Ah yes. Video games. My friends might not understand this. Nerdy

Let’s Rank ‘Em: Kingdom Hearts Games

Seeing as my reason for living, Kingdom Hearts III, comes out next month (the end of the next month, but still, it’s the next month) I feel as though I should talk more about a game series I love, a game series that I hadn’t imagined would take over my life as much as it ultimately has. When I talk about this game series, its convoluted plot, its gameplay, my little boy, Sora, and all the pleasure I have playing this game, I, most times, feel quite alone. I don’t have many people in my life that understand this game series, let alone people who care for JRPGs, and rather than trying to map out when I got conventionally normal friends and all of my insecurities regarding that, I’d rather just talk about this game series. I mean, this is a list ranking them, but let’s face it, they’re all quite special…except Re: Coded. If I were to rank them it’d go:

  • Re:Coded
  • Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ 
  • The
  • Rest 
  • Are
  • Pretty
  • Freaking
  • Awesome
  • Kingdom Hearts II
I’m a professional graphic designer, y’all.

And for any Kingdom Hearts fans, this is a pretty bland ranking. To others, for some reason reading this, they’re pretty confused. But let’s just get to this list, so I can explain why I love this series so much, and why I’ll be going into hermitage once Kingdom Hearts III is released Jan. 29th. 

#9: Re: Coded

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I will admit, here and now, that I’ve never played this game. It never felt like a game I should’ve spent time on, and even though it seems the bug blocks from the game and what might be Data Riku will be in Kingdom Hearts III, and further more, even after the use of datascapes was established in Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ, I still don’t want to play this game. I might one day take the time to watch the cutscenes, though. I understand its importance as it leads into Dream Drop Distance and essentially,  Kingdom Hearts III, but I’m not really tied to this game one way or the other.

#8: Unchained χ

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I want to say that this will be the last of my complaining about Kingdom Hearts, but it won’t be. It’s a series I love, but also one I will readily critique when it comes to its flaws…which it has many. Now when I first downloaded Unchained χ, I had assumed I wouldn’t spend much time on it. It’d play it for a few minutes and then delete the app. That ended up being true, in that I deleted it, but that was after spending maybe two months on the game. For someone forever consumed by Kingdom Hearts, this was an easy obsession. I had a custom keyblade wielder and I got to customize my keyblades, and this game, for a moment, with its raids and coliseum and collectible medals, was addictive and drained the ever loving hell out of my phone. But then, as most free-to-play games do, it got repetitive. The same missions over and over with no real payoff regarding plot. And then all of the flaws of free-to-play came into effect, essentially robbing people’s wallets for gems and needing those to essentially do anything. Sure, the pay-to-win aspect has been resolved by now, but I’m unwilling to go through over three hundred missions or so to finally get some plot going. Other than those complaints, once you get to the plot, it’s an interesting games. There are twists and convoluted turns that scream, Papa Nomura touched the liquor fridge before writing!, but watching the coverage of these story updates and seeing people theorize on what it all means is, for the most part, fun. If it were treated more like a “spinoff” game, in terms of gameplay, rather than a mobile free-to-play game, I’d really enjoy it more.

#7: Dream Drop Distance

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Remember, at the beginning of the last entry, when I said, I’d like to say this will be the last of my complaining? Well, I’m glad I said that wasn’t the end of my complaining. Dream Drop Distance is a mixed bag for me. I didn’t play it when it was on the 3DS, but I did recently play it (recent as in nearly two years ago) on the PS4. Given the 60fps and fluid flowmotion, I had a fun time playing the game, jumping from place to place, grinding rails, and enjoying platforming in a way that Kingdom Hearts I had failed me, but this title did a few things that were…regrettable. 

First was that it kind of wiped Sora’s personality from existence. Rather than a sassy and, at least, kind of intelligent main protagonist, we receive a brain dead protagonist with no idea of context who gets trapped and fails at his Mark of Mastery exam. Though this might have been because Riku was really the main protagonist of this game, it’s pretty inexcusable to erase a character’s identity. And that’s why I’m glad that Kingdom Hearts III trailers have been showing Sora displaying his charisma and sassy disposition. The other problem is that it added time travel, and that was completely unnecessary. It made a story that was a bit hard to follow for some, completely convoluted….and the Chernabog boss battle was absolutely awful. Other than that, it was a fun playthrough. Would I play it again? Maybe, like if I wanted to play through the HD collections one more time before KH3 comes out, sure.

#6: 358/2 Days

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Now I feel as though I should probably say that this entry and the one that’ll follow are a pair in a section I call, wonderful story, but the gameplay frustrated me, and if you can guess what number five will be, you either really know your Kingdom Hearts fandom cliches or you read ahead. 

