Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days Review

I don't think I'll meet with much resistance by stating that the original Kingdom Hearts on the PS2 was a masterpiece of a game. The action RPG, released in 2002, expertly blended great combat, amazing boss fights, a melancholy story and a fantastic presentation into one of the most entertaining games I've ever had the joy of playing. The game was so good, in fact, that I often wish I had never played it, just so I could experience it again for the first time. The off-the-wall idea that blending the universes found in Disney films with the characters from the Final Fantasy series was ludicrous on paper (it STILL sounds weird to me), but Square Enix did such an amazing job that the existing lore from both sources was at times overshadowed by the new creation.

The sequels, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (GBA, re-released on PS2) and Kingdom Hearts II didn't quite reach the sublime level of the first. CoM's card-based gameplay was a huge hindrance on the action, and the story (with a few additions) was identical to the first game. KHII also felt like a total rehash of the first KH with some new stages, but also fewer puzzles, easier fights and uncharacteristically hollow and underwhelming voice acting. Neither game was terrible, but calling them worthy successors to the first game is blasphemous.

Now, nearly five years out from the last KH game, Square Enix has brought back the beloved franchise in the form of a Nintendo DS spin-off, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. This new addition to the KH universe is both similar and very different to past KH hearts games; it is different because it presents a story that is mostly new (even though it references past games quite often), but it is similar in the fact that it just doesn't live up to the impossibly great original Kingdom Hearts.

358/2 Days is also different in that it doesn't follow the story of Sora, Donald or Goofy, the protagonists of every other KH game. Instead, you play through this game as Roxas, a Nobody and member of Organization XIII who disappointed millions of fans by monopolizing the first two hours of Kingdom Hearts II. 358/2 Days refers to the time period between KH: CoM and KH II, where Sora had his memories fiddled with and Roxas, Sora's Nobody, was born. I deliberately used "shop talk" to set up this game's plot to illustrate a point - if none of that made any sense, then 358/2 Days is not the game for you. At no point does the game attempt to catch up players who aren't explicitly familiar with all three previous KH games, and without that background, you will be 100 percent totally lost. "For fans only" is usually a phrase used to describe sub-par anime based games, but it applies here as well.

Unlike those anime-based disasters, though, 358/2 Days is actually a very, very good game that just happens to exert no effort in drawing in new KH fans - the only qualifier for the application of that infamous phrase. Missing primer aside, this game wins on nearly all fronts. The story is more or less a new one, the graphics and sound are among the best on the DS, the gameplay is almost identical to the PS2 games - no small feat - and the inclusion of mission-based challenges and multiplayer, in addition to the lengthy single player campaign, assure that 358/2 Days will be in your DS for some time to come.