Kingdom Hearts series is a cross over between Square Enix games like Final Fantasy and the Disney franchise. The series was created by Tetsuya Nomura back in 2002 who pitched the idea to Disney. It is now one of the most popular RPG franchises that Square Enix owns along with Final Fantasy. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a prequel to Kingdom Hearts 2 and was developed by The World Ends With You developers H.A.N.D in collaboration with Disney.This is the first game in the series that does not have the main protagonist Sora as it’s a spin off. It features a prominent series character Roxas. Roxas is a “nobody”, someone whose heart was taken and soul has gone missing. He is one of the newest initiates in the mysterious Organization XII. Events in the game take place between the events of Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2.The controls feel good and responsive and it works for a different type of console outside of the PlayStation consoles. The graphics and visuals of the game are exceptional quality. In particular, the CGI opening cutscene of the game was superbly done and highly detailed. The graphics looks a lot like the original games back in its home Sony consoles. The art style is a mixture of Tetsuya Nomura’s personal art style and the art style of Disney during the time they were making hand drawn films. It is creative and the two styles blends in seamlessly and it looks original and refreshing. I also liked the character designs as well.The worlds for a Nintendo DS game are pretty large and nicely detailed and it’s a faithful recreation of the original Disney films. The Disney characters as well remain true to their original selves. There are a variety of worlds to explore in the game such as Halloween Town, Agrabah, Wonderland, Neverland, Beast’s Castle and Twilight Town. It is pretty open ended and the 3D backgrounds for each world does its best to be as detailed as possible despite the console limitations at the time in 2009. There are also new areas to explore in the game that were not in the previous versions.The games voice acting is really good and some of the Disney voice actors reprise their roles for their respective characters, like Wayne Allwine before he died, this was one of his final roles as Mickey Mouse. Most of the game in the series is mainly told through dialogue boxes. Each game in the series mixes in hack and slash with JRPG elements. In the series, you use a special sword called the Keyblade. Keyblades are the main weapons used in the series and it’s the most effective weapon against the heartless. Keyblades are also used to open up magical barriers and hidden locations in the world. With the Keyblade, you can also block and deflect projectiles back to the enemy.You can unlock different kinds of spells and Keyblades as you progress. Each new Keyblade you discover has its own magical abilities and ways to use it. Besides Keyblades, when you play as other characters they have their own fighting styles and weapons such as one member Luxord using magical playing cards per his nature as a gambler and luck. Magic is another thing you can utilize in combat where you can set enemies on fire, strike them with lighting or use freeze attacks.You can lock onto enemies one at a time while in combat. Killing chains of enemies will earn you a new form of currency exclusive to the game heart points which is used for purchasing certain kinds of items in the Moogle Shop.The higher the chain, the more heart points you earn which is useful. Depending on the mission you are in, you are also able to fight alongside with a partner such as Xion or Axel. You can change the behavior of your partner during combat either to provide support, recovery or no support as well. You can also change who to target, either the same or different enemy you are fighting or none.The game introduces a new feature called the panel system where you can be able to insert certain items to utilize different kinds of abilities, items and weapons. You can be able to customize your own play style by equipping different kinds of items in the slots. One ability is you can jump twice and this enables you to dash in midair or dodge roll which is fun to utilize whenever you are in a sticky situation. This also encourages you to experiment with what you are going to bring to the field during missions, and think about how are you going to be prepared for certain events in the game. Later on in the game, you can be able to purchase the ability to dual wield Keyblades.You can customize your Keyblades and wear special rings through the panel system by mixing and matching different kinds of skill gauges in the slot which gives you and your weapon various different bonuses and status increases. Link panels are another form of sub panels where you can also bring more than one compatible panel used to cast either more spells or raise either weapons or abilities stats up as well.Limit break occurs when you are dangerously low on health and when summoned, you can use a series of powerful strikes on any enemy for a short time. This is a handy feature but it can be only used for a certain number of times. Once it runs out and you get hit, you are going to be killed. However, it can be increased by finding the right items as you progress.There are a wide variety weapons to choose from. Each world the player visits has its own form of enemies exclusive to that area, both new and returning ones from previous games in the series. The fights are challenging but fair. Fights are fast paced and you have to vary your strategy for each fight you as enemies will change tactics and you have to customize Roxas’ abilities and weapons from time to time. Enemies have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves so each fight never feels the same.The enemies you fight in the series are known as the heartless manifestations of those whose hearts have been corrupted by darkness. Each location in the game has its own types of Heartless, in Halloween Town they are ghosts. A Nobody is someone whose heart is still strong enough that they are not fully corrupted but their soul and heart is still missing and are a more darker manifestation of themselves. Many of them don’t really have any recollection of their previous lives. Roxas thinks he is really doing a good deeds along with his close friends Axel and Xion but the situation itself can become blurred into shades of grey with missions becoming murky.The story of the series is complicated but still fairly easy to follow. It is highly recommended to play through the previous games in the series or read up about the history online as you are expected to know some of what has transpired before. The story of the games is emotionally