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days or how it’s supposed to be read, three-hundred-fifty-eight days over two, is a game recounting Roxas’ time in Organization XIII, which amounts to, you guessed it, three-hundred-fifty-eight days. And that’s why in KH2, the prologue with Roxas is seven days long–fun facts.

I remember when I first bought this game. I was so excited, because I could play as all of the Organization XIII members and I got to go on free missions. It’ll be fun! my fifteen year old self said. What I hadn’t known was that I was in for a huge amount of pain. This game, on a story level, seeing Roxas suffer and lose friends, hurt. This game…on a gameplay level, hurt even more. The missions were repetitive and the combat was clunky. I remember wanting to quit the game any time I went to Neverland. There was a boss at Beast’s Castle that frustrated me quite a bit. The utilization of limit bursts, while neat, wasn’t enough to cover up the frustrating, clunky, janky, terrible combat (I really like combat, y’all).  

But we got to see a lot of character development for someone who was a bit of a mystery. We got to see the Organization interact with each other and figure out what Roxas was like before he ended up in the data Twilight Town. And this game, it gave me, as the young people call it, the feels. The interactions between Roxas, Xion, and Axel and how the end of the game goes down, is down-right devastating because of the investment you’ll have in those characters. And for that reason I like the game…it’s just that the gameplay was miserable.

#5: Chain of Memories

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Yes, it was the card game that frustrated me, guys. Back when I was eleven I asked my mom for this game for Christmas, and…it took some getting used to. I had been accustomed to my limited playthrough of KHI, and learning the card system was hard. Figuring decks and sleights and not being able to attack and dispatch magic whenever I wanted. I reached the last Replica Riku fight…somehow, and then just couldn’t beat him. 

Let’s fast forward to like 2008, I’m fifteen and I ask my mom Re:CoM on the PS2. It was a better experience, because I was no longer playing on the GBA, but it was still frustrating for me. I just couldn’t utilize the combat well. And at this point I had played KHII several times and nothing would ever live up to that combat in my eyes. So I stopped playing Re:CoM at the halfway point of the game.

All right, one last fast forward. It’s 2013 now and I’m a junior in college. My friend bought a copy of KH 1.5 Remix for the PS3, even though she didn’t have a PS3 and played the game at my dorm on weekends (or whenever available, really). After beating KHI again, she tried to beat Re:CoM, which, for the most part was just me beating it, and it hurt. But after figuring out sleights and how best to utilize everything, it was a pretty okay game. I just prefer the combat of other KH titles. 

Now on a story level, this game is superb. You see Sora get genuinely angry. You get a formal intro to Organization XIII. You meet fan favorite Axel. You meet well hated and loved member, Larxene. There’s betrayal and complexes, beautiful insecurities that are developed more. It’s a pivotal point of the game that eases you into understanding the beginning of KHII, and it also set a trend that quite a few people still haven’t picked up on: every KH game matters. Even the “spinoffs”. They all culminate to grand arc of the plot. But if you were to ask me to play this game, you’d need to offer a big reward, the game’s a headache combat wise. But for this entry, I’ll leave you with someone, Stickman Sham, playing this game well.

#4: Kingdom Hearts

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I’m just going to apologize in advance for this entry and also my #1 entry, because it’s going to be a heavy dose a reminiscing. This’ll be long, but my memories of this game are so stupid and fond and it’s just great. 

Back in 2002 when I was nine, I was watching TV and there was a commercial that aired. It showed a spiky haired anime kid hanging out with Donald and Goofy. He had a weird key weapon in his hands (that I wasn’t really a fan of), and he rode on the magic carpet, Tarzan was there, another spiky haired guy showed up who looked familiar for some reason. And in the background was, to a nine year old me, the greatest song humanity would ever produce.  

Imagine being a kid, seeing this trailer, and not wanting to play this game. You know who you are and you’re wrong.

I of course begged my mom to get me this game. Me and my friends, failed at singing the opening to this game, “Simple and Clean,” almost every day at school for a while. When I got the game, I just watched the opening over and over until my eyes absorbed every color from every scene. The tutorial asked me questions I didn’t understand, but they kept with me for a while. The phrase, broaden my horizons, stuck through the end of middle school for me and was my phrase of choice any time I tried to justify straying from the well beaten path.

Image result for kingdom hearts broaden my horizons

On Destiny Islands I sparred with Riku and lost countless times, even though I could beat everyone else pretty easily. I was glued to the story of this game. It…also taught me to get a memory card… Do you know how long it takes a nine year old to get from the beginning of the game to Traverse Town? Did you know that I repeated that experience three times because I had no means to save my first week of having this game? 

