Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days Developer Square Enix Publisher Square Enix Genre Action RPG Platform Nintendo DS Release TBA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.