I should hate this game, yet I haven’t put it down for a while. As a long standing fan of this series, I should hate it just by the description of it. And I was ready to rip it to shreds when I first started. It happens to borrow two previously used mechanics from the previous games to create a single whole here.
Still, this is a series that's always trying something new. Usually, that's messing around with the relative simplicity of swinging a weapon at an enemy. Kingdom Hearts loves to dream of ways of messing with that. Whether they're putting it in a weird, hybrid menu or adding reaction commands, they're throwing a convoluted card system over the top with no thought at all, like in Re:Chain of Memories. You have to fumble through a deck of 20 to 30 cards to do anything! It's like pulling the aces from a deck while someone shoots at you with a magic bazooka.
No! I will not shut up about that till the game apologises by having my PS3 dispense M&Ms. The crunchy or normal kind. Peanut is acceptable. I will settle for Smarties and a candlelit dinner with Ansem.
In the right atmosphere, I’m sure he’ll open his heart. And then he’ll be all mine…
Unchained X, because having over-the-top sounding names is as much a part of the series as wearing too many belts, is available on Android and iOS. The gameplay puts me very much in mind of Re:Chain of Memories' stupid card system and the Mission structure of 358/2 Days, yet does them both better. In almost every way.
OK, I’m on the subject so, let’s talk fighting things first.
For those not in the know, this is a Keyblade. It is a magical weapon that unlocks things and is the best weapon against monsters called ‘Heartless’. It looks ridiculous, appears impractical as anything other than a bludgeoning weapon and I’ve wanted one since I was 14.
To smack stuff with your keyblade, you tap to target one thing or swipe to deal damage across multiple targets. However, your keyblade now acts more like a revolver, with a chamber that contains a medal. Making an attack consumes the medal in the current chamber of your keyblade, like firing off a shot consumes a bullet. Each medal has different elemental attacks and stats, each medal can be levelled up individually to improve its stats and capabilities and each element of attack deals more damage to certain types of enemies, that also share these three elements across the whole game. You swing till you run out of medals then it’s the enemy’s turn. If you survive, your medals are reloaded and the game continues for another round. Simple! For a phone game, that’s actually perfectly fine as it still feels like a Kingdom Hearts experience.
As I said, this series likes to play around with how combat is constructed and this time, they’ve focused their efforts on getting players to see how efficient they can be. The elemental thing ends up necessitating that you need to pick your medals carefully for each encounter, so that you can deal with enemies more effectively. Each mission (we’ll get to that) gives a clue of what’s up ahead by showing the target Heartless and the elemental type of the enemy then letting you pick your gear going in. The game incentivises this by giving you objectives every single mission (we’ll get to them soon). A vast majority of them give you a doodad for defeating every single enemy in one turn. So, now you have to think of how best to lay down the damage across all the enemies to get the best damage output. Thought and forward planning, oh my!
To add more to that thought process, you also have a special bar which allows you to use special moves. These are one shot alternatives to each attack which is unique to the medal, each consuming differing amounts of the special bar for a big flashy attack. Some are straightforward damage but others gain bonuses from attacking enemies with a stats ailment, some get boosted if you used more special moves beforehand, some are boosted just by having high health. It’s another consideration: do you pop the special move or just spend the medal normally. The combat is honestly got a lot going on and I’m deep into it for that reason.
Also pretty cute visually. I like bright and vibrant games and this delivers. Look at the adorable little Shadows there! Wickle monster’s gonna render me unto the endless abyss, ain’t cha?
And can I please express how much I like it being TURN BASED! You have no idea how often I have died and desired to feed the designers to rabbid turnips just because I couldn’t find a 0 card while Marluxia barrelled down on me.
Medals are neat but keyblades now effect the power of badges of a certain element if they’re placed in the right chamber. This means that keyblades now specialise in outputting a particular type of damage and equipping them to deal with a particular set of enemies is key to doing well, like picking a club before a golf swing. There’s only three elements to worry about so it’s not overtly complex, like Pokemon, but does offer a little more going on than slap enemy A with giant key.
One keyblade could be better at Power or one at Speed. The first keyblade you get can boost the power of all three elements, making it a good allrounder if you want to be prepared. Keyblades can also be leveled up through synthesis, which requires materials you pick up from all over the place in the game. That’ll either make the chambers that offer elemental bonuses offer a higher bonus to that medals power or even add more chambers so you can swing for longer each turn. The gear in this game is genuinely worth picking up. I like it! The medals work fine and the keyblades are neat. It’s gratifying to become strong and that’s really the basics of what you want in a game like this.
