You don't need to know the tale behind Splash Mountain to enjoy its wet and wild log ride or understand astrophysics to get a thrill from zipping on indoor rollercoaster Space Mountain.
Visiting Disneyland requires no understanding of the imaginary tales behind every attraction, and you don't have to follow the meandering story in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days to enjoy playing it.
The fun comes from experiencing tense real-time battles and developing your character through the inventive panel system, not deciphering an intricate, improbable story.
As Roxas, the thirteenth member of the enigmatic Organization XIII, you explore the reaches of the universe in search of identity and the fabled kingdom hearts. Only by defeating the shadowy creatures known as the Heartless can Roxas and his comrades conjure kingdom hearts and infuse their souls with the hearts that they lack.
Straightforward in its start, the plot meanders from mission to mission until it loses intrigue. Roxas's story takes too long to develop, failing to substantially move forward hours into the game. References to previous games in the series are too nuanced for newcomers to understand, and allusions to later plot twists are too cute to be revealing.
Fortunately, you don't need to follow the story closely to enjoy the ride. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days thrills with action-packed battles. Inherited from earlier instalments of the series, combat occurs in real-time with actions triggered from a simple menu scrolled through via presses of the X button. Jamming on the A button executes an attack, casts a spell, or uses an item depending on the highlighted option.
Targeting is handled with double-taps of the R button. You can opt for an alternative scheme that uses both L and R.
Becoming skilled at locking onto enemies is a must because it's the most sensible way of dealing with the wonky camera. Without setting a target the camera behaves erratically, which artificially raises the difficulty of combat by obscuring your view or turning in such a way that enemies appear off-screen.
This doesn't ruin the experience, but rather tempers combat marked by variety and challenge. Enemies possess a range of abilities that demand tactical flexibility and determination to bring them down. Mashing the A button isn't good enough to get you through every fight - varying your approach and tailoring Roxas to the parameters of each mission are necessary for success.
The remarkably original panel system allows enormous flexibility in how you develop Roxas's abilities. Like a slot-based inventory, special powers, magic spells, and other abilities exist as panels to be set on a grid. You start with a small number of open spots that force you to fit ability panels together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Naturally, more spaces on the grid open up as you progress in parallel to acquiring new panels. Since panels aren't permanently cemented onto the grid, you're able to easily reconfigure Roxas's abilities at any time. It's a wonderfully creative system, but it has a couple of quirks.
Everything must be equipped as a panel, not just spells and special abilities - items and even levels have to be set onto the grid. Whenever Roxas earns enough experience to level up, a panel is awarded that must be equipped in order to enhance his stats.
Given that you're unlikely to want to lower his stats, it becomes a permanent fixture on the grid. You shouldn't have to equip levels - when you earn them, they ought to automatically be applied.
More bizarre is the need to set item panels to the grid. Even though items can be collected during missions, they can only be used when equipped as a panel. The intention is to limit item use, forcing you to strategise in advance of a mission by arranging item panels onto your grid. Instead, it forces unwelcome micromanagement of your item inventory.
Unnecessary as these elements may be, the panel system succeeds overall. In concert with active, varied battles and eye-catching presentation, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days manages to overcome its weaknesses with good gameplay.
Incorporate multiplayer missions unlocked by collecting tokens in the main adventure and the amount of quality gameplay here skyrockets.
The experience as a whole rises above the details of its shortcomings, justifying the price of admission to this magic kingdom.