More Than a Nobody

User Rating: 8.5 | Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days DS
You know what's a shame? When critics knock a game because it's the "pretty boy." If there ever was a pretty boy game series, Kingdom Hearts is it. Don't deny it; you know it's true. Heck, most of what comes out of Square Enix is all shiny and polished, and sometimes their brand of syrupy sweet storytelling does get sickening.

Know this, though: I own both KH games for the PS2, but I've yet to finish either of them. They're good games – I know this – but I just haven't been able to commit. So, there is no fanboyism attached to this review. What you get here are merely the impressions of someone coming to KH with a somewhat more objective point of view.

When I look at the Metacritic score for 358/2 Days, I'm baffled. Within the span of one month, I've enjoyed Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Scribblenauts and this game. I loved Bowser's Inside Story; I think it's probably the best RPG I've played to date. And though Scribblenauts was a bit disappointing, I think it has its own sort of genius. But man, 358/2 Days is one hell of a game for DS. No, it's not reinventing the KH formula, and a lot of what's here is stuff folks have, for the most part, already seen. However, having this sort of gameplay on DS – in such quantity and quality – wow, you have to be one jaded, unappreciative mother ****** to turn your nose up at this game.

I won't go into great detail about the game's story; if you're reading this review, you likely know the premise by now. The focus here is on Organization XIII and Roxas' time spent with them. The game is mission based, and the story is weaved into and in between missions. It's not only a perfect fit for DS, the story still manages to be compelling and well crafted.

The real beauty, though, is that the gameplay is also inherently KH. Roxas' movement animations are pretty much identical to what folks are used to seeing in the PS2 games, and the selection of commands are also mostly the same. I played through about five hours of the first KH and a couple hours of the second, but this game really surprised me. Similar to the Metroid/Castlevania series, you often won't get access to certain areas of a mission until you acquire a specific ability. It's a really cool mechanic many folks (including myself, of course) have loved for years, and it gives you all the incentive you need to revisit missions.

And holy cow, there's a lot to do in this game. Square might put a premium on their DS games, but you know what, they deserve it. I hate price gouging, and some of their practices on WiiWare plain piss me off. But by and large, they have delivered some incredible titles on DS, and 358/2 Days is no exception.

There are a ton of regular missions, and the story in melded into the gameplay seamlessly. Most missions do, of course, include a lot of combat, but as you progress through the game, you'll acquire new abilities that really help to keep things interesting throughout. There is also a bit of stealth thrown in, as well as info gathering, and though neither element is incredibly interesting, they each serve to break up the gameplay nicely; they're fun and doled out accordingly.

One very cool, new addition to 358/2 Days is the panel system. Rather than simply equipping new weapons, spells and items, here you're limited to what you can bring with you on missions, including the levels you gain throughout the game. When you level up, you're given a level panel; if you want to reap the benefits of it during a mission, you'll have to place it in a slot within your panel deck. You'll unlock new panel slots as you complete missions, but the whole system not only keeps things really interesting in terms of strategizing, it also allows each player to approach the game in their own unique way.

358/2 Days gets off to a somewhat slow start, but keep the faith. After a couple of hours, the game will grab you and not let go. Again, it's rationed out to suit gaming on the go, but it really has a wonderfully cohesive formula. It is a little disappointing, though, that you'll be running over a lot of the same ground throughout the game.

If you enjoy tinkering, such as that found in The World Ends with You, this KH really opens things up nicely. The panel system eventually becomes a web of "stuff," and you'll be afforded three decks to save different panel configurations. It makes changing out systems on the fly a breeze. Roxas also keeps a diary, and you'll likely lose yourself in all the extra content crammed into this little game card.

The game's not perfect, though there are no issues that surmount to grandstanding in terms of low review scores. The combat is still pretty button mashy, and the camera is as finicky as ever. There's a slight delay when casting spells, but on the upside, shortcuts are a real boon. Once you get the timing down and come to terms with the camera, it's surprising just how competent 358/2 Days is when it comes to action. It's a bit easier than past games in some respects and more difficult in others. When sent out on missions with an A.I. partner, they can heal you with no cost to your inventory, though some enemies are ruthlessly challenging, even from the very early stages of the game.

One last criticism, however: the game does do a fair bit of recycling, not just from previous games, but you'll also encounter quite a few bosses more than once. I don't mind it, since I often find it more enjoyable to take on certain bosses once I've learned their patterns. The enemy selection, though, is pretty vast, and ultimately the game has a great level of challenge. There are three difficulty settings to choose from at the outset of the game, and there should be something here for everyone.

As for the presentation…well, see that Square Enix logo on the box? 'Nuff said, right? In all honesty, there are a few areas where the environments look a tad blocky and/or jaggy, all too plainly showing off their textures, but I chock that up to a polygon budget. On the whole, however, it's definitely one of the best-looking games the DS has ever seen. Character models look excellent up close, and, artistically, the KH style comes clearly through on the tiny DS screens. The music and sound effects are powerful and add a tremendous amount of fun factor and mood to this sizeable adventure.

Despite what you might have read about 358/2 Days from other reviewers, if you're a KH fan and own a DS, hesitate not a moment to pick up this game. It's a shame some folks feel the need to amplify a game's faults simply because it comes from a pedigree that flaunts great talent. But if you compare this game to everything else that's currently available on the system, it's easy to see that Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is one seriously top-tier game. Perhaps its main shortcoming is that many folks have already seen and done most of this before; however, that doesn't change the fact that it's still an impressive feat on the very limited DS hardware.

Final score: 8.4