Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a great little game. Disgaea DS has also been a blast. I’ve clocked 45 or so hours in the former, and 200 or so in the latter. The “main story” of the former took about 30 hours to go through (chasing all side quests), and the “main story” of the latter took about 20 hours (doing some side dungeoneering). I find I keep playing both well past the story’s end, albeit for different reasons.
The core gameplay of KH:358/2 is all about missions. These are bite-sized chunks of the standard KH gameplay, an action-platformer-RPG… thing. Missions range from recon to target hunting to simple baddie smashing (complete with small baddies, medium-sized baddies and Big Bad Boss baddies). None of it is too taxing, but several missions require good timing, quick reflexes and/or knowledge of the terrain.
The core gameplay of Disgaea DS is all about tactical turn-based combat in closed square-grid arenas. Players build up a cast of characters and field combat teams to take down a range of weird enemies. Cutscenes tell a story between fights. The ability to revisit missions and an optional Item World dungeon system provides combat on demand to earn more experience, money and items. None of the tactics are all that demanding, but there are several that provide a more puzzle-like experience, rather than a simple tactical brawl.
The “post-game” is fairly different between the two.
In KH, I’m replaying missions to explore early missions with new abilities, chase tokens and treasures, or even play with alternate characters. (Some are fantastic, some are awful.) The core gameplay really doesn’t change much in the endgame, though, and the missions are exactly the same, only your approach changes. The ends are the same, in other words, but the means change (fairly minimally). I’m still chasing achievements and better loot, not new ways of playing the game. (OK, OK, I can still unlock Sora as a playable character, but that’s not much, since he will play much like Roxas anyway.)
In Disgaea, I’m playing through the storyline again (yay for “New Game +” mechanics!) to see a different ending, but I spend most of my time in the Item World. Item World levels are procedurally generated, and often a great playground for the geopanel system. Every level I go to in the Item World is different. The team I have is pretty static by now, but the stage that I’m playing on changes constantly. I’m constantly tinkering with new content thanks to the procedural floor generator. Sure, the ultimate end goal is always the same (defeat all foes or sneak to the exit), but the path through each level is different. The ends are still the same, then, but the means change considerably more than they do in KH.
This is the difference between 200 and 45 hours logged. I’ll play each more, I’m sure, but in the end, I spend a lot more time playing through the procedural content in Disgaea DS than I do playing through static content in KH. To be fair, procedural content only works in certain formats. The lovingly crafted beautiful 3D worlds in KH don’t lend themselves well to procedural content generation. The procedural content in Disgaea DS is tile-based, with some larger multitile structures, but certainly nothing as carefully presented as KH worlds.
So, if there is a balance between pretty graphics and playability via content generation, I find that I fall squarely in the camp of gameplay. I’m more interested in means than ends, at least when I’m playing games.
It’s not too surprising that I feel much the same way about MMOs. To be sure, the content generation there will naturally be more in line with the KH model, being in 3D and requiring more assets. I’m still most interested in varied, dynamic, interesting gameplay, rather than chasing loot through the same dungeons. Raiders have told me that the dynamics of a group can provide some of that, so I can see myself dungeoneering a little while learning a dungeon, but once it’s on farm status, just going through the motions for better loot or arbitrary Achievements does nothing for me.
No, I want a living, dynamic world that I can influence and mold. I want to color outside the lines, ignoring the ends. I’d be content tinkering with the means, because once I get to the end, that’s all that you have to keep me in your game.