When we last left off this recap of the Kingdom Hearts games. The series had gotten off to a pretty solid start. While the first game had some noticeable problems, the Disney side carried enough of that characteristic charm to make up for it. The gameplay, although not perfect, also showed a lot of promise for any future installments if Square could manage to polish it up.
But instead of getting a sequel that would build off that gameplay, the series immediately took a left turn with a direct sequel on the GBA which experimented with a card system. While certainly not what fans were expecting, I do feel the game is a damn enjoyable title and it’s a system I would love to see the series revisit. Unfortunately, it would also be where the series demanded its fans to follow what would become a very convoluted time-line.
Before that would be clear, though, all fans knew was that they wanted the real sequel they had been waiting for.
(2006) Kingdom Hearts II
I remember going nuts with anticipation for this game. Everything I saw leading up to it looked better, and waiting for it was very difficult (although, Oblivion coming out about a week before it helped). The wait would certainly prove to be worth it, though, because just about everything about Kingdom Hearts was much better here.
Kingdom Hearts II is honestly one of the better examples for how a sequel should be done, in my opinion. The new worlds you visited were much more unique and stylish, and old ones had plenty of new twists. The combat got polished up and included reaction commands (AKA the easiest quick-time events ever) which gave fights a much more cinematic, over-the-top feel as well as giving the game a faster pace, overall. Setting and gameplay just combined perfectly, so the full package never got tiresome.
At least, that was when you were actually playing it. If Kingdom Hearts II did anything wrong it was that the game was very cutscene-heavy and it doesn’t lighten up on them for many hours. The game is significantly shorter if you skip all the cutscenes (we’re talking a tutorial with around an hour worth a gameplay potentially taking around 4 hours for some), which isn’t exactly the smoothest way to balance gameplay and story, is it? With that being said, if Metal Gear Solid can get away with that type of crap, I don’t see why KH II can’t.
What it boils down to is that the game was the direct sequel the series needed. It also gets bonus points for making a world out of the old Steamboat Willie cartoon, which I don’t see any other game doing. I’m looking at you, Epic Mickey.
(2009) Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
Sadly, we wouldn’t get a new game in the series for 3 more years. Final Fantasy Versus XIII was announced in May of 2006, and it was revealed Tetsuya Nomura would be in the role of director for it. While we still know very little about the title, we do know Nomura has since had to juggle it with the Kingdom Hearts series. And that may explain why we got the game that we did in 2009.
Along with kicking off the series’ tradition of terrible subtitles, 358/2 Days is also where the momentum for the series died down a bit for me. Which is a shame, because the story actually isn’t too bad. Taking place from near the end of the first game to the beginning of KH II, you take the role of the character Roxas and see how his story plays out going into the second game. Even if it almost entirely assumes you’re caught up on the series, it’s purpose is to really answer any remaining questions players may have had regarding that time frame, and it does so fairly well. But once again, you had to be a fan from the beginning for that to matter.
The problem I had with 358/2 Days is really how the game is designed. Rather than embrace the limitations of the DS and come up with a new type of gameplay system that would be optimal for the device like Chain of Memories did, 358/2 Days really does feel like a dumbed down version of the classic Kingdom Hearts gameplay. The result wasn’t anything horrid. The combat is certainly decent enough for a handheld, but it’s on a system that isn’t quite equipped for everything it would like to be. The game also used a mission structure instead of the traditional world map system of the other games, which, when combined with the already rather empty settings, ended up making the game feel kind of shallow.
To its credit, the game plays with an interesting inventory system, tries its hands at a co-op mode, and tells a story fans were likely to be curious about. It’s not a terrible game but it’s one that I can’t help but imagine how much better it could have been if it were given more time, on a console more appropriate for the type of game that it was.
After three years since the last game, this isn’t really what fans wanted to find themselves with. While I don’t hate it, 358/2 Days is probably the worst game in the series that I’ve played. But, especially looking back, it just puts a magnifying glass over all the problems these games seem to have during their development now. But we’ll really get into that next week when we conclude this little recap of the Kingdom Hearts series, and see where we stand going into Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.Posted in Op Ed by Ben Matlock on July 17, 2012