Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Musings: My Definitive Ranking of the Kingdom Hearts Games

I'm not much of a gamer, but one game series I love is Kingdom Hearts. I bought a PS3 and a 3DS (with a Christmas's worth of gift money) simply to be able to play through this series.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise, Kingdom Hearts is a series of games that combine Disney characters and worlds with gameplay and storylines similar to the Final Fantasy franchise. (The creator of Kingdom Hearts is actually a story and character designer and producer for Final Fantasy.) It follows the story of Sora, a young boy whose world is destroyed by darkness, as he attempts to reunite with his friends and battle evil creatures called Heartless. The games center on the themes of friendship, love, and the triumph of light over darkness.

Having played through 99% of the series that's available to me (I still have the final boss and extras in KH II), I've discovered that I definitely have favorites when it comes to the games. So here is my listing of Kingdom Hearts games, in order from worst to best, in my estimation.

*Note: I am not including original releases of Coded or Chain of Memories, as I've only played the Re: versions of them on DS and PS3 respectively. I'm also excluding Kingdom Hearts III (unreleased) and any material from 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (because I haven't got a PS4 to play it on). For games with a Final Mix, I am most likely listing the Final Mix version, as that's what is included in the 1.5 and 2.5 collections for PS3.

8. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days

This one I actually enjoyed while playing through it, but I didn't find that it had enough enjoyability to warrant the multiple  playthroughs completionism calls for. I liked getting to know Roxas, Xion, and Axel, especially since this is Xion's only real appearance in the series so far, and Roxas and Axel are side characters at best in the rest of the series. That said, it has possibly my least favorite rendition of Neverland in the series so far simply because it was so difficult to navigate.

7. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories

This one seems to get a lot of hate from the Kingdom Hearts fandom. I didn't really understand why until I reached almost the end of my first (and so far, only) playthrough with Sora. And there was so. Much. Grinding. I didn't even complete half of the trophies that require you to generate room after room after room. That said, I love two things about this game. First, the card system. Frustrating as it could be at times, I really liked that there was a strategy I could implement for any given situation, even if I am loathe to employ strategy beyond "Go in, beat 'em up" in most video games. Second, we got our first taste of playing as Riku, who is as much a main character in the series as Sora.

6. Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded

This one and CoM were a bit of a toss up for me in terms of ranking. I kept Coded at #6 for the simple fact that it was the first game I ever played (on a friend's borrowed DS) and because it has one of my favorite systems in the game: the command menu with attacks that you meld together. It has the disadvantage of being essentially a rehash of Kingdom Hearts and about as much replayability desire as 358/2 Days, but it was still fun.

5. Kingdom Hearts Unchained X

This game is still being released. It's a mobile prequel to Kingdom Hearts and serves to fill in some of the backstory to the Keyblade War that serves as the backdrop for Birth by Sleep (and possible Kingdom Hearts III). I have been keeping up with the North American releases of content for the game, and while it feels very light on actual story so far (there have been maybe a handful of actual scenes that give us any information), the gameplay is fun. It utilizes a system something like Chain of Memories, but with medals instead of cards. If you're looking for a mobile RPG, I'd give Unchained X a try.

4. Kingdom Hearts II

I am actually very mixed when it comes to KHII. While it adds a load of worlds that make me very happy (worlds for Mulan, The Lion King, Tron, and Pirates of the Caribbean), it . . . doesn't actually progress the story very much? As I reached the final world, despite the extreme effort in some of the cutscenes, I felt that this game offers as much development to the overall story of the Kingdom Hearts franchise as Re: Coded. It's fun, it adds new gameplay with the Drive Forms and all the different challenges; but it's severely lacking in the story department.

3.  Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

This game ranks in the top three for two reasons: the worlds, and Riku. This game adds worlds for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Fantasia, and Tron: Legacy. Hunchback is one of my favorite Disney films (mostly for the soundtrack), and the Fantasia world is just so beautiful to look at. While Riku had a short storyline in Chain of Memories, here his participation is both vital to the storyline and equal to Sora's. It also features the same Deck Command system that I loved in Coded. The beauty of this game and the ability to play as multiple characters (something I'd prefer to see in a numbered KH game) more than make up for my least favorite aspect of the game: the pet collecting (aka it's-not-Pokemon-but-we-tried). I've never really been a fan of this style of game, but there was enough that shone brightly in this game to make up for that.

2. Kingdom Hearts

The original game, Kingdom Hearts introduces the world(s) of the story; the main characters, Sora, Riku, and Kairi; and the central themes and plots for the franchise. It's the only game to feature the Deep Jungle (the world based on Tarzan), which is both sad and wonderful. Deep Jungle was a bit of a pain to navigate, though not nearly as much as Atlantica (I hate swimming in video games). This game has a good bit of story to it and moves along at a steady pace once you're through the prologue (which, while long, isn't nearly as long as the prologue of KHII). This game showed us just how much fun it could be to mix Disney with the design and gameplay of the Final Fantasy franchise. It's one of the games that I know I will play through again without a doubt.

1.  Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

This game is, hands down, my favorite of the series. It features three playable characters, who each view only a portion of the game's story, their paths crossing at key intervals. It is the original game to use the Deck Command system I love so much, even if it was the last of those games I played. It has my favorite version of Neverland, with far more of the world open to exploration than the other games to feature that world. The story is rich and complex, and even after playing through with all three characters, I wanted to dive back in for another playthrough with all of them. It also features world that are not to be found in any other game, such as the trio of worlds devoted to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, not to mention a world for Lilo and Stitch (although it sadly takes place entirely before Stitch crash lands on Earth, so there's no Lilo). If I could only have one Kingdom Hearts game, this would be it.

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