TOKYO--The Kingdom Hearts brand seems to be undergoing quite the renaissance. During our trailer-laden visit to the dark, dark heart of Square Enix's Mega Theater at the Tokyo Game Show, we saw no fewer than four Kingdom Hearts game trailers--two of them for mobile devices. One of them, however, was for the upcoming DS game, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. It offered plenty of glimpses of our favorite Organization XIII members. There was plenty of gazing out to sea, just as you'd expect, and the oceanside sun bathed our heroes' black robes in bright light. Other quick flashes confirmed that Riku and Mickey will be returning. We also saw shots of the new character, Xion. Quick gameplay examples showed Roxas beating up on the usual assortment of heartless enemies, we saw glimpses of four-player action, and the trailer ended with a release date: February 2009.
But who needs a trailer when we can get our own hands-on time? Indeed, we got up close and personal with this Disney-themed adventure, starting with some local four-player action with our fellow journalists. A character-select screen lets you choose from a variety of characters. Once we made a choice, we landed in the game armed with a giant scythe taller than our own persona. The goal for our ad-hoc group was to defeat an end boss after fighting through a series of smaller enemies. The controls were simple and should be familiar to most players. Camera control was a bit of a conundrum, though, because it was easy to get stuck in a corner while hammering on the attack button; you can reset the camera using the R button, however, or rotate it using the touch screen, though that doesn't seem to be a very viable option in the middle of combat.
Fortunately, magic skills were easily performed and healing potions were easily quaffed, thanks to the L button, which brought up shortcut menus. Soon, we were throwing fireballs in addition to swinging our gigantic scythe of death. Eventually, we met up with the giant toadlike boss, who would disappear and reappear elsewhere on the map. The game's minimap showed his location, as well as that of our comrades, so finding his new location was pretty simple. In a few short moments, our party had destroyed him, and the mission was complete. Hurrah!
The multiplayer was fun, but the meat of the experience will likely lie with the single-player game. We took a look at two single-player levels, starting with a Nightmare Before Christmas mission taking place in Halloween Town. Armed with the key blade, we maneuvered Roxas through the haunted paths and dark streets, fighting off heartless enemies frozen in cubes. These foes could actually freeze us in place if we weren't careful; other enemies could actually latch on to Roxas and lift him up for a few moments. Fortunately, we had our own offensive skills, the most helpful of which was a multifoe lightning strike, which was easily accessed from the quick menu.
Suddenly, just as Roxas was confronted with an enormous crowd of heartless enemies, Xigbar appeared, and he accompanied Roxas en route to the end boss. His ranged magic attack was helpful in battle, and the AI seemed to do a nice job of keeping up--a nice touch, considering the frozen cubed foes were out in full force. Eventually, we reached our destination where a giant, lanky suit of armor was prepared to take us down. It didn't take long, however, and soon it was a simple pile of metallic rubble.
The other level we played apparently occurred inside the wicked queen's castle from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This time, Xaldin joined us, wielding dual staffs. Most of the heartless enemies we fought resembled puffs of black smoke. The level was straightforward, and we climbed the steps of the castle toward our final encounter, which was a giant foe with a heart-shaped gouge in his belly. This enemy was a little tougher than the end boss in Halloween Town, and we had to be more conscious of the attack points on his limbs. However, some well placed attacks and some creative jumping brought him to his knees.
There were some definite issues we encountered during our short time with the game, mostly related to camera control and navigation. If you're a fan of stylus-controlled action, you should also note that all of the action is performed with buttons and is viewed only on the top screen. Still, it's nice to see the franchise is still going strong, and we'll bring you more information on Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days as it develops.