It is a rare accomplishment to meet the quality and expectations of a console title within the confines of a handheld system. While developers have improved on their ability to create for the handheld in the last five years with successful titles on the PS Vita (Gravity Rush, Assassin’s Creed Liberation), 3DS (Animal Crossing New Leaf, Fire Emblem Awakening) and even the original PSP (Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker), successful portable outings often are the exception that proves the rule: handheld games are often restricted by their medium.
Which is why I find a game like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days so compelling. The game is nearly four years old and was launched towards the end of the DS’s reign as handheld king. It is a pretty game to look at, especially considering the hardware limitations of the DS and has all the mechanics you would expect from a Kingdom Hearts game.
But it is just so hamstrung in ways that only affect portable games.
When I purchased the original PSP years ago, one of the first titles I owned was a portable version of Dynasty Warriors. For the most part it was the same type of run around, slashing every enemy on the screen. But when the enemies disappeared and I approached the edge of the visible area, I was taken to a grid view of the battle map to select my next area. No traversing across fields defeating peons, just slash, interrupt, slash some more, get interrupted again. It is difficult to maintain immersion by constantly battling the constraints of a console.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, despite its best effort to give Roxas a compelling story about his time within Organization XIII is stuck being a handheld game. You get to fight a good amount of Heartless on a number of different worlds but the maps are so utterly small that you are constantly reminded of the DS’s underpowered nature. Further reminding you that the DS lacks the firepower to properly run the game, Roxas constantly revisits the same handful of areas to tackle the same amount of repetitive missions.
I almost can see why Square Enix chose to include 358/2 Days as cutscenes only in their Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMix. But ultimately, the gameplay and story outshine the quirky limitations of the DS. Roxas, while not my favorite character in the Kingdom Hearts universe, is a central figure that has earned a story. The combat in 358/2 Days feels right and there is a ton of customization that is unique to this game alone.
Like Re: Chain of Memories and Re:Coded, 358/2 Days exists not as a console game shoved into a handheld, but rather as another medium to further explore the world, with glimmers of the magic that make Kingdom Hearts compelling. So as long as I can stomach the grindy, repetitive nature of the game, 358/2 Days is a fine example of how handheld gaming can provide a different perspective on an established property.