• 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~
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    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 -
      I loved the circuit board. I messed around a lot with it. Easily the best character progression system in the series. Prolly my favorite of all time.
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      I never really expected too much of the story since it was originally a cell phone game, but I remember being so disappointed with this game from a story standpoint. I agree with basically all you say regarding the story.

      That being said, I did have a lot of fun playing it. I did watch the cutscenes to get a theme for my ps3 I think? It is dumb to have just had the cutscenes from this game since the gameplay was the only real point to the game.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -

      To say this game is controversial is an understatement to say the least. From the complex story, even by series standards, to the very experimental gameplay, Dream Drop Distance have left many fans scratching heads as it took the series in a direction no one was really expecting, really shifting people's expectations of Kingdom Hearts III. Now, despite the fact that I believe the game was most likely cut severely either due to time or platform constraints, I still can't overstate how much I love it. Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance shares the comfy #3 spot with Birth By Sleep.

      One of the most notable elements of this game is the fact that we take control of both Sora and Riku again. Unlike in CoM and BBS, however, this game doesn't do separate campaigns - instead, both characters are controlled in tandem, the details of which I'll explain later. Due to the fact that we've just learned that Xehanort has reformed and that there's a small village worth of Keyblade wielders to be saved by Sora, who has become a Messiah of sorts in between defeating Xemnas and receiving Mickey's letter, the boys need to take the Mark of Mastery exam, stat. Due to the impromptu nature of this exam, they can't really do it the long and safe way that the Wayfinder trio has, so instead Yen Sid sends them balls-deep into the Sleeping Realms, tasking them with awakening the worlds that couldn't awaken after Sora restored most of the other ones after KHI. The cosmology of this universe is all over the place, I know. Don't worry about it too much.

      Reverted to their kid forms and with new duds that have mystriously materialized them for what is most likely no important reason at all, don't worry, Sora and Riku make their way through a small selection of surprisingly elaborate worlds from Disney's B lineup, which incidentally happens to be my favorite. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time, and then there's Fantasia which is like, my entire childhood, and the Three Musketeers which is something that amused me and my brother to no end when I was in high school. The world selection is surprising, is what I'm saying, and in a good way. It helps that, aside from the first and final world (both of which have been substantially altered, by the way), all of the worlds in 3D are completely new ones. So no more revisiting the same four rooms of Wonderland or murdering rogue pots in Olympus Coliseum!

      Now, before I move on to talking about the gameplay, it's time to address the great pink elephant in the room. KH has a reputation of being complicated and, let me tell you, even though I usually rebuff these notions, 3D had me scratching my head for a long time. There's time travel, dream worlds, parallel worlds, possessions - all the things that let you cook up a nice big confusion smoothie, just like mom used to make. I've mentioned the beta scenes found in BBS before as evidence that most of the stuff that seems out of left field has actually been planned, or at the very least foreshadowed before (it has, don't lie), but they're also evidence of the fact that the story was definitely meant to be spread out better. The Destiny Islands segment in the game proper is incredibly short and very vague, while the content found in BBS appeared to be much more robust. Whether Nomura ran out of time or space on that tiny little 3DS cartridge, it is clear that corners were cut since I think the story's absolute biggest sin is the fact that it feels choppy and rushed and poorly explained.

      However, despite all this, I am actually a fan of everything that is happening here. Say what you will about the inclusion of a time travel mechanic, but I see it in a similar way to how I see the Time Turner in Harry Potter - it's a thing that has very specific limitations and nothing can really be altered to create a separate timeline - you can only really change the stuff that's already been changed due to time travel. Nomura's way of implementing this particular plot point may be sloppy, but God damnit, I can't be the only person who really felt that the stakes needed to be raised significantly before KHIII? For goodness sake, Sora already has Riku at his side, so if he were to have five more Keyblade wielders, all in order to beat Grandpa Xehanort, then the old guy doesn't feel like he's very much of a threat. 13 Xehanorts sounds menacing and, to take this HP allegory further, reminds me of Voldemort and his horcruxes, which were also seemingly late additions to the story that were there in plain sight all along (though how much was actually pre-planned in either case is debatable; I am pretty convinced Nomura had thought none of this up before BBS, but I'm sure everything since that game has been part of this setup).

