I recently did a piece on how much the Kingdom Hearts series has changed my life, and it truly has, but when most people talk about the series, the big titles that come up are always Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts 2, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, and the occasional Chain of Memories. While I love these titles, I often find that my personal favorite is almost never mentioned. Of course I love all of the other games in the series as well, but Kingdom Hearts:358/2 Days always stood out to me as a growing gamer.
358/2 came out when I was in 5th grade, and lucky for me I had my DS Lite always around so I could play it as much as I wanted. After playing Kingdom Hearts 2 I was really intrigued by the Roxas character, I wanted to know more about him, and what exactly made him special. 358/2 did that for me, and on top of that it introduced me to the greater realm of Kingdom Hearts, as it did for many other players.
The game somehow managed to make nobodies- characters without hearts who supposedly have no emotions- incredibly well-rounded and complex characters, all of whom I ended up growing attached to in different ways. The companionship between Axel, Roxas, and Xion is undeniably one of the best in the series, arguably better than that of Sora, Riku, and Kairi and only beat out by Aqua, Terra, and Ventus. The love those characters share is clear, when Axel is sent to Castle Oblivion Roxas spends the entire time he's gone wishing that he'd come back. When Roxas heard the news that all members at Castle Oblivion had been eliminated, he clearly was beyond upset. Of course being nobodies emotions are beyond foreign to them, but it's still clear in how Roxas carries himself in the missions leading to Axel's return.
The game itself may not be perfect, but the friendship between Roxas, Axel, and Xion taught me a lot. We were first introduced to Axel in Chain of Memories, and got to see more of him in Kingdom Hearts 2, and by the end of that game Axel would prove himself to be a hero, even though he seemed like a massive jerk--but not a villain-- in Chain of Memories. The development his character received in 358/2 was phenomenal, he went from a character we knew bits and pieces about, to a character we cared deeply about. He clicked with Roxas almost instantly, and later Xion as well. Roxas was obviously the center of the story, and his character turned into someone you couldn't help but feel sorry for. The attachment he grows with Xion gets ripped away by the end of the game, and his realization about the Organization leads him to betray it.
Xion is by far one of the most intriguing characters in the series, let alone this game. She shows up seemingly out of nowhere after Roxas joins the organization. She, too, can wield a keyblade, and is member number XIV. She really grew on me as a player, as well as on Axel and Roxas. She was a character I couldn't help but just be fascinated by. All of the other characters included in the game we had seen before, be it in Kingdom Hearts 2 or Chain of Memories, but she was completely new. And with being completely new she still managed to become an incredibly well developed character for the short time she spent in the series. Her final scene is one that will always stay with me, watching her fade from existence in Roxas's arms never fails to make me tear up when I see it.
Of course all of this adds up to a good game, but why is it my favorite? Simple, it's tragic. The other games in the series, save Birth By Sleep, all are very happy stories with happy endings, but that's not the case with 358/2 Days. In this game Roxas is thrown into this battle that not only does he know nothing about, but he doesn't want to fight. And beyond being forced into slaying every heartless by Xemnas, he also loses one friend for a long time, and another forever. Unlike Sora, who will always find his friends, or Ventus, who sacrificed himself to save Aqua and Terra, Roxas's entire existence is plagued with disaster and tragedy. All of this culminates in Twilight Town for the final battle between Xion and Roxas. After Roxas defeats her, she fades from existence IN HIS ARMS. No other character in the series had to face that, the closest any had come to it was Ventus giving his heart to Sora, leaving Aqua his currently lifeless body in Birth By Sleep, but that isn't permanent, and Ventus is coming back for Kingdom Hearts 3. Xion, however, is not being brought back. Xion is gone and unless some great and mighty power (cough cough, Xehanort, cough cough) brings her back, we will never see her again. Add to that the fact that following those events, Roxas only has a week left, with none of his memories from the organization, until he gives himself to awaken Sora. That's why this game is my favorite, not because of amazing gameplay, or graphics or anything like that, the story is why I love it--because unlike any other game in the series--Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a real tragedy.
Do you think Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is underrated? Do you think another game is underrated? Let me know in the comments!