|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: h.a.n.d. Inc.||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 29, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
January 26, 2009 - When Disney and Square Enix decided to join forces to create Kingdom Hearts, they unarguably struck gold. Not only did the melding of Final Fantasy-inspired teen angst and the magical worlds from Disney lore mesh to make great gameplay and storytelling, the franchise gained an immediate following.
Considering the toony nature of Kingdom Hearts (KH) in general, it's especially interesting how its story weaves in and out of incredibly deep, metaphysical territory, often leaving players with more questions than answers. In an attempt to field certain quandaries in the story, Square Enix released Chain of Memories (CoM) for the Gameboy Advance a good ways back (and re-released it recently for PS2). Likewise, the mega-publisher will now be digging even deeper into the plot by bringing Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (said as: three, five, eight days over two) to the Nintendo DS; they've chosen the current-most-popular gaming system to pick up where CoM left off.
This article will contain certain spoilers about already released titles, including KH2 and CoM, so if you haven't yet played those games, you may want to skip ahead a bit. For those who have played those games, you already know that, in CoM, Sora (the series' main protagonist) defeated about half of the mysterious Organization XIII; in KH2, Sora defeats the rest of them. In this latest addition to the series, the story focuses on Organization XIII and Roxas' history with them. It's sure to be a sordid tale, and fans will absolutely not want to miss it.
For those who were perhaps a tad dismayed by CoM's departure from the traditional KH gameplay, they'll be especially pleased to learn that 358/2 retains most of what the core games are all about. You'll control Roxas with the DS D-pad, B to jump, A to attack, Y allows you to guard or dodge (when used along with the directional pad), and the right shoulder button will re-center the camera behind Roxas' back. Additional camera control is offered via the touch screen, but it's likely going to be an option players will find useful only outside of combat. Additionally, the X button lets you select from items or spells to use, though you can set those to hotkeys that can be accessed by holding the L button - seemingly a much more practical way to use spells/items during the heat of battle.
In regards to combat, 358/2 is also very much the same as its console brethren, in that you'll be fighting many Darkness throughout your journey. From what we've seen, you'll be accompanied most times by one of the remaining members of Organization XIII, and they'll behave much in the same way as the A.I.-controlled Donald and Goofy from the console games. The A.I. thus far seems competent and actually proves a valuable accomplice during battles.
Though the gameplay of the console KH games has been mostly squeezed into the handheld, the story in 358/2 promises to offer something quite different, at least in terms of its focus. Again, the main attraction here is Organization XIII, and though the game's prologue reportedly begins with the birth of Roxas, the story here, for the most part, takes place between the time when CoM ended and KH2 begins. There is a new and mysterious female member of the organization present in 358/2, and we're guessing she has a hefty role in the overarching plot. Hopefully, this new side story will answer many of the questions fans have been debating over for years now.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 is mission-based, and that seems like a nice fit for a system geared toward play on the go. What's particularly exciting, however, is that Square Enix has added specific multiplayer missions as well. Players will be able to choose from the remaining Organization XIII members and play through entire missions with friends. Though these missions are cooperative in nature, a scoring system (that pops up at the end of each mission) promises to encourage a bit of friendly competition. You'll be ranked on your kill count, damage received, etc., and though players will want to work together, kill stealing and avoiding damage will likely make missions a whole lot more interesting.
This is, of course, a Square Enix game, and most gamers know the publisher well for their incomparable ability to create an exquisitely polished production. Even on DS, the publisher has managed to put together something markedly beautiful, with well-crafted cutscenes and real-time 3D graphics that are sure to raise the bar (they themselves set) just a little bit higher. The character models exhibit plenty of detail and animate great, and the environments are surprisingly roomy with lots of interesting touches. You'll be traveling back to many of the old haunts from the console games, including the worlds of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Best.
If it isn't yet completely obvious, we're very excited to get our hands on Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (and equally curious to finally fully understand the meaning behind the game's conspicuously weird title). Though a firm release date has yet to be announced, we at least now have confirmation that the game will, indeed, eventually be coming to America (not that we ever doubted it). 358/2 is slated for release in Japan this spring, and considering Square Enix's track record for localizing its biggest games for the States, the U.S. release should follow shortly after (holiday 2009?)
CCC Freelance Writer