• Kingdom Hearts - an opinionated retrospective

    Kingdom Hearts is a game that needs no introduction. It seems even the most jaded of fans still hold very much respect for this little gem that has, against all odds, remained as one of the PS2ís most beloved classics. This was a time when SE was still doing tons of risky, experimental stuff rather than trying to capitalize on the thing that was big at the time. I think it should come as no surprise that I really miss those times.

    Though Kingdom Hearts may be the last of its kind - that being a quirky, experimental title - itís still a shining example of a simple joy of creating new and exciting things that used to be SEís M.O. Iíd argue itís also one of the last bastions of such creative joy within the company, but I guess Iíll be elaborating more on this in later pieces.

    But what is it that makes KH so risky and experimental? Why, itís the unique combination of Disney and Final Fantasy, of course. As if that needs to be stated. Much like the mythical encounter Sakaguchi had with a Disney exec, itís just one of those things that we treat as a given nowadays, but were just a wild concept back in the day. The result? A game that exceeded all expectations and exploded into the gargantuan franchise it is today.

    Though the game was originally meant to star Mickey Mouse, Disney was a bit reluctant to let SE use their characters just right of the bat. And so we got Sora, aided by Donald and Goofy, among various other classic Disney characters, on a very straightforward quest to save his friends and prevent the worlds from falling into Darkness. You know, the regular stuff.

    The one thing that really makes this game stand out, if you ask me, is the fact that the Disney worlds, for the most part, have stories that are actually tied to the main plot. The Disney villains, not just Maleficent, are actually very active agents until they get hijacked by Xehanort (as you do; more on that later). I love how Monstro and Captain Hookís Castle just straight up float between the worlds and move the plot forward. It also helps, that the further they are along the gameís storyline, the more involved they are, culminating in the sublime segment of the game that is Hollow Bastion which, though it may not be a Disney world on its own, has enough of Beast and Belleís presence in the main plot to count.

    Speaking of the events of Hollow Bastion, though Kingdom Hearts Iís story may be a very simple start, with a fairy tale quality to it (compared to later titles, which are far more shounen manga-y in their execution), the characters are quite deftly handled from the very beginning. Sora may remain pure-hearted throughout, but I love how he gradually shifts from just wanting to save his friends to basically considering everyone his friend and selflessly striving to protect the worlds from devastation. Rikuís journey is far more complex and though I feel he really grows into the most fascinating character in the series in later installments, you can definitely appreciate the dark personality traits planted in him in this game just for the sheer, teen drama that it causes between him and Sora. Both of their character arcs culminate in the Hollow Bastion segment, again solidifying it as the best portion of the game, no contest.

    Finally, the last large bit I want to touch on in this part of the retrospective is the atmosphere. Sadly, this is the one element the series has lost after the first game. Kingdom Hearts may be pure Disney joy and one of the lightest storylines in the series, but the atmosphere can be downright dreary at times. From the spooky Halloween Town with all its nooks and crannies, to the harrowing Night of Fate at the beginning segment at Destiny Islands, the quiet loneliness of Traverse Town and, of course, the oppressive Hollow Bastion and eerie End of the World, the various worlds of Kingdom Hearts keep you hooked in not just through their involvement in the main plot, but sheer aesthetic value and amazing ambiance. This, of course, is achieved in part thanks to the mesmerizing soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura who has since scored every single game, providing consistently outstanding music. Even if youíve become disillusioned with the series, you can never deny that the music has never stopped being excellent.

    Kingdom Hearts is a game that I hold in very high regard, even if there are many more entries in the series that I enjoyed more. Iíve spent a lot of time with it, beating all of the optional bosses - and let me tell you, when youíre 13, itís hard. The game may not really be that challenging by todayís standards, but itís definitely a slower ARPG that can be downright brutal if you donít swing your Keyblade methodically. As button mashy as these games get, over here you really needed to take things slow if you wanted to make it out alive.

    What else can I add? Iím glad that at least this game still gets the credit it deserves after all these years and has provided the people who played it with enough nostalgia to last them until today, so that theyíre hyped for KHIII even if they hadnít played every game in the series up to this point. Big mistake, if you ask me

    Alright, so letís recap this baby!

    Important story bits
    • A hooded figure shows up at Destiny Islands, talking about how ďthis world has been connected, tied to the DarknessĒ
    • Riku gives in to the Darkness, losing his right to use the Kingdom Key, resulting in it choosing Sora instead
    • Sora finds Kairi in a near-unconscious state. She disappears as he gets closer
    • Destiny Islands, along with other worlds, gets sucked into the Realm of Darkness
    • Riku is found by Maleficent as Goofy and Donald join the Keybearer (Sora) on his quest; she fuels his envy of Sora and turns him into her little henchman. He gets the Souleater blade for some reason? Itís a sword that has a blue eye in it. This is actually way more important than it sounds.
    • Sora locks many Keyholes, protecting the worlds from the abundance of Heartless
    • Riku finds Kairiís body in a catatonic state
    • Hollow Bastion happens! Hoo boy.. Riku manages to get the Keyblade back from Sora because heís its rightful owner, but then Soraís strength of heart actually gets it back to him, leading Riku to become possessed by Xehanortís Heartless (AKA Ansem)
    • Sora learns Kairi is a Princess of Heart, therefore has no Darkness in her Heart, so once their world was lost to Darkness, her Heart landed inside Sora. He uses the Keyblade of Hearts to release it. He loses his Heart and becomes a Heartless but itís okay because Kairi hugs him and he get better. For now.
    • Sora goes to the End of the World, defeats Ansem, and restores the worlds to light. However, Riku and Mickey are still trapped in the Realm of Darkness, so he sets out to find them instead of going back to his island with Kairi. Sora, Donald, and Goofy travel the Realms Between.

