The Kingdom Hearts franchise is one that has rapidly sprung into popularity since the first game’s release in 2002. The first DS entry, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, was released in late 2009 to rather middling reviews. 358/2 Days is, like Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, a spinoff title in the series, though calling it a spinoff seems to imply it is not part of the main storyline. Despite its title, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is clearly meant to fit into the main series storyline.
Set between the two numbered entries in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, 358/2 Days finally brings to players the full story of Roxas, the playable character from the first few hours of Kingdom Hearts II. 358/2 Days tells of Roxas’ introduction to Organization XIII, the shadowy villain group of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Along the way, Roxas makes friends with two of the group’s members and ventures through a number of Disney worlds on adventures. The most interesting part of the plot of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is its characters; playing as Roxas gives players a look into the motives of the people behind Organization XIII. Unfortunately, however, one character does feel tacked on and unnecessary: Xion. Added to Days as the fourteenth member of Organization XIII, Xion spends most of the game as an unfitting addition to the plot. While her reason for being a part of the plot, and not part of any other Kingdom Hearts game does become clear later on, Xion still feels like a character uncomfortably wedged into the franchise’s narrative. Admittedly, though, the plot of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is still a welcome addition to the Kingdom Hearts series narrative; the actual story is interesting and aside from Xion the characters are fantastic.
The gameplay is easily the area in which Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days disappoints the most. Like other series entries, 358/2 Days uses an action-RPG battle system, but with several modifications to the Kingdom Hearts formula. Rather than equipment, items, or MP, 358/2 Days uses a panel-based grid system wherein the player equips the items, spell charges, and levels that are accumulated throughout the game. Being forced to equip level-ups makes the battle system feel restrictive, but panels are easy to come by and the player will have more than enough to equip any desired upgrades. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days uses a mission system rather than a world map; by talking to one of the Organization XIII members, Roxas undertakes missions to advance the story and gameplay. The mission system works extremely well for a portable system; missions are short and allow for a few minutes of gameplay on-the-go. The missions can at times make the plot feel a bit disjointed, but the cutscenes and story sequences are integrated into the missions well enough that this disconnect is rarely noticable. Also notable is the addition of Mission Mode outside of the story, which allows players to use the DS’s local multiplayer capabilities to do missions with friends; this makes Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days the first in the series to allow cooperative multiplayer. The worlds of 358/2 Days are small, even by Kingdom Hearts standards, and the setting proves extremely disappointing as a result. Overall, the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is good, but not great, and falls disappointingly short of the standards set by the PlayStation 2 Kingdom Hearts titles.
Aesthetically speaking, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is more than adequate. While many 3D games on the DS look bad, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days does everything it can with the handheld’s limited graphical capabilities. The gameplay graphics are admittedly a bit pixellated, but 358/2 Days is easily one of the best looking games on the system. The cutscene graphics are phenomenal, and the Kingdom Hearts art style is wonderfully preserved both in and out of the cutscenes. One looking for a graphically pleasant experience on the DS would be hard-pressed to find a better title than this.
The Kingdom Hearts has always had excellent music, and 358/2 Days is definitely no exception. With many tracks returning from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II and many new tracks, 358/2 Days arguably has the best soundtrack in the series, and the sound quality does amazingly not suffer from being on the DS. The soundtrack is phenomenally strong, and many of the new songs fit the game and the series as a whole extremely well. While Kingdom Hearts as a franchise has never had a weak soundtrack, 358/2 Days is fantastic even when compared to other series entries.
Unfortunately, good graphics and an amazing soundtrack do not save Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days from mediocrity. 358/2 Days has a good story and decent gameplay, but something about the experience just feels a bit off. Fans of the series are recommended to pick it up, but gamers who are not fans will not be converted by Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. The middling scores and gamer opinion that 358/2 Days has received are completely justified, and the game is very much a love-it-or-hate-it affair. What do you think, readers? Have you played 358/2 Days, or has this one slipped under the radar? And if you have played it, what were your thoughts? Is it a welcome addition to the series, or an unnecessary storyline that only further delays the release of Kingdom Hearts III. As always, comment and let me know what you think about the first DS Kingdom Hearts title, and I look forward to reading your thoughts!