Man, for a series that features movies that most of us loved as a child, Kingdom Hearts makes you feel old when you think about how long it took to get us here. But FINALLY, today, we finally get the long-sought-after Kingdom Hearts III. (Well, Japan got it a few days ago.)
Some of you may have picked up your copy, and others may be waiting for their deliveryperson to drop off their copy. Either way, let’s dive into what makes every Kingdom Hearts game awesome and also terrible.
Basically the same rules as my Final Fantasy post. Final Mix versions are listed separately, but the HD collections are skipped since they have fewer tweaks than Final Mix games. Spoilers ahoy!
+ The Hallow Bastion sections are magical, and the whole world ties into a beautiful, moving ending for the game.
– A lot of people will say the instant answer should be camera, but let’s be different. I’m going to say the wait for Guard. Most other games it’s one of the earliest abilities you can get, but you may have to wait until the 30s(!!) to get it here. It’s especially painful on replays, as it’s easy for muscle memory to kick in, and then you get hit as you remember you don’t have Guard yet. Sora hitting things back with his Keyblade or Dodge Rolling just doesn’t cut it sometimes. If you chose the Dream Rod, you could be through half, two-thirds of the main game before getting what is usually an essential ability in Kingdom Hearts games.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix:
+ Leaf Bracer, which would go on to be a series staple.
– Many — if not most — of the new rare Heartless are annoying moreso than challenging. I mean, Sniperwilds with their 100% hit rate if they spot you? Scary! Even if you defeat the Rare Heartless, you’re not always guaranteed a drop item either. Also, in some versions, Pink Agaricus is made more difficult by Donald and Goofy. That’s just dumb.
Chain of Memories:
+ Graphically impressive for a GBA game. I actually like this style better than the realistic style in the DS game 358/2.
– It should have been the PS2 Re: Chain of Memories to start with since they made it a couple of years later anyway. Even if the goal was to keep Roxas’ identity a secret during the prologue of Kingdom Hearts II, the opening section of that game still would have had a lot of impact since it’s not like the game reveals everything about Nobodies and Roxas. But as for the actual GBA game itself, there are some major difficulty spikes, particularly for the final Bosses.
Kingdom Hearts II:
+ Roxas’ section. It seems slow at first, but it leads to an emotional conclusion for the prologue.
– Revisiting the Disney worlds did the game no favors and makes much of the game feel hollow. Most of the Disney worlds are filler or have very forced narratives on a revisit, Sora is kept the dark for far too long, and most of the Organization fights are reserved for a Boss blitz in the final dungeon. I wish we just visited a world, see what the Organization is doing there, and then either fight to stop the (original movie’s) villain and/or an Organization member. Then move on.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix:
+ Best Final Mix with tons of improvements, particularly a bonus dungeon with some challenging fights before you even get to all the actual hard fights. It feels more like an action-adventure game and does much to patch that hallow feeling vanilla has. Bonus points for Japan getting an upgraded Chain of Memories packaged in.
– Donald and Goofy struggled to be useful in vanilla. Here… yeah, they’re definitely Donald Dead Duck and Goner Goofy. I know Sora has so many options when fighting, but couldn’t his companions get something that scales, something that feels like they’re useful to have around even in the endgame? Give Donald a Fire spell so he can stay away from the crowds and spam magic from a distance like a good mage should?
Re:Chain of Memories:
+ Sora’s adventures in Castle Oblivion as they were made to be seen. (Well, almost — the Disney worlds would have been voiced if this had been a full release.) Square Enix USA actually brought it over as well, which was nice.
– The difficulty was rebalanced a bit too much. Definitely easier, but perhaps too much easier compared to the original GBA version. Sonic Blade just wrecks everything in Sora’s story. Also, poor Europe didn’t get this game until the HD collections.
+ Best script. Snappy dialogue and lots of emotion. We need to lock Nomura up more often.
– I really just want to say the clunky battle system, but instead I’ll complain about the fact that everything about Roxas has to be equipped: abilities, magic, items, and even levels?!?! There’s other ways to have a LLG or Lv1 challenge! Plus, you have to keep moving things around as new Panels are unlocked. Without a guide, it can really be hard to guess what you should be loading up on and what you should be leaving behind. Really, the whole Panel system in general, but particularly wasting space on levels.
Birth by Sleep:
+ The Command Board. I know a lot of people hate it, but I find it a lot of fun and more entertaining than all the other Kingdom Hearts minigames. And it’s actually useful! Most other minigames are to earn small rewards with a big reward in the far-off future, but you can take a break and score some nifty Commands right from the first time you play, like Cure.
– If you’re 100% this game (or at least want to fight the Superbosses as everyone), you’ll have fun playing through the first character, be a little irritated with the second, and by the third, you’ll be torn between killing yourself or the game. I mean, the happiness when you finally, FINALLY clear all of Ice Cream Beat and then realize you still have to do them two more times… yeah… you’ll want to cry into your controller-calloused hands.
+ The leveling and equipment systems. The Overclock system makes you want to use different Keyblades (and even different abilities on those Keyblades), Stat Matrix is a huge improvement over the Panel system, and Cheats allow you to increase the challenge and/or make for easier grinding. It’s like an enhanced Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X combined with The World Ends With You.
– Can’t hide its episodic mobile game nature even with all the upgrades to being a DS game. And because of that, it’s really only ending that is important; the rest is just a long, dragged-out filler.
Birth by Sleep Final Mix:
+ Rhythm Mixer! After I acquire it, it’s pretty much the only Command Style I use… and for good reason.
– It seems like the answer should be that the new Bosses emphasize how bad Terra’s dodge is compared to Aqua’s and Ven’s. But Mysterious Figure originated in the NA/European version and is made easier for Birth By Sleep Final Mix, and new Boss No Heart is made easier in the version included in 2.5. So I can’t label the Bosses not being made for Terra’s dodge as a criticism of BBSFM. Instead, Rhythm Mixer is probably too good, especially since it activates with some of the best Commands (Thunder Surge, Mine Seeker).
3D: Dream Drop Distance:
+ Two characters, but they share an inventory!! My Ice Cream Beat-beaten hands thank you!! Okay, okay, but seriously, Spirits are surprisingly smart and useful. Quite a few times I found myself saying, “Whoa, thanks!” to a well-timed Cure or them taking down a difficult enemy.
– Time travel. Time travel is often a hard, confusing storyline to pull off, and this game shoehorns it into the series. I know this series isn’t very good about keeping things simple, but geez, time travel was wholly unwelcome.
+ Stylish and adorable 2D art.
– It’s a mobile gacha game that seems to go on forever.
0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-:
+ A good balance of Kingdom Hearts‘ exploration but with some guidance a la Kingdom Hearts II.
– Noticeable performance issues on PS4 standard. But as far as the game itself, the UI. The font is small, and it feels like a mile between the Command Menu and Aqua’s portrait. And I miss the 2D art in her portrait.
It took several years, and it went through delays, but I’m hoping Kingdom Hearts III takes more of the pluses of each rather than the minuses. It’s been a fun journey, but let’s see the Xehanort battle come to an end.
So, do you agree or disagree with me? Does one game rank supreme? What are some of the highlights and lowlights of the various Kingdom Hearts games for you?