on May 18, 2014
As the game has been out for a while, and it'll most likely be Kingdom Hearts fans who're interested in trying to pick the game up, there will be some unmarked spoilers. Further, I have not completely finished the game; I've reached about the 2/3 point. You have been warned.
358/2 Days (Said as "Three-Five Eight Days over Two") is an interquel videogame taking place between the events of Kingdom Hearts 1 and Kingdom Hearts 2, both for the Playstation 2. The game follows the story of Roxas, Sora's "Nobody" from when he was turned into a heartless in the first game. It depicts Roxas's first experiences of being accepted into Organization XIII and being trained to perform missions that further the goals of the Organization.
First, the graphics. This is a Nintendo DS game, so as you could expect, the graphics aren't much to write home about. Cutscenes in particular are rather jarring, as you have a placid, happy-looking Xion brooding depressingly over something or a solemn, expressionless Roxas exclaiming something happily, among other... odd situations. Thankfully, the icons inside the text-boxes are better at depicting the characters' emotions(!). The in-game enemy sprites may be rather jarring as well, if you've played other Kingdom Hearts games; in particular, Soldier and Shadow heartless are very oddly proportioned compared to their previous incarnations, with Shadows being rather large and Soldiers having shrunk in comparison. Further, in Mission Mode at least, enemy models can appear very "choppy" at a distance, which was probably implemented to reduce slowdown in multiplayer games. You'll notice that there are very rarely more than three or four Organization members on the screen at a time, which was likely implemented for the same reason in single-player. The weapons, while a bit odd-looking in a lot of instances, are fairly well-rendered and have different models depending on what Gear you have equipped, and magic is fairly decent-looking as well. Ultimately, the only real downfall to the graphics in-game, however, (I'm placing it under Graphics since it doesn't seem to fit in Gameplay or other sections) is the camera. The camera can -really- screw you over if you're Locked On to an enemy that likes to bounce around a lot. Or if you have to make a difficult jump. You get used to it after a while, but it can be quite annoying starting out--and god help you if you Lock On to an enemy that's literally running circles around you; ready your motion-sickness pills.
Next, the characters. Many a Kingdom Hearts 2 "Organization XIII" fan has wanted a more in-depth look at the different Organization characters. 358/2 Days delivers, bigtime. According to Kingdom Hearts lore (prior to Dream Drop Distance), the Nobodies have no emotions or personality, instead simply emulating what they think they should be feeling at the time based on their memories of their lives as actual people. At first, Roxas fits the bill spectacularly--he has little to no emotion, no personality at all, and doesn't even really have a will of his own. Basically, he's what anybody would think fits the bill of "no emotions". Strangely enough, however, he begins developing a personality, and even what seems to be emotions, as the story progresses. The same thing occurs with Xion. All the other Organization XIII members, who've been around for much longer than Roxas, seem to have no problem with this, so it can be assumed that every Nobody starts out like this before developing a persona.
Axel isn't nearly as hot-headed as one might expect, instead seeming like an interesting combination of easygoing, level-headed, and calculating. Demyx is a slacker through and through; a lazy, goofy scaredy-cat. Xigbar tends to toss around nicknames and seems rather brash, otherwise seeming to have his own agenda going on in his head. Xaldin is not unlike Xigbar in this respect, though Xigbar seems more laid-back in comparison to Xaldin's fierceness. Luxord is very cool-headed, calm, and has this immense love for gambling puns in every bit of his dialogue. Larxene, though her appearance is very brief, makes her domineering, self-centered attitude very apparent, and finally, Saix is a fairly "Strictly Business" kind of guy, not really wanting to interact much besides to hand out missions. Overall, the cast is very diverse and interesting, shattering my expectations of a dull, dreary and personality-devoid Organization XIII. There's also, of course, the Disney characters... Oddly enough, there seems to be little to no emphasis on Final Fantasy characters whatsoever in this title. Instead, Roxas watches the interactions between the various Disney characters, who inadvertently help him to develop his own persona.
A few other Organization members appear, though their roles are very short-lived. -All- of the Organization members are also playable in Mission Mode. Yes, -ALL- of them.
This leads into the next section, Gameplay.
Combat generally flows very smoothly despite the DS's weak processing power; this is doubtlessly in exchange for graphics. Each character has an array of different weapons depending on the Gear they have equipped, and different weapons also mean different fighting styles for each weapon. It's hard to explain, and something you'd have to see for yourself, unfortunately. For some examples: with the basic keyblade(no Gear equipped), Roxas will do the classic midair combo that many players are likely familiar with from Sora. If you equip the Crown of Guilt, however, the midair combo will turn into a forward somersault, then a backwards spin. Many of the different Gears will change the characters' attack styles in this manner, so choosing a weapon to equip is just as much about how comfortable you are with the fighting style as it is about the weapon's actual stats.
While this is a cool gimmick, it also leads to some problems--namely, while playing as Organization XIII members in Mission Mode. Due to many enemies' small sizes, a lot of the characters' attack styles will completely miss the enemy or are otherwise extremely awkward to use. This is made even worse in the face of enemies who don't flinch from damage (I'm looking at you, Bully Dog), and can make solo missions nearly unplayable depending on who you've chosen. In particular, playing as Xigbar infuriated me--he's supposed to be a ranged character, but his attacks rarely seem to go far enough to actually hit the enemy; his shots' trajectories change depending on his equipped Gear and many of them are difficult to use effectively. This is in conjunction with his attacks doing -very- meager damage.
