Kingdom Hearts is incredibly special to me. No other gaming franchise has connected with me the way it has, and there’s no other series I’ve been hoping would get the Switch port treatment more than it. I used to joke that all I needed on Switch was Kingdom Hearts, and should the series ever release for the platform, it’d be all anyone would ever see me on. Sure enough, 2020’s release of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory still dominates my playtime on Nintendo’s little hybrid console.
Now, as fantastic as that game is – and it absolutely is – I’ve still been left wanting for the rest of my dearly beloved Final Fantasy-meets-Disney chimera to come home to Switch. The longer the wait for these dream ports became, the more it felt like they would never happen, or if they did, they would be given the cloud treatment like other big-name third-party releases.
For better or worse, the latter has occurred, and while it’s not the end of the world, it’s certainly not ideal, and poses the question with every release like this: Is the cloud-based concession worth it? Join me as I delve into the rabbit hole that is this seven-game, three-movie collection to find out.
Since this is an absolutely massive review, I’ll be laying things out a bit differently than the reviews you’re used to seeing from us here. This review will be broken into sections for each title in the collection, listed in release order, and will touch on the story and gameplay of each, with the cloud-based performance of all titles being grouped together at the very end.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
The original Kingdom Hearts stands as one of the earliest examples of a fully-realized 3D action-RPG. There had been others before it, which had their merits, however Sora’s first outing hit a level of polish and quality that hadn’t been achieved in the industry to date. What stands as a testament to that quality and polish is the fact that this game still holds up by today’s standards. There can be a bit of clunkiness in its platforming, and worlds don’t have many NPCs to interact with outside of enemies, but it’s so well realized and content-rich that you could pass it off as a title released in the past decade, rather than twenty years ago.
This inaugural title is the most newcomer friendly, boasting a tale not bogged down by two decades of side-stories and subplots. That doesn’t mean it’s overly-simple, however. The story told in Sora’s first outing is deep and heartwarming, and would be right at home in a classic Disney animated film. On the gameplay side, the combat is satisfying and responsive, with a wealth of abilities to use, collectibles to find, and challenges to triumph over such as the Olympus Coliseum and Secret Bosses.
If you’re looking to get the most out of the series’ story, then this is absolutely the title to start with.
Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories
Chain of Memories marks Sora’s second outing both chronologically and in release order, and it’s a pretty hard shift both mechanically and in its thematic tone. Set in the mysterious Castle Oblivion, Sora and his newfound BFFs Donald and Goofy must face a gauntlet of existential crises that may lead to a loss of their memories along with their sense of self. Chain of Memories stands as potentially the darkest story in the series to date, boasting more than a handful of twisted scenes. Without getting into spoilers, this entry features an unconscious character being tossed like a ragdoll, on-screen murder while the victim begs for their life, and in the GBA version, the series’ first use of a swear word.
It’s a shame that the series’ most deliciously edgy tale is locked behind its most divisive combat system by far. The combat in Chain of Memories is a hybrid card-based and action-combat system, which features admittedly satisfying and flashy combos that unfortunately require either extensive pre-battle planning, or on-the-fly mathematics to achieve victory.
Overall, it’s a fun title with a story that tends to shine brighter than its mechanics. If you’re playing through this collection and find yourself hitting a wall with Chain of Memories’ gameplay, there’s no shame in giving it a pass and moving on to the next title. If you do skip playing it, however, do yourself a favor and watch the cutscenes. The Kingdom Hearts series has a well earned reputation of everything being plot-important, and Chain of Memories is no exception.
Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix
Revered as one of the series’ highest points, Kingdom Hearts 2 sees the return of the first entry’s combat system, polished to near perfection, with keyblade dual-wielding Drive Forms added in for good measure. Set roughly a year after the events of Chain of Memories, this adventure sees the return of that title’s antagonists, the mysterious Organization XIII, in a desperate scramble to gain control over Kingdom Hearts itself. Thematically speaking, Kingdom Hearts 2 achieves a nice balance between its predecessors; things aren’t as happy-go-lucky as the first title tended to be, nor are they as edgy as the previous romp. If you only ever play one Kingdom Hearts game in your life, I’d highly recommend making it this one.
