The worst named game of 2009!
Kingdom Hearts is a lot like that daughter of yours that started life so cute and innocent, but progressively grew more rebellious and spiteful of you and authority. Her pink dresses turned to black leather, her pink hairbands turned to spiked collars with matching wrist scars and your conversations turned from “I wuv my dadday” to “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME!” The first Kingdom Hearts was a fun, innocent piece of fan service. It combined charming Disney movies with a simplified version of the Final Fantasy story template. It was campy, it was shameless, but it had a lot more heart and charm than most games of yesterday and today. It was one of the rare games themed around “the value of friendship” that didn’t induce vomiting. And then Kingdom Hearts 2 came along, a bit older and a bit more bratty. Suddenly, the once chaste and impeccable story was devirginized by petulant JRPG clichés. There was some clones, an occult conspiracy, a prophet or two, many little girls, a more heartless tier of villains than the original Heartless, and even freaking Mickey Mouse had a hidden agenda. It’s like Square didn’t think the original game was hard enough to follow. The scariest prospect of all may be the post-credits teaser for the inevitable Kingdom Hearts 3. A battlefield sown with discarded swords teasing a “War of the Keyblades”. Why the fudge is Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and Winnie the Pooh getting involved with full-blown medieval warfare? Worse of all, imagine that mess combined with Square getting their hands on the Disney-acquired Marvel characters. You may get to see Sephiroth battle Spiderman for the first time outside a comic book convention.
Continuing the series’ degeneration into madness is the DS spinoff, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. This prequel of sorts puts you in the role of Roxas, that person/clone/thingy that annoyed players for the first two hours of Kingdom Hearts 2. You may very unpleasantly remember those two hours; the part of the game where you were wondering why the hell you weren’t playing as Sora, or why the hell you weren’t doing anything related to a Disney-based adventure game like the one you thought you paid for. Roxas has joined the evil Organization and is fixing to support their evil cause, which involves…beating up generic Heartless thugs and, well, beating up more generic Heartless thugs. See, by killing these creatures, you rip out their hearts, and your organization wants as many hearts as possible to unleash a sacred evil called “Kingdom Hearts.” Does this not sound like the plot of a John Carpenter movie?
And before I continue, I would like to talk about the game’s title. “Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.” That right there is your undisputed worst game title of 2009. I can’t think of a more poorly dubbed release than that. I figure that there is a pretentious reason for the number convention, but only the most devout followers of the Kingdom Hearts canon will care to find out what (such followers as the girl in the title, perhaps.) For non-fans of the franchise, it reveals no information about what makes this game unique, other than that it is more pretentious than your average DS game. And just try to say that title aloud. “Kingdom Hearts: Three-Hundred Fifty-Eight Over Two Days.” 13 syllables. Now imagine someone saying that to the store clerk at Gamestop. Better, imagine someone saying that to the store clerk at Walmart; the 50 old lady that is about as in tune with today’s video games as she is with rugby. See her response.
I guarantee you, the name “Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days” is costing Square-Enix sales.
My biggest issue with Kingdom Hearts (lets drop the suffix of the title for sanity’s sake) is that the narrative is not fit for a handheld. Some conversations just seem to go on and on. Why must I continuously have to bear witness to the characters sitting on a watchtower eating popsicles? There are quicker and more efficient ways to establish your characters and relationships than making us watch variations of the exact same sequence. You can almost get away with doing such a crime on consoles, when gamers have settled down and prepared to play for extended periods of time, but handheld games are a little different. Besides the general unpleasantness of staring into a screen the size of your nutsack to squint at dialogue, there is the whole “portable-ness” of the handheld, where people want to play on the bus, or the subway, or on their lunch break. Every time I attempted to play Kingdom Hearts on the bus, I was in the middle of an in-game conversation when my stop arrived and I had to flip off the system to resume life. And you can’t save mid-mission or mid-conversation, so any work I may have accomplished was for naught.
Which is a bit contradictory when you consider the game’s mission structure. Instead of engaging in lengthy quests on each Disney DVD…I mean world, you are assigned a series of smaller missions per planet. These can vary from “killing enemy scavenger hunts” to “kill more enemy scavenger hunts.” This game wisely adopts the Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars mentality of keeping every missions short, allowing the player to accomplish a great deal within a 15 minute bus ride. The problem with this approach was made apparent in an earlier sentence…well unless you’re so in love with Square that you not only didn’t spot the flaw in the earlier sentence but imagined yourself groping Vaan’s abs reading it. The missions get repetitive fast. Grinding Heartless into Heartless Powder with a side of Nobody Juice gets boring in a hurry, especially since you’ll be doing it in the same repeated environments over and over again. And the whole benefit of keeping these missions short to be more handheld-friendly is negated when you consider how an ice cream bonding session cutscene can ambush you at any moment, undoing all your progress as the bus stops in front of your workplace. This game needs some very liberal save points. As it is, you can only save before missions.
Kingdom Hearts tries its hardest to faithfully recreate the gameplay of its older siblings on the consoles. You run around, jumping, sword-slashing and struggling with the camera in real time. All the while, you fumble with other face buttons to handle the item and magic spell casting. So there’s a bit of a puberty-esque maturing stage that you’ll have to get used to. Unfortunately, much like parents and their kids, the game has no idea of how to let the player handle these strange physical changes. The tutorial series of missions are long, drawn out and have more mumbled and failed dialogue than your dad’s conversation about the birds and the bees. And the process takes about an hour and a half to go through; that’s painfully long by console game standards. On the handheld, it’ll be many, many bus trips before the game lets you off its leash.
It takes about two hours before you explore your first Disney planet, and a little more than that before you sneak in on a conversation with a familiar Arabian fellow. But it’s at this point where you become quick to the game’s nostalgic tricks. You’ll soon take note on how nearly all of the worlds, characters and enemies have been ripped from the past two games. And what they do change serves to just annoy and burden the player. In particular, the panel system cursed my existence. You have a set number of panels of which to equip things with. And by “things”, I mean everything. Armour, weapons, spells, items, stat-boosts, abilities, level-ups (yes, you have to equip your higher levels!), clothes, belt-buckles, hair gel, toilet paper, intelligence, the pole up your ass, and so on. Why do so many Japanese RPGs of today feel the need to complicate inventory systems with no benefit other than the sake of being different? If anything, I feel like the needless convoluting of equipment and magic systems serves more to discourage me from playing a new game than anything else.
Finally, there’s a multiplayer component that I should consider talking about. Except I never played it, because it isn’t online-enabled. A multiplayer mode on a DS game that requires me to find other DS owners with the same game does not exist in my universe. If I can’t find another person with a copy of the game, well too bad. I’m not going to pressure anyone to buy this pretentious mess of a title just for multiplayer when I’ve got Rock Band instruments at my home that will provide many more hours of entertainment. Screw Roxas and Axel, I want Paul, John, George and Ringo.
Kingdom Hearts on the DS is a bit of a confused mess. The gameplay missions, while friendly on public transportation for their brief structure, are too repetitive for longer gameplay sessions. But then numerous redundant story sequences demand more time than allotted on a bus trip. Those very same story sequences are catered towards fans of the series, but those very same fans may not be too keen on revisiting all of the same worlds and characters of games past once again. Yes, the Nightmare Before Christmas was a cheery film, but Nightmare Spooky Clay Land did not need a third vacation. So the only people that will really enjoy this game are diehard fans that absolutely must know every facet of the game’s story, and know where to place every stitch on their Nobody-coat costume for the upcoming anime convention. More power to you guys, I guess.
2 ½ stars