Turn that key, baby!
One perverse pleasure of mine is trying to explain the story and concept of a video game to people who otherwise have no idea what I'm talking about. Like this:
[image1]“OK, right, so there's this blonde kid with a giant frickin' key that he uses like a sword, right? And he runs around and hits little shadow dudes with it. They just show up from outta nowhere and just start swingin' at him. But get this... if you beat up certain kinds of them, they drop hearts... and money! And then, Donald and Goofy show up and fight too! It's awesome, right?!”
Ahh, Kingdom Hearts. Not quite Final Fantasy, not quite Disney, but some beautiful-yet-mutant hybrid that makes it all worth the cost.
Let me elaborate a bit more: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (apparently pronounced “Kingdom Hearts: Three-Five-Eight Days Over Two... commercial said so) revolves around Roxas, a character related to Sora (though I'll let you figure out how, if you're new to the series), who works for a group simply called “The Organization”. Their goal? To complete Kingdom Hearts, which (so they say) will give them all Hearts. For you see, they're “Nobodies”, meaning “beings without Hearts”. Remarkably enough, it's a story that's actually fairly easy to follow. And that's from the folks at Square-Enix, who've built their reputation on confusion and spiky hair. (Note: There's a lot of spiky hair to be found on nearly every character... Axel embodies this trend without reservation.)
[image2]I realize this is a DS game, and that the DS isn't especially powerful when it comes to 3D, but when I first took control of Roxas in the training modes it made me think: "Shouldn't I be playing this on the original Playstation?" The controls feel similar to the Playstation controller, the character models remind me a lot of Parasite Eve, and even the near-complete lack of voice acting fits the old-school feel (the only voices are in the opening video, which looks so PS2 and very different from the actual in-game look). Still, compared to some of the uggos on the little system that could (just look at Fossil Fighters and tell me that's the best they could do), it's pretty damn... well, pretty.
Story mode consists of taking up and completing missions, which come in four different flavors: beat the boss, collect Hearts, grab the medals, and do some recon. All of them are clear and easy to just jump in and start, but the recon missions, which have you flesh out the new worlds you head to, are just too big. Wandering around aimlessly is annoying at times and frustrating at others. If they were optional, that would be one thing, but forced searching just to look at stuff? *snore*
The battles here are a direct port of the PS2 incarnations, and that is a beautiful thing. What drove me nuts about playing the GBA version of Chain of Memories was the card-based fighting... after taking the time to get used to the Playstation fighting style, regulating the battles to cards was just silly. Getting used to the shoulder button gameplay, after only a few battles, is very intuitive and natural; using cards to throw down just doesn't make a battle flow like it should.
[image3]And preparing for those battles is fun, especially for the customization nuts. For every mission completed, another slot on your inventory becomes available. Upgrading your weapon is open and easy, with plenty of choices to choose from in strength, combo, and magic. There are some to buy, but most will be out in the field waiting to be picked up. The odd thing about this system, though, is that along with upgrades and items, every level increase has to be put on the same screen. That's right: every time you earn a level, you have to remember to equip it.
Atmosphere? Check. Slow-to-actually-develop storyline with some confusion along the way being told through ambiguously-gendered spiky-haired main characters who seem way too depressed for their own good? Check, and check. Pretty? For the system, yup. Key to your heart? I've got a drunken story about that, but that's for another time and place.