Fewer fandoms are as devout or clingy than that which worship at the altar of Kingdom Hearts. Wedged between Pokemon and Final Fantasy VII, it currently stands as number two in fanfiction.net’s colossal database of user-created lore and dramas. That’s more than 73,000 individual stories written – more than Super Mario, The Legends of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Mega Man combined.
However, upon looking at how Square Enix has spun Kingdom Hearts’ narrative thread over the years, you’d think that too was some rather trippy fan fiction, albeit baked into the official series timeline. Instead of following a simple chronology, the studio continues to hop from one story arc to the next, occasionally revisiting certain points to fill in any gaps. It doesn’t help that the franchise has now been stretched across a handful of disparate platforms including Sony consoles, Nintendo handhelds, and now smartphones and tablets. With so many characters, events, and histories to keep track of, we wouldn’t be surprised if the next one’s called Kingdom Hearts: A Hideo Kojima Production.
Set a hundred years before the events of the original game, Kingdom Hearts Unchained has been available in Japan for some time now. Say what you will about the game itself, but on a business level it has allowed Square Enix to tackle burgeoning industry sectors, catering to the web browser gaming market as well as those for mobile devices.
Although there are story beats for fans to latch onto, there’s nothing particularly dynamic or involving about them. While the cutscenes and dialogue are of a decent quality, these baubles will do little to divert the attention of most casual players.
Kingdom Hearts has never shied away from experimentation, with Unchained sporting a new combat system. Without a 3D space to move around in, this time battles are turn-based. By simply tapping or swiping at opponents, your custom-made avatar will swing their Keyblade to unleash a flurry of attacks. In doing so, you’ll quickly fill a meter which can be spent to trigger bigger, more destructive powers.
By completing missions, exploring environments, and defeating enemies, a growing selection of these powers will become available, each one bound to collectible medals. They work similarly to loot in other roleplaying games yet are made more iconic due to their associated characters. Within the first hour or so of play, I’d already equipped medals for Hercules, Stitch, and Yuna, eagerly on the lookout for more.
What’s so endearing about Unchained is how it manages to capture the series’ core essence. From the sound effects and menu style, to the quirky game systems and character crossovers, it’s exactly what Kingdom Hearts fans would want from a casual mobile title. However, for the fandom’s hardcore contingent, it’s hard to say whether Unchained does enough to quench their undying thirst for more Kingdom Hearts.