Though it was a combat system I didn’t quite understand (like I didn’t know shortcuts for magic) and was one of my first forays into JRPGs, it was a blast. I remember giving my all to the fight with Leon. I kept getting lost in Traverse Town, because I wasn’t great with directions. The joy on my face when I got to surf down tree branches with Tarzan, was a sight to behold. I loved this game. Also fun fact: When I was eleven, I wrote down the lyrics of “Simple and Clean” on a note to ask out a girl, and…it didn’t work. 

I was thrilled by the gummi ships (which, yeah, I know, they were so bloody lame). I didn’t know how to go from world to world, and didn’t know how to equip new keyblades, but it was just so much fun for me. It was a mix of Disney and JRPGs at a time where I was just budding into a nerd, and hadn’t really understood what kind of nerd I was and what kind of aesthetics were pleasant to me. 

And now that I’ve talked about this game with my rose tinted lenses, let’s fast forward to me playing this game at any point after having played KHII. The combat is clunky. I hate the platforming. The gummi ships are slow and boring. I hate Atlantica with a passion. Any of the battles against Ansem were terrible and all sorts of hax. And the combat is slow and clunky. 

But this game was my entry point into the series. Every moment was filled with magic and whimsy, whether it came to the unique puzzles or the Final Fantasy and/or Disney cameos. Everyone should play this game at least once, if they want to understand the magic, the fun, of this series. 

#3: 0.2 Birth By Sleep~ A fragmentary passage

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This title came out of left field for me. I didn’t expect it, but once it was announced, I knew I wanted it. It was the first real console game for Kingdom Hearts since Dream Drop Distance, and it used the engine that Kingdom Hearts III uses. Though it’s not really a game, more a three-ish hour fragmentary passage (get it, cause it’s a short story and a bit fragmented because it doesn’t tell us everything? oh the joke’s bad? I…I know. I’ll see myself out), it was our first of what KHIII could be. When I played it on PS4, I found it a bit clunky (I don’t know how many times I’ve typed this word, but take a shot for every time you see it. I’m sorry), I couldn’t fluidly combo regular attacks into magic and dodges/ blocks felt slow to me. But then I played it on the PS4 pro and understood life. Everything flowed well and gave me a satisfying, yet floaty gameplay.

As for the story, it was three hours long and couldn’t really do much to ruin an already complicated story (though we’ve learned from Unchained χ, that sometimes all you need is five minutes to further complicate it). It shows us what Aqua was doing in the Realm of Darkness and even though it kind of lazily tied itself into the ending of KHI, it was entertaining. And even better, it gave us a glimpse into how KHIII will start. 

Also, this game has the funkiest, opening Kingdom Hearts has ever had and that’s saying a lot because even though the series only has two opening songs, they’re bops.

#2: Birth by Sleep

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Remember when G4 was a channel, and still a thing? Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb would cover video game news and review games and make jokes about Aqua Man being the worst super hero. Those were the good times. I remember when I was around middle school age, I was watching G4 and they talked about the secret ending trailer that pops up when you finish KHII. Since I had never played proud mode when I was younger, and never finished the Winnie the Pooh world on standard mode, it was my first time seeing that secret ending. I was so confused, because the pre-rendered graphics looked so real. Who were these keyblade wielders? Who’s the old man? What does, Birth by sleep, mean? 

I have no words for this secret ending. I’m blown away every time I see it. This was the definition of hype for me as a child.

Of course this led to me wondering if this was the hint for KHIII and people were all, Kingdom Hearts III is going to cover the keyblade war, guys! And people were running theories on who each keyblade wielder was and me and my friends felt like detectives. Anyways, we eventually found out the ending wasn’t for KHIII (a few years later we’d find out we wouldn’t be getting KHIII for a while), and that the ending hinted at Birth by Sleep

Now let me say, a lot of people have this misunderstanding, likely due to the point that this game is Disney and Final Fantasy crossed over, but mainly the the Disney influence cause this, that Kingdom Hearts is silly and for children and super light hearted. And they’re wrong. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep might as well be called, Kingdom Hearts: Welcome to the Pain Train, We’ve Got Tickets for Everyone, because it’s just suffering. Our main trio of protagonists: Aqua, Terra, and Ventus just go through terror the entire game. They get betrayed, mentally manipulated, forced to murder their mentors, almost murdered by their mentors, and all end up sacrificing themselves in some manner to not beat the main villain, but more or less delay his evil plans until KHIII. It’s a wonderful prequel that gives us a lot of lore and interesting characters who we can be invested in (except Terra, he kind of sucks).

