Now I know that not many people like to credit the Kingdom Hearts side games, as much as they would the mainline games of the original and Kingdom Hearts II, as they are the games in the spotlight the most on a main platform as the PlayStation 2 at the time. In my past reviews for the series, I’ve covered how the first “side game” to be released, had no one even recognizing it initially. This game was on my radar after years of enjoying the PS2 titles, and I was focused on it for having the ability to play as the villains of KH II, Organization XIII themselves, with a story focused straight on Roxas and his life, filling in the blanks for him from his inception near the end of the first game, all the way to the beginning of II.
SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL GAME, CHAIN OF MEMORIES, AND THIS GAME IN ITS ENTIRETY!
Now most people would probably ask what there is to even cover, and there are some tidbits, but it mostly serves as a backstory to Roxas, making him a much more tragic character if you take these events into account and upto II. The game would take place over the year gap in the timeline, and it would be called: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Yes that title looks dumb, and it’s pronounced: “Kingdom Hearts: three hundred fifty eight over two days”, hopefully that will help, as I know many people ask about that.. But what kind of tragic story could there be to tell about Roxas? Sure, in the end he was already tied to Sora and had to make his sacrifice for the good of the entire realm of light, but this story is written more personally, and I think is done well because of that. This was a story actually written by the director of the series: Tetsuya Nomura, and it does really help make you feel for the character who supposedly has no heart to begin with. It starts off making sure Roxas and Axel were acquainted at the beginning of his life, and establishes a semblance of a friendship in this way that can come off awkward, because well… They have no idea what that feels like with no heart of their own, but they bond by eating sea salt ice cream on the clock tower of Twilight Town, after every day filled with work from the organization they work for. This is about the structure of the game and story, doing missions each day, and then ending it at the clock tower and eat some ice cream. It creates this dynamic that feels like everyday life, and with these two bonding closer and closer, and as you think back to KH II, well… now you get why Axel was so determined to keep Roxas alive, they were genuine friends.
It only adds to as there is a new member introduced near the beginning of the game, no. XIV, Xion. Once Axel leaves with around half of the Organization members for Chain of Memories events to take place, Roxas begins to grow close to Xion, as she soon opens upto him and even forms another friendship, and with time passing as she is revealed to have a Keyblade of her own with Roxas, on top of even looking like a black haired Kairi, and we all know Axel didn’t die in Chain of Memories, so he eventually comes back and also becomes a friend of Xion’s. So fair to say that there is a decent amount of plot going on, and as it progresses you go to a mix of Disney worlds from the first game and II, with only some slight layout differences. But as the story continues on, Roxas ends up discovering just how much information the Organization is keeping from Roxas, and even from Xion too about her origins, and you end up over time seeing these friends fall apart through all the manipulation, with Axel trying to stay friends to both of them, while knowing plenty and keeping it from them. It just gets deep as eventually even Riku shows up in the story and interjects as he is trying to wake Sora from his sleep soon, with issues arising from Roxas and even Xion due to her connections to both Roxas and even Sora, taking the form she does due to Sora’s strongest memories being of Kairi, the 7th princess herself. It adds onto the story of Kingdom Hearts, showing just how much sacrifice is even done, all to end with Xion forcing Roxas to take her life, due to both being a replica made by Vexen in almost the same vein as the Riku replica from Chain of Memories, and taking so much power from Roxas and Sora through the memories she absorbed. It was a choice she made for the ultimate good of things, which is pretty shit given how much was out of her control, just like Roxas eventually when II begins. With his memories of what life he DID have being completely gone, and having no choice at all himself in what his eventual destiny means for him. This game, is ultimately why so many Kingdom Hearts fans got invested, it was because of how much these games hold your heart hostage over the heart wrenching stories and tragedies. I know, tragedy, in a game where Mickey Mouse wears an anime esq hood with a game face and giant fucking key, it’s hard to imagine.
Now, this is a game after all, what are we looking at here? Well, its a mission structured Kingdom Hearts experience, you visit worlds from the original game and II with slight variations in their level structure itself. But, the best thing is how much this game’s combat is a mix of the original Kingdom Hearts and II in ways, you got a traditional command menu, none of that card bullshit, but magic in this game are simple single casts when equipped, that can only be refilled with items. What makes the magic a bit interesting in this game, is each tier up has its own attributes and are meant to be used in different ways, and even in tangent together. In addition, you have the limit-break ability, where if your HP gets low enough, you can go at it with an attack that can feel like breaking out a limit from II. With all this combined, original abilities making a return with a few new ones for mobility, and a relatively alright looking DS title, this game can be a joy to play. At the end of the day, its the classic KH formula, on the go! It looks great for the system, plays great, performs great, and has all the worlds you have enjoyed from the original game and II. Some worlds may be… slightly tweaked with rooms taken away and added in to compensate as you are after all a part of the Organization, so you don’t interact with any Disney characters in the worlds.
