When Kingdom Hearts was first released it offered an inspired merging of Final Fantasy and Disney, creating one of the most compelling adventure games on the PlayStation 2. Fast forward seven years and Square Enix has delivered the first entry on the Nintendo DS platform, the curiously titled Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Fans of the series will no doubt love the familiar trappings (Keyblades, worlds based on Disney cartoons, etc.), but I was left with one lingering question: Where did all of the Final Fantasy elements go?
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (pronounced "three hundred and fifty eight days over two") takes place after the fateful events of the first Kingdom Hearts game. As the title suggests, the story unfolds over the course of one year, all leading up to the start of 2006's Kingdom Hearts 2. The story is told through the perspective of a couple of fresh recruits to the mysterious Organization XIII, a secretive group that is constantly in the background of this series. You play Roxas, the heartless Nobody version of Sora, who doesn't seem to remember his past and is under the mentorship of one of the Organization XIII elders. Throughout the course of the game Roxas becomes increasingly curious about his surroundings and ultimately discovers this group's deep, dark secrets.
If the above paragraph didn't make any sense, it's probably because you didn't play through the three Kingdom Hearts games that preceded this Nintendo DS title. Even though I had gone through the PlayStation 2 games, it had been a while and some of the details were a little murky. Needless to say, I required a refresher course on the franchise before I could simply jump into this story-heavy adventure game. If you're one of those people who somehow missed the other games, 358/2 Days will do nothing but frustrating and confuse you. The story is so convoluted and silly that it is clear that this game was not intended for new players.
358/2 Days is not the first time Kingdom Hearts has found its way to a portable game system. Several years ago Square Enix released Chain of Memories, a bizarre (and ultimately disappointing) card-based Game Boy Advance game that was later re-released as a PlayStation 2 title. Unlike Chain of Memories, this game stays true to the gameplay of the first two games. This Kingdom Hearts is a third-person action/adventure game where you hack and slash bad guys; explore Disney-inspired levels, cast magic and team up to take down big boss creatures.
Kingdom Hearts attempts to deliver a PlayStation 2-style experience on the Nintendo DS; no easy feat for the handheld's outdated hardware. While the action may feel somewhat similar, it's clear that Square Enix z made a lot of cuts in order to make the game work on Nintendo's dual-screened portable. Gone are the large worlds to explore and top-notch voice acting. Gone are the amazing cinema scenes. It has all been replaced by smaller areas to explore, repeating visuals and dialogue that requires you to read tons of written lines.
Thankfully the franchise's controls have made the transition without too many cutbacks. You control your character in a 3D world, allowing you to run, jump and cast magic just like you would in one of the console games. For the most part this works perfectly, the game buttons are responsive and the targeting system usually works like it should. Unfortunately I didn't have as much luck switching between the attack, magic and items. Instead of giving you a button for magic or items, the game requires you to push the "X" button to switch between these modes. This awkward control scheme works fine when you're off to the side not dealing with an enemy, but it's absolute hell when you're in the middle of a battle. I found that it was too easy to accidentally push the "X" button, which meant that I would accidentally use my magic and items when I was trying to attack. You also have to sift through several pages just to use a health potion, something that can be the difference between life and death when you're battling a boss. After awhile I got used to the control scheme, but it always felt a little awkward to me.
The game starts out with you exploring small chunks of Twilight Town (from Chain of Memories). Instead of giving you a large area to explore, the game cuts off certain areas to keep you confined from the rest of the area. You are tasked with finding clues about the town, figuring out its secrets so that when you come back (and trust me, you WILL come back) you'll be ready to solve mysteries, find missing people and battle bosses.
Unfortunately this is the case with all of the worlds in 358/2 Days. Instead of having a great time exploring new worlds, you are stuck with a mission that only takes you to two or three areas of a particular level. As you progress through the game you will find new hidden areas in each world, but you're still confined in a small and claustrophobic location.
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