Missions is where this game get’s a B- though. I like the structure. They looked at the mission structure of 358/2 Days, where you had a list of stuff to do to advance the plot and you checked off one by one. Each mission had extra objectives to accomplish, like the deceitfully tricky ‘getting through without losing any health’, for extra bonuses. It was nice enough, except that missions could easily drag on or simply feel empty. Go here, kill that, get milk because Luxord wants his Mocha with soy this time; that sort of thing. It had variety but the missions lasted alot longer than they needed to. They elongated a game where it felt like barely anything ever happened, stabbing a sword through the pacing mercilessly while you’re left with a sludge to wade through endlessly.
Pictured: 358/2 Days’ pacing
Unchained X drops you in a little environment and goes: “Here! Kill these things. See you in two minutes!” It does this for every single mission. The only variety is in what you’re smacking but, you know what? I think it benefits from being simpler. It’s a mobile game. You’re going to play this on a bus when there’s not much else to do. It’s bitesize chunks of slightly odd RPG that are over in far less than five minutes if you can tell your arse from your elbows! More than 358/2 Days was, this is intended to be picked up and played for a short while then left alone. It’s certainly meant to be dropped at a moment’s notice considering the length of most missions. You’re often lucky if there’s a second screen to visit.
But I ain’t mad! It’s consistent! You know what you’re getting into: lots of quick, simple but engaging little fights. It’s not stellar, but I enjoyed it. It’s a few steps above a Clicker game, which are fine just very simplistic for my taste.
Now, we get to the slightly odd decisions here and that means bringing up the plot. All I know is that this takes place before any other game in the series thus far and you play as a random 10 year old who’s been given an incredibly powerful mystical weapon known as the Keyblade. You’re job is to go around to other worlds and fight monsters.
Because this is Kingdom Hearts, where the usual continuity divides between different Disney properties is ignored with reckless abandon, please read ‘Worlds’ as ‘Disney Movie’.
And where this guy is the most powerful and skilled warrior we have ever known. I am dead serious.You are not ment to be laughing right now. Stop that and take this bonkers crap seriously!
I don’t know much more about the general plot, despite playing through almost 200 missions so far, because the mission structure stretches out each plot point to the thickness of a human hair. It does this by making you play through filler missions where all you are doing is moving back and forth between locations. In any other game, you would either be able to walk back yourself or simply cut there but Unchained X figures it will try to be more like it’s bigger brothers and have you fight your way back after saving Snow White or whatever. It means something happens, you fight your way through five or six missions to get where you need to be to investigate, something else happens, then you battle to get all the way back to where you started over five or six more missions. I have experienced quicker boils by throwing a lit lighter in a swimming pool. The padding is biblical!
You are playing for the sweet loot and the neat battle mechanics because the story and missions are all there to get you to fork up cash. Yep! It’s a Freemium game. A weirdly lax freemium game where I am approaching Level 60 and I’m now only barely feeling any strain on my resources at all. They have an energy system that you use to enter missions with. Filling it back up when it’s gone either costs jewels, the main in-game currency, or you level up to replenish it for free. I’ve only ever needed to do this more recently as I try for the event missions for rare drops or when I try blowing through as many missions as I can. Up until this point, I’ve been perfectly fine. My judge is that you get quite a bit for nothin’ in this game and I’m pretty certain it won’t get much worse till the level 80 to 200 mark. But at that point, I’m so far in the game, I wouldn’t mind forking over less than a pound for some jewels.
What can I say? It’s money-grabbing is actually pretty tame so far compared to other titles I’ve played.
I guess they already had the fanbase for this one so, they were guaranteed to have someone playing!
Mainly when Pokemon Go wasn’t working but still, someone would be playing!
The weird thing is that you can improve both your maximum energy level and max HP, allowing you to take on more things without needing to dip into the coin purse, by buying clothes and hairstyles. You unlock new ‘accessory boards’ which contain a chain of bonuses you pay ‘Avatar Coins’ for. You earn these on the course of your normal mission-completing activities and they can be spent on upgrades to your mission energy and HP. You also get avatar cosmetics from then aaand...they’re OK but they feel like something you have to buy in order to get all the upgrades to the things that let you play the game for longer. Like the game is bribing you to pimp your avatar out with a new hat; it feels supremely weird.
...If you buy energy and HP upgrades and you upgrade gear with items, what’s the point of levelling up? It refills your energy bar for missions but that is entirely it. Why is it still a thing then? Not a deal breaker, just curious.
Regardless of some unexplainable decisions, I like this one. It’s a neat thing to fall back on when Pokemon Go’s servers pack in. It’s got some thought, it reworks old ideas that really didn’t work and it’s got a very appealing art style. It’s cute with tones of visual references for Disney fans that is spot on for the films. It does have a glacially paced plot but even I wasn’t that fussed with it enough to stop playing. It’s free. Pick it up and try it while Niantic try to keep their new franchise alive.
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