      It's crazy, but it's a good kind of crazy that keeps you wanting more. It doesn't hurt that, despite the very poor explanations, the characterization is still fairly strong. I love the fact that Xehanort is capable of playing the long game and him being prepared for everything beforehand not only makes sense within the context of time travel, but also make him seem so much more conniving and threatening. Young Xehanort was interesting since this is the guy that's still kind of in his "oh, you know, just kind of curious about darkness" stage and I love that he was his own start of darkness. That's just hilarious. And then there's Riku. Sora, sadly, has regressed a bit in this game, becoming the generic all-loving hero again, but I do enjoy the fact that it's that overreliance on light that has made him fall at the very end of the story and nearly have him become one of the 13 darknesses. Riku, on the other hand, finally has his arc complete, and I feel it's very satisfying and I love the fact that he's the actual protagonist of this game. His experiences may have weighed heavy on him and it's been a rollercoaster ride over the whole series, but now that what he considered to be his "taint" with darkness has actually given him an advantage, making him immune to Xehanort's influence, this is exactly the boost of confidence that Riku needed in order to save Sora and ace the exam. He really did deserve to become a Keyblade Master after all this time.

      So gameplay. There's a lot to unpack. There's the command deck again, but you don't meld commands this time. How do you get abilities, then? Dream Eaters. These creatures serve as your companions this time around and it's them that you have to grind if you want to get access to new abilities. Sadly, this involves some very repetitive mini games, which I wasn't really a fan of, but eh, they're cute. Then there's flowmotion. I've said before that the worlds are much more expansive right now, and part of the reason for that is the fact that you can now parkour across the scene, making skills like high jump and glide obsolete. Additionally, they add a whole new variety of combat abilities, so now your surroundings are far more important to your battles. Then there's the drop mechanic. You get to play both as Sora and Riku at once, but each of them is on a timer and when it runs out, whether you're just exploring or in the middle of a boss battle, you are forced to switch characters. Still, it's far less rigid than it sounds, as you can get items that extend your time very early on very cheap. It goes without saying, then, that 3D plays like nothing else in the series, and for the most part, it's very enjoyable Those mini games, though, I could really do without.

      Alright, time to take on this bad boy.

      Important story bits
      • Sora and Riku undergo the Mark of Mastery exam, which involves unlocking te sleeping worlds. Upon arrival, Sora and Riku get new outfits - Sora's has a large X on it, while Riku has the Dream Eater mark on his back.
      • Back in the real world, Lea - Axel's complete form - awakens in Radiant Garden along with Ansem's other apprentices. They all retain their memories from their time as Nobodies on top of their human memories. Lea goes to visit Yen Sid and asks to be trained in the Keyblade.
      • Riku and Sora get separated, and they end up exploring two different versions of the same world every time. It later turns out this was due to Xehanort's meddling - Riku has actually found his way inside Sora's dream by accident, instinctively trying to protect him when Xehanort and his minions were trying to find a way to Sora's heart.
      • At the end of his journey, Sora confronts the various people from his memory and ultimately faces Xemnas. The X on his clothes is the Recusant Sigil - something which lets Xehanort trace people (which is why he gave Organization members names with Xes), marking Sora as one of his chosen for the 13 Darknesses. Sora defeats Xemnas, but falls to sleep anyway, leaving his heart vulnerable to darkness. Luckily, Ventus' heart protects him using his dark-resistant Keyblade armor
      • The rules of time travel are simple: you must abandon your body, you can only travel back in time to a period where a version of you exists, once you travel to the past you can only travel forward in time, and you cannot change Destiny's course. After returning from your journey, your memory of the time trek is wiped so that Destiny can still take its course. This is how Young Xehanort is present here, as well as all the other 13 Darknesses, and the reason they disappear is because they travel further to the future, to the final confrontation.
      • Speaking of the final confrontation, Xehanort still wants to forge the χ-Blade, but this time he plans to pit 13 beings of pure darkness against 7 pure lights instead, as apparently that method is more reliable than just using one dude.
      • Riku faces off against Ansem, Seeker of Darkness and ends his power over his heart once and for all, but now he must rescue Sora. He's the one to witness the gathering of the 13 Darknesses, which Mickey interrupts with a Stopza spell. Young Xehanort, however, shakes it off and a battle ensues. Riku saves Sora, but the Darknesses must now travel in time further for the fnal confrontation.
      • Sora still won't wake up, so Riku must dive into his heart once again. After defeating the Ventus armor, possessed by Dream Eaters, he frees Sora. Riku receives the Mark of Mastery, and even though Sora doesn't, he is still extremely happy for his friend. Bless his heart. Sora must now retake the test to become a true Keyblade Master.
      • After the credits, we see Axel get his Keyblade, and Kairi also wants to get in on the action. Since she doesn't want to just stand by anymore and has been bequeathed a Keyblade, she starts her training with Yen Sid alongside Axel.

      Favorite story segment
      Honestly, everything that happens after Sora's story is over is pure gold. You've go some high stakes, Riku is super fun to play, and his boss rush is simply exhilerating. The fact that this time it's Sora falling to darkness and Riku is here to rescue him this time is incredibly fitting and makes a very nice bookend to Riku's character arc.

      Gameplay highlights
      • COMMAND DECKS!!!!!
      • The Dream Eaters are actually pretty fun to play around with, what with their ability boards
      • Flowmotion gives a new dimension to exploration, and it's just a very satisfying thing to execute in battle
      • The drop mechanic adds an additional level of strategy and makes things tense in a pleasant way

      So what are your thoughts on DDD? Did you play it? Did it make you quit the series or quite the contrary - it whetted your appetite for III? Feel free to take part in the discussion!

      ~Play order~

    1. WarZidane's Avatar
      WarZidane -
      DDD was okay but definitely not one of my favorites.

      While I have no issue with the actual content of the story, I did feel like the way they spread it over the game was poorly done. When I think back on KH games in terms of "where do the story bits happen" (apart from coded/recoded, because what story ), the only game that makes me go "they really just dumped it all at the end of the game" is DDD. Every other game there are bits and pieces that play out over the course of the game.

      Gameplay-wise, I was glad the command deck was back but I did not like the dream eaters system at all. This is troublesome because not only are dream eaters your partners in battle, they're also your source of abilities and commands. The actual combat was fine, but everything around it just annoyed me.

      As for flowmotion, some aspects I liked, some aspects I could do without. I didn't really care about its in-combat uses and things like launching objects, but I did like being able to just wall jump infinitely.

      This is the one entry I actually didn't replay in the collection. I just had no motivation to go through it again and watched it online instead.
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      So when I last played DDD, i definitely appreciated the story more than the first time I played. I think part of my issue is what you laid out, which is just that the story should have been spread out better. I also think it would have been a better game had we gotten rid of the Sora gameplay, or perhaps relegate him to a sort of prologue section. I liked all of the Riku moments, and I always felt things would have been better completely from his perspective with perhaps just some cutscenes showing Soraís stuff if need be.

      I was really appreciative that we basically got all new worlds in this game, and I also liked that The World Ends With You crew were represented. I also enjoyed the gameplay for the most part once I got used to the flow motion stuff. I do generally like monster collecting type stuff, but the Dream Eaters didnít quite do it for me. I think the repetitive mini games were a part of it. I did also like the visual design of the Dream Eaters for the most part. I donít know, I go back and forth on it.

      Really, most of the story beats Iím unsure of from this game all depend on how things are handled in III
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      I have a lot of issues with this game. So to get the praise out of the way, I liked the gameplay side of things. The drop mechanic was interesting and kept you on your toes, the flowmotion finally made getting around the stages less hassle free, and the Dream Pokemon weren't exactly as cringy as I feared. I feel the one element of the gameplay that does bother me is something I felt about all of the post FFV entries of FF, which is that many of those game systems are just remixes of the excellent job system, but hardly live up to it. I meant it when I said that BbS's gameplay mechanics could have remained the standard for the rest of the series and I wouldn't be bothered in the slightest, and while 3D gives you a taste, it still false short of the great customization and unique battle flow the Styles mechanic brings to combat. It's still fun though. The one exception is the silly travel between world segments which I really didn't enjoy.

