Saturday, May 5, 2012

Kingdom Hearts 10th Anniversary Reviews: 358/2 Days

So it is finally time to once again discuss the (mostly) wonderful Kingdom Hearts series. Yes, sorry that this took me so long to put out. See, the Kingdom Hearts game we’re discussing today is 358/2 Days, and, well, spoiler alert, I don’t like this game very much. I began this Kingdom Hearts extravaganza with the knowledge that I would eventually have to tackle this monstrosity (which I had never actually beaten before), but I had no idea that it would be this…difficult. Anyway, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is the first of two DS installments – the other being Re:coded, which I reviewed last February – and is a mission-based game that focuses on the character Roxas, introduced in Kingdom Hearts II, during his 358 days among the awesome black-cloaked group of villains known as Organization XIII. I’m all for that and there are definitely some things that this game gets right, but in the end, it proves to be the lowest point in the series’ history. Let’s delve into the game, why don’t we. 


358/2 Days takes place before, during and after Chain of Memories and before Kingdom Hearts II. As I said before, it focuses on Roxas, at this point a newly-born Nobody (an empty shell with no heart) who has the power to use the Keyblade. He is inducted into Organization XIII, the group of powerful Nobodies introduced through Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II, and soon after he joins, a new member named Xion steps in, whom also happens to be a Keyblade master. Roxas then begins going out on missions with Xion and the other members of Organization XIII and concluding every mission by having ice cream with her and Axel, a fellow member. As he does this, he learns more about himself, the world, his purpose, the Organization and, of course, friendship, until crap inevitably hits the fan toward the end and Kingdom Hearts II begins. 
From left to right: Axel, Roxas and Xion.

The storyline is probably the only thing I seriously enjoyed about Days. Roxas and Axel were already established characters, but the game does a very nice job of developing them further. Xion actually steals the show here, partially for reasons that are a bit spoiler-y, so I won’t say much other than that she’s a great character. I always enjoyed seeing the three of them interact and I was emotionally invested in the story by the end, where things really start happening. The game is also separated into short days, as the game is basically about how Roxas lives and works day to day. I thought this was an interesting approach to telling the story that was handled well. The script is also solid this time around, and the voice acting, while there isn’t very much of it, is very well done. In the end, the story is probably the only reason why you might want to play the game. 

Yes, while the story is very good, the gameplay ultimately proves…very lackluster, which is why I advise you approach this one with caution. Well, before I start ripping this game to shreds, I should say that there is one thing I liked, and that was the character customization system. As you complete more and more missions, you gain slots on which you put “Panels”. These Panels contain your weapons, abilities, items, magic, and upgrades thereof. There are some Panels (mostly weapon and ability Panels) that take up extra spaces that could be used for other Panels; however, said Panels can often be linked to Panels that upgrade said weapon or ability, and some offer other effects such as upgrading your magic spells or doubling your experience levels. Overall, it’s a very strategic system that works very well. 

Beyond that, though, Days…has absolutely nothing of value to offer, gameplay-wise. One could argue that combat in Kingdom Hearts I and II was mostly button mashing, yes, but at least you could still use magic and other such moves to mix things up a bit and, in Kingdom Hearts II’s case, you probably wouldn’t care anyway because of how fast, flashy and satisfying the combat was. In Days, combat is just button mashing, and combat feels much slower-paced at that, which sucks a lot of the fun out of it and replaces it with boredom. You can still use magic, but you’ll barely ever use it because the game makes one of the most idiotic design decisions I’ve ever seen. By that, I mean that it puts a limit on how many casts of each spell you can bring with you into each mission, and if you want to take any abilities or items with you, you’re probably not going to be able to take too many spells. Even aside from that it’s very limiting, as there isn’t a terrible amount of different combos and moves at your disposal and the Reaction Command from KH2 is nowhere to be seen. Enemy variety isn’t exactly this game’s strong suit, either; most enemies are actually just recolors of other enemies you’ve fought, and they’re all fought the same way: mashing the “A” button over and over and over again until you get carpal tunnel syndrome. It gets incredibly repetitive and boring very quickly, and I really don’t see why the combat had to be so much worse than Kingdom Hearts II’s. You can’t really say it’s because it’s on the DS because Re:coded was for the DS, too, and its combat wasn’t significantly worse than that of the PS2 games. I just…don’t know what happened here. 

And there are the bosses, which pretty much suffer from the same problem, except it’s magnified here because boss battles drag on for so long. Their health bars are inhumanely high and from my experience you don’t even do that much damage. It’s basically ten to fifteen minutes or even longer of jump, mash the “A” button, fall, rinse, repeat. Maybe you’ll have to chase the boss around the arena, too, which…isn’t fun in the least. Also, there were at least two bosses in the game that almost made me consider giving up and watching the rest of the story in a playthrough on Youtube. The first was the Leechgrave, which was downright cheap. It had no visible pattern for its attacks, one of which was a scratching attack that would do devastating damage if you got close. Well, guess what? You have to get close to attack! Oh, and it has a poison attack that drains your health. Have fun! The second was the Ruler of the Sky. For one thing, many of its attacks have a far larger hit box than they should have. For another, it reminds me of that stupid last room in Final Fantasy X because locking onto it gives you a nauseating rotating camera since it’s always moving and there are actually icicles sprouting from the water below to stop you dead in your tracks. It’s so similar that it’s almost scary. At least this game lets you skip cutscenes… 

Finally, the missions are incredibly repetitive. Even when they pretend like they’re asking you to do different things, they really all boil down to just killing Heartless, or mashing the “A” button repeatedly, in other words. You visit the same worlds over and over again dozens of times, as well. Exploration isn’t very interesting, either; the worlds are very small and certain areas are closed off during different missions, and these are all the same worlds from the first two main games besides. To Days’ credit, there are times when it attempts to change things up, but it doesn’t really work. Halloween Town forces you to use Jack Skellington’s dog Zero to scout out Heartless by giving him treats, which just makes things more tedious, and Olympus Coliseum once again takes place in fighting tournaments and mini-games that…just aren’t fun here. Oh, and there are also some insultingly easy stealth sequences and puzzles sprinkled here and there. 

When it comes to aesthetics, though, Days doesn’t fail to please. Given the system it’s on, Square did about the best they could with the visuals, and, well, they’re not half-bad and the framerate is very good. The soundtrack is also fantastic, as always, though it’s…mostly just the exact same BGM’s from the two main games, along with Sanctuary from Kingdom Hearts II. As for the new tracks that are here, though, expect Yoko Shimomura’s usual magic.

 The Good: 
+ Great storyline 
+ Solid script and voice acting 
+ Nice customization system 
+ Great visuals 
+ Awesome soundtrack 

 The Bad:
- Boring combat 
- Awful boss battles 
- Incredibly repetitive 


 By the end of 358/2 Days, I was a little happy that I had experienced it if only because of the story, so I really can’t call it a bad game. However, the gameplay experience was…pretty agonizing, to be frank, so I can’t quite call it a good one either. Ultimately, I’d say it’s…a mediocre game. I guess it’s kind of worth playing, but don’t pay too much for it. Fortunately, this doesn’t hint at a trend in the quality of games to come. Next time, we’re looking at the fantastic Birth by Sleep, the last game on our list until I can get my hands on Dream Drop Distance. See ya. 

 Grade: C-

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