We all have to fill in the time until Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out one way or another. Whilst we’re waiting, let’s take another retrospective look over the series so far, and rank all the games – from worst to best.
Kingdom Hearts χ
Actually, I quite like this mobile game – missions are quick and simple, and it’s pretty mindless fun. It’s just that that’s all it is – there’s nothing really of depth and substance here. I’ve only mentioned it here for completeness.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
Originally a series of chapters in a Japan-only mobile game, Re:coded brought those chapters over to the West in a single DS cart. Widely regarded to be the most forgettable of the Kingdom Hearts games, Re:coded adds essentially nothing to the franchise. The game starts off blandly enough, but becomes increasingly tedious as you replay the most familiar worlds from the franchise for the umpteenth time. I really hope you’re not bored of Agrabah by now, or you’re going to struggle here.
Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories
The one thing Chain of Memories has going for it is that you can play as Riku – great for those who prefer a moody anti-hero to a plucky and optimistic protagonist. Unfortunately the price you pay for that is having to go through the worlds from the first game again, but this time with a pedestrian card based battle system.
I know this is blasphemy, but I just don’t like the original Kingdom Hearts that much. The character designs feel too kiddie, the battle system is awkward, and each world is a pain to navigate. I disliked making my way through Alice’s world, loathed swimming around in Atlantica, felt nauseous whilst trying to figure out Halloween Town, and almost threw down my controller in frustration during Hollow Bastion. Pretty much from the moment I set foot on Destiny Islands, I found myself unable to derive much in the way of fun and enjoyment from the game – and that’s before I even mention the hated Gummi Ship. I think the only things I quite liked from this game were the FF character cameos, the final few boss battles, and the relative simplicity of the main plot.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Before release, 358/2 Days looked like it was going to be great. Finally, a chance to play as all your favourites from Organisation XIII! Unfortunately, what you get doesn’t quite live up to that promise. Instead, you take on a solid but unimaginative series of quests as Roxas, whilst the plot tries to fill in some holes from that year that Sora spent asleep. If you want to play as the other Organisation members, then you have to turn to quite a dull selection of sidequests. It’s not that this is a particularly bad game, it’s just that there’s nothing to make it stand out from the masses of other average JRPGs out there.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance
Gameplay-wise, Dream Drop Distance (or 3D – see what they did there) is actually not too bad. There are some good new gameplay elements for the series – you get familiars to fight beside you, and ‘Flowmotion’ combat lets you switch up your attack style depending on the environment. There’s also a good selection of worlds to visit, and even some cameos from The World Ends With You characters.
But Dream Drop Distance is not without its weaknesses. For starters, you might as well completely ignore the plot, as it makes little to no sense even by Kingdom Hearts standards. Secondly, the fact that you play as both Sora and Riku in the main plot means that you have to do each world twice from slightly different perspectives, which can get repetitive. Worse yet, the game implements a system where you are forcibly switched from one character to the other when a timer runs out – even if you’re in the middle of a boss battle!
Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep
Whilst Birth By Sleep is certainly responsible for some of the explosion of complexity and lore in the Kingdom Hearts universe, it’s also a really fun game. Admittedly, the fact that you have three main characters means you have to do each world three times, but actually I like those characters enough to be fine with that. Battles are fun, there’s a good variety of worlds, and gameplay overall feels enjoyable rather than tiresome. I actually care about Aqua, Terra and Ventus, and want to see their fates properly resolved at some point.
Kingdom Hearts 2
The second main game in this sprawling series, KH2 remains the best. Just as Sora, Donald and Goofy grew up between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, so too did the franchise. The gameplay is slicker and many times more fun, both in terms of world exploration and battles. KH2 also boasts the most interesting and varied selection of worlds to date, including The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron. Even Atlantica proves to be non-painful, relying on rhythm game mechanics instead of the awkward underwater fights of the first game.
This is definitely the best game the franchise has produced so far, and even today it still sets the bar for Kingdom Hearts 3.