Kingdom Hearts is a pretty convoluted series at this point, with roughly eight games in the franchise. Kingdom Hearts III has been a long awaited sequel, one that fans have been incredibly patient for to the point where any news that gets announced gives the fans something to salivate over. Square-Enix continues this trend of providing fans with more side stories that will promise more answers to some of the biggest questions in the franchise. The newest entry in this pattern is Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ, a free-to-play mobile game that sets itself as a prequel to the entire saga.
Taking place before the legendary Keyblade war that helped shape the world of Kingdom Hearts, the story introduces the Tome of Prophecy, a book that can predict the future and even manifest objects or people from it. Currently, this is the single tool in the game that may clear up contradictions in the story, because considering the game is a prequel, there are some moments where players will run into familiar territory from previous games. A good example would be Olympus Coliseum, a world that has been in almost every game in the series. In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, the previous game that was the earliest in the timeline, characters, mainly Hercules, appeared younger and several events had yet to happen. However, in this title, Hercules has grown up and already become the muscle-bound hero in training, though seemingly still not a true hero yet. Considering the Tome of Prophecy can pull from the future, it’s possible that this will be cleared up, though since the full story has yet to release in the United States, it will probably be a bit before players will get the full story without having to look it up on a Japanese version’s wiki page.
Players will be able to play as a new Keyblade wielder that they customize themselves, male or female, with interchangeable clothing that can be earned throughout the game. Being a custom character, they really don’t have a large part of the story, most of the dialog being handled by a small cat-like creature named Chirithy that guides the player on where to go. The customization can get surprisingly deep despite the limited options, but players will eventually begin to unlock costumes based on other Disney characters, or even the DS classic The World Ends with You, which is a nice touch. Sadly, it’s all aesthetic and has no effect on the overall gameplay. The cool thing is that to unlock the costumes, the player will have to use special costume boards that use “avatar points” to unlock various outfits, but can also be used to unlock higher stats for the character like more HP, Keyblade points, or the “free-to-play energy” of the game, AP.
Going back to the story situation, the game as it currently stands offers over 200 missions, offering the chance to visit several Disney worlds including the previously mentioned Olympus Coliseum, as well as the Dwarf Woodlands, Wonderland, and Agrabah. There is also a new world in the form of Daybreak Town, which is essentially the neutral town that the player will return to after helping various Disney characters. Speaking of helping Disney characters, players should prepare to do a lot of padded story missions. Even with 200 story missions, only one of the problems gets mildly resolved while the rest are awaiting an update for their conclusion. It’s clearly a way to artificially lengthen the game, though given that it is a free-to-play title, there can be some forgiveness here.
Gameplay can be compared to a previous entry in the series as well, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, where the player used a deck of cards to represent all their attacks. Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ has a similar system, though instead of cards, players use medals that are represented by characters seen throughout the franchise. Players will equip a keyblade and then power it up by these medals, which can be earned throughout the game, eventually being able to equip up to five medals, plus a borrowed medal from a friend (a member of a party that players have the option of joining). Each medal represents a speed, power, or magic attack, creating a rock-paper-scissors style triangle to determine strengths and weaknesses.The whole set of medals on a Keyblade will represent a turn phase, so if a player has four medals, they can attack four times before the enemy gets to attack. This is actually a very important thing to keep in mind, as the game highly encourages players to defeat enemies within one turn phase, giving extra bonuses like extra Lux, the main resource used for rankings and