While surfing TGS news 2 years ago, I noticed Square Enix was making a DS game based on the Kingdom Hearts Franchise. At first I was expecting something similar to that of a bad cell phone game with unreasonably compressed CG cutscenes, but after reading a few articles I was pretty hyped. The game was set to explain how Roxas came to be apart of Organization 13, some back story on the events between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, and 4 player multiplayer, all wrapped in a 20 hour 3D experience. And while I got what was promised, and loved quite a bit of it, the game was far from perfect and left me hating a large sum of it as well.
Story (Spoiler Free)
The game introduces quite a few characters, plot points, and concepts that leave the player scratching their head quite a bit. Being that I spent only a few hours with KH2 and never touch the first one, I wont harp on that too much, however the way Square goes about telling the tale can be very hit or miss. Things will be alluded to at times that are completely obvious to both the player (and the dense characters if they paid attention), and large plot points are dropped like bombs without leaving the player feeling any excitement or interesting. One of the biggest reveals in the game that explain the key point of the story is just blatantly given without any build up or needed tension. And this is all the more detrimental because the entire dynamic between the characters change after this event occurs and the scene that made this progression possibly seems entirely like an afterthought. It seems like Square has created a bunch of cut scenes that only add mellow-drama, however when it comes to furthering their story they push the plot forward without exposition or explanation. The plot points are important to the story and shouldn't just be given out whimsically.
However that leads to what I love about the story. The game takes place over the course of a year and it spends that time developing the relationships between characters. This story is about friendship and Square reiterates that constantly and sometimes excessively. After 90% of the missions, the characters retreat to their clocktower to talk, eat ice cream and examine existence. And while some... most of these conversations are boring, the player can easily see the bond growing slowing between the characters. And when that bond is threaten and people get hurt towards the end, the characters pain and angst is justified. At the games conclusion, the player is left sympathizing with their plight and understanding their actions a little better in the Kingdom Hearts 2.
Gameplay Press A... Now do it again... and again... now press Y for a combo and thats basically how you fight in this game. Mashing the A button until your thumb hurts essentially is how you beat your first enemy and your last enemy. Its pretty simple and while this sounds boring the game freshens it up a tad with their panel system. This system is probably the best part of the game and allows the players to heavily modify their keyblade and character, adding spells, special dash and block moves, as well as potions and ethers. While this system adds a bunch of depth to the game and makes the experience more interesting, I still found myself getting bored with the repetitive missions and simplistic fighting. Though Square did increase the flow of new bosses and enemies a little later in the game, but ultimately you were still doing the same thing over and over again.
Structure Because this game occurred between the first and second game, there are a lot of characters that the player cant interact with for continuity reasons. Only minor Disney characters are actually spoken to throughout the game and the primary characters only get a few lines in. While this makes sense to the story it is disappointing. You wont see characters like Stitch or the Beast backing you during a limit breaker, not will you have Donald or Goofy assisting you throughout the missions. However the player does get to work with many of the organization members.
Game is also entirely mission based and while this works great for portable gaming, starting up a 10 minute mission and playing through the game in short increments, it can seem limiting and repetitive. Kill X amount of this or find X or perform reconnaissance (the most boring mission type). This makes the game extremely formulaic and it feels like the game is simply dragging its feet to make it to 358 days.
Overall I enjoyed Kingdom Hearts 358 over a ridiculous title (which actually makes sense once you beat the game), but I doubt I will be revisiting it.