      I also didn't mind the worlds for the most part, except I really hate Pinocchio, so I could have done without revisiting that world. The 3 Musketeer world was also an oddity for me, and I would have preferred a more traditional feature film world. Minor gripe though because it's honestly one of the better worlds. I also appreciated TWEWY cast showing up as well, but I love that game. I kind of hope/wish future installments would start giving cameos to lesser known SE properties, cause Musashi or Mint would be pretty fun to see in the games.

      My issue lies with the plot. I strongly disagree that KH needed "the stakes to be raised" I mean we watched Old Xehanort wipe the floor with three of the strongest wielders of the keyblade we seen in the whole series. Just the idea of him coming back in Terra's body at full power seemed like a pretty high stake to me. Having this incredibly over-elaborate plot to justify having Sora and Riku need to fight every incarnation of the dude again is both some Silver Age comics nonsense and tells me KHIII is just going to be one long boss rush. It didn't feel necessary is the issue I have with it. The fact it also involves my least favorite plot twist in the series is what really makes me angry.

      I like the Nobodies. Despite my whining about KHII, I feel that they are conceptually one of the coolest and most underutilized ideas in the franchise, and the entire retcon plot twist that they can eventually grow new hearts completely undermines their entire niche in the series. They went from being an interesting and morally divided third power to just being a means to an end for the big bad, and it pretty much cheapens the drama of all of their appearances for me. Like this twist retroactively made me dislike their entire appearance in the series. It was just dumb, and I might have been able to swallow the rest of this game's nonsensical dime store novel writing ability until this bombshell was dropped. I'm seriously livid just thinking about it right now. Also, how does this even work then? I mean if Axel grew a heart because of Roxas and Xion, but now he's Lea, what happens to his two hearts? Do they just merge or what? Can Lea say he's the same person now? How about Sora? I mean he's got like Four hearts wandering around that body now, and that's not even talking about the whole Kairi//Nanime thing. Also, how do you just "grow a heart back" I thought the whole smurfing point of this series was that everyone was trying to find Kingdom Hearts because it's literally the "Heart of Everything" and that's where people's hearts come from? You mean to tell me we can just grow this trout? Like from KHII beyond, I'm struggling to understand why people are bothering to look for this thing, because it seems like every new installment undermines everything we were told about this place in the first game. Seriously, this just adds more gasoline to the poor cosmology of the series and how the author's are sort of just making it up as they go. This was such a poorly thought out twist that just didn't really need to happen.

      To make matters worse, I used to kind of like Axel, until his fanbase started to drive me crazy and the KH team capitalized on it by giving him the most appearances out of all of the Org. XIII people. Now he's back as a human and we're going to make a him a keyblade user as well, despite the earlier games acting like it was special. But considering we've been walking over that whole concept since KHII, I shouldn't be surprised. Hell, Donald and Goofy will likely get keyblades in KHIII for good measure. It's like the concept of Bankai in Bleach or Super Saiyan in DBZ, which were treated as something special and rare, and then just as we jump into the next arc that whole build up is forgotten and it becomes common place and not even treated as special anymore, it's practically the bar set just to fight the bad guys foot soldiers. My real issue here is that this is blatant fan pandering. It's not relevant for the story as much as it's just giving in to fan demands to make their favorite character still relevant and special, like all of the characters they've been building up since the first game.

      So yeah, the three biggest bombshells pf the story were all misses for me and simply told me to stop bothering. For every moment I felt the series took one step in the right direction, another entry took three steps back. I get, I shoudln't care so much, I mean this is basically a silly crossover story starring Disney characters fighting eldritch horrors with Hot Topic version of the FF franchise, and I should never have gotten my hopes up that the writing was ever going to be good because the base concept is ridiculous, but hot damn if KH1 wasn't a surprise and both Deep Dive and CoM promised some really good intrigue. Instead it's just been squandered for cheap drama and childish notions of what's "cool". I get it, I shouldn't be getting all hot and bothered by a silly Disney crossover game, "the entire concept was dumb to begin with, what were you expecting?". When I reached that conclusion, I decided I didn't care anymore about the franchise, and that it had been a waste of my time altogether.

