Friday, November 10, 2000

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 | 8.5

Difficulty:
Just Right
Time Spent:
10 to 20 Hours
The Bottom Line:
"Worth playing"

First off, just to clear up any confusion, the title of this game is actually pronounced "Kingdom Hearts Three Five Eight Days Over Two" weird right? Anyways, I have not yet beaten the game but I have played it enough to make a substantial review. As we all know the game started with Kingdom Hearts in 2003. About a year later they made a game for Game Boy Advanced called Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The Story of Sora going to Castle Oblivion, losing his memories and having to sleep for a year to regain them. This is also where we first get introduced to Organization XIII. The worst part of Chain of Memories was the card based battles system, the best part was getting to play as Riku after beating it as Sora. Then there's Kingdom Hearts II, that picks up a year later with the last days of Roxas, Sora's Nobody, and then Sora's awakening. Now, a lot of Kingdom Hearts fans had a few questions as to why organization XIII only had 8 members in KH2, and why Sora awoke like he did in the place he did. Realizing that not many people played KH:COM, let alone had a GBA, they re-made the game for PS2, naming it "Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories". Now, many people are not too found of the card-based battle system, and trust me, neither am I. But COM is an essential part of the KH franchise and it is very important any true fan plays it to understand the story in it's true depth. Knowing this, they made sure to make the PS2 version much easier than the GBA version, it includes reaction commands, extra cards, 3D environment with camera controls similar to that of KH2, the ability to dodge roll automatically, and the option to choose between Beginner, Standard, and Proud mode.

Now that that's out of the way, I shall introduce KH358/2D. This game starts 7 days after Roxas' birth (when Sora stabbed himself with the dark keyblade) and takes place through the events of Chain of Memories, where 5 of the Orgnization Members (Vexen, Larxene, Marluxia, Zexion, and Lexaeus) all die at the hands of Sora nd Riku, and the game continues to play out for the whole year that Sora is asleep and ends near the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II. With the final boss of the game being Riku. Go figure. This makes sense seeing how it was him who brought Roxas to DiZ when they put him in the fake Twilight Town in the beginning of KH2. But I digress. This game will introduce you to a new Organization member, Xion. The 14th member. Who can strangely also wield the keyblade and has connections somehow to Sora and Kairi. When you start the game it puts you through a lengthy hour long tutorial that teaches you how to play the game. You go on about 7 or so tutorial mission learning the basics of game play, and all about missions, and collecting hearts for the Organization. Out of the entire franchise, I would consider this game to be the hardest of the all, game play wise. The buttons are limited, so the camera controls are extremely limited. You can change this later, however. But it will make your shortcut window harder to access. In the previous games one could use the D-pad to access the command window, however in this game you need that to move. So instead you must use the X button to choose between attack, magic, and items. Now, your supply of healing items at your disposal and how many you can pick up on the field are both annoyingly limited. Whereas in the other games you could collect munny and buy potions then equip as many to your characters are there were item slots for them, in this game everything you have and/or do is based off a Tetris like panel grid. If you wanna level up, you must take a leve up pennel and put it on the grid. Wanna use fire magic? Maybe you wanna have a hi-potion at your despinse to heal up with? Again, must equip them to the panel grid. And please note, the grid is not unlimited. You only get so many squares to place panels in. weapons, abilities, items, magic, leveling up, these things all depend on the panel system. However, all is not lost. There are these items called "slot releasers" which open up more empty squares on the panel grid for you to equip panels on. Some panels, however, take up many squares. These are called link panels, there are used to further develop your character. For example, there is a link panel that allows you to attach up to 4 level up panels to it. Each of these levels is doubled. So instead of gaining four levels, you actually gain eight, along with any other level up panels you have equipped. With weapon panels you can link ability, power, or guard panels to unlock a hidden ability, raise your strength, defense, or magic. One of the things you'll notice right away when doing this is that all the weapon panels tend to favor one attribute over another. You will either find yourself killing off heartless pretty fast but losing health even faster, or you will take forever to kill them but also stay alive longer. As of right now, I have a strength power of 93, with a defense of 32. Explain that one. Trying to evenly balance them comes with a heavy price. The other issue with the weapons is that they all tend to favor one type of combat. One weapon is extremely useful if you fighting everything in midair, another is only useful if your feet never leave the ground. There are many more though, and I have not yet made it far enough to unlock the more balanced and powerful weapons, so I cannot yet say how the gameplay progresses near the end.

The battle system is no different than the norm. Run up to the heartless and press A to attack. However, the Heartless in this game are much smarter than their predecessors. Not only do they come in vast numbers and gang up one you, but a grand majority of the regular Heartless (not the bosses) have anywhere from 2 to 4 health bars. You will soon find yourself adopting a "hit and run" strategy, especially in the missions where you fight alone. It is almost kind of sad that the 5 Organization members of castle oblivion are short lived. As far as I remember the only time they assist you (or don't) is in the tutorial missions. You will soon figure out that most of your missions will be with Axel or Xion. With the occasional other member thrown in. however, the game does make up for this with Mission Mode, and I will get into that later. When it comes to difficult combat in the series, this game takes the cake. I remember I was only about a half hour into the game and I was surrounded by 7 Possessor Heartless who leeched onto me and sapped away my HP while Axel sat there picking his nose. I died exactly 8 times before killing them all off. According to the strategy guide, the game will insult you as well. If you chose Standard or Proud mode and you die too many times in one mission, the game will finally ask you if you would like to lower the difficulty level. One thing you may find yourself hardly ever using is the magic. As there is no surefire way to ensure your spells will hit the target, you will find yourself easily frustrated as a precious fire or blizzard spell floats right past your target. Unless you can master your aim, you'd be better off saving valuable panel room by just avoiding magic altogether. However, some missions require you have magic to complete them 100%. So I would say equip it for the mission, then un-equip it after.

The game progression is based off a series of missions. In order to move the story along, you must only do the mission marked with a keyblade and then choose "advance" to move on. However, moving on too quickly can result in an early and easy death. It is highly recommended that you at least try to do every mission Saïx has available for you before progressing. The game progression goes by days. Each time you do a mission another day goes by. This will continue until you reach 358. I am on day 93. This is not completely linear though. Sometimes a cutscene goes over a many day period. There is one instance where Roxas faints and stays asleep for 3 weeks time. On another instance the games skips from day 57 to day 93 without any explanation in between. The game offers you the choice to go back and redo missions you've already done, in case you may have missed something. You can only do this from the Organization castle. But that's not the only thing. Equipping panels, game configuration, saving your progress, and viewing your diary are all limited to inside the castle. These are all things you cannot do while on the field in a mission. Speaking of on the field, I forgot to mention that you are limited to haw many items you can pick up while on a mission. In the beginning, Roxas can only pick up 5 at a time. In order to pick up more you must equip a backpack panel to your level grid.

As for the cutscenes and graphics, they are as good as they are gunna get for a DS system. You will soon find that most of the cutscenes consist of text boxes and you will be doing a lot of reading. Very few cutscenes have voices. Hardly any.

Now let me talk about mission mode. On the title screen you get 2 choices. These are Story Mode, and Mission Mode. Mission Mode allows you to go through and replay any of the missions you have unlocked in Story Mode in an attempt to earn points and crowns which you can later trade into to Moogle Shop for prizes. But that's not all. Here's the bonus. Mission Mode allows you to playa s any one of the 13 Organization XIII members. And just as Roxas' keyblae changes its looks with new panels, so does the other Organization Members weapons. Many people hated that Marliuxia had a pink scythe. Well, just switch a few panels and presto! Really cool looking blue scythe with extra spikes coming out of the top. Again, that's not all. As the game progresses there are 6 characters you can unlock for mission mode by accomplishing certain tasks in story mode. These characters include Sora, Donald, Goofy, King Mickey, Riku, and Xion.

I know it felt like I had a lot of complaints, but the game is not all bad. Once you get the hang of it the game is pretty easy to handle. The biggest issue is getting the hang of it. The game is rated E10+ for a reason. Not just because of the fantasy violence and dark storyline, but also because there's no way in hell anyone less than 10 years of age is going to understand how to play it. They would die within the first 10 minutes. The game itself however, is very fun. The story is deep and intriguing. The characters are loveable. The game play is challenging enough that you won't rush through it in a day, but not so challenging that you give up. The panel system, annoying as it may be, is also another way of testing a true RPG gamer's skills at strategy. And the Mission system promises a lengthy game time aside form the main storyline.

Regardless of the few minor annoyances, this game quickly becomes very addicting like the rest of them. But unlike the rest of them, this one presses you to move forward and try hard, rather than just handing the victory to you like the other's did. But then again that could just be my gameplay skills. I actually seem to have forgotten what it was like the first time I ever played any of them. But I do recall there hasn't been a single Kingdom Hearts game where I haven't dies at least 3 times my first time through the story. Overall though, this is a very good game that will force you to place everything you know about strategy games on the line and then some. As it is not all fighting. Sometimes you must sneak past characters or follow them, keeping them in your line of vision, but staying out of theirs. There are also missions that require you to investigate new areas, and others that require you to collect emblems. Another good thing about this game is the worlds. While there are very few worlds, consisting only of The World That Never Was, Twilight Town, Agrabah, Beast's Castle, Halloween Town, Olympus Coliseum, Wonderland, and Neverland, these worlds are mainly repeats of their KH and KH2 counterparts to an extent. Many of them contain extra areas and remade versions of old areas to explore. For example, Beast's Castle consists entirely of everything it does in KH2, plus a secret hallway leading from the courtyard that allows you to drop down into the main entrance hallway from a hole in the ceiling. Also, with Agrabah, it looks and feels almost the same as the Agrabah in KH1, with the exception of the Cave of Wonders, which is absolutely nothing like it is in the first 2 games. Also, the music. I always have and always will love the music in the Kingdom Hearts games, which is why I downloaded the soundtracks. Even though most of the world music is recycled from the first 2 games, there are a few new musical tracks for the game itself, along with a brand new theme and battle music for Neverland.

Like I said before, the cons I mentioned earlier are only minor setbacks to an overall extraordinary game. Do not let the confusing controls scare you, at first it may seem like hell, but after awhile you find yourself getting really into it. You may find that the controls are actually less complex than the PS2.

Overall I'd say this game deserves an 8/10 rating and is absolutely a must-have for any Kingdom Hearts fan, especially those wishing to fill in the blanks of the story.

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