The final stop, a glorified demo or short experience that was a part of the Kingdom Hearts II.8 -Final Chapter Prologue- collection on PS4, which… Was something, it’s the newest piece of KH content, and now III will replace that title and will be out tomorrow. But, it still has some story significance and acts kinda like the “prologue” of III: Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage-. Now, what else can you call this thing? Well… technically a follow up to the PSP entry itself, but not quite. You play as Aqua, go through some worlds that were swallowed up by the darkness, meet Mickey later on, and help in locking up the door to Kingdom Hearts from the first game, even if it’s such an insignificant role that definitely felt just thrown in there. On top of some… very confusing contradictions to past events shown in Birth By Sleep, it can be hard to follow, and even will throw off the most veteran of KH fans.
Thing is, I’m not gonna lie, this wasn’t the most “worth it” thing to have gotten brand new, I obtained it at the time because I’m a Kingdom Hearts fan and I at least have Dream Drop Distance(review here) with it, despite how much it’s not my favorite of the series. It tested me as a fan in both gameplay is fairly well done for the series, and it REALLY tested me in trying to keep up story wise. I eventually got it, however, it took a moment, and a really weird oversight to get over. But is it a fun experience? Well… yeah, the game definitely looks nice, you’re back to old school combos and magic, but with the recharging MP gage from KH II. The cool thing is this experience showcased all the good aspects of the past games, and how good they can work together, making this experience that is amazingly fun! It still is a bit floaty, but it feels so refined. Like the past 7 games were experimenting ideas just for the climax of the saga being Kingdom Hearts III.
You have a charge meter similar to Birth By Sleep, with keyblade styles and shotlocks also returning, you also have some mobility from Dream Drop Distance with grinding rails, especially made by ice. When you take so many aspects that worked for the past games and put them all together like this, then you have a really good experience here to enjoy. Its what Kingdom Hearts III is looking to be like, the big open level design, how it is graphically, and just the music has been kicked up since last time. The few original tracks or even remixes are a joy to the ears and even can convey such a sense of dread that this experience deserves. It’s something that at the time was given to satisfy the wait we’ve had.
It definitely has some content, past the customization you can do visually for Aqua, the chests, exploration, and even a boss rush you can unlock, its something I can recommend as now a part of the $40 “Story So Far” collection on the PS4. It’s a great value as it includes everything I’ve covered for the series for that much, given the countless hours you can waste away in these action JRPGS, it’s worth every dollar for just the original Kingdom Hearts -Final Mix-(review here), Kingdom Hearts II +Final Mix+(review here), and Birth By Sleep ~Final Mix~(review here). However… if you bought this new for $60, eh, only if you know you like the series anyway. But tomorrow, we will finally have that next piece of the ever-evolving puzzle for Kingdom Hearts, III after 13 years past II’s release… what a hell of a day it’ll be.
Kingdom Hearts Coded, a game that most fans and a good chunk of the public, may deem to be a useless game and even pointless with the rehash nature of its story, being essentially a retread of the original Kingdom Hearts from the PS2, which was already done with Chain of Memories for the GameBoy Advance and PS2 itself. It seemed redundant, to say the least, and the only significant story wise is around the very end of the game, and a cutscene added into the PS4 remastered cutscenes from the DS remake of Coded, which was originally just for Japanese Mobile Phones. The game was then retitled as “Re: Coded”, and is the version most people have experienced if they talk about the actual game itself. If anyone was to share experiences from the original phone game, they are most likely fans that lived inside the Japan-exclusive market, and for those that want to even look out of curiosity, there is no way to emulate the original game either. “But why would you?” Most may ask to just a desire to play the DS game in general, well.. It’s actually a genuinely fun game, while its story is redundant and lackluster compared to the other DS title even, it made up for it with the game part of it.
SLIGHT spoilers for the original PS2 trilogy(if you count Re: Chain of Memories)
The “story” starts with Jiminy recollecting over the 2 main journeys Sora had embarked on, looking at the original still being blank, except for the note “Thank Naminé”. Upon inspecting the journals one last time, he then came across a new message in the journal, that surely wasn’t there before hand. So upon telling King Mickey, they decide to digitize the journal into raw data to see what is going on, discovering bugs that impedes their progress, and they decide to employ a digital Sora’s help in the world itself, to rid the worlds of their bugs, and return the journal to a more “readable” state in some sense. In the game you simply play as the digital Sora, and go through all the worlds from the original game, except Deep Jungle, Atlantica(THANK FUCK), Halloween Town, Monstro, and Neverland. The 100 Acre Woods isn’t even saying hi, so it’s safe to say there is significantly less to go through.
Yes the game is definitely a retread that has already been done before, yeah the game has nothing interesting to show for it story wise except at the very end, but it’s the gameplay itself. You can consider it a hodgepodge of Birth By Sleep and some other mechanics. For starters, the command deck is back in full force, you can even combine two commands like in the PSP entry and make new commands. Jumping can be an automatic thing to make traversing the worlds a bit easier, given the lack of button input, its something both 358/2 Days and Re: Coded did well. With the limited layout being done so well, on top of the great fast-paced gameplay from Birth By Sleep, it’s a VERY fun time just running around and taking out heartless so efficiently. If you liked Birth By Sleep from a pure combat standpoint, you’ll love this game, it was built around its combat and doesn’t need the like of more fluid control and bosses don’t feel cheap later on by any means.
Leveling up is now done traditionally(thank fucking god), and ability acquiring is slightly different from the usual. In this game, you get a stat matrix, and it’s like a circuit board where you add in upgrades to certain stats and a line towards each ability you can manually turn off if desired, on top of settings to increase the challenge for better rewards or even change the game’s difficulty on the fly. Consider it similar to the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, and you may find enjoyment out of this system, definitely miles better than what 358/2 Days did with its stats and inventory especially. It also adds to combat with an “overclocking” system, akin to Birth By Sleep and its finisher gage, but no style commands, as each keyblade simply has an ability tree you go through with each level you gain, going up to 4 as the max, and at the end able to unleash a devastating finisher, arguably more powerful than the best of them in Birth By Sleep itself. It feels refined and tweaked in a way to keep it distinct, but using the best that the PSP entry did gameplay wise, this game isn’t bad at all to play.
The one of two times this game really does get experimental is with “back door” areas you have to discover when there is essentially a glitch in the world you’re in, where you can fight heartless that are bugged out and more unpredictable due to it, and with challenges that you can wager a certain currency, that you spend at the end of your exploration into the area itself, that can be upgrades or greater. The other times will be spent on the other side of the keyhole, in each world you access to get to the boss, and most the time vastly changing up gameplay, from a side-scrolling 2D platformer and fighter, a never-ending runner with magic shooting mechanics and spell power-ups, to even calling back to Square-Enix’s roots in the Olympus Coliseum where you have Hercules and Cloud Strife in a party clearing floors of auto-generated dungeons and old school turn-based combat! FUCK YEAH!! It has so much to do gameplay wise, that if you can find that fun, then you’ll enjoy your time here. The music sadly doesn’t add much though, not like 358/2 Days added a fair amount of its own original tracks, but maybe a small handful of its own tracks, primarily being its rendition of Dearly Beloved that I REALLY love, and the themes for when you’re in the back door areas, glitched or otherwise. In the end though, it’s fine if you don’t wanna play this game, not bad if you wish to skip it, but if you’re simply looking to have fun, its harmless and can only serve to be just a fun Action JRPG for the DS, and its fairly cheap too, so pick it up if it interests you!
Now I know that not many people like to credit the Kingdom Hearts side games, as much as they would the mainline games of the original and Kingdom Hearts II, as they are the games in the spotlight the most on a main platform as the PlayStation 2 at the time. In my past reviews for the series, I’ve covered how the first “side game” to be released, had no one even recognizing it initially. This game was on my radar after years of enjoying the PS2 titles, and I was focused on it for having the ability to play as the villains of KH II, Organization XIII themselves, with a story focused straight on Roxas and his life, filling in the blanks for him from his inception near the end of the first game, all the way to the beginning of II.
SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL GAME, CHAIN OF MEMORIES, AND THIS GAME IN ITS ENTIRETY!
