Square Enix had a playable build of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 on display at its booth, and we went for a hands-on test drive. In the first of two playable missions, our hero Roxas was joined by Axel, who served as our combat wingman. Our goal: Kill the guardian. It was simple enough and certainly a goal befitting for a Disney game. The level opened with a visually impressive cutscene featuring our two heroes chatting before getting started on the adventure. It should be noted that unlike the previous games in the series, the dialog is conveyed only via text, with nary a word spoken, which is disappointing given that voices are often the most defining aspect of Disney's characters.
As we explored the town, both ground-based and aerial-based enemies would materialize in front of us, giving us a chance to try out the combat engine. Unfortunately, there's not much to report because the combat we experienced was very simplistic. Attacks are relegated to a single button, though combos can be performed with multiple presses and also used in the air. The combat seemed very basic and repetitive, with the only real challenge being how fast we could hammer the attack button. Now, magic and items can also be used on the fly, via a seamless menu system, but we weren't able to gauge how much they added to the battle because the demo didn't feature magic attacks for use (despite the game's recommendation that we "stock up on Blizzard Magic"--thanks game, leave the tips to the guide writers). Thankfully, after battling through a few waves of enemies, we encountered the boss who was a little bit more engaging in that we had to actually strafe around him to avoid his attacks before pummeling him with some of our own.
The second mission sent us on an egg hunt around town to kill five fire plants that had infested the streets of Aladdin's Agrabah. The mission was preceded by a quick cutscene involving Princess Jasmine and Aladdin who provided some context. Unfortunately, as soon as the cutscene ended, that was the last we see of them, which makes us slightly concerned about how prominent a role Disney's characters and environments will play in the final game. For example, the world was disturbingly barren and bared little resemblance to the magical lands they're supposed to represent. At any rate, finding and killing the plants wasn't too challenging (mash attack), but the final couple of plants did pose a more interesting fight because they were protected by a force field. A mysterious nearby enemy floating around on a book appeared to be the key--knocking him off his book seemed to dispel the plant's shields, giving us a precious few seconds to take down the plants before the book reader (and the plant's shields) recovered. It was an interesting puzzle, and we hope the final game features more of it.
It's unfortunate that role-playing games, such as Kingdom Hearts, don't lend themselves well to brief demos. With its highly intricate stories and its entire leveling-up mechanic almost completely absent, we were only left with a small glimpse of what the final product will offer. While what we saw of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 didn't leave us too impressed, we were exposed to far too little to draw any sort of conclusion. Given the strong pedigree of the series, we're hopeful that the final product pulls everything together more convincingly than the demo. Look for the game later this year on the Nintendo DS.