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (Cutscene Movie)
358/2 Days was a title originally released for the Nintendo DS, and serves as the first of three cutscene movies in this collection. Primarily set between the events of Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2, Days follows Roxas, a character introduced at the beginning of the prior release, and chronicles his time as a member of Organization XIII. While there’s no gameplay to speak of with this one, it stands as one of the most heartfelt and emotionally raw entries in the series, and is my personal favorite story the franchise has told to date.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
Birth By Sleep serves as the series’ first true prequel, following the events that would ultimately lead to Sora and his friends being swept up in this world-hopping darkness fiasco. Set ten years prior to the events of the series first entry, Birth By Sleep follows a new trio of keyblade kids as their world is slowly swept out from under their feet by the progenitor to the first game’s villain. While not as emotionally taxing from start to finish as Days, it’s equally as tragic. You will be sad at the end of this title, but it’s the best kind of sad.
New to this entry is the Command Deck combat system, which serves as a slight lateral evolution of the main numbered titles’ action-combat system. You’ll still be bashing baddies with the keyblade, but gone are the more technical combos in favor of a customizable and upgradable list of flashy attacks and spells. While not as divisive as Chain of Memories’ combat system, it’s different enough from the main numbered titles that some may take umbrage with it. It’s a fun time overall, however, and some of the crazier commands and form changes are a genuine blast to use.
Kingdom Hearts: Re: Coded (Cutscene Movie)
The second movie in the collection, Re: Coded serves as a bridge between Kingdom Hearts 2 and the next title in line, Dream Drop Distance. While it does an alright job of sequel set up, a lot of the ideas presented don’t seem to connect too closely with the titles that ultimately came immediately after it. That is, until the climaxes of both Kingdom Hearts 3 and the now-defunct mobile game ‘Union X’ are taken into account. The events contained in those stories’ conclusions make it abundantly clear that this title was intended to set up the next phase of the series as a whole, rather than its closest sequels.
Re: Coded is a fun watch, but can feel a bit out of place right up until the end of the current timeline is fully revealed to you.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
Viewed by many fans as the black sheep of the series, Dream Drop Distance is where the story goes off the rails a bit. While the series’ plot does have a reputation of being a bit wild and seemingly disjointed at times, Dream Drop Distance meets that reputation and ups the ante with a smattering of time travel. This is the title that can make or break a Kingdom Hearts super-fan. If you can handle the series’ first true jumping of the proverbial shark, then you can handle just about anything the series will throw at you from here on out.
From a gameplay perspective, the command deck from Birth By Sleep returns, with the new parkour-esque Flowmotion system added in alongside a plethora of Pokémon-like Dream Eaters to befriend and raise. In spite of its very obvious flaws, Dream Drop Distance is a genuinely fun time, and has surprisingly become one of my favorite and most-revisited entries in the series to date.
Kingdom Hearts: X Back Cover (Cutscene Movie)
Based on a pair of browser and mobile games known as ‘X’ and ‘Union X’ respectively, Back Cover serves as the final movie in the collection, as well as the canonical Genesis of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. If you’ve ever wondered just where this friendship-centric crazy train left the station before the key kids in Birth By Sleep took the scene, then this title is a must-watch. While it’s chronologically the earliest point in the series’ timeline, it’s best enjoyed post-Dream Drop Distance, as some of the reveals regarding the first Keyblade War and the Foretellers just won’t hit the same without the prior titles’ set up.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 returns to where Birth By Sleep left off, filling in a few blank points from that spot in the timeline, while also tying up some loose ends in an effort to set the table for the final clash between the forces of light and darkness in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Returning to the numbered titles’ combat system, 0.2 served as a relatively brief tech demo of sorts, showcasing what the series would look like on modern hardware. The title is an absolute stunner, looking startlingly close to the pre-rendered CG cutscenes from the opening and closing of the prior titles, with the game flowing seamlessly from cutscene to gameplay and back again. While its story is only a few hours long, it’s got a surprising amount of content to sink your teeth into, and is a fun appetizer to the main course that is Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts 3 + Re: Mind DLC
The most visually impressive, mechanically dense, and open entry in the series to date, Kingdom Hearts 3 delivers on the promise of the first title’s exploration of Disney worlds in ways never thought possible in earlier console generations. From the open seas of the Pirates of the Caribbean world, to the sea of stars in the Oceans Between, this game is absolutely massive. It’s pretty obvious that this one would most likely never run well on Switch, and as such, is the title that I feel least burned by being a cloud-only release.
