Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is 7300/2 Days old
"Friends eat ice-cream together, and talk and laugh about the stupidest things."
Square-Enix and Disney brought their entirely comprehensible Kingdom Hearts series to the Nintendo DS ten years ago to the day. And Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days with its repetitive, inarguably tedious gameplay was roundly met with jeers and projectile-throwing, condemning it to the figurative "disappointing handheld spin-off" bin alongside those weird Final Fantasy XII and Valkyrie Profile efforts nobody remembers. Revenant Wings? Eh, mate? Eh?
The secret truth behind 358/2 Days is that it's an absolute triumph of a game; a fascinating, mind-expanding fusion of gameplay and narrative. It is. Yes, it's an uninspired slog through the same worlds over and over again, doing the same not-very-interesting things to a developing sense of pervasive ennui. That makes it sound very bad indeed. But consider the story!
You play as Roxas, member of the mysterious Organization XIII, tasked by second-in-command Saix to gather Hearts for nebulous, ill-defined purposes. Roxas is frustrated, bored and irritated, but gets on with it anyway. And so does the player. Roxas repeats the same tasks over and over again for the most minor, incremental rewards. And so does the player. Neither you nor Roxas really knows what's going on. You both do as you're told, because it's all that there is to do. Your journey and Roxas' are irrevocably linked thematically, by characterisation, by narrative, by gameplay. It's astonishing once it clicks.
Then, as the game nears its end and Roxas' frustration peaks, the ritual begins to break down. The repetition is suddenly, shockingly arrested. And it's a jarring gut-punch in the vein of - yes - Spec Ops: The Line. I refuse to spoil 358/2 Days but its denouement is stunningly effective and frankly devastating. It's a perfect collision of narrative and metanarrative, with a specific moment of sheer horror that - to my ceaseless confusion - is only ever raised by the gaming community as the subject of mockery.
Don't you see, you fools? Of course it's an absurd thing for Roxas to say, but it's the only thing he understands! His entire concept of love and friendship boil down to that that insipid little routine! You weep for him because while he feels heartbreak and loss he is unable to express his pain in any other way! It's brilliant, you imbeciles! Why!? Why don't you get it?!? (Nurse! The screens! - Ed)