What can hinder this game, however, are a few things, such as the mission structure IF you are trying to marathon this game, don’t even THINK about trying to beat this game in preparation for III on the 29th, you will regret it FAST. I enjoyed this game as a kid, and still can, in increments. This game was released at a time when KH has few entries at the time, and as a kid with time after schoolwork, it was a good time, when you take your time. I ended up probably beating it well over a few months, and only went back to unlock the extra mission mode characters being King Mickey and Sora. In addition, if you have the right gear, you can even be dual wield Roxas for them as well, which can be admittedly fun. His dual-wielding this game can also use magic AND block, take some notes Sora, you and your baggy ass clothes! The mission variety can be a little tedious if you play this game back to back so much, there are “fitness” exams that are more so platforming challenges to collect as many emblems in the level as possible, and close to each other to rank high. There are also investigation missions where you… Examine the world in its entirety, which I got no defense for, those missions are a little bit stupid. Then there are missions where you follow someone and try to not get caught, or sneak around world inhabitants, which can be just as annoying. This is only just a small portion of the many missions that are more so focused on heartless being hunted and taken down, focusing on the combat of the series, which is its strong suit for gameplay. Each day of 365 can just add up how many missions you have available to you, and by all means, its a lot of content, but… dear lord can it also be too much.
However, the biggest issue I say the game has is how it handles inventory and equipment management. It.. for some reason is the only aspect this game HEAVILY experiments with, and for the worse, as you have a grid of slots where you install panels, which can take up 1 to 8, maybe 9 slots. The issue is, that these panels are uniquely shaped, and you have to somehow make your abilities, backpack, items, accessory(being a single ring), weapon, magic spells, AND LEVELS ALL FIT TOGETHER AND EFFECTIVELY TAKE UP THE ENTIRE SPACE ALLOCATED TO YOU! To make it simple, it’s like playing Tetris for all essential RPG stat, inventory, and ability management in full, just so you can be on the edge. Its flat out tedious, and no one can argue for this system, it would have been better in the end if it was structured more like traditional Kingdom Hearts, you just have a magic meter, you have slots for items that grow over time, you equip abilities with AP, etcetera. I mean, just look at this, multiple pages too can be made eventually to house all these panels that you use for stats, which… is tedious, especially with level ups.
As inventory and stat management may not be so awesome, and the mission structure may be tedious, there is no denying I wasn’t enjoying the music and setup as things went on. Most of the music is slightly altered compositions of past themes, while there are still plenty of original songs in the game. I’m not quite as cynical as others can be towards the eating ice cream dynamic as I find it as more so a part of life for them, and the piece accompanying it “At Dusk, I Will Think of You” just makes the bonding moments all the more heart-warming and endearing to me. In Neverland’s case, I absolutely loved my time as it was not quite on the main island, but in more open areas to utilize the flying mechanics to their fullest, along with an amazing overworld theme “Secret of Neverland” and the battle theme “Crossing to Neverland” easily capturing my favorite tone for the world itself in the whole series. But my favorite pieces revolve around the new character of the game Xion, not only is she built up into this friend to Roxas and even Axel, but she becomes one of the most tragic characters in the entire series, to not try and spoil anything. Her theme “Musique pour la Tristesse de Xion” makes me tear up(players should know why), and the battle theme against her being one of my all-time FAVORITE pieces Yoko Shimomura composed “Vector to the Heavens“. That boss theme, will not only make me wanna cry, but has so much emotion in it, and epicness, it properly sets the stage for the tragedy this game unfolds before you.
In the end, can I recommend this game to someone who wants to start with Kingdom Hearts? Well, no, you definitely need to be a fan to enjoy this game. But can I recommend it to those that even just played the original game and II? Well, yes. I think this game does enough to be engaging, even with some of its downfalls, yes there are some weird additions wholeheartedly, but it has a fantastic story, and at the core of it all, it is Kingdom Hearts as you enjoy it back on the PS2-er… PS4 these days. You can check out the cutscenes for it on the collection for PS3 and 4, but it doesn’t quite do the same justice as playing through the game itself, if you want to play it, you will need a Nintendo DS or 3DS, with a copy of the game. If you can get 3 others with copies of the games and DS systems too, you can do mission mode up to a party of 4, either competitive or cooperatively, and it’s a fun time. Thanks to my best friend, I got to experience this in my high school years and every now and again when we feel like it, I promise, that if you’re just looking for a good time, this game can deliver, even despite its flaws. Here’s to a new year! Now Birth By Sleep is done on my channel and a review in the works, all that is left is Dream Drop Distance and 0.2 done before III comes out…