Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

Roxas. Sora. We knew they were connected, but Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days explains exactly what happened between them in the KH timeline. I won't be holding back on spoilers here, so if you don't want to know what's up then turn away now!

Roxas is Sora's Nobody, a fact we learned in playing Kingdom Hearts II. Does anyone remember playing the beginning of KH2 and being fairly confused to who Roxas was? I know I was... I had no clue what was going on. I was just hanging out, spending time in Twilight Town, living out my summer vacation until suddenly everything changed. Namine, DiZ, Axel, and then finally combining with Sora. For me, that was 5 years ago when I played KH2. My memory became fairly fuzzy and I forgot plot elements.

In picking up 358/2 Days I thought "cool, I get to play as Roxas when he was a part of Organization XIII" but soon thought "wait, who was Roxas again..." So just to be clear, in Kingdom Hearts 1 when Sora impales himself with Ansem's keyblade, Sora turns into a Heartless. Remember? It was all to release Kairi's heart! Anywho, somewhere in this process, Sora returned to his original form via Kairi's powers. At the same time Sora's Nobody is formed (Roxas), meaning that Sora had a strong enough heart to create a separate being that can think on its own. I know I was supposed to play Chain of Memories before attempting KH2, but I didn't know at the time! Man.. what a headache that can be.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days' setup is fairly straightforward. You start with Roxas as a member of Organization XIII and learn the ins and outs of their doings. Roxas becomes close to the red-haired Axel, and then to the newest member of the organization, Xion. The 358/2 is the number of days spent in the game. The "/2" is explained in the end. The game is mission based, and there's over 80 missions to play through. You don't have to complete each mission, as there are required missions to beat before moving on in the story. I personally think that would be a silly idea. The optional missions help you to level up and get materials to synthesize weapons and other items. I bought 358/2 Days used and the person who beat the game before me did so in 25 hours. I took 31. In addition to beating the extra missions you can also do extra achievements in them that give bonuses. Who doesn't want some extra loot?

So you'd think going on mission after mission would get repetitive, but I didn't find this to be the case. This is because the game mixes up just enough story and different kinds of missions in different worlds to avoid the point of boredom. I will say that I didn't appreciate the drawn out learning curve in the beginning. It certainly wasn't a steep curve, and I felt like I was being treated like a child solely because of Roxas' understanding of his own existence. He can't remember things at first and he's treated like an idiot by multiple members of Organization XIII. Thankfully that ends a couple hours in as Roxas advances within the Organization.

The whole point of 358/2 Days is for Roxas to use the keyblade to release the Heartless' hearts to restructure and complete Kingdom Hearts. In doing this Organization XIII would have full access to darkness and such. Because Roxas can't remember that he was once a part of Sora, he goes along with it. One of the added, unique twists to 358/2 Days is the character Xion. It turns out that she has the ability to use the keyblade as well. As Roxas and Xion become closer over the span of 300 some odd days, we learn that Xion is literally just a puppet created to mimic Roxas' keyblade abilities. You know, just in case Roxas were to remember he's actually a good guy and a part of Sora.

The heart of this story is connected between Roxas, Axel, and Xion. This is so very clear as they meet up every day to eat sea-salt ice cream and watch the sun go down in Twilight Town. Yes, the flavor is important because of its reflection within the game. Sometimes the story is sweet and sometimes it's bitter, but the small circle of friends stick it out until the end. I only wish the story wasn't so bland in the first half of the game. Not much happens, save for Roxas recovering a few memories of Sora's adventures. The best parts of the story come in the last 5 hours of the game, just saying.

In relation to other Kingdom Hearts games, Roxas visits various Disney locations throughout. Not every world from the two games are represented, and the worlds that do make it are on a much smaller scale than the PlayStation 2 titles. Although disappointingly small, they are fun to visit and keep the spirit of the previous games alive.

Admittedly, the best feature of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is its' customization in abilities and weapons by using the panel system. As you progress throughout the game you unlock more free spaces to use panels on. There are weapon, magic, ability, item, level, and other panels to use. Some panels are like parent nodes and require more space than others. But this also means that you can link panels together to create more advanced abilities or stronger magic. It's really cool to play around with your own abilities because if you alter something you will see it in gameplay. You have the option to roll, to jump higher, to glide, to block, etc. But you can also attach unique panels to ordinary abilities to achieve better combos or significant advantages in a battle.

358/2 Days prides itself on its' multiplayer accessibility where you can go through missions again and select which characters you want to be. I haven't tried this feature but I can imagine that it's fun. If you're really into the missions you can even do them again yourself as "holo-missions" and receive many new awards in doing so. This gives more life to the game after you beat it. Which, by the way, once you beat the game and save you can check Roxas' diary to see secret notes that weren't available before. It gives more insight to the story and explains events that happened throughout the 358 days that were kept secret from Roxas.

Addressing both graphics and music, they certainly represent themselves well for a DS game. Of note is the music is pretty much recycled from KH and KH2, but that's okay for me. It's still pretty good. The song that plays during the sunset scenes is very well done and fits the entire mood of the game. The standard, in-game graphics are impressive and shouldn't be taken lightly. There are a few cutscenes where you can tell Square had to compress the files, thus losing some quality. Some of the darks were noisy and you could see it in some daylight scenes. Then again it looked absolutely fine in other cutscenes so who knows what's up. I only noticed the game slow down once, and that was when I had maybe 10 enemies on the screen and I was using Roxas' final limit break on them. The slow down was barely noticeable and nothing to complain about. Overall, I would have to say it's one of the best looking games on the DS.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days covers Roxas' time in Organization XIII as Sora is asleep and Namine is trying to recover his memories. This entire entry into the Kingdom Hearts universe is formulated around pure dramatic irony. We know what will become of Roxas because we've played Kingdom Hearts II. I believe this is what gives 358/2 Days its' intrigue. We want to know what Roxas experienced in Organization XIII and get to know him more than just the seven days we had with him in a fake Twilight Town. And if you haven't played KH2 it's perfectly okay to play 358/2 Days first. This game will be unique to newcomers of the series, as it's their choice to decide if they want to play a later released prequel to KH2 or experience the series in release order.

I think my next Kingdom Hearts experience will be Chain of Memories for the PlayStation 2. And yeah, that's definitely out of order.

Title: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Developer: Square Enix, h.a.n.d.
Genre: Japanese Action Role-Playing Game
Year: 2009
Platform: Nintendo DS (Played on Nintendo 3DS)
Completion: Beat the game in 31:27 on standard mode at level 51. Did not attempt holo-missions or multiplayer. Tried mission mode.

-Jared C.

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