. From what I can tell, there is only one Mission Mode-exclusive Mission and that's just a Mission Mode tutorial. Unfortunately, I've only been able to play a two-player co-op match because the game doesn't support Download Play, meaning each player has to have a physical cartridge of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days to play. This probably wont be a problem for many after European release as it game is one of the most definitive Action RPG games on the platform.

Some would call this vandalism, Square calls it 'Puzzle Solving'.
Visually, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days stands heads-and-shoulders above anything else on the console. Awash with soundly-encoded Full Motion Video (FMV), a compelling and somewhat surprising set of chip-tune music and an absolutely amazing looking 3D world with character models, enemies and even the world around you looking just wonderful. Okay, you can't expect PSP-like graphics from the DS, but this is a very, very impressive showing for the DS. Japanese voice-work is very nice, however English voice-work from Square Enix has been somewhat hit-and-miss in the past. There have been few which are anywhere near as graphically impressive as Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days on the Nintendo DS.

The game's length is fairly long for a handheld RPG as well, with my completion time clocking in at 6 hours, 57 Minutes and 45 seconds, that's not including a lot of unlockable difficulty increases on standard Missions by collecting hidden emblems scattered in Missions and "Proud Mode", the hardest setting in the game. The mission-based game progression does seem an ideal solution for quick handheld gaming sessions... With a few exceptions where missions can drag on for far too long with no mid-Mission save option leaving you to just put your DS to sleep when you want to stop playing mid-Mission and hope the battery doesn't run dry until you can find a save point. I also can't be sure -- thanks to the age of my original (1st-run Japanese) Nintendo DS -- but battery consumption while playing this game was very bad. Oh and your AI team mates are slightly annoying, when you move away from them so far, they teleport closer to you... This is mostly when you're doing some tricky jumping... And they just teleport in-front of you which pushes you backward and could sometimes mess up jumps.

Overall then, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a pretty sweet package. Overlooking the abysmal last half-an-hour the game has, no support for Download Play and utterly frustrating boss battles, the game's story, gameplay and visual awe makes up for this and much more. The game is quite a long handheld RPG game which is paced that you'll hardly ever feel bored and then there's the multiplayer aspects of the game which seal the deal. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is well worth your time, effort and money. Look out for it on European launch hopefully late 2009/early 2010.