driven and the story itself gets more somber and the stakes increase as it progresses.It introduces more of the backstory of Organization XII, a recurring group in the Kingdom Hearts lore and the inner workings behind them. In addition to expanding upon the lore of the series, the game gives more context to who Roxas is and more about his past after he was introduced in Kingdom Hearts 2. Organization XIII is a mysterious group of “Nobodies” whose main goal is to reclaim their stolen hearts which would return their original souls. You work with different members of the organization to achieve their goals even though it is not really clear what those goals are.The series is very notable for showing the battle between the light and darkness and there is little middle ground between sides. In this game, you fight for the side of darkness which is a pretty interesting concept and it also expands more about the side of darkness as well. It also shows the Disney characters on what they were doing between the events of Kingdom Hearts Chain Of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2. It provides some additional backstory on what they were doing at that time.As you rise through the ranks, missions become way more challenging and you are able to get more bonuses as well, like new shop items. Sometimes you can be able to skip a certain amount of days creating a time jump so you can go to another week of missions after completing a certain number of parameters from previous mandatory missions. You can play missions at your pace and choose which ones you want to take, along with ones that are mandatory for progressing the story. This permits the player some flexibility on how they want to progress through the game. The game is not open road.Character development is really good and you learn more about the true goals of Organization XII. and the dark secrets they hide. Roxas and his friends begin to question who they really are. Roxas later on decides to go on his own rather than be a tool of a powerful organization. You also learn more about who Roxas really is, his mysterious past and his connection to the events from the main games. He is more low key and quiet compared to the upbeat and always helpful Sora. Roxas in many ways is different than Sora, the series main protagonist. Roxas is more ill tempered, less gullible and thinks before he acts. He is clearly out for himself and is somewhat aloof. Yet at the same time he shares many similarities too such as loyalty towards his close friends. He can be considered to be a darker version of Sora as a Nobody.Axel is friendlier, laid back and easy going in contrast to his somber and serious associates in the organization. He shows Roxas the ropes and more about life in general as Roxas’s routine consist mainly of doing missions for the organization and resting afterwards. Xion in particular is a brooding and introverted girl who rarely speaks and she grows to be quite close with Axel and Roxas especially. There are moments in the game where she often questions who she really is and if wonders if she actually exist.Roxas, Axel and Xion spend their end of the days eating sea salt ice cream bars and joking around at the top of the clock tower and the moments like these oasis of tranquility in an otherwise hectic existence. They have great chemistry with each other and the bond they have with each other is deep and engaging from start to finish.The game has pretty tragic moments as well. Deaths are really sad and the impact they have leaves a strong impression on the player especially a certain character later on in the game. The series covers many themes from friendship, existence, loss and who is it you really are. It is played off in a subtle yet fascinating fashion seeing how these nobodies form human like emotions and try to set off on their own paths in life. Those who are considered to be “Nobodies” don’t have any real memories of their past lives or they probably never had any life to begin with.Each of the cutscenes in the game were quite dramatic and it felt very much like an anime and the way events are set up feels like something big is really going to happen. Dialogue is admittedly quirky and awkward at times but it is played off in a way that it can be entertaining and funny. For veteran players of the series, there is multiple references and callbacks to the previous games and other Disney and Square Enix products released at the time. It is recommended to play the entire missions in order to get a much clearer understanding of the story in this game.The story by itself as a spin off from the mainline series is really great overall and it feels complete from start to finish. There are many kinds of missions to take part in from espionage, hunting down powerful heartless, gathering items such as heart points, smashing a certain number of pots and exploring new worlds where you can investigate each Disney location you enter.Each day you take part in different kinds of missions so for the most part, gameplay never really gets repetitive. There are parts of the mission where problem solving is required as well. At one point of the game, you have to answer questions in a mini quiz. At another, you have to use fire spells or explosives to light up candles in Halloween Town in order to get doors open or moving the pillars with the Keyblade to the right place in order to access the castle of the beast.Some missions also have stealth sections where you have to get past an enemy undetected or follow them without being noticed. It is not game over if you get caught, you can try again countless times until you make it through. When you completed the main goal, you can return to the castle at any time you wish or continue on exploring to complete whatever sub objectives the mission may have.Each mission also has multitude of rewards at the end of its completion from potions to items that can be used for crafting.The story is really long with about 30 hours and things are unfolding day by day.In terms of replay value, there is a lot of stuff to do from collecting items that you may have missed, through hollow missions where you can replay each day you went through. Once you do complete missions you can go to mission mode to play as any member of Organization XII; each with their own weapons and battle styles and special abilities and even unlock hidden characters such as Sora or Mickey.Challenge mode, which is modified versions of the regular missions, is there where you can also play as any member of Organization XII, play through different kinds of challenges such as survival or using limited amount of items and taking as little damage as possible. Enemies are more powerful as well. Once you complete the challenge