    Favorite story segment
    Itíd be a cop-out to say ďall of Hollow BastionĒ, though thatís what it would be for me, if Iím being honest. If I had to pick one moment, though, Iíd have to pick Soraís fight with a Xehanort-possessed Riku. Everything leading up to that fight is epic, their showdown is incredibly important to both of their arcs, and the fight itself is intense and gave me quite a bit of trouble when I was a kid. 10/10 would get my ass kicked by this dude again.

    Gameplay highlights
    • Thereís a nice weight to every Keyblade swing
    • The world design is really cool, with tons of nooks and crannies to explore. I donít think any other game in the series has this much platforming.

    What are your thoughts on Kingdom Hearts? Favorite moments, worlds? What do you like about this game? Feel free to take part in the discussion!

    ~Play order~
    KINGDOM HEARTS=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Kingdom Hearts - an opinionated retrospective started by Fynn View original post
    Comments 90 Comments
    1. Vermachtnis's Avatar
      Vermachtnis -
      If there's a way to meta game something while simultaneously pissing on something else, the internet will be all over it. Wait does that make Kingdom Hearts 2 the Super Smash Melee of the franchise?

      This game isn't as broken as the others. There's that infinite combo and magnet can clear a room. And yet at the same time, like Wolf said. This game is a power fantasy and doesn't need to be broken. Take Earth Shaker for example. The second boss of the Lion King world. This thing is massive and takes full advantage of the huge map and had like ten health bars. And then it's dead with like no effort. Bite its feet until you can bite it's head until you can bite it's core. Repeat like three times.

      And there's a phase during the final fight where you're fighting Xehanort in his armor. And he just sets there throwing spears. And after you do enough damage he throws you and you have to fly back and repeat. And then later in the fight they repeat this past with no change.

      That's another thing, the final fight drags on. It's a spectacle to be sure, but after the fifth phase I was done. And the final final FINAL fight starts with this extended sequence where you mash triangle for a minute until the actual fight starts. And there's a party where you have to play as Riku and run up and mash triangle to continue the fight, but for whatever reason wouldn't always work or that part would trigger at an unwinnable section and you have to start that fight over. I am glad that there wasn't an Undefeatable trophy for 2.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Roses are red, violets are blue...

      So I mentioned how Kingdom Hearts II felt like filler to me and how its story, despite having plenty of different plot, felt underdeveloped. I'm pretty sure the ideas Nomura really wanted to explore with his characters in II made their wa into this game. That alone of course, was not enough to make a whole game out of (there's only so far we can milk that Deep Dive hype, people). The end result is a semi-prequel that seems to deconstruct fanfiction tropes and is honestly one of the most gut-wrenching moments in the entire series. It is also my second favorite Kingdom Hearts game.

      The game was not received very warmly at first, however. After the KH2 secret ending, people wanted to get in on that sweet BBS booty, but instead they got a game about Roxas' time in the organization. However, instead of getting a story focused on the underdeveloped Organization XIII members present in 2, Days introduces a brand new character called Xion, a mysterious XIVth member of the Organization, never mentioned before or since. Add to that a fairly clunky battle system and repetitive missions, and you got yourself a very angry - or at least apathetic - fandom.

      Honestly, though, I feel that 358/2 Days not only does a lot to fix many of the issues I had with 2's plot, but it also carves an entirely original story of its own that resonates with me to this day and has left its mark on the KH continuity in a far more emotional way than, say, BBS, whose contributions are far more lore-focused (not that there's no emotional input there, but we'll get to that). So Riku became broody after his optimistic ending in CoM? Turns out he had to do some horriifc things to people he genuinely respected, all in order to bring his best friend back. Axel went from a conniving, calculating bastard to a depressed ex-boyfriend that's just sad all the time? While a later game will explain it fully, turns out he's naturally changed from one to the other through his friendship with not only Roxas, but also Xion. And since he's forgotten Xion, all those memories were focused on Roxas. So basically he missed two friends in one while his heart was still relatively fresh.

      The inclusion of Xion was weird to me at first and did indeed seem very fanficky, but in the end I feel she's one of the most worthwhile, tragic additions to the series. And by that I don't just meet her ultimate fate. 358/2 Days is a story about friendship in a dark time, and about how friends can and will drift apart. Roxas, Axel and Xion dream of nothing more than to just be together forever, but the circumstances they're in have caused their goals to become misaligned, and everything just falls apart from there.

      The last thing I want to touch upon is the gameplay. So 358/2 Days has been condensed to just cutscenes in the HD rerelease and many people say it's for the better. While I can't say that myself since I haven't seen that version, I can definitely see why they'd say that - the missions do get repetitive and to some that may detract from the overall story experience. However, I would argue that the daily routine you go through as Roxas is a crucial part of building up the character development that this game so heavily deals out to you, to the point that I honestly can't imagine how a 3-hour movie could make as much of an impact. And honestly, I still really like the gameplay. The game may lack 2's flashiness or CoM's level of customization, but the Panel system was one of the series most unique and interesting. If you can, I'd still recommend trying to get the DS version just to get the full experience, but since the story is the absolute strongest part of this game, you won't be missing out on that much by just sticking to the HD cutscenes on the collection.

