The lights are on
358/2 Days strives to achieve something nearly impossible: to bring the all of the nuances of gameplay of Kingdom Hearts onto the Nintendo DS. Keeping this in mind, it could be said that 358/2 Days deserves a 10 for this incredible feat. Unfortunately, not many play games for the technical aspects.
Story/ Storytelling Devices:
In-game graphics push the limit for DS, looking close to (but not quite as clean) PSP quality. Framerate is slowed when many enemies are on-screen, but lag is generally rare. Most dialogue is in the form of text bubbles, interspersed with very impressive pre-rendered cutscenes with full voice acting. Music is reused from the other games, with a few notable variations on some themes.
The storyline, though slow in the middle, is definitely worth a play through, but I doubt that the story is going to be particularly relevent to the other storylines. Disney characters are almost entirely non-interactive, which makes sense with the story, but does not complement the franchise's original concept. Organization 13 is much better written than in KHII, making sure you like who you should like and hate who you should hate.
As far as gameplay goes, 358/2 Days is fairly close to the original Kingdom Hearts, using the d-pad for movement, and the face buttons to perform attacks, jumps, and special abilities. One face button manages the action menu, letting you select from attacking, using magic, or checking inventory. Combos feel fluid, and the special abilities as well as a timed combo multiplier add depth to the combat.
Though lock-on for general attacks works well, the feeble spells will keep you from using magic after your first couple of tries. Upgraded spells, instead of increasing in power, have various effects, from (trying to) home in on enemies to laying mines. In other words, there's no way to power up spells and upgrades are completely useless. The only spell I ended up using was the simplest cure spell, assigning as many casts as I could carry.
Jumps work, but feel very unnatural as you launch way higher than in previous games. Gliding is incredibly fast and lasts for an absurdly long time, so fans of the ability can have lots of fun here.
Local multiplayer works, and while it is definitely entertaining, it has many limits. Only the highest scoring player in a co-op round recieves any rewards, making it pointless to play with a higher-level player. Players cannot play missions they haven't unlocked yet, making it very difficult for higher level players to level themselves up, though they recieve the mission rewards.
The interface quality is top notch, and the panel system is an intruiging way to handle leveling up. The panel system uses a grid on which different panels are place (such as a weapon or magic panel). Each panel is shaped like a tetris block, making managing and balancing abilities into an interesting minigame that expands as you progress. Each magic panel lets you use a cast of a spell, and panel multipliers add more depth to the system.
The Gummi Ship, sadly, does not make a return after its major improvement in KHII. It's a shame, really, because the DS would work well with the style of shooter (utilizing the stylus, perhaps?).
In conclusion, 358/2 Days is a title worth playing for fans and newcomers alike, with various spins on old gameplay concepts. It is not without it's flaws (did I mention the camera?), but Kingdom Hearts can take another step forward after this entertaining entery.
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