Now most people would probably ask what there is to even cover, and there are some tidbits, but it mostly serves as a backstory to Roxas, making him a much more tragic character if you take these events into account and upto II. The game would take place over the year gap in the timeline, and it would be called: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Yes that title looks dumb, and it’s pronounced: “Kingdom Hearts: three hundred fifty eight over two days”, hopefully that will help, as I know many people ask about that.. But what kind of tragic story could there be to tell about Roxas? Sure, in the end he was already tied to Sora and had to make his sacrifice for the good of the entire realm of light, but this story is written more personally, and I think is done well because of that. This was a story actually written by the director of the series: Tetsuya Nomura, and it does really help make you feel for the character who supposedly has no heart to begin with. It starts off making sure Roxas and Axel were acquainted at the beginning of his life, and establishes a semblance of a friendship in this way that can come off awkward, because well… They have no idea what that feels like with no heart of their own, but they bond by eating sea salt ice cream on the clock tower of Twilight Town, after every day filled with work from the organization they work for. This is about the structure of the game and story, doing missions each day, and then ending it at the clock tower and eat some ice cream. It creates this dynamic that feels like everyday life, and with these two bonding closer and closer, and as you think back to KH II, well… now you get why Axel was so determined to keep Roxas alive, they were genuine friends.
It only adds to as there is a new member introduced near the beginning of the game, no. XIV, Xion. Once Axel leaves with around half of the Organization members for Chain of Memories events to take place, Roxas begins to grow close to Xion, as she soon opens upto him and even forms another friendship, and with time passing as she is revealed to have a Keyblade of her own with Roxas, on top of even looking like a black haired Kairi, and we all know Axel didn’t die in Chain of Memories, so he eventually comes back and also becomes a friend of Xion’s. So fair to say that there is a decent amount of plot going on, and as it progresses you go to a mix of Disney worlds from the first game and II, with only some slight layout differences. But as the story continues on, Roxas ends up discovering just how much information the Organization is keeping from Roxas, and even from Xion too about her origins, and you end up over time seeing these friends fall apart through all the manipulation, with Axel trying to stay friends to both of them, while knowing plenty and keeping it from them. It just gets deep as eventually even Riku shows up in the story and interjects as he is trying to wake Sora from his sleep soon, with issues arising from Roxas and even Xion due to her connections to both Roxas and even Sora, taking the form she does due to Sora’s strongest memories being of Kairi, the 7th princess herself. It adds onto the story of Kingdom Hearts, showing just how much sacrifice is even done, all to end with Xion forcing Roxas to take her life, due to both being a replica made by Vexen in almost the same vein as the Riku replica from Chain of Memories, and taking so much power from Roxas and Sora through the memories she absorbed. It was a choice she made for the ultimate good of things, which is pretty shit given how much was out of her control, just like Roxas eventually when II begins. With his memories of what life he DID have being completely gone, and having no choice at all himself in what his eventual destiny means for him. This game, is ultimately why so many Kingdom Hearts fans got invested, it was because of how much these games hold your heart hostage over the heart wrenching stories and tragedies. I know, tragedy, in a game where Mickey Mouse wears an anime esq hood with a game face and giant fucking key, it’s hard to imagine.
Now, this is a game after all, what are we looking at here? Well, its a mission structured Kingdom Hearts experience, you visit worlds from the original game and II with slight variations in their level structure itself. But, the best thing is how much this game’s combat is a mix of the original Kingdom Hearts and II in ways, you got a traditional command menu, none of that card bullshit, but magic in this game are simple single casts when equipped, that can only be refilled with items. What makes the magic a bit interesting in this game, is each tier up has its own attributes and are meant to be used in different ways, and even in tangent together. In addition, you have the limit-break ability, where if your HP gets low enough, you can go at it with an attack that can feel like breaking out a limit from II. With all this combined, original abilities making a return with a few new ones for mobility, and a relatively alright looking DS title, this game can be a joy to play. At the end of the day, its the classic KH formula, on the go! It looks great for the system, plays great, performs great, and has all the worlds you have enjoyed from the original game and II. Some worlds may be… slightly tweaked with rooms taken away and added in to compensate as you are after all a part of the Organization, so you don’t interact with any Disney characters in the worlds.
