Welcome back to the Mobile Games Revue, where we steal taglines from other things and make them our own. Last week, we learned how to maximize our exp gain in real life. This week, we’re going to get a little Heartless, with Square Enix’s most recent iteration on their popular franchise, Kingdom Hearts.
Kingdom Hearts Unchained X is not the first handheld version of the series, but it is the first mobile-only KH game released in the US. I’ll preface this by saying I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts since II, so I can’t compare it to the other handheld versions.
Upon first loading, the game alerts you to the number of files yet to download. This isn’t uncommon in larger mobile games, but Unchained X does something that I haven’t seen before – it has an expositionary cutscene to watch while it begins downloading. I personally still had a fair amount of download to complete even after the introduction to the world completed, but it was nevertheless a unique idea. Once the game finishes downloading, grab a bag of popcorn and settle in for a 15 minute tutorial-on-rails about the game’s extensive mechanics. Seriously, I’ve played shorter tutorials for console games.
My first impression of Unchained X is that, while the graphical style is true to the Kingdom Hearts signature, it’s still very much a mobile game. Your character is an oddly-animated puppet, not unlike those in flash games of days gone past. Movement is accomplished by tapping the ground, or holding the screen in the direction you want your character to go. However, the field of view is tiny, and your character is a speed demon to rival Sonic, so the controls feel a little twitchy. Aside from the opening movie, there is no voice acting in the game that I’ve found – but Kairi’s grandmother in the opening scene was well-acted.
The story is a little kitschy, but let’s be honest, Kingdom Hearts’ stories are generally a step up from Final Fantasy in terms of coherence: the Disney influence helps, but not much. Your character begins by being enveloped by darkness, but their own inner light shines through and materializes in the form of a keyblade. Because you have been so diligent in seeking out the light, you have been granted a keyblade and now have a cute little cat-moogle-thing named Chirithy as an ally. Fun fact: his name is likely a pun based on the Japanese name of the game, which is Kingdom Hearts: Unchained Chi. But I digress. The story is relatively austere, and usually involves a retelling of each movie’s plot. This isn’t the end of the world, however, as the minified versions of iconic characters are genuinely delightful. And after all, it’s not like singing a song with Ariel while your friend Riku is being held in the clutches of evil is really that much better a plot point then helping to find the other 6 dwarves.
Combat, on the other hand, is great. While it’s pretty simple (tap enemy to attack, tap screen to attack random enemy, swipe/flick screen to attack all enemies), it’s very satisfying and feels very similar to combat in the original Kingdom Hearts games (although it is actually turn-based). However, beyond this uncomplicated fighting system is an intricate gear and level-up system that almost puts D&D to shame. You fight with a keyblade (duh), and as you level up, you’ll earn more of them, each excelling in a different area. For example, the beginning keyblade is balanced, whereas the next keyblade earned is a power-centric weapon. These elements (power, magic, and speed) have a resistance and weakness system, similar to Pokemon and other classic RPGs. You can upgrade each keyblade with items gathered in the levels.
Beyond the keyblades themselves are the medals: each medal has one of the three aforementioned attunements, and also features one of the Disney or Square Enix characters. Medals can be bought with real money, awarded for quests or levels, or found while exploring a mission area. Each medal has a star rating, which determines its damage and defense, and can be leveled up and evolved (which are different things) by consuming other medals.
To add to this, where you place each medal on your keyblade can provide bonuses to that medal’s attack power.
Each medal determines a specific attack: tap once to use your first medal’s attack, tap again to use the second’s, and so on. Once you have used up all of your medals, the enemy is able to attack, and then the round starts over. You can take as much time between attacks as you’d like, but often I found myself just spamming my way through the fight (at lower levels, you can essentially faceroll everything). However, occasionally you will encounter what is called a “raid boss” – which seem to be monsters that you fight alongside many other players (reminds me of the Ur-dragon from Dragon’s Dogma, but on an infinitely smaller scale). Each boss has a time limit, during which I presume other players also damage the boss, and at the end everyone gets loot? I think? To be honest, the game does a relatively poor job of explaining the process, and I haven’t figured it out on my own, yet.
For each Heartless you destroy, you gain Lux (xp) and orbs that charge up your special move (which seems to be just a powered up version of each medal’s normal attack). At the end of each level, you’ll obtain more Lux (based on bonus objectives), munny (the adorably titled ingame currency), avatar tokens (used to refill your energy bar and purchase upgrades for your avatar), and sometimes jewels (the microtransaction currency) – and these things will also help you level up. Like I said, it’s a very complex system.
Yes, the game does have microtransactions, from the innocuous 100 jewels for $.99, to the outrageous 14,700 jewels for $99. The lowest priced jewel-purchasable item I was able to find was 500 jewels – so that’s a pretty steep price. That said, the game is free, and completely without ads. While technically you could consider this buy to win (because the items purchased with jewels offer stat bonuses), thus far everything is attainable within the game itself as well.
All told, Kingdom Hearts Unchained X is a somewhat fluffy but fun addition to both the KH series and to my mobile game repertoire. If you have the hefty amount of space needed (almost 60MB on iOS), I recommend giving it a shot.