Kingdom Hearts Returns
July 15, 2009 – It has been three years since Kingdom Hearts II was released, and ever since then, fans have been clamoring for more. While a proper follow-up has yet to be announced, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is the next best thing: a prequel!
Instead of following the exploits of Sora and company, this new entry will instead explore the back-story of Roxas, the character first introduced at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II. The game will follow Roxas around his world and his involvement with the nefarious Organization XIII. The World that Never Was will serve as the game’s main hub (as opposed to Traverse Town), and you’ll be able to visit familiar Disney locales like Neverland, Halloween Town, and Wonderland.
We recently got the chance to go hands-on with one of the levels in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, and we were immediately surprised at how similar the game looks and feels to the original Kingdom Hearts. The level we played was in Agrabah, and we were able to vanquish some enemies and see some familiar Disney faces. It seemed some peculiar sandstorms were kicking up in the land of Aladdin, and it was our job to run around and find out what was behind the commotion.
The game’s battle system is a lot like the original Kingdom Hearts and featured the same style of RPG/action hybrid combat. Most enemies can be vanquished by spamming the singular physical attack button, but you can also cast spells and set shortcuts for more complex actions. Of course, you can also use the game’s menu system to select actions, but this can be a little cumbersome mid-battle. However, if you are accustomed to rapid menu-shuffling from previous entries, then you will have no problem here.
Much like other Kingdom Hearts titles, the main gameplay is composed of both exploration and fighting. We were able to hop around the rooftops of Agrabah going on collection quests, smashing pottery, and fighting small-time enemies that would threaten our activities. Running and jumping around Agrabah felt very natural, and there was plenty to explore as we ran and jumped around the landscape.
In addition to standard fighting whilst searching for Munny around Agrabah, we also ran into a mini-boss type enemy which required us to pick up items scattered around the battlefield and throw it at our foes. This mini-boss really showcased the strengths of the game’s menu system, and we never felt overwhelmed switching between throwing items and then striking with our weapon. It is also worth mentioning that the controls are completely button-based, so you won’t have to do any stylus shuffling while fighting bad guys.
Another thing that this game has in common with its predecessors is the visuals. I was very impressed with how faithfully this game represents the visual style of the original Kingdom Hearts. The characters look almost exactly like they did in previous games, and the character designs had plenty of detail. The game’s environment was also represented very well, and even though it seemed like Agrabah was a little on the small side, the game’s 3D world has plenty to discover nonetheless.
Ultimately, it will be the fans who will make or break Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. The game’s story has been a serious concern among those eager for a proper Kingdom Hearts sequel, and the focus on Roxas for this title was certainly an unusual decision. I have to say that I am impressed with the gameplay aspects so far. The storyline may not revolve around the ubiquitous Sora, but the game’s battle system and visuals are definitely reminiscent of the first game, which bodes very well for the prequel. If you are looking for an experience similar to the original, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days should fit the bill nicely – at least in the gameplay department. For everything else, the jury’s still out until September 29, when the game is released in the US.
Knowing One’s True Self
January 26, 2009 – When Disney and Square Enix decided to join forces to create Kingdom Hearts, they unarguably struck gold. Not only did the melding of Final Fantasy-inspired teen angst and the magical worlds from Disney lore mesh to make great gameplay and storytelling, the franchise gained an immediate following.
Considering the toony nature of Kingdom Hearts (KH) in general, it’s especially interesting how its story weaves in and out of incredibly deep, metaphysical territory, often leaving players with more questions than answers. In an attempt to field certain quandaries in the story, Square Enix released Chain of Memories (CoM) for the Gameboy Advance a good ways back (and re-released it recently for PS2). Likewise, the mega-publisher will now be digging even deeper into the plot by bringing Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (said as: three, five, eight days over two) to the Nintendo DS; they’ve chosen the current-most-popular gaming system to pick up where CoM left off.
This article will contain certain spoilers about already released titles, including KH2 and CoM, so if you haven’t yet played those games, you may want to skip ahead a bit. For those who have played those games, you already know that, in CoM, Sora (the series’ main protagonist) defeated about half of the mysterious Organization XIII; in KH2, Sora defeats the rest of them. In this latest addition to the series, the story focuses on Organization XIII and Roxas’ history with them. It’s sure to be a sordid tale, and fans will absolutely not want to miss it.
For those who were perhaps a tad dismayed by CoM’s departure from the traditional KH gameplay, they’ll be especially pleased to learn that 358/2 retains most of what the core games are all about. You’ll control Roxas with the DS D-pad, B to jump, A to attack, Y allows you to guard or dodge (when used along with the directional pad), and the right shoulder button will re-center the camera behind Roxas’ back. Additional camera control is offered via the touch screen, but it’s likely going to be an option players will find useful only outside of combat. Additionally, the X button lets you select from items or spells to use, though you can set those to hotkeys that can be accessed by holding the L button – seemingly a much more practical way to use spells/items during the heat of battle.
In regards to combat, 358/2 is also very much the same as its console brethren, in that you’ll be fighting many Darkness throughout your journey. From what we’ve seen, you’ll be accompanied most times by one of the remaining members of Organization XIII, and they’ll behave much in the same way as the A.I.-controlled Donald and Goofy from the console games. The A.I. thus far seems competent and actually proves a valuable accomplice during battles.
Though the gameplay of the console KH games has been mostly squeezed into the handheld, the story in 358/2 promises to offer something quite different, at least in terms of its focus. Again, the main attraction here is Organization XIII, and though the game’s prologue reportedly begins with the birth of Roxas, the story here, for the most part, takes place between the time when CoM ended and KH2 begins. There is a new and mysterious female member of the organization present in 358/2, and we’re guessing she has a hefty role in the overarching plot. Hopefully, this new side story will answer many of the questions fans have been debating over for years now.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 is mission-based, and that seems like a nice fit for a system geared toward play on the go. What’s particularly exciting, however, is that Square Enix has added specific multiplayer missions as well. Players will be able to choose from the remaining Organization XIII members and play through entire missions with friends. Though these missions are cooperative in nature, a scoring system (that pops up at the end of each mission) promises to encourage a bit of friendly competition. You’ll be ranked on your kill count, damage received, etc., and though players will want to work together, kill stealing and avoiding damage will likely make missions a whole lot more interesting.
This is, of course, a Square Enix game, and most gamers know the publisher well for their incomparable ability to create an exquisitely polished production. Even on DS, the publisher has managed to put together something markedly beautiful, with well-crafted cutscenes and real-time 3D graphics that are sure to raise the bar (they themselves set) just a little bit higher. The character models exhibit plenty of detail and animate great, and the environments are surprisingly roomy with lots of interesting touches. You’ll be traveling back to many of the old haunts from the console games, including the worlds of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Best.
If it isn’t yet completely obvious, we’re very excited to get our hands on Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (and equally curious to finally fully understand the meaning behind the game’s conspicuously weird title). Though a firm release date has yet to be announced, we at least now have confirmation that the game will, indeed, eventually be coming to America (not that we ever doubted it). 358/2 is slated for release in Japan this spring, and considering Square Enix’s track record for localizing its biggest games for the States, the U.S. release should follow shortly after (holiday 2009?)