      As I mentioned, Days is much more character focused than lore focused, which is why the list of plot points will be shorter. It'll also be out of order as due to the games day-by-day nature some elements take their sweet time to resolve. As such, this will be more of an actual plot point list this time, rather than an event-by-event summary.

      Important story bits
      • Roxas is added to the Organization to help them collect Hearts for Kingdom Hearts, as only the Keyblade can do that.
      • Xion is a Replica made by Vexen who gets filled with Sora's memories that he had removed from him during CoM. Since the memories removed mostly related to Kairi, Xion has her face. It's worth mentioning, however, that what she looks like depends on who's looking at her. Her default face is her Kairi face and it can be seen by people she's close to (Roxas, Axel). People who have encountered Sora in some way shape or form beforehand see a face most relevant to them (Xigbar sees Ventus), while some people just see a blank, featureless face of a doll (Saix). She is brought in as a failsafe, should Roxas prove too unstable to fulfil the purpose of the Organization.
      • Roxas, Axel and Xion become very close over the course of the game.
      • Since Roxas and Xion are the only thing preventing Sora from regaining all of his memories (which is why the process took so damn long), Riku is sent out by DiZ to bring them to Sora. Riku finds Xion pretty quick but doesn't take her by force. He and Namine explain exactly what her nature is and what her fate is, but ultimately Riku lets Xion make her own decision on the matter.
      • Axel is torn between his loyalty to Saix - his old friend with whom they'd planned to overthrow the Organization - with his loyalty to his new friends. In the end, he focuses his priorities on Roxas and Xion, even to the point of bringing Xion back to the castle against her will (as she'd decided to rejoin Sora), since he believes that this will keep her safe.
      • After the rift between himself and his friends has grown to the point of no return (as he says, he can't really recognize Axel anymore), Roxas decides to leave the Organization, with Saix standing in his way. He soon encounters Xion who feigns insanity to ensure that Roxas defeats her, so that he can take in Sora's memories which she has inside her. After this happens, everyone starts forgetting her, making it as if she'd never existed in the first place.
      • Nevertheless, Roxas vows to stop Xemnas and, two Keyblades in hand, attempts to destroy the artifical Kingdom Hearts. However, he is stopped by Riku and Deep Dive finally happens for realsies. Riku is defeated, but he must take Roxas to Sora at all costs, so he gives in to the deepest darness in his heart and takes the form of Ansem, Seeker of Darkness. Roxas is put into the data Twilight Town, setting up the prologue of KHII.

      Favorite story segment
      There are many moments in this game that could take this title, but in the end I'd have to say it's the moment when Riku defeats Xion in Beast's Castle. After he calls her Keyblade a sham and makes her question everything she knows, she screams with this visceral anguish in her voice that just solidified her as one of the biggest woobies in the series in my book.

      Gameplay highlights
      • Just the panel system, really. It make s a low level run easier and I liked that you could only change stuff around before missions, making choosing the right setup every time very important.
      • If you've got friends with the game, Mission Mode can be pretty cool, as you have tons of characters to choose from.

      What are your thoughts on Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days? Did you play the original or just watched the cutscenes in the collection? If you've done both, which do you prefer? Feel free to take part in the discussion!

      ~Play order~
      KINGDOM HEARTS=>CHAIN OF MEMORIES=>KINGDOM HEARTS II=>358/2 DAYS=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????

    1. WarZidane's Avatar
      WarZidane -
      As a game, I could never get into 358/2 Days. There were a number of reasons for this. I'm not big on handhelds and I don't like the mission-based structure (for these reasons, I was also not a fan of Crisis Core). I recall finding the gameplay disappointing too, but it's been quite a while and it was pretty brief (i didn't finish the game) so I'll refrain on really judging that part.

      I will say it's cool that you could actually play as all the organization members in mission mode.

      As a "movie" in the HD collection, I much prefer it, and it rises up the ranks considerably. It's a good, tragic story that fills in a lot of gaps left behind by KH2 and introduces a new character that I really like.

      It's hard to pick between two specific parts of Days as my favorite one.

      First, there's the climax to Xion's story, where she fights Roxas so that he can end her existence (and all memory of her), which is necessary to fix Sora's predicament. Hearing her theme play as she fades away while Roxas forgets who she even is (though he briefly regains the memories) hits you in the gut pretty hard.

      The second is the famous Deep Dive scene, as you finally see it fully play out. Roxas and Riku fighting each other and a bunch of heartless while you see their memories of Xion starting to fade away, and finally you see her being completely wiped from Roxas' memory at the same moment as Riku-Ansem subduing him, to the sound of Dearly Beloved.

      I consider both to be about equally good really. Coincidentally they're also both about equally tragic.
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      I really liked this game, and I never minded the gameplay. I was completely engrossed in the story when it came out, especially since Iím a sucker for very character driven narratives. I thought the gameplay worked for a handheld game, and I did like messing around with the level up system. Iíve only watched the movie version once, and I will not do that again since I feel like it loses impact without going through the day to day and not seeing all the fights.
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      I really enjoyed 358/2 and I feel it cemented Roxas as my favorite character in the whole franchise. There's nothing really to say on the subject that Fynn didn't mention in his great write-up. Except I still think the whole Riku-Ansem thing was stupid and mostly used for cheap shock value. I will say that 358/2 is one of the most heart wrenching entries in the whole series with probably one of the biggest gut-punching endings in the franchise, which is saying something because most of the games have bittersweet endings. Well the good ones at least...

      I'll stick up for the gameplay a little more though. I enjoyed the Grid system because the one thing KH tends to lack is a good customization system. The console entries lack any meaningful one and CoM probably has the best one in the series if you dig deck building. Still I appreciate the challenge of the Grid system imposes on the game. I feel the two best features of the game, which were largely ignored for the rest of the franchise was how magic and keyblades worked in this game. Granted, magic is unique because it's built for the multiplayer, but I appreciated the fact that each level of a spell was unique and not simply a "bigger" version of the first spell. You could also build some interesting combos with stuff like Blizzaga and Firaga. For the Keyblades, I liked the fact they had alternate combos depending on whether you hit an alternate button at certain times. One of my favorite Keyblades would open up into a powerful aerial combo if you chained it right and with the aforementioned spell changes, it was possible to create some fun and challenging combat setups. So I feel the core idea of the combat system was actually really strong, the issue was the game was made for the DS.

      Don't get me wrong, I love the DS, but 358/2 should have been made for the stronger PSP system if they wanted a hot handheld multiplayer itle, especially since Wi-Fi support on the PSP was better designed than the poor DS. It may have also improved the controls of the game as well. Like KH1, 358/2 asks more of the camera than it really could, especially with the added problem of lacking a right analog stick to fix things. Made more annoying by the game lifting areas from verbatim from KH1, leaving us to deal with finicky camera controls in some platform heavy areas like Agrabah or bringing back the awkward flight controls from Neverland back. There are also just some flat out obnoxious missions that just make the gameplay side of things more tedious than it should be such as the stealth missions against Cogsworth and Pete or the obnoxious "chase down the giant heartless" missions in the Wonderlnd Maze and Neverland. I like to hope that had the game been remade for a stronger system with a better camera, it would actually really shine as one of the better entries but obviously SE has decided that's more effort than they are willing to give to the poor title.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      TFW no one notices the little poem you made with the game title >.>
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      Oh I appreciated the poem, Fynn!

      I forgot about the stealth missions in the game. Those were definitely pretty bad.
    1. Vermachtnis's Avatar
      Vermachtnis -
      I've only seen the movie and that was because I wanted the cards that you get from watching it. Then I loved it. It was not a happy movie. And I can't imagine that fight with Xion at the end being a fun one. I read the ingame journal that unlocked after watching it and the entry said something along the lines of, "And Xion finally got her wish of dying." Kingdom Hearts, for kids!
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -

      Time for another fan favorite! Luckily, this time I'm in the "yay!" camp! With its intricate lore, greatly expanding the universe of Kingdom Hearts, a compelling cast with incredibly tragic stories and heavy doses of dramatic irony, and a stellar battle system that perfectly blends deck-building with high-octane action, Birth By Sleep has all the makings of a masterpiece. And so it sits comfortable on the number 3 spot of my personal Kingdom Hearts ranking list.

      Birth By Sleep takes place ten years before the events of Kingdom Hearts I, and here's where the other half of the build-up from II went. We've got the scenes from the secret ending, we go right into the whole origin of the Xehanort shenanigans, we get to learn why Sora and Roxas look so different, and... then there's this new girl? Oh wait, she's the actual main character here?

      So a notable thing about BBS is that you get to experience its story through three different perspectives. There's Terra, the hot muscleboy who's a little too trusting of authority figures. Then there's Ventus, a narcoleptic young man who will literally die if you don't love him enough. And then there's Aqua, a literal perfect, flawless human being who can do no wrong but always has to clean up after everybody and is rewarded with everything bad the universe can throw at her. Don't get too attached to this lovely bunch, though. The fact that you haven't seen nor heard of them throughout the series run so far should tip you off that something is not right and that there is no way any one of these guys will be getting happy endings. Ventus and Terra's appearance and behavior can give you a lot to mull over, however, and if you've been paying attention throughout the series, you can probably deduce what will happen to them before things really start going downhill for realsies. Aqua, however, is where the story really gets interesting. In the end, she is the glue that holds the plot together and the plot is ultimately about her trying to make the best of a bad situation, and still failing despite her best efforts. Still, it's admirable how she can still persevere despite all this tragedy (for nOW DAMN YOU NOMURAAAAAA!!!!).

      But even aside from our main trio, there are plenty of other, lore-heavy scenes in this game - which I'll get to in a moment in my usual list format - and while the game isn't as character-heavy as Days or CoM, it still does a decent job of fleshing out our characters and their motivations, to the point that they're at the very least very likeable, so that you really feel sorry for them after all is said and done. That still doesn't mean I don't like what was added to the KH universe - I love it too! Honestly, this is what I think really makes this game's plotting different to KHII's. Both games have tons of new plot points, but you can tell that, while it was seat-of-your pants writing for KHII, Birth By Sleep is actually the start of a completely new arc, with Nomura already planting seeds for future releases. In short, this (and Days too, even if just a little bit) is where we don't really focus on II anymore and instead start preparing for Kingdom Hearts III. I've admitted myself that a lot of the stuff in KH is made up as it goes along, but in this game in particular you can see that there's some very subtle, methodical build up happening. As stupid as many of you consider Dream Drop Distance's plot, many of the plot points are already foreshadowed here (e.g. Braig's appearance, as in the eyes and ears, is different in the Blank Points secret ending than it is during the main plot), with scenes that would later make their way to 3D (even if slightly altered) are hidden within this game's code. All I'm saying is, there was way more build-up to the whole Seekers of Darkness saga climax, people. This time Nomura was actually probably too subtle for his own good, though

      But enough about plot, as we'll cover that in more detail later - the gameplay is also top notch here! I really love the command deck system and I'm so glad it made its way into two more games in the series, to the point that I was genuinely saddened when I learned III would be going back to a more traditional KH system. Birth By Sleep honestly does the system best. With leveling up commands, melding commands to not only get better ones, but also unlock permanent abilities, and the absolute joy that is the command board, there are a ton of ways to play around with - and break - Birth By Sleep's combat. Which is why the current hardcore KH opinion about the Osaka team and it's "floaty" combat just drives me- ack, nevermind. Birth By Sleep is a bit slower than KHII and a tiny bit less flashy, but the deck and command styles more than make up for all of that, if you ask me, creating a battle system that is satisfying both on a visual and a strategic level. It's one of the most interesting, satisfying battle systems I've ever experienced. And hey - each character plays completely differently, so you never really get bored!

      Now, Birth By Sleep is very dense, so I could go on about many different aspects of the game. But this isn't a review. It's just a very, very opinionated retrospective, so it's time to move on to the actual summary part so that everyone and their mother is ready for KHIII!

      Again, rather than going chronologically (with three separate campaigns intertwining, it'd be a mess), I'll simply sum up the most important plot points.

      Important story bits
      • Master Xehanort and Master Eraqus are two old friends who mastered the Keyblade under one master. Eraqus has this kinda sorta religious devotion to light while Xehanort is tempted by darkness very much. It's what made him leave Destiny Islands, after all. Oh yeah, he's from Destiny Islands - kinda important. Also, his Keyblade - No Name - has the blue eye from the Soul Eater on it. Pay attention! I said this would be important!
      • So Xehanort is obsessed with legends of the Keyblade war and, in particular, Kingdom Hearts and the χ-blade (pronounced "keyblade"; I know. Nomura.). He decides to recreate the χ-blade by making light and dark clash together, hoping this would return Kingdom Hearts to the world of men, and he can gain the knowledge within. For this purpose, he gets an apprentice, Ventus, and forcefully separates his dark half from his light half, creating Vanitas. His Heart broken, Ventus looks like he's about to die, so Xehanort takes him to the Islands as a last expression of kindness. Over there, Ven's broken heart makes contact with a newly born Sora who gives Ven some of his heart so that he can survive. And survive he does.
      • Years later, Xehanort comes to the Land of Departure to help Eraqus with the Mark of Mastery exam in which Terra and Aqua are tested or the Mark of Mastery (Ven has joined them in their training there a couple years prior, though he;s not ready to take the exam just yet). Xehanort interrupts the exam and makes Terra fail, with only Aqua becoming a Keyblade Master.
      • Disappointed, Terra listens to Xehanort who suggests he should maybe give into his darkness a little bit and sets out on a journey on his own. Egged on by Vanitas, Ventus leaves too. Since she's the only responsible adult in the group Aqua leaves to find both of them before anyone gets their face bashed in.
      • Oh yeah, there's the Unversed - a swarm of beings born from negative emotions but also they all actually come from Vanitas? Who actually looks like Sora underneath his Spider-Man mask, btw.
      • The friends travel across various worlds, including Radiant Garden, where you get to meet Ansem the Wise along with a big chunk of what will become Organization XIII. That includes Braig, who is really rising to prominence in this game and is kind of operating as Xehanort's right hand man. Far more than Vanitas, honestly, who is really only there to fight Ventus.
      • Aqua encounters a young Kairi who, when attacked by Unversed, grabs ahold of Aqua's Keyblade - this counts as an accidental bequeathing, so Kairi can later use a Keyblade because of this. Kairi later asks her grandma to tell her the story about the light from the first game.
      • Aqua and Terra both make it to Destiny Islands at separate points. Riku bequeaths his Keyblade to Riku, which will later result in him being the Kingom Key's original chosen. Aqua thinks of bequeathing on Sora when she sees how bright his heart shines, but since Riku already has the mark on him, she doesn't do it. She only tells Sora to bring Riku if he ever strays off his path. I'm sorry, I just got something in my eye.
      • Our trio keep running into each other and just missing each other, their mutual trust gradually deteriorating. Ventus learns of his nature and Eraqus tries to kill him in order to protect the world from destruction, so Ventus doesn't stop him as he believes it's the right thing. Terra comes to stop him and kills Eraqus in the process, unleashing the darkness within him.
      • The three later meet at the Keyblade Graveyard to face Master Xehanort who attempts to forge the χ-Blade and reach Kingdom Hearts. Terra fights him alone and loses his heart and body to the old master, though his will still inhabits his armor and tries to kill him. Ventus gets hijacked by Vanitas and has to battle him from within. Aqua, meanwhile, has to battle a Vanitas-possessed Ventus. Vanitas loses, but Ventus' heart is shattered in the process and he falls into a coma.
      • Aqua returns to the Land of Departure and puts Ven there to keep him safe. She finds Eraqus' Keyblade and uses it to lock the world securely, transforming it into Castle Oblivion, so no one but her can reach Ventus. She later faces a Xehanort-possessed Terra in Radiant Garden in order to save him. They both fall to the realm of darkness but, with the last of her strength, Aqua uses her armor to send Terra back to Radiant Garden. He ends up losing his memory and becomes Ansem's apprentice, who later becomes responsible for the Heartless invasion.
      • Aqua becomes stranded in the Realm of Darkness. She encounters Heartless, with only Eraqus' keyblade being her guiding key. She wanders the world until she finally reaches the Dark Horizon, where she meets a hooded figure. This turns out to be Ansem the Wise after his sacrifice in II - more than ten years have passed since Aqua arrived in the Realm of Darkness. However, Ansem restores some of her hope by telling her about a young boy named Sora. In the last scene, we see Sora with the letter from Mickey, ready to set out on a journey to help those who have faced a foul fate becasue, as he puts it himself, he is who he is because of them.

      Favorite story segment
      Easily the Blank Points secret ending. It was a masterful way of connecting this prequel to events occuring after the end of II, so even though you're looking at an origin story, you still feel like this is building up to something much bigger. This is what I meant before when I said Birth By Sleep is actually a sign of Nomura actually taking his time to plan out a much more substantial plot, and I'm here for it. To top this all of, all the doomed characters looking up to the sky with hope in their eyes just warms my cold, dead heart so much. Add to that the most gorgeous rendition of Dearly Beloved at this point, and I'm not crying, you're crying.

      Gameplay highlights
      • The Command Deck is a very engrossing character customization systems with incredibly useful, if broken skills that are easy to use with a simple press of the triangle button.
      • Each of the three characters play differently, with Terra being a stone wall, Ventus being a lighting bruiser, and Aqua being kind of an all-rounder, though still more agile than bulky, just with a magical bent rather than a physical one.
      • Command styles are what happens when you keep using a specific group of commands, which changes your combos up significantly. These styles are branching trees that you can unlock as you progress, with some styles requiring that you already be in another style to access. They're very flashy and very powerful.
      • Shotlocks are a very cool thing if you like crowd control.
      • D-links are a thing.
      • The Command Board is insanely addicting.

      What are your thoughts on Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep? Do you think the story and gameplay are a step up from II or the other way around? Does this game feel like a main entry to you? How do you feel about the new plot developments and all the retcons that are inevitable in prequels like this? Feel free to take part in the discussion!

      ~Play order~

    1. WarZidane's Avatar
      WarZidane -
      Hello, my favorite KH entry (for now).

      I loved it when I first played it, and I still loved it when I played it again in 2018.

      Sure, the camera has its PSP limitations, but the command deck is just great. Spells and skills that don't rely on MP but instead a cooldown timer that's not too long means you're finally able to just go all out instead of going "oh but what if i need my MP for a curaga in 3 seconds". The style changes depending on which skills you use are also great, really overall it's just a joy to play, IMO even moreso than KH2.

      Story-wise it's also my favorite, which considering my prejudice against prequels is honestly astonishing.

      Having to go through the same worlds three times may sound tedious but it's really not, thanks to the events being different for each character and the worlds also just being pretty short.

      One thing that never bothered me (because of the power of overleveling and great command setups) but I can see why it bothers other people, some of the bosses in this game. They can be brutal and kind of cheap.

      My favorite segment, same as Fynn, Blank Points. It's not as flashy as other secret endings, but damn is it good, and that scene with Dearly Beloved playing as you see all the characters waiting for Sora gets me every damn time.
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Birth by Sleep is probably my second favorite entry in the franchise. It easily has my favorite gameplay in the series tied to CoM, mainly because it brings the challenge and the combat actually has some substance to it and real customization. Of anything, the fact the later games kind of shy away from this one was a disappointment to me because I could honestly live with this being the de facto battle system for the series. Also shame on you for dissing D-Links, they are actually super useful when you use them at the right time, especially in the early game when your character doesn't have much to work with like poor Aqua.

      Though it's hardly my favorite set of worlds, BbS honestly made going through three of the most iconic Disney Fairy Tale worlds super enjoyable, and unlike there previous two handheld efforts, the level design for these places is pretty fair and doesn't feel completely phoned in. Mechanically speaking, my only real issue with BbS is similar to my issue with 358/2. This game deserved to be made for something with more power. If Days would have been better handled on the PSP, I strongly feel that BbS should have remained as a console entry like it was originally intended. I'm not even saying make it for PS3, I would have been fine had it stayed as a PS2 title. Not like the system was completely obsolete by it's release date. We would have likely lost out on the Multiplayer mechanics, but honestly, I felt Days multiplayer was more fun when I tried it.

      The plot is a mixed bag for me. There are certainly some great moments here, and collectively, I found the story of the three Keyblade wielders once again more engaging and interesting than whatever Sora and Riku are doing, but there is also a real sense of been there and done that with some of the characters. Terra's fall to Darkness wasn't really as good as Riku's story, and Ventus may look like Roxas and shares his existential angst, but he comes across more childish and flat as a character. Aqua is about the only unique figure among the roster and as Fynn kind of points out, she's a wee bit too perfect as a person compared to her compatriots who wear their flaws on their sleeves. I will say Xehanort did turn out to be a pretty interesting villain, you can feel the influence from Ansem the Wise of KH1 here as opposed to smug snake Xemnas. I do wish we could have gotten more screen time for Org. XIII's human members and Real Ansem, still disappointed that their roles in the plot were just a silly cameo and we're still denied any real character development for them. On the other hand, I appreciate that Scrooge McDuck got some real screen time in this entry. I will always take more Scrooge.

      I think my biggest beef with the plot overall is the introduction of yet a third means of getting to Kingdom Hearts and a method that feels suspiciously like Nomura and the team are simply laying the groundwork for the post-Xehanort arc of the franchise. This inconsistency with the world's cosmology is really irritating to me, though it wouldn't completely break my patience until 3D.
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      I do enjoy this game a lot. I especially like how fun blowing everything up with Aqua becomes by the end of the game. I appreciated the difference between playing as the three characters on the first play through due to variety, but Aqua will always be the most fun to me.

      Itís hard to say anything else that hasnít already been said. I do remember having Wolfís same exact thoughts when I first played this game about yet another change to how Kingdom Hearts works.

      Also, that secret ending had me super pumped to get to the conclusion of the series. It really felt like it was building up to the conclusion, and a part of me always feels like we should have just got the final game after that. I do appreciate 3DS more since the last time I played it, but Fynn will get to that game too. Iím just excited that we are finally getting the conclusion that I was pumped for after this game.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      To be fair, it does look like KHIII is actually concluding stuff this time instead of making new stuff up, and thereís a big chance the .Org XIII members will be getting more screentime judging by the trailers, but I guess weíll get that at a later point. I will agree that this is the game that actually made Xehanort into an interesting villain, but Iíll probably get note into that once I cover DDD.
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Quote Originally Posted by Fynn View Post
      To be fair, it does look like KHIII is actually concluding stuff this time instead of making new stuff up, and thereís a big chance the .Org XIII members will be getting more screentime judging by the trailers, but I guess weíll get that at a later point. I will agree that this is the game that actually made Xehanort into an interesting villain, but Iíll probably get note into that once I cover DDD.
      Except that's what a lot of us were saying when we saw the Org. XIII members in BbS. It might be nice to see Marluxia and Larxene again, but there's not enough evidence yet whether the game will properly explore the cast or simply make them one scene wonders. I gave up on Org. XIII getting anymore characterization after 358/2 dropped the ball. That was a perfect opportunity to really explore the group, I don't really feel like KHIII is going to come through because as it stands, the game is juggling too many plot elements as it is. It would be silly for them to try to cram in some more characterization into characters whose role in the story is likely coming to a close. Especially since this game has enough on it's plate and will likely be dealing with a MCU Avenger's scenario of trying to cram too many characters into one title, but at least KHIII will likely have the time to do them justice.

      KHIII is finishing Xehanort's plot, but Nomura has already said in interviews that the next arc after Xehanort will explore the Keyblade War. I imagine KHIII will end Xehanort's plot but also spend a good chunk of it;s time laying down the new mysteries pertaining to the Keyblade War, in fact they've been doing that since KHII when they introduced the concept. While it's not fair to judge a game before you play, considering the series track record, I feel KHIII will follow the pattern of all of the other games and spend just as much time introducing new mysteries while answering the few lingering questions left.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Except all the Keyblade War stuff is being explored through χ (now Union Cross), which will 100% be necessary reading before the next console title, so I have faith Nomura will at least attempt to make this feel resolved, since he has gone on record saying resolution was the main theme of the game.

      But again, weíll get to this in my later write ups
    1. Shauna's Avatar
      Shauna -
      You know, reading this whole thing made me realise - I think that I liked BBS as much as I did, not just because it was fantastic, but because it was the first KH game I'd played since KH2 that I actually, you know, enjoyed the activity of playing.

      I played KH1>2>CoM (scandalous, I know)>Days>BBS. It felt like a bit of a return to form! For me, at least. I actually did everything the game had to offer (on baby difficulty lmao) which is incredibly uncommon for me to do, because I am bad at video games. But yeah, that's the kind of level I enjoyed playing this game.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -

      So a little sidenote here, guys. Some of you may know that I am very annoyed whenever someone goes "wow this must have been done on drugs". People are creative, stop chalking up outlandish concepts that you wouldn't have been able to come up with yourself to intoxication.

      That is not the case with Kingdom Hearts coded, however. Nomura was literally drunk when he came up with this idea.

      God save us all.

      I also make no secret of the fact that I consider this hands-down the worst Kingdom Hearts game of them all. The fact that I still liked it and think it's very fun to play just goes to show how solid a track record Kingdom Hearts has with its games, but that doesn't change the fact that this game frustrates me to no end. And no, it's not because of the gameplay.

      I knew from the moment I started this retrospective that this game would be a little bit problematic. And this is due to the fact that, despite Nomura's insistance on the contrary, coded is completely, 100% irrelevant and skippable. Incorporating this in a retrospective that's meant to sum up plot points that will most likely be relevant come KH3 just seems like a waste of time. Were that the only grievance I had with the story, it would have been fine. The problem is that throughout the whole game, it tries to make us feel stuff by recontextualizing previous events from the game. It's a damn shame all of this, all of the stuff happening is a complete sham.

      The game starts with Jiminy looking at his Journals. The old one, with the "Thank Namine" note, happens to have a new message - "Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it." Naturally, King Mickey decides the only way to get to the bottom of this is to digitize the journal's contents and guide a data copy of Sora through its contents in order to find out what the deal is - you know, as you do. Bugs start appearing, corrupting the data within the journal further, and it's up to Data-Sora to save the day...? Then it turns out there's a hooded Riku running around and he's actually... the Journal's anthropomorphic representation? At some point Mickey and the rest of the Disney Castle gang are sucked into the Datascape somehow? And Maleficent tries to take over the datascape, of course - if she can't have the real thing, she'll at least settle for a Second Life account.