      I'm fine with anyone else who still cares, and I'm not trying to say anyone is foolish to still care. But for me, I know now that KHIII is just not going to end in any satisfactory way for me, nor is the franchise ever going to live up to the misguided expectations I placed on it. It's silly fun, but I no longer have any emotional attachment to it.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      See, for me that twist had a completely different effect. I was skeptical l about the no heart business from the start, but I chalked it up to the writers just not being able to at all convey this type of being. No fault of their own, itís just an incredibly outlandish concept that is hard to place. With the revelation that they were growing hearts, a lot of the character-focused stuff in the series makes more sense - Axel in particular who should not have cared by Roxas in the slightest, but in the end he really did, which is why I think Nomura must have at least thought of it at this point. Iím not saying it was planned, just that he may have treated Axel as an inspiration for this twist. Or maybe he noticed heís written himself into a corner with these emotive Nobodies in II and Days to the point that he needed to come up with SOME kind of explanation. Iíd also say it adds an additional layer of tragedy since they could have just become regular people and moved normal lives were it not for Xemnasí propaganda, but thatís just my personal take.

      But I do agree with everyone saying the pacing of this story is really bad and it would have been much more coherent had more relevant stuff happened either in or between the Disney worlds.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -

      Here we go again. Now that we all thought things were finally getting streamlined as we tied up all story threads and connected them directly to III, in comes another... thing. It's hard to call it a game even at this point since it seems like it's its own transmedia franchise at this point. In any case, the Kingdom Hearts Conundrum is in force yet again, because apparently the recommended order of play now involves... a mobile game, of all things.

      But we need to talk about Kingdom Hearts χ, people.

      Now, I think I should mention that at this point these write-ups will become a wee bit problematic for reasons that will become clear as I write them. I will no loner be covering my favorite story bits or gameplay highlights. Kingdom Hearts χ started out as a Japan-only browser game, which later got localized and brough to iPhone/Android as Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ. The II.8 collection contained a set of cutscenes in the new engine called Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, which doesn't summarize the story of Unchained as much as it basically shows you what's been happening behind the scenes. And then the mobile game got a story and multiplayed update and it is now called Kingdom Hearts Union χ, and its story is still ongoing and nearing completion.

      This is where the conundrum comes in. χ as a whole may seem like a silly, cute mobile game, but it actually contains critical story details. However, since Union χ is still on-going, even at this point when we're one day away from the Japanese release of III, it is obvious that the game, at this point at least, is setting up plot points that will come into play after the epilogue of Kingdom Hearts III. As such, it is natural to assume that only the stuff covered in Back Cover will be relevant to the Dark Seeker saga, so I'll focus on that in my story summary, though what I know of the rest will also be mentioned for context's sake.

      So why no favorite story bit? Well, the movie isn't particularly compelling and the mobile game is more padded than my bra during my drag show. As such, I have not seen all the game scenes yet. The gameplay is nothing to write home about as it's your typical mobile game fare. Still, it's definitely got to have something special in it since this game has actually been able to keep my attention to this point, so that's cool.

      All that aside, however, I do genuinely like χ and what it brings to the KH table. I may not enjoy the fact that it's in mobile game format, but the content has been, in typical KH fashion, surprising, a little bit confusing, but definitely good theory fuel. And why is that? Well, this game takes place in the fabled time of fairy tales and as such is the deepest prequel KH has gotten yet. It covers the buildup, incitement, and aftermath of the Keyblade War, and there are a ton of shocking twists if you've been keeping up with series lore. For instance, Ventus is there, and so are the human forms of Marluxia and Larxene, and while I can't say for sure how interesting their characters are yet since they're a new addition to the Union χ storyline, there's definitely some intriguing stuff in there.

      So there's tons of cool stuff that really makes the KH universe even more interestin (in my opinion; it may be just much dumber in yours and hey, that's fine). I just wish they didn't make a mobile game with hundreds of padded missions required reading for KHIII onwards. At least the art style is super cute. I mean, have you seen my avatar? And then, of course, there is the character of the Master of Masters, who is hands down the most enjoyable part of the Back Cover movie and is definitely a breath of fresh air from the series. He almost feels like a self-insert of Nomura who is very much a troll, very self-aware and works amazingly in contrast with all the other Foretellers, which I think is definitely meant to poke fun at the fact that the series' dialogue can get a bit uptight sometimes. He kinda feels a little bit like Xigbar, to be honest? Make of that what you will.

