Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days Hands-On Impressions

We take a spin through the latest partnership between Square Enix and Disney.

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The Kingdom Hearts series found its way to Nintendo hardware back in 2004, when Square Enix released Chain of Memories on the GBA. So perhaps it was just a matter of time before the franchise made its way back, this time on the DS. But while Chain of Memories played quite differently from the original PS2 game, 358/2 Days hasn't messed around with the series' formula; it fully plays as a similar 3D action game.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days' storyline is centered on Roxas from Kingdom Hearts II, and it takes place between Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II. Unlike previous installments in the Kingdom Hearts series, the game tells more of the franchise's story from the Organization XIII's side.

At Square Enix's event, we had the opportunity to try two short demos. It seems that 358/2 Days is mission based, which makes sense considering that the DS version is a handheld game that's often played in short intervals. In single-player mode, you play as Roxas, and a computer-assisted Organization XIII member aids you on your missions.

The first demo took place in Twilight Town, and we were accompanied by Axel. When the game started, we were quickly greeted by heartlesses that came to attack us. Most of the mission took place inside a building where we needed to hit switches to open up shutters to advance. After we advanced far enough, we ended in a boss battle against a Guard Armor. Similarly to that from the original Kingdom Hearts, we had to hit its multiple attack points to defeat it. After we beat the boss, the demo ended in a scene where Axel treated Roxas to a sea salt ice cream bar, which they ate and talked on top of the town's tower. The second demo took place in the Beauty and the Beast's castle, and the boss turned out to be the monstrous Darkside, another enemy from the original Kingdom Hearts.

The basic controls in 358/2 Days follow those of the PS2 series. You use the D pad for moving around, the A button for attacking, B for jumping, and Y for guarding (or quick evasion if you hold on to a direction). Additionally, when you've jumped into the air, you can air dash with the B button, or glide around with the Y button. You play the game on the DS's upper screen, and the bottom screen shows you the map of your current area. The bottom screen also has another function: You can move around the game's camera angle by touching anywhere on it. If you're too involved in a battle and you can't touch the bottom screen, the R button is there to assist you. Upon pressing it, the camera resets into the direction that you're facing.

Given the lack of buttons on the DS compared to the PS2 and PSP, it seems that the developer had to make some compromises in terms of the command menu where you select magic and items. You scroll through the menu by pressing the X button multiple times and making a selection with the A button, and then do so again in the submenu. This can be hard to do when you're in the middle of the battle, especially since it leaves you vulnerable to enemies since you won't be able to attack (remember, attacking is also done with the A button). Thankfully, the game has a shortcut where you can quickly select a menu option by holding the L button and pressing one of the main buttons (A, B, X, or Y).

We also had the chance to try out the multiplayer mode, where you get to go on missions together with three other players as Organization XIII members. Some of the characters were locked off in the demo, but it was good enough for us to get a feel for how the game plays. Each character fights with trademark weapons from the Kingdom Hearts installments. Our demo started out in the woods and as we advanced, we went to a town that had a very complex structure, almost like a maze. To make things even more challenging, the boss turned out to be the Chameleon-like heartless from the original Kingdom Hearts, and it kept hiding and reappearing in various locations of the map. Fortunately, the map on the bottom of the DS screen not only shows the location of the players, but it also shows the whereabouts of enemies.

While you essentially cooperate with the other players to beat your missions in multiplayer mode, you'll also be competing against one another in terms of score. The result screen should be interesting for Kingdom Hearts fans. The game makes use of the DS's double screen, and you see your characters shooting up through the screen on their white meeting room chairs. The height of the chair changes depending on your score result. If you've scored badly, you see yourself at the bottom, holding your head in disbelief. If you've scored high, you see yourself in a chair that's higher than the rest of the players'.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days' graphics isn't exactly up to the PS2 or PSP's standards, which of course is impossible, given the hardware's limitations. But Square Enix has done a pretty good job in trying to come close, and it looks much better than an average 3D game on the DS. The game is slated for release this winter in Japan.

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