The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
After years of inactivity, the Kingdom Hearts series returns. This time, anxious players get to experience Roxas’ story of his days in Organization XIII leading up to his awakening in the intro sequence to Kingdom Hearts II. Certain hallmarks of the series return, like fun combat, good production values, and an intriguing story. But what used to be a key advantage, the connection with Disney, has proven extremely limiting to Square Enix. Every single world in 358/2 Days has already appeared in Kingdom Hearts, and the Disney characters don’t serve much of a purpose in the game. Do we really need to be introduced to Genie again or investigate why Beast keeps a woman in his castle?
Wisely, the developers have focused most of the story on their own characters in Organization XIII. The tale of Roxas, Axel, and Xion is a touching one, and should be experienced by any fan of the series, though it could have been told much more concisely. You’ll spend way too much time chatting and eating sea salt ice cream. When it ramps up towards the end, however, it helps make up for these dull moments.
The melee combat and upgrade system work very well. As you complete the game’s bite-sized missions you’ll consistently earn useful goodies that can be applied to the innovative Tetris-like grid system. Placing things on your ever expanding panel unlocks new keyblades, combos, leveling multipliers, defensive maneuvers, magic, and more. Bashing the heck out of the wide variety of enemies satisfies in a classic way and the lock-on system does a good job of keeping foes in view. For some reason, the lock-on goes out the door when it comes to magic. You’ll get steamed as a precious fire or ice spell drifts pathetically past its intended target, and then you’ll just stop using magic altogether.
The short mission structure is tailored for handheld play. Indeed, there are plenty of fun missions and challenging boss battles, but things get repetitive fast. You can replay missions to collect all the items, replay them with special challenge conditions, or replay them in mission mode with or without friends. Fortunately, you can skip many extraneous missions and still be powered up enough to beat the game. And that four-player co-op? It’s local, you can only replay missions you’ve already beaten, and you can’t trade any items. Single player is up to snuff, but multiplayer is a clear missed opportunity.
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Most companies only get to use the art it created for a game once. Square has recycled nearly every environment in 358/2 from Kingdom Hearts II. What’s more surprising than this bold move is the fact that I didn’t really mind it. Not only is it impressive to see these PS2 levels running on the DS, the reused environments are appropriately framed to a story about Roxas’ first year with Organization XIII. Gameplay-wise 358/2 also feels a lot like KH II, and while I could have done without the one-hour tutorial, the action is fun. Even the new Panel leveling system adds a unique puzzle quality to upgrading your character. Kingdom Hearts fans won’t want to miss this portable romp through the Magic Kingdom.