      But what exactly goes down here?

      Important story bits
      • Long ago, when all worlds were one, everything was filled with light. People loved the light so much that they started collecting and monetizing that trout in the form of Lux. And this is a story of how capitalism is evil, folks.
      • In all seriousness, it is the task of the Keyblade Wielders to collect Lux as part of their unions, as this helps maintain the balance of light. They travel to different worlds accompanied by a Chirithy, a Dream Eater that serves as their guide. They try to stop the Heartless, which appear in the worlds for unknown reasons.
      • There are five unions in total, each headed by a Keyblade Master - they are called Foretellers. These unions are: Unicornis - the unicorn - led by Ira, Vulpes - the fox - led by Ava, Leopardos - the leopard - led by Gula, Anguis - the snake - led by Invi, and Ursus - the bear - led by Aced. "May your heart be your guiding key" is their shared motto.
      • These masters are not the only ones, however. There is Luxu, as well as the Master of Masters, both of which wear Organization cloaks. The Master of Masters, as the name suggests, is their leader. He is the one who forges the Keyblades from people's hearts in the image of the χ-Blade. So yeah, he pretty much made the Keyblades. And the Chirithies, but no one cares about the Chirithies.
        [*}The MoM gives the five Fortellers a Book of Prophecy each. They contain knowledge of future events, including the notion that the Keyblade War will happen and that it is inevitable. Warning his disciples that he will disappear, he leaves them the books and gives them roles that are meant to help them rebuild after the Keyblade War. Ira is assigned to be the leader of the Foretellers, while Aced is tasked with acting as a counterbalance to him. Invi is tasked with being a mediator. Ava's task is to gather the strongest Keyblade Wielders from all unions (despite the strict order not to upset the balance of the separate unions) so that they can later rebuild - these are the Dandelions. Finally, Gula receives a page from the Book of Prophecies that no other Foreteller receives, which says that there is a traitor among them.
      • Meanwhile, Luxu is given a special job. He receives the No Name Keyblade. It contains the Master of Masters' eye, which is what allows him to view future events and write down the Book of Prophecies (see? Told you this would be important), and is told to pass it down to his apprentice, then to his apprentice, and so on and so forth. He is also given a box that he must carry to a specific place but he must never open it. MoM does tell him what's inside, however, but we never learn what he heard. We do see him wince and ask "why?" though.
      • The Foretellers start mistrusting each other when they find a Nightmare Chirithy, which indicates its owner has fallen to Darkness. This leads to a ton of in-fighting, collecting way more Lux than necessary by the Union members, and what do you know - Keyblade War happens.
      • After the Keyblade War, the survivors are sent to a digital version of Daybreak Town and the other worlds, so that they're not entirely aware the Keyblade War actually happened and now the world is divided and the Keyblade Graveyard is a thing, Matrix-style. Also, I'm pretty sure the Foretellers died in this battle. The Dandelions are still around, though, and five youths gather to become leaders of the Union, and these are Ephemer, Skuld (those two had a role in the story while the game was still Unchained), Brain, Ventus, and Lauriam. However, it soon becomes pretty clear that another character, Sterlitzia, was meant to become a Union Leader, but someone subdued her and stole her book of prophecies. But who could it be...?

      So what are your thoughts on χ? Did you play it? Did you watch Back Cover? Do you like how it expands the KH lore, or are you done with this series by now? Feel free to take part in the discussion!

      ~Play order~

    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Quote Originally Posted by Fynn View Post
      See, for me that twist had a completely different effect. I was skeptical l about the no heart business from the start, but I chalked it up to the writers just not being able to at all convey this type of being. No fault of their own, it’s just an incredibly outlandish concept that is hard to place. With the revelation that they were growing hearts, a lot of the character-focused stuff in the series makes more sense - Axel in particular who should not have cared by Roxas in the slightest, but in the end he really did, which is why I think Nomura must have at least thought of it at this point. I’m not saying it was planned, just that he may have treated Axel as an inspiration for this twist. Or maybe he noticed he’s written himself into a corner with these emotive Nobodies in II and Days to the point that he needed to come up with SOME kind of explanation. I’d also say it adds an additional layer of tragedy since they could have just become regular people and moved normal lives were it not for Xemnas’ propaganda, but that’s just my personal take.

