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SummaryDefinitely not as good as the console titles, but it's worth a playthrough.
The GoodThis time around we take control of a boy named Roxas and very early on I already noticed that this was going to be a better story than in the original game. Roxas is part of an organization called Organization XIII, a group who wishes to complete Kingdom Hearts because that would grant them a heart of their own (these people been Nobodies, which means they don't have a heart nor complex feelings). The story mostly focuses on Roxas doing missions for the organization and slowly uncovering a conspiracy that boils within the group. Which members are betrayers? Who can be trusted? These questions are especially interesting because a large part of the story is spend watching the friendship between Roxas and the characters Xion and Axel develop, so when things get more tense this friendship is truly put to the test.
I also liked the character design. The main characters are all members of the organization and their uniform was just awesome, it was just a simply black coat with a hood. I really think black trenchcoats are totally awesome, but the people who wear it aren't too bad either. All the character's faces look unique and are well done, partly because they didn't go too far with the anime style here (except for maybe Axel).
Because Roxas is a Nobody who has no feelings, we are naturally going to run into scenes where he learns about them. While this is mostly a trap, leading to really cliche scenes that make you want to puke, it is done pretty well in this game. I think it has something to do with none of the main characters really having an answer, thus watching Roxas puzzle together what little feelings he is capable off, is all the more interesting to watch. They also don't hammer out long speeches like in the first game.
On the gameplay side of things, I must say that I really liked it how every mission would barricade certain parts of the level. This created a linear path to your objectives and assured that you would never enter areas you were not supposed to go. In a game where you constantly revisit the same areas for different missions, this was really useful because you still get to do a bit of exploring, but you won't have to search the entire area over and over again for your new objective.
Combat is also nice and functional, which surprised me because this is the DS we are talking about. While this system is perfect for turn-based combat, I had my doubts about real-time, but because the game stuck to the same system that the original Kingdom Hearts used, it works pretty well. In fact: because I no longer had to fight with the camera, I only made a handful of mistakes (drinking a potion at full health, wasting a good spell and etc.)
An interesting feature that is exclusive to this game though, is the panel system which feels a lot like the inventory screen from Resident Evil 4. You have a screen with a number of blocks (the number increases as you progress through the story) and literally everything you plan to use during your missions has to be equipped before you start with them. This isn't just limited to spells and items though, but also your weapons and even your level-ups have to be equipped. This forced me to make some interesting choices because some items take up more than one panel and have really weird shapes, so early on I found myself with a bag-space multiplier that took up four important blocks, but only one bag to fit into it at the time.
The game is also a lot easier, which also helps when playing on the DS. I think I only died like twelve times over the span of the entire game and only the single-last boss really pushed past my limits. This doesn't mean the game is less entertaining to play though, combat still requires focus and thought and if you are making a mess of your inventory, then there is little hope for you ever getting past the tougher parts of this title. There is also a challenge mode for the players who think the normal missions are too easy.
Finally: I'd like to say that these are easily the best graphics I have ever seen on the DS. It still looks awful and I had to laugh when I saw sunlight literally cut away parts of a mountain, but at least I got through the game without a headache, which is more than I could say from Spirit Tracks.
The BadThe biggest problem is that at this point in the timeline things get really impenetrable for newcomers. If you haven't played Kingdom Hearts or weren't paying full attention, then I can guarantee that this story is a hell to follow. I am a big fan of this franchise and even I had to call up my cousin to figure out what some of the plot points were about. The story also definitely leans more towards Square Enix, which while delivering a more serious and dark story, does seem like serving a niche audience when there is potential to please a lot more people. One of this series' biggest selling point was that you could team up with various Disney characters, so I find it quite aggravating that you can't do that here. You mostly team up with other members of the organization and while they are interesting in their own way, it really defies the point of the saga. I also find it quite annoying that roughly 50% of the missions took place in Twilight Town and we are not talking tutorial missions here either. While the original game had Traverse Town, you only really went there for the shops and there were plenty of Disney characters there to interact with, but here there is an unmatched focus on the place.
The missions structure as a whole was really bad too. The idea is that you go on a mission and after you finish it you get a bit of story. Only rarely was the dialogue or cut-scene I was rewarded with connected to what I had just done in the mission and even rarer were occasions were the overall story progressed during the missions. After a while the missions started feeling like a chore, meaningless tasks whose only function is that they get the calendar moving forward. I also hate it that a lot of the big story events don't involve Roxas in any way, he just walks into the briefing room one day and somebody tells him an event has occurred. Even if you shifted to a different character in the story, it would have been better than just not involving the player at all.
It takes a really long time for this game to actually get going because you spend a long time in Twilight Town before you even catch a glimpse of a new world. It also takes a long time before you even get to use a shop and even then you still can't use the crafting mechanics. I think it took like five hours of playtime before I really felt like I was playing Kingdom Hearts.
Most of the worlds I got to visit were blatant copies from the original game, except they had been severely cut down to fit on the DS. Along with the similar combat mechanics, same graphic style and the fact that the story in the stages never leads to an actual end, it really feels like this game is a port of the first, but with a new plot stitched to it. I know this game came out a little too early to include Tangled and Princess and the Frog, but something new would really have done this game some good.
The Bottom LineKingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is in every aspect a video game contains average. The story is really interesting and in the end it got a tear loose from me, but because it doesn't focus on Disney and the fact that the story is completely separated from the gameplay is a big problem. The game also plays very well and is a reasonable challenge, but the missions are boring as time progressed and you just want the calendar to go as fast as possible. And finally the presentation is as good as the DS can handle, but since the worlds are all transferred from other games it feels familiar and lacks surprises.
In the end this leaves us with a game that is decent with a pretty good story, however I do feel like some of the problems are genuinely the result of poor really poor choices in the game-design. I am glad I played this game and I love the story (can't emphasize that enough), but I wouldn't have played it, if it wasn't because it carried the Kingdom Hearts name (and it fit between the first and second game in the overall timeline).
A recommendation for this game goes out to the fans because they will most certainly be able to deal with the flaws. If you can deal with a slightly annoying mission structure, then this is also worth trying for you. Other than that, trying this game is really at your own risk, though whether or not people would hate this game likely varies per person, so I can't point out any demographic that should avoid this title.