      There are so many things that make this much more frustrating than it needs to be. Data Sora is clueless, so we need to learn everything from scratch along with him, and he gets his memory wiped at least twice in the game, so it reaches the point that I seriously question Mickey's computer skills. All the worlds are rehashes from KH1, with the exception of Castle Oblivion, and the game really tries to make the scenes feel weighty and emotional but just fails at all of that because Data Sora is a cheap imitation. Donald and Goofy treating him like the regular Sora and promising to be friends forever is meaningless because this dude is a program and their memories and bond are with a different person. Thanking Namine near the end is a slap to the face since neither Sora nor Namine in this game are the Sora and Namine for whom the thanking act actually matters. There's just so many layers upon layers of artificiality in this game's story that it is beyond me how Nomura expected anyone would relate to these characters. The absolute worst thing is that this could have been avoided wth one, very simple fix, but I'll get to that later.

      Now that that's out of my system, I can finally talk a little bit about the gameplay, which is easily the best part of the game. It's baffling to me how this game of all the games in the series, got condensed into cutscenes, considering how utterly irrelevant everything that happens here is and how stellar the gameplay is. Not the camera though, as thats once again atrocious, and there's no type-2 camera to pick this time around. The Command Deck is back and its as good as ever, but coded takes full advantage of the fact that we're in a virtual world now to really do some exciting things. First of all, theres the Matrix system, which gives you access to several Sphere Grid/Licence Board-like character progression boards that are incredibly fun to tinker around with. There's the Overclock system, which is kind of reminiscent of BBS's command styles. And then there are all the various challenges for you to undertake in the debugging sections. It's also really cool how most worlds have interesting gimmicks, with Traverse Town having 2D platforming segments, Olympus Coliseum playing like a traitional turn-based RPG, and Hollow Bastion having you without your Keyblade and needing to rely on Donald and Goofy, whom you have limited control over.

      What I'm trying to say, this may be one of the most creative games in the series from a gameplay standpoint. It's a crying shame, then, that the story is so empty - especially at this point when we're slowly but surely reaching the quickening stage of the KHIII buildup.

      The following section will be really short because I'll be summing up the story bits which are actually relevant to the plot. Data-Sora's adventures for the most part are just digital variations on his KHI adventures, so you're really not missing out. The story's one serving grave is Roxas' appearance in Castle Oblivion and how different he seems from anything we've ever seen before - you can really feel the frustration born from forgetting Xion.

      Important story bits
      • We learn that Sora's heart is the thread connecting the hearts of all those who have faced a foul fate, and is the key to saving them (which we already learned in Birth by Sleep, but OK, I guess it's spelled out now).
      • Mickey, of course, is here to learn all of this, and this is what pushes him to write the letter from the KH2 epilogue to Sora.
      • Yen Sid tells Mickey that when both the Heartless and the Nobody of a specific person are defeated, the original being reforms.
      • An added scene in the cutscene version introduces us to Young Xehanort as he shows up near Ansem's awakening apprentices (not exactly necessary since the next game gets you up to speed very quickly.

      Favorite story segment
      You know, I could just say the Castle Oblivion segment since it's the only area of the game that actually has any story relevance and is pretty intriguing, but instead, I'm just going to say how much of a massive missed opportunity this game was. You can tell from the interviews, as well as most of the interesting cutscenes in the game, that Nomura wanted to make this game Mickey's story. And I'm all for that idea - but why have Data-Sora steal the show then? Why have him in there at all? You could have just madea game where you investigate the Datascape as Mickey and that would have been so much more interesting. It's great that the Disney Castle crew got a day in the limelight, but it would have been so much more compelling had they gone full out and just let us see stuff from Mickey's perspective and him learning everything he knows first-hand. There would be plenty of room for character development for him - his guilt, his friendship with Donald and Goofy, all of that should have been center stage instead of some weird B-plot that is actually somehow trying to be the A-plot. This story would have been a million times more enjoyable with just this one minor change. And now I'm mad that this is a game I'll never get.

      Gameplay highlights
      • The Command Deck is back!
      • The Overclock system is reminiscent of Command Styles, with its own digital twist.
      • The Matrix System is one of the coolest character progression systems in the series.
      • A lot of really cool gameplay gimmicks in every world.

      So what did you think of coded? Did you even play it? Did you even bother to watch the cutscenes? Perhaps you disagree with me and think this game really is relevant to the overarching plot? Feel free to take part in the discussion!

      ~Play order~

    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      I never bothered with coded, it pretty much looked like the type of game that CoM was accused of being, a rehash of the first game with two new story bits to justify dropping some dough to play it, and your overview seems to confirm that assumption. I did like the fact Roxas was the final boss, but he's my favorite character in the franchise so call me bias.

      I imagine that Mickey was short changed because of Disney. Despite letting them have access to their IPs, it seems to me like the Mouse House is really stingy and very specific with how Mickey can be utilized in the game. I feel the only chance of Mickey being a prominent character in the plot and fully playable would likely require Disney to have heavy involvement with the game's development which I don't feel Nomura and SE are really willing to do.

      I will totally laugh if it turns out Data Sora is going to show up and be important in KHIII.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      I still recommend it though. The DS version, of course. It really is a blast to play.
    1. WarZidane's Avatar
      WarZidane -
      I'm gonna be honest here and say I never played the actual game. Added to the whole handheld issue I already had with Days, this one was released in 2011, at which point in time I had already completely abandoned my DS in a dark corner of my room.

      I did however watch the whole thing on the collection, so judging by that it is indeed the worst KH. Completely irrelevant until the final part, and even that is questionably relevant because yeah, even the information you get from that is basically covered in other games.

      All that said, I'm guessing the structure and story of the game was like that because it was originally an episodic game made for mobile phones.
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