      But I do agree with everyone saying the pacing of this story is really bad and it would have been much more coherent had more relevant stuff happened either in or between the Disney worlds.
      I get that, and yes the inconsistency of the concept had been around since KHII even, but I'm still so disappointed that one of the most interesting concepts from the scenario was so poorly utilized, and this bombshell mostly told me that I was never going to get the story I really wanted.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      But you do get Nomura's story instead! Good trade-off, right?

      So how about that Ventus, guys?
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      I have this game downloaded, and I always think about playing it. I probably never will though as I hardly play any games on my phone. Itís just not the kind of game I normally do play.

      I wish we had a different game with any important lore/story points from this game.
    1. WarZidane's Avatar
      WarZidane -
      I tried the game once and didn't like it (Union Cross, that is).

      I did however read what happened in it so far, and watched back cover. Master of Masters is certainly interesting, and I'm curious to see what his endgame is (because the keyblade war was not it, evident by the task he gave Ava)

      I'm also curious about Ventus, Lauriam and Elrena being in it. Especially when you consider that Larxene and Marluxia were the two that wanted to overthrow the organization in CoM, it's too much of a coincidence that out of all the Org members, those two show up as pre-nobodies in Union Cross.

      Sadly, however, like you said, the story is so infrequent and there are so many filler missions inbetween, who knows when we'll actually find all that stuff out?

      I'm also unsure how much of this will really be relevant in KH3. I don't question that it will be relevant at some point, but who's to say it's not after KH3?
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Seems like a terribly relevant part of the lore to left to the devices of a mobile title that seems to have gone through three different phases and reboots.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Honestly, this game feels like the reverse of coded. Itís not really that fun and it isnít really brought up as important either (officially, Back Cover should be all you need for KHIII), but the story that is there is actually super relevant.

      So like, Kingdom Hearts. Please. With the HD rereleases I was hoping we were over this.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -

      So I have a confession. You guys may not notice, since usually I'm pretty shy about it, but... I don't have a PS4. I know, it's tragic. I am looking for a way to fix it but, sadly, to no avail. But that aside, you can probably see where I'm going with this. 0.2 Birth By Sleep ~A Fragmentary Passage~ is exclusive to the II.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection, and as such, it can only be played on the PS2. But still, I've decided that I'm too stubborn to let my ignorance stop me, so I'll do my best to talk about this game anyway, going by the things I've learn by just aggressively consuming everything related to Kingdom Hearts.

      (you guys have no idea how hard it is to find key art for this game)

      0.2 is the final entry in what I like to call the Quickening phase of the buildup to KH III (with the original trilogy being the Beginning that's kind of its own whole, BBS, Days and coded being the setup stage, and all the things on the II.8 collection making up the quickening). It is very short, but that can really be attributed to the fact that this is a glorified demo to KHIII - it showcases the engine, as well as the battle system, which seems to be a mix of the KHII battle system with various additional elements introduced in the later games, e.g. flowmotion, shotlocks, command styles, etc. Apparently it plays very well, but I can't judge that, so I don't want to focus too much on the gameplay. I can see why SE did this - they wanted to let fans know that work was actually being done and tide them over for the new game that was coming along God knows when. And yet I can't help but feel this is kind of the Kingsglaive scenario - in that it feels that this should have been the prologue to KHIII that was part of KHIII, much like the Roxas segment was in KHII. Then again, the then-unknown Aqua game was hinted at since Birth By Sleep Final Mix, so it might acutally have been intended to be a longer experience. But I guess we'll never really know this stuff.

      Storywise, this game serves as a nice exploration of the Realm of Darkness and Aqua's increasingly hard to bear loneliness, along with some pretty interesting connections to the first game. I like that fact that Aqua actually needs to mentally cope with the stuff that's been happening and that she's constantly being under threat both from the Heartless, as well as Xehanort, to an extent, who desparately wants to find out where the Chamber of Waking - the place where Ventus sleeps - is.

      So what important things happen here?

