Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, owning one of the most awkward titles to say in gaming history, follows the story of Roxas during his time spent with Organization XIII and may as well have been named “Organization XIII is awesome!”  Which would have been a much better name as the announcer who called me about the release would not have stumbled over the title, and it gives you a very clear picture of what sort of game you are going to get, i.e., a game about how awesome Organization XIII is.

The game starts with Roxas being introduced to life at the Organization, putting you through a typical “how to play the game” training session, sponsored by the members that are going to be offed less than half an hour into the game.  Besides, most of them spend the entire time being complete bastards towards Roxas, probably so you don’t become too attached to them.  Once most of the jerks are out of the way, the game introduces Xion.  Oh look, we’re satisfying the criteria for potential love interest!  Check!  And the next ten hours of game play are rather peaceful.  You send Roxas out on missions to various Disney worlds, occasionally with another member of the Organization tagging along for the ride (my money is on Luxord was switching missions so he could follow Roxas to Wonderland frequently; all those cards…).  In between missions, Axel, Roxas, and Xion hang out and eat ice cream.  It’s only a matter of time before that gets boring and one of them becomes a third wheel, so Xion conveniently goes missing.  This causes Roxas much anxiety, and gives Axel plenty of time to play the part of the jealous boyfriend as Roxas longs after Xion instead of paying attention to the friend that’s sitting right next to him.
As it turns out, she’s been running out with Riku, whose motives for staying with her are unclear, since as long as she’s alive, Sora won’t be able to wake up.  Well, considering she’s Sora’s memories in a female body, technically it’s the closest he’s ever going to get to being with Sora in this game series.  Even the way Roxas, Axel and Saix talks about it makes it seem like Riku and Xion are dating, since Roxas cannot see any reason why she would want to be with him.  Although, this coupling is frowned upon by the game itself, since Roxas is convinced that Riku is forcing her to be with him.  Apparently even having Sora in a girl’s body is still too gay for this game, and poor Axel is sent off to kidnap Xion, bring her back to the castle and restore the heterosexual norm.  No wonder he always complains about being given the icky jobs.  Accordingly, to the game, Roxas/Xion is preferable to Riku/Xion as Roxas/Xion is some strange type of masturbation, and since, she mostly sports Kairi’s face, that is much preferable to the homoerotic undertones of Riku/Xion.

More missions occur, Xion runs away again, Axel fails to bring her back twice (that’s right Axel, you fight that heteronormativity!), and we end with the final boss fight between Riku and Roxas that starts Kingdom Hearts II and plummets Riku into the angst-inducing Ansem form.  The end leaves you wondering whether the game was supposed to be about Roxas, heteronormativity, Riku’s descent into darkness, Organization XIII is awesome or some odd combination of all of the above.

The problem with the main draw of the game, Organization XIII is awesome, is that these are not the Organization XIII members we learned to love in Re:Com and Kingdom Hearts II.  For the most part, they’re cardboard cutouts with the same name, face and basic attributes.  They’ve been peeled, boiled, and mashed down until they only have one flavor left, presumably the one that they’re associated with the most.  Xemnas becomes the cold, callous leader (did you see the way he picked up Xion when Axel passed out?) who couldn’t actually care less about his subordinates and doesn’t even bother to show up for a decent majority of the game.  Xigbar becomes the joker of the group, giving people nicknames (Flamielocks) and cracking jokes about people in Agrabah playing beach volleyball.  Xaldin spends most of the game planning his big stunt in the Beast’s castle, so I suppose I should be grateful that they couldn’t butcher his character too much.  Vexen, though short in appearance, was instantly classified as the mad scientist.  But, wait, I thought the original six were all scientists?  Well, that may be so, but only Vexen was  a mad scientist because he had that creepy ass laugh in the Japanese version of Re:Com.  Laxaeus became a giant, silent, ogre who dwarves Roxas to the point where the poor boy only comes up to his crotch, and he apparently likes to solve all problems by beating the shit out of them.  Zexion, thankfully, did not become the poster boy for emo child, but all I got from him was a general feeling of disdain towards me.  I would have preferred emo-boy to the personality-less blob that taught me how to use magic.