mode, you could unlock secret characters like Donald Duck or Goofy. In addition, you also earn emblems or mission crowns which you can use at the Moogle Shop to obtain a variety of special items you would normally not be able get in the game. When all are completed, you can even be able to access the best items the game has to offer. New to the game series is coop mode where you can invite 2 or 4 friends to play the challenge mode with you so you and your friends can have fun.The music in the game was composed by the series composer Yoko Shimomura. Despite the limitations of the DS console, the quality of the music and audio was surprisingly good. The remixes for the original Disney songs sound almost exactly like the original such as “This Is Halloween” to the point you can almost feel like you can sing along to the song. Much of the songs were recycled from previous games in order to be converted to a DS format but it is well done so it does not sound too bad.One of the most creative aspects of the game is its use of the dual screen with the map being on the bottom screen while the world you are exploring is at the top. Sometimes blurry flashback moments with Sora appear in the bottom screen. The touch screen allows you to move the camera around and you are able to change the control system to the more traditional ones in the previous Kingdom Hearts game but for the portable Ds system in case returning players want something more familiar. For the most part, the camera is comfortable and easy to use.To purchase stuff, the game uses an in game currency called munny which you can get from fallen enemies or smashed objects such as pots or crates. The Moogle Shop is a feature carried over from Final Fantasy to this series. You can also access crafting in the Moogle Shop where you can create a variety of different items and combine them to create more powerful spells or healing potions which can be really useful throughout your journey.Some items are exclusive to certain missions only so it is important to keep a close look as outside of the missions, it can be rare to find the item the player is looking for. You can read through a in game journal that shows Roxas’s inner thoughts on each day during the story and you can see the character development throughout the game. Secret reports are hidden journals of different members of the Organization in the game that you can earn once you complete a mission. These reports provide extra backstories to the world.There's also an enemy files list which details the many enemies you encounter, and very helpful tips on how to defeat them. It also shows the items they drop in case the player may need something from cash to crafting materials. Theater mode is another extra in the game where you can watch all of the cutscenes in game and in total its nearly 3 hours. The loading screens were only a couple of seconds and despite it being an old game, I did not encounter any glitches or bugs.The game has its share of downfalls. As mentioned earlier, you have to play the previous versions of the game or read up on the history of the previous games online in order to fully understand the story, as the game expects you to be fully up to date on all of the events that has happened so far. Otherwise, you will be confused a lot as characters are already fully established in the series.Other members of the organization do not really get focused on that much and are mainly there to show you around during the tutorials of the game. Only in the other games they get more focus on. As a bonus, sometimes they will occasionally give you items that you can use during your journey but you mainly see them in the castle instead of on the field for the most part.Boss fights are a hit or miss. Some of them were pretty creative such as the final boss in the game but some of the others were either simplistic and boring and can be annoying. Early on the game, one of the side bosses The Zip Slasher, who is powerful and quick and not recommended to fight at all if you are a new player and your character is under leveled, so you have to comeback at a higher level if you want to defeat the boss. Some of the other bosses feel like reskins of other bosses with little variation to attacks and tactics.The panel system while it was pretty interesting and fun to mess around with in the game can be very clunky to use. In just about every other RPG I have played from The World Ends With You to Nier Automata, you automatically level up with your stats increasing with it as well. In this game, you are very reliant on the panel system for equipping level ups, magic and equipping various equipment and items, instead of the other way around where it is in a separate inventory system. What makes matters more disorganized is that there is a slot limit as well. This means that you can only equip if you want to add a level up ability to the slot and its already full, you either are going to have to remove a certain number of items just to place one level up slot. This will make you micro manage a lot in the game.Thankfully, you can use ethers to restore your magic in the game and then you are able to increase the number of slots. You cannot move the camera whenever you are automatically locked onto an enemy so it makes it jump all over the place from time to time. In the previous games, there was a key part of the series where the heroes of Disney were also your allies to aid you on your quest. In this game, you merely observe the Disney characters going about their day to day business and how they are handling the events that happen within the story. To a certain extent, I can understand why Organization XIII and their agents have to operate within the shadows and secrecy is a must. But for longtime fans of the series, this is going to be disappointing because of the deeply reduced interactions between characters from Square Enix and Disney.Some of the previous games activities are missing such as the Gummi mini games and the recurring Olympus Coliseum only appears in some missions. In addition, you are not able to explore the worlds fully as well.There is an occasional continuity error while I was playing mission “Search for Xion” when I found her, she had her hood on at one point, her hood off the next and suddenly her hood reappears as well. Other cutscenes have this problem also.For my first time in the series I really liked it. Overall, Kingdom Heart 358/2 Days was a lot of fun and very entertaining. I highly recommend it.It gets 4 stars out of 5.If you are a Kingdom Hearts fan, then you are going to find a lot of enjoyment with this game. I am really interested in looking at the other games on the PS4 remaster and the conclusion to the Xenoheart saga in Kingdom Hearts 3.