      Important story bits
      • Aqua is alone in the realm of Darkness and explores the Castle of Dreams as it's been engulfed by darkness.
      • On numerous occasions, she encounters the Demon Tower, which is this huge amalgamation of Shadows, and they're pretty dangerous.
      • Aqua does go a bit insane along the way, as she encounters visions of Ventus and Terra, as well as fighting her own reflection which is kind of a manifestations of all the dark and lonely feelings within her? I don't know, I'm not exactly seeing all these scenes in their proper context
      • Finally, she finds a friendly face in the form of Mickey! He finds the Kingdom Key D and informs her that Sora and Riku need to close the door to darkness, but she has to fight of waves of Heartless in order for them to be able to do it. Therefore, she is there in the background during KHI's epilogue.
      • While battling the Demon Tower, Mickey loses his shirt, which explains why he's naked at the end of KHI. This is very important and I'm glad they explained that scene because of all the crazy things in the series, it was this that I was losing sleep over.
      • Aqua later resumes her journey and eventually encounters Ansem, leading to Blank Points.

      What are your thoughts? Did you play 0.2? Do you think it was too short or just right? How is the gameplay? Feel free to join the discussion!

      ~Play order~

    1. WarZidane's Avatar
      WarZidane -
      I actually played this the other day because before that I'd only ever watched it and played like 30 minutes of it.

      I really like the gameplay in it, certainly promising for KH3 which has since evolved from the state it was in when 0.2 was released. Styles are back, super powerful spells like Thundaja (which you can use once every while if you're using the regular spells enough) look amazing. Sadly no command deck, but at least they added some of the other new stuff onto KH2's gameplay style.

      Two scenes you skipped in your summary:

      - Yen Sid and Mickey tell Riku and Kairi about Aqua and how she sacrificed herself to protect Riku. The reason they never told Sora or Riku (besides the fact Nomura hadn't thought this stuff up yet ) is because they didn't want them to recklessly set up a rescue mission for Aqua. Yen Sid gives Mickey and Riku fancy suitcases with new clothes and sends them off to save Aqua. He also tasks Merlin with teaching Lea and Kairi to use the keyblade.

      - Sora returns from his little reunion with the dream eaters at the end of DDD and Yen Sid tells him to get out there with Donald and Goofy to power up (he's lost his power from Xehanort shenanigans at the end of DDD). He suggests finding Hercules because he has experience with losing and regaining his power. Lanes are closed, but when they remember "May your heart be your guiding key", they blast off to Olympus Coliseum.

      These two scenes are really what cement it as a prologue to KH3, IMO.

      Fun fact: You also see Luxu and his mystery box at the very beginning of 0.2
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Fragmentary Passage is a bit odd for me. I have not played it because I really don't care to own another copy of 3D which is surprisingly one of the few handheld entries besides CoM that feels right on a handheld. It is a glorified demo much like Ground Zeroes was for MGSV but at least it came with enough other products to justify it's price tag somewhat. So I don't have any salt for this entry like I did for GZ which was a fantastic game, but not worth the $40 admission.

      From my understanding, the game is based on the ideas for the cancelled Birth By Sleep Chapter 2 that was hinted at BbS Final Mix but was never fully conceptualized until now. I will say it was tempting to want to pick this up because I loved Aqua and the story of the trio Keyblade users from BbS. Combat sounds to me like a mix of KHII but with some of the mechanics from BbS and 3D mixed in like Shotlocks, Style forms, and Flowmotion type shenanigans. There are apparently tier four magic spells as well which allow you to manipulate the environment a bit. I also heard it was rough when it originally came out and SE had to patch a few things into it to make it play better, but I hear now it's pretty fun. I may pick it up once the price of a used copy drops a little more.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      I mean you also get Back Cover in that bundle, but that can be easily found on YouTube so it hardly justifies the purchase
    1. Vermachtnis's Avatar
      Vermachtnis -
      Aqua's Reflection, Dark Aqua, whatever you want to call her. It's a great boss. It reacts to you and how you play and gives me hope for the next game. All the bosses were great fun. And I love this track.

    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      Iíll have to play this again, but I remember enjoying it a good amount. I do remember my wife being confused after I got the 2.8 prologue and brought up that it had some new stuff to set up KH3. She somehow thought I was getting a full length game and was extremely confused with how quickly I finished it.
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