What can hinder this game, however, are a few things, such as the mission structure IF you are trying to marathon this game, don’t even THINK about trying to beat this game in preparation for III on the 29th, you will regret it FAST. I enjoyed this game as a kid, and still can, in increments. This game was released at a time when KH has few entries at the time, and as a kid with time after schoolwork, it was a good time, when you take your time. I ended up probably beating it well over a few months, and only went back to unlock the extra mission mode characters being King Mickey and Sora. In addition, if you have the right gear, you can even be dual wield Roxas for them as well, which can be admittedly fun. His dual-wielding this game can also use magic AND block, take some notes Sora, you and your baggy ass clothes! The mission variety can be a little tedious if you play this game back to back so much, there are “fitness” exams that are more so platforming challenges to collect as many emblems in the level as possible, and close to each other to rank high. There are also investigation missions where you… Examine the world in its entirety, which I got no defense for, those missions are a little bit stupid. Then there are missions where you follow someone and try to not get caught, or sneak around world inhabitants, which can be just as annoying. This is only just a small portion of the many missions that are more so focused on heartless being hunted and taken down, focusing on the combat of the series, which is its strong suit for gameplay. Each day of 365 can just add up how many missions you have available to you, and by all means, its a lot of content, but… dear lord can it also be too much.
However, the biggest issue I say the game has is how it handles inventory and equipment management. It.. for some reason is the only aspect this game HEAVILY experiments with, and for the worse, as you have a grid of slots where you install panels, which can take up 1 to 8, maybe 9 slots. The issue is, that these panels are uniquely shaped, and you have to somehow make your abilities, backpack, items, accessory(being a single ring), weapon, magic spells, AND LEVELS ALL FIT TOGETHER AND EFFECTIVELY TAKE UP THE ENTIRE SPACE ALLOCATED TO YOU! To make it simple, it’s like playing Tetris for all essential RPG stat, inventory, and ability management in full, just so you can be on the edge. Its flat out tedious, and no one can argue for this system, it would have been better in the end if it was structured more like traditional Kingdom Hearts, you just have a magic meter, you have slots for items that grow over time, you equip abilities with AP, etcetera. I mean, just look at this, multiple pages too can be made eventually to house all these panels that you use for stats, which… is tedious, especially with level ups.
As inventory and stat management may not be so awesome, and the mission structure may be tedious, there is no denying I wasn’t enjoying the music and setup as things went on. Most of the music is slightly altered compositions of past themes, while there are still plenty of original songs in the game. I’m not quite as cynical as others can be towards the eating ice cream dynamic as I find it as more so a part of life for them, and the piece accompanying it “At Dusk, I Will Think of You” just makes the bonding moments all the more heart-warming and endearing to me. In Neverland’s case, I absolutely loved my time as it was not quite on the main island, but in more open areas to utilize the flying mechanics to their fullest, along with an amazing overworld theme “Secret of Neverland” and the battle theme “Crossing to Neverland” easily capturing my favorite tone for the world itself in the whole series. But my favorite pieces revolve around the new character of the game Xion, not only is she built up into this friend to Roxas and even Axel, but she becomes one of the most tragic characters in the entire series, to not try and spoil anything. Her theme “Musique pour la Tristesse de Xion” makes me tear up(players should know why), and the battle theme against her being one of my all-time FAVORITE pieces Yoko Shimomura composed “Vector to the Heavens“. That boss theme, will not only make me wanna cry, but has so much emotion in it, and epicness, it properly sets the stage for the tragedy this game unfolds before you.
In the end, can I recommend this game to someone who wants to start with Kingdom Hearts? Well, no, you definitely need to be a fan to enjoy this game. But can I recommend it to those that even just played the original game and II? Well, yes. I think this game does enough to be engaging, even with some of its downfalls, yes there are some weird additions wholeheartedly, but it has a fantastic story, and at the core of it all, it is Kingdom Hearts as you enjoy it back on the PS2-er… PS4 these days. You can check out the cutscenes for it on the collection for PS3 and 4, but it doesn’t quite do the same justice as playing through the game itself, if you want to play it, you will need a Nintendo DS or 3DS, with a copy of the game. If you can get 3 others with copies of the games and DS systems too, you can do mission mode up to a party of 4, either competitive or cooperatively, and it’s a fun time. Thanks to my best friend, I got to experience this in my high school years and every now and again when we feel like it, I promise, that if you’re just looking for a good time, this game can deliver, even despite its flaws. Here’s to a new year! Now Birth By Sleep is done on my channel and a review in the works, all that is left is Dream Drop Distance and 0.2 done before III comes out…