In fact, damage output from your characters seems to be reduced in general in Mission Mode. Since it's supposed to be multiplayer, and you're supposed to have up to four characters wailing on enemies at a time, it's justified in Multiplayer mode--but in Solo mode, it makes some missions extremely difficult until you've gotten far enough in the game to input enough Levels or Magic panels to offset the ludicrous damage reduction. What's more, you can tinker with the gameplay settings when going into mission mode to -further- reduce your damage output or to increase the damage dealt by enemies.
Thankfully, all of these changes do become offset once you know how to manage Magic properly and have enough panel space to do so. Magic is a serious game-breaker in this game.
So, with that said, on to Magic. Magic is extremely different in 358/2 than in other Kingdom Hearts titles. For one, there is no Mana meter--your spells are limited to a hard number by how many magic panels you install. For two, while there are three levels of each spell, -each level is a separate type of spell-. Rather than losing Fire when you get Fira, or losing Cura when you get Curaga, you keep all spells. In fact, keeping the earlier spells can sometimes be advantageous over using the newer ones; or you can go for "themed" panel-sets by equipping Fire, Fira, -and- Firaga (or the same with any other elemental spell). Fire, for example, is a small fireball that homes in on whatever enemy you're locked on to. Fira, however, shoots a medium-sized fireball that goes in a straight line and pierces all enemies in its path, dealing damage to them all. Blizzard creates a slow homing ice-ball that tracks the enemy and strikes them multiple times before disappearing, while Blizzara creates a sort of "Ice-mine" that damages any enemy who steps on it. These differences in magic allow for a lot of customization in your fighting style--and even as you get the -ara and -aga versions of spells, the first-tier spells can still be more powerful than them if you install them into Magic Level-Up links, meaning you aren't necessarily missing out on damage just by equipping a lower-tier spell.
The trouble in managing magic lies in the hard-cap, which unfortunately can't be overcome until later stages of the game. There is a workaround, however, in Ethers. Using the Magic Ring, you get the ability "Ether Boost" which increases the number of casts of each magic that're restored by Ether items. If you only equip two types of magic--say, Fire and Cure--and stock five each of them, you'll get one cast of each spell back if you use an Ether, leading to each ether restoring two total magic casts out of a stock of 10 total spells. -however-, let's say that you instead choose to stock 3 Fire, 3 Blizzard, and 4 Cure; this leads to restoring three total casts of magic; one of each spell. With Ether Boost, this becomes two casts of each magic, meaning you have four more attack spells for each Ether used. Naturally, this means that having a more diverse range of spells to cast can mean the ability to cast more spells total over the course of a mission. Learning to manage your magic types and tiers and your Ethers can make you a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.
As the final combat mechanic I'll go over, there's the Limit Break. Yes, the emotion-dependent, classic last-ditch-attack in Final Fantasy series is actually available to even Roxas(and the other Nobodies). The HP bar is segmented between a Green section and a Yellow section; if you're down in the Yellow section, you can activate your character's Limit Break by holding down the A button. This will allow your character to unleash powerful attacks that generally put their normal attacks to shame. It's a double-edged sword, however; as you use more Limit Breaks, your HP has to get lower to continue using them. Further, being attacked while Limit Breaking does not interrupt your own attacks; this is both good and bad, as situations that'd normally knock you back and make you want to back off and try to heal won't stop your onslaught, often going completely unnoticed unless you're keeping a close eye on your HP bar. Limit Break truly is a -last ditch effort- attack, not to be taken lightly in most cases. Use it carefully and it can turn the tides of battle, but use it carelessly and you'll end up failing more missions than you succeed at.
There's one last thing I need to review: Mission Types. They generally fall into the following: "Collect Hearts"(defeat all heartless that can drop hearts), "Defeat The Heartless Threat"(Defeat specific strong Heartless or Boss Heartless), "Collect Organization Emblems" (a sort of obstacle course) and "Investigate/Reconnaisance"(Look for different stuff for Roxas and his partner at the time to comment on about a new world). There are a few miscelleneous mission types, but these are the most prominent ones. I will warn you straight away--the Reconnaisance missions can be incredibly frustrating. There are generally no particular signs that you should investigate a particular spot; you just have to either run around covering every inch of ground you can, or look up a guide. It can lead to a lot of wasted time that could be spent towards other missions, and unless you just like listening to the snarking of whoever Roxas's partner is, the recon missions are just generally... un-fun. The Collect Organization Emblems missions can be difficult, as well; you're never pointed towards the starting point of the obstacle course, so you could get halfway through collecting the Emblems only to find out that you started out in a -very- bad spot. I strongly recommend looking up guides for them if you're aiming for 100% completion.
Ultimately, I give Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days a 4 out of 5. It has all the makings of a fantastic game; it could use some damage and hitbox tweaks in Mission Mode(particularly in Solo mode), the Reconnaisance missions can be incredibly frustrating, and the graphics aren't exactly the best thing ever--but the combination of strategy and fast-paced action, as well as the surprisingly diverse cast and the inclusion of a -multiplayer- mode for this Kingdom Hearts title make it every bit worth playing. As long as you don't frustrate yourself too much with Recon or Emblem missions, you'll find the title extremely hard to put down, and even people who started as Roxas-haters(like myself) will find themselves gaining a newfound fondness for the character.