Onto the second half of the Organization, starting with Saix, who apparently wants nothing more than to run the Organization for Xemnas.  On that one day of vacation, one has to wonder if he was already planning out the missions for the next week, as his only personality trait is to boss around the rest of the Organization.  Axel, one of the few characters to be granted more than one side to his personality, couldn’t seem to decide whether he was Saix’s assassin or Roxas best friend, which ultimately fell flat at rounding out the character since that was never resolved in game and the friendship between Saix and Axel seems forced only for the sake of the plot device.  Axel seems to spend half the game wondering if he should be blowing Saix or going off to screw Roxas, and several scenes make it quite clear that idea of blowing Saix is becoming quite detestable and he would much rather be off screwing Roxas.  However, for some damn reason he still hangs around Saix as if he’s waiting for Saix to finally pay him back and get on his knees for him, but Saix is too busy running the day to day business of the Organization to even realize that Axel is no longer satisfied with the relationship.  Thankfully, Axel has two other full games in which he has a complete personality, so we’ll forgive them for this one.  Demyx became identified by his laziness, doing nothing on missions with you and generally complaining about work.  What happened to badass Demyx that got pissed off at Roxas for being a traitor and ended up making my life miserable as I tried to beat his pansy ass into the ground multiple times?  Gone is Luxord’s purple prose and high levels of intelligence to be replaced by a flimsy cutout whose lines quickly become repetitive.  Granted, most of it still goes over Roxas’ head, but variety is the spice of life.  Would it have been so difficult to have one conversation with him that suggests the intelligence level we saw in Kingdom Hearts II?  Most likely.  A lot of this bastardization boils down to the game developers being lazy.  (This is also my reasoning as to why the Pride Lands are not included in 358 Days, as they would not want to spend the time designing lion forms for all of them.  Click here for awesome concept art.  Next, we have Marluxia, who I don’t really remember many lines of; all I remember is wondering why the hell he wasn’t helping me fight in that early mission and why was he so significantly debadassed?  Finally, poor, poor Larxene, who got boiled down to nothing more than a sadistic bitch, who apparently spends most of her time off screen picking on Demyx.  In a way, the system works though, as the cardboard cutouts remind you of how awesome they were in Re:Com or Kingdom Hearts II so you fall in love with them all over again.

At one point in the game, I decided Luxord was too smug a bastard not to be getting laid, and spent the next 20 hours or so of gameplay trying to figure out who it was.  The Castle Oblivion team was out since they had been missing for most of the game to warrant Luxord still being so smug on Day 252.  Roxas was too concerned about Xion to realize Axel was practically humping him, and besides, Luxord seemed a little hurt that the upper ranks were keeping secrets from them, well, at least as hurt as a heartless cardboard cutout can be.  The only superiors who knew about Xion’s true identity were Saix, Axel, Xigbar and Xemnas.  Saix is clearly too busy running the Organization to be getting laid, Axel was suffering from a crisis trying to decide who he wanted to fuck, and Xemnas is conveniently missing for most of the game, presumably smoking some illegal substances in the basement or something and only popping up from time to time to make Roxas’ excuse for a life more miserable.  Which really only leaves Xigbar.  Besides, Xigbar attempts to get Roxas laid by telling him to beef up so the girl(s) like him more, to which I say, what girls Xigbar?  Xion has no gender identity, and Larxene is gone.  But, he’s sharing tips from presumably personal experience, so it’s possible that he’s getting laid as well. So there you have it.  Apparently, through process of elimination, I ship Luxord/Xigbar.

The main side feature to the game is mission mode, which not only allows you to play with your friends, either working as a team or beating the shit out of each other as you try to complete your missions (not very much unlike how certain Organization members would behave if forced to pair up with each other), but allows you to play as any Organization XIII member you desire, as well as a few unlockable characters.  Obviously, people are going to frequently use characters whose fighting styles agree with them. For example, I’m sure plenty of people who prefer magic make good use of Zexion, Demyx and Larxene, but as that is not my style, I used Larxene once and gave up on any one who had low strength and high magic.  I prefer the quick and hard approach, which usually leaves me playing as Roxas, Riku, Saix, or occasionally Marluxia if I feel like some good aerial combos.  Those who hate themselves always have the option of playing as Laxaeus while chasing around Deserters and just when you’ve finally whittled it down to just one left, the DS battery dies, spiraling you into a homicidal rage.  The other character to leave me feeling like that in mission mode is Xigbar, who for whatever reason refuses to aim downwards and kept getting eaten alive by the smallest enemies in the game.  What’s the point of attacking fast if you can’t even hit the damn things?  Every so often I cave and play as Luxord, but I can’t quite seem to get his cards to work as well for me as they do for him in game, even though they never work quite as magnificently as they do in Kingdom Hearts II.

Which brings me to the final point, the sad reduction of badassness displayed by the Organization and the other characters.  Duel-wielding Roxas is strangely lacking in game mode.  Xemnas doesn’t do anything.  Quite frankly, about half of the Organization members don’t do anything anymore.  (When did Xaldin stop going on missions with me? ;-;)  Why can’t Luxord use his cards to make all those annoying little heartless disappear?

Over all, there are definitely worse ways to spend 25 hours of gameplay, and for what the game is worth (a little side story about how cool Organization XIII is) it succeeds and is actually quite enjoyable.

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