This title follows 0.2’s lead in terms of mechanics, returning to the fan-favorite numbered titles’ combat system, while cranking everything up to 11. Combos and form changes are flashier than ever, while summons are a sight to behold. While the game’s narrative does a surprisingly good job of tying up nearly 20 years of stories, it’s actual ending left many fans wanting. Myself included. Thankfully, this version of the game includes the epilogue Re: Mind DLC, which fleshes out the game’s original ending while setting up the next phase of the franchise in a more satisfying way than the base game originally had on its own.
Finalé Ultimania 13.7/3
Kingdom Hearts in its entirety is finally on Switch. That sentence alone makes me exceedingly happy. However, the drawback of these games being cloud-only releases cannot be overstated. When it works, it’s a surprisingly competent version of the game that, were it not for the (admittedly minimal) input delay, could trick the brain into thinking it was indeed a native port. Problem is, it doesn’t always work. Any sort of fluctuation in your internet connection, no matter how slight, can and will result in a number of issues. During my playtime on near-business-class Wi-Fi, I experienced a fair amount of pixelation, audio desyncing, and most concerning of all, hitches where the game just straight up stopped for a second or two. When the Wi-Fi’s not perfect, it’s not a fun time, and these bumps in the fidelity and playability sucked me right out of the experience.
One other aspect of this collection’s Switch release that gives me quite a bit of pause is the idea of forward compatibility. A lot of times when we talk about compatibility, we’re excited at the prospect that our games will be going forward with us. With efforts on both Microsoft and Sony‘s part to make as many games as possible playable going forward, it’s presumed that Nintendo will do the same with whatever the next Switch will be. When we have that more powerful sequel to the Switch, however, will Square-Enix make the effort of finally giving us native ports, or will they simply make the client that streams the game to the Switch compatible with the new platform? With the fact in mind that the entire franchise is already forward compatible with all PlayStations, Xboxes, and Windows PCs, I fear that the latter is most probable.
The most important thing, however, is that the entirety of the series is finally on Switch; flinging the doors wide open for millions of new players to experience the unique story of friendship, Disney, and emotional damage that is Kingdom Hearts. If the Switch is your only way to experience the franchise, and your internet can handle cloud gaming, then it’s a perfectly serviceable way to play through the series. Be warned, though: Unless our internet is absurdly fast, you most likely won’t be clearing a critical mode playthrough smoothly, and you certainly won’t be able to defeat any of the franchise’s fabled secret bosses with any sort of consistency.
That leads me to my final verdict. While this version of the series is very playable, more so than I was expecting, it is unquestionably a lesser experience to playing on any other platform where the games are installed locally. If you have a base PS4 or Xbox One, a PS5 or Xbox Series S/X, or a capable Windows PC, I’d highly recommend playing on those platforms instead. The titles are readily available and often steeply discounted on those platforms’ digital storefronts, and at the time of this writing, Kingdom Hearts 3 is even available as part of Xbox Game Pass for console.
The Kingdom Hearts series is one of the gems of the games industry, and absolutely worth playing through by any means necessary – even cloud streaming. However, if you have a platform that allows you to play these classics off a local install, then I’d recommend playing through the series on said platform over the Switch version without hesitation.
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: February 10, 2022
Categories: Action RPG
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix