When Sora briefly became a Heartless in the original Kingdom Hearts, the remainder of his self created his Nobody- Roxas. And for the year that Sora was asleep after the events of Chain of Memories, Roxas was recruited as a member of Organisation XIII, who hoped that his unique ability among Nobodies to wield a Keyblade would enable him to gather the hearts they need. A blank slate with no memory of his past, Roxas is swiftly put to work carrying out missions for the Organisation alongside his friends Axel and Xion. But in the Organisation, even your closest friends can have deep and dark secrets, as Roxas will slowly but surely discover.
An attempt to milk the franchise fill in the Organisation’s side of the events that transpired between Kingdom Hearts I and II, 358/2 Days does what the fangirls always wanted by putting Roxas in the driving seat in this pleasingly solid addition to a growing series. As always, you’ll be controlling a Keyblade wielder as they visit worlds based on various Disney films, albeit this time on Nintendo’s trusty handheld.
Taking place over the titular 358 days of game time (not that you’ll be awake for all of those days), 358/2 Days is entirely mission based, mixing in quests that advance the story with simple monster and treasure hunts spread amongst various familiar locales. The worlds available this time around are Twilight Town, Beast’s Castle, Agrabah, the Olympus Coliseum, Neverland, Halloween Town and Wonderland, all of which you’ll become eminently familiar with as mission after mission dispatches you to this handful of locales. Fortunately, even if you’ve visited them before in previous Kingdom Hearts games, they have been laid out well enough to ensure that whilst you might not come away with any enduring love for these locales, you won’t feel that same sense of irritation and vague sickness that plagued the very first Kingdom Hearts game.
In typical Kingdom Hearts tradition, most missions will see you accompanied by an AI-controlled character- although instead of the usual Disney personalities, this time around your allies are the members of Organisation XIII. The missions are pretty much what you expect, with goals varying from gathering information by running round and exploring an area to defeating minor enemies and boss monsters. A few of the battles are tough and the search/stealth aspects of some missions can be a bit frustrating, but mostly it won’t prove too challenging to seasoned RPG veterans.
Although the standard missions in Story Mode are offered in a pretty much on-the-rails manner, it is also possible to go above and beyond the minimum required to complete them in an attempt to earn additional bonuses. The game also records whether or not you’ve opened every treasure chest on a mission, with completists offered all sorts of rewards, such as the option of being able to play as Sora in Mission Mode (more on that shortly). You can even unlock Challenge missions, where tasks must be completed with additional restrictions such as time limits or not taking a hit. It’s as repetitive as it sounds, but it does at least mean that there’ll be something for you to do any time you decide to return to the game after finishing it.
When it comes to skills, upgrades and levelling up, everything in 358/2 Days is handled by the panel system. As you fight battles, your experience goes not towards direct levelling up, but to expanding a grid into which various panels can be placed. ‘Level Up’ panels are needed to increase your level- unequip them and it’s back to level one for you- whilst all kinds of skills, magic and weapon upgrades all require their own panels. It’s a reasonable system overall, although f having to level up via panel seems a little pointless for everyone who doesn’t want to attempt completing the entire game at level one.
For those who don’t want to play as Roxas all the time, there is also a separate Mission Mode in which you can play individual missions in one or two player mode as other members of Organisation XIII (with the option to unlock Sora, Donald and Goofy later on). Whilst it is an interesting novelty to finally be able to play as these characters, it’s disappointing that they can’t be used in the main game.
If there is one iconic image to be taken away from the cutscenes of 358/2 Days, it is the sight of Roxas, Axel and Xion eating sea salt ice cream. In between all that, the game does try to provide a story that fills in a gap in the timeline of the other games. A new character is introduced in the form of Xion, the fourteenth member of Organisation XIII, but overall the plot isn’t much to write home about, and is probably only of interest to true devotees of the KH franchise.
Unfortunately, 358/2 Days was succeeded by the PSP Birth By Sleep, which only served to show up the DS entry in the series as the poor cousin graphically. The visuals are adequate, but not to the levels of other games in the series. The background music is much the same as that of all the other games in the series.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a good game, but unfortunately it doesn’t really excel in any area. It will provide a solid chunk of entertainment, but whilst there is nothing really to complain about, nor is there anything that elevates it above the average RPG. A fun game, but not one that will go down in the annals of gaming history.