Ahead of Mickey and company's dual screen debut later this autumn, we were able to play a near final build of action RPG Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Aside from gawking at the vibrant visuals, a thorough testing of the real-time battle system was in order.
We tackled two missions as the spiky-haired Roxas, whose allegiance to Organization XIII takes him to the far-flung worlds of Disney fantasy in pursuit of Heartless foes. The first mission on the sand-swept streets of Agrabah tasked Roxas with incinerating a set of seven deadly fire plants harassing the population.
Wholly focused on combat, the mission gave us a good look at how the game incorporates battle mechanics from the console instalments with tweaks to the controls tailored to the handheld. The real-time combat system remains intact, though a limited supply of buttons requires a condensed control scheme. Curiously, the touchscreen is not exploited for control. Instead, it's used for menus and maps.
As you move Roxas with the D-pad, you can scroll down menus by tapping the X button. Holding down L prompts a shortcut menu, which you're able to customise from the pause menu.
Bi-directional scrolling would reduce the amount of time it takes to select actions, since you're currently forced to scroll through the entire menu just to select an option directly above your currently highlighted one.
Enemies - in this case the fire plants and swarms of Heartless summoned to protect them - are automatically targeted. Jamming on the A button levels melee attacks by default, though scrolling down the action menu grants access to magic and item sub-menus. You can also jump and evade using the B and Y buttons, respectively.
Evading enemy attacks wasn't necessary when confronting Agrabah's stationary fire plants, though it was effective in avoiding damage in the second mission we played set in Twilight Town. Roxas joins up with fellow Organization XIII fighter Axel to defeat a Heartless Guardian camped out in the town plaza. The giant creature launched a variety of heavy attacks complicated by the presence of half a dozen miniature Heartless.
In order to confront the Guardian, however, you have to navigate the city's underground passage. You need to open a series of gates leading to the plaza by flipping switches protected by small groups Heartless.
It's straightforward, but the enemies put up a decent fight. Munny and experience reward your effort, which in turn can be used to buy equipment and customise Roxas's abilities. Additionally, you're awarded rarer items for mission completion.
If there's anything to be concerned about it would be the camera. Tapping the R button enables you to centre the view behind Roxas, which is frequently necessary due to the camera's rather lazy nature. Exploring the underground passage made it abundantly clear that manual control is needed to avoid your view from being obstructed by wall corners and enemies.
Along with the single player campaign, which includes the aforementioned pair of missions, a cooperative multiplayer mode lets you team up with up to three buddies to clear a slate of entirely different missions.
We weren't able to test it out, though with Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days set for release in the US at the end of month we'll have a full breakdown of the action shortly.