Kingdom Hearts is a series which will need little introduction to many gamers. First seeing release in 2002 for the PS2, it centres around the adventures of Sora and his friends as they battle the Heartless across the different worlds. Highly noted for the crossover of Disney and Final Fantasy elements, mixed together into an original story, it was a big success worldwide and has since gone on to form a very successful series. Fast forward to 2009 and we have Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, the fifth instalment in the series and the first of them to hit the DS. While it doesn't hold up as well as its console counterparts, it's still a great game.
The game features two main modes, story mode and the all-new, exclusive mission mode. Story mode serves as an interquel to Chain Of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2, taking place in the year's gap between the two and is told from the perspective of the “Nobody” Roxas, who unlike other nobodies, has no memories at all of his previous life. The game reveals a lot about his backstory, chronicling his daily life at Organization XIII, his relationship between fellow Organization members Axel and Xion and also attempts to fill some gaps in the overall series storyline.
This may be slightly confusing to series newcomers but series veterans will have no trouble picking up on it. Those same veterans are likely to be disappointed in the story to some extent, however, as although it reveals a lot about these characters and develops them quite well, it doesn't add much to the overall storyline of the series due to its placement in the timeline but it's still rather entertaining.
Throughout the game, you'll be travelling across a variety of different Disney worlds, such as Agrabah and Wonderland. Unfortunately, a common complaint in the series is that the worlds are recycled too much between entries and 358/2 Days is guilty of this too, with no new worlds featuring at all. While they are presented slightly differently from before, due to the Organization usually blocking off areas in a world to stop you going off track in missions, it's not nearly enough to make up for this disappointment.
Gameplay is similar to that in other Kingdom Hearts titles. As you progress through missions, you'll find the worlds generally littered with Heartless, a set of creatures borne from the darkness. In 358/2 Days, your job is primarily to collect the hearts that they hold by defeating them with Roxas' keyblade, a powerful weapon used to combat darkness and one which can be customized through the use of “Gears” in the link panel system.
However, 358/2 Days is different in that, as a member of Organization XIII, Roxas is assigned missions by their leadership which you must complete in order to advance through the story, with your progress being measured by a “Mission Gauge” on the bottom of the screen. On top of this, you will often be accompanied by another Organization member such as Axel or Xion, who will help you in order to complete the task. There are also several other changes to the battle gameplay, with characters able to also use Limit Breaks, as seen in the Final Fantasy series. Once a character's health drops to a certain level, as indicated by a yellow bar across your HP bar, you can then unleash a unique, more powerful attack. The gameplay makes a smooth transition from the PS2 to DS here, with it still being as engaging as ever and is still a lot of fun to battle it out with the Heartless.
One of the biggest new additions to the gameplay is the Panel system. This allows you to customise everything from your weapons and abilities, character levels, items in your inventory, magic spells and more. There are some quirks to it as well, such as how you can get "Link Panels" that occupy multiple slots but can be combined with other panels to form new or stronger abilities. It’s an interesting addition to the game and one which feels right at home with the DS interface.
For the controls, Square-Enix decided to go against any major use of the touchscreen and instead stick to the traditional D-Pad and button in similar style to the other games. There is some use of the touchscreen though – you can drag your stylus across the screen to the left, right, up or down to move the camera. This can make gameplay rather awkward though, particularly when fighting enemies, but fortunately there is an alternative camera method available that instead uses the L and R buttons to rotate, which feels a lot more natural.
There are over 90 different missions available, ranging from simply collecting a set number of hearts by defeating Heartless, training missions and more, which help keep the gameplay from getting repetitive. A lot of these missions will also contain collectable Ordeal Badges, which unlock a Challenge version of that mission containing more powerful enemies and a variety of restrictions, such as requiring you to finish as quickly as possible or earn a lot of “munny”. The better you do in these Challenge missions, the more “Challenge Sigils” you earn. These act as a type of special currency and can be redeemed with Moogles in exchange for items, with the more sigils you obtain, the better the items. This is a great little addition to the game as it provides a fresh, challenging twist for these missions and adds further incentive to go through them.
Some missions also contain “Unity Badges”, which you must obtain in order to unlock the majority of missions available in Mission mode. In this mode, you can also choose to go through the mission with up to four people in a local co-operative multiplayer mode (via Multi-Card Play) and you'll be given the choice to play as one of the 14 members of Organization XIII, with other characters from the series also being unlockable.
Graphically, the game makes nice use of 3D graphics keeping in style with that in other entries and features a lot of fully animated cutscenes, both of which have been done very well by Square-Enix for DS standards. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is not so great as Square-Enix have recycled a lot of music from previous entries in the series, ranging from background music used in the Disney world's to the main music theme from Kingdom Hearts 2, “Sanctuary”, although it's still generally nice to listen to.
Overall, any fan of the Kingdom Hearts series with a DS should pick up 358/2 Days. While it doesn’t really add a great deal to the overall story of the series and recycles a lot of content from the previous games, what you'll find is a very enjoyable experience, chocked full of content that will keep you glued to your DS for a long while.