And because I’ve talked about combat for every entry, let me say that while it’s not bad, it’s pretty floaty. The use of command styles, and a command deck was pretty awesome. When I first played the game, the moment I got the mine commands, was the moment I stopped caring about knowing any other tech in the game, and how stupid I was for that. I suffered against Master Eraqus and Terranort. But when I replayed the games via the HD collections, I had, by that point, learned the tech needed to breeze through the game. I loved how there were just so many ways to exploit enemies and meld commands into better, more devastating attacks. It’s a great game that, for most players, changed the tone for Kingdom Hearts games, and one that for me stays in my memories for one of my favorite experiences playing the game. Now let’s talk about my favorite, Kingdom Hearts game, the one I have the fondest memories of.

#1: Kingdom Hearts II

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It’s March 2006, I’m twelve, a quarter away from finishing seventh grade, and this game comes out. I’m in front of the TV in my room, my friends Majeed and Malik are with me. We’re watching the opening, “Sanctuary” is playing for the first time, the pre-rendered graphics are stunning, and none of us really beat KHI or CoM so a lot of things are confusing. It was a journey into a game that was familiar yet new, brimming with potential, and what I didn’t know was that this would be my encounter with my favorite game.

This game was and still is amazing. Though a lot of people found the Roxas tutorial long, I, when first playing, loved it. I loved the mini-games, loved the struggle battles, loved doing nothing and listening to “Lazy Afternoons.”

Playing through the Mulan world and struggling against the Assault Riders, going to the Hercules world and struggling against the Trick Ghosts, Timeless River and struggling against the Hot Rods, Port Royal and struggling against the pirates (because they were invulnerable if they weren’t under the moonlight)…twelve year old me struggled with this game. I had problems facing the Berserkers when I returned to Twilight Town. The 1000 heartless fight was amazing. Xaldin almost made me rage quit upon return to Beast’s Castle. Xigbar and Luxord taught me the meaning of grinding. My first playthrough and a few subsequent ones were a series of dying, getting back up, passing the controller to friends, swapping memory cards to help where others struggled, and there was just something about playing that game that no other game had given me.

Because every sleepover, every hang out, if we had free time, even if he had recently beaten KHII the week prior, we would return to that game and for some reason not burn out. It’s the only game where currently if I’m on tilt, I won’t rage quit. I love it too much. 

As I got older and more sophisticated with the tech, I started making challenges for myself. I’d finish bosses only with reflega. I’d defeat the 1000 heartless without reaction commands. I’d time myself against the final boss. There’s something so soothing, so satisfying about going from ground to air with a Finishing Leap in the middle to launch the enemy. Sometimes, just for kicks, I’d do struggle battles just to practice guard timing and counter attacks. I’d try to sweep through The World That Never Was using only thundaga. It’s just magical.

As for the story, it was the bees knees. I mean, it wasn’t complicated, and there was just enough of a layer of depth added to the game where it was a satisfying game. Defeating Organization XIII felt good. Riku telling Xemnas, You’re right, light and darkness are eternal. Nothing probably goes on forever, too. But guess what, Xemnas?, and then Sora finishing off, That doesn’t mean you’re eternal. And Xemnas says, No more eternal than that radiance of yours… And he teleports behind you, yelling, We shall go together! This game, though likely biased by nostalgia, there’s no beating it for me. I love it too much.

Sure the whimsy of KHI disappeared a bit, the landscapes were flat battle grounds, the platforming all but removed, and the story was certainly more edgy, but this game is more than a game to me. It’s weekends watching cutscenes with Malik and Majeed, sometimes even Gerald (R.I.P.). It’s watching my little cousins struggle because they’re intrigued and want to play. It’s me and Majeed reciting the lines between Sora and Riku when they reunite. It’s bothering high school friends by yelling, Dance, water, dance!, because they have PTSD from the Demyx boss battle. It’s listening to “Sanctuary”, but the after the battle mix. It’s completing Atlantica, even though I hate it, but then I throw jazz hands at the end of each song when the word, CLEAR, pops up on the screen. It’s playing the game on critical and struggling and loving it, and a dumb smile on my face when I beat Sephiroth because he and his heartless angel hax used to haunt my dreams as a child. It’s returning to a time when I was a child and things were much simpler than what they were now, and every once in a while, I return to KHII to just feel. I get out my frustrations, I reminisce, and sometimes I wish the people currently around me would understand that. And it’s fine that they don’t. But yeah. Kingdom Hearts II is my favorite Kingdom Hearts game. Thanks. Try the games out if you haven’t and if you don’t, that’s fine too. Just know I’m gonna be gone when KHIII releases.

So I’m going to leave you with the Kingdom Hearts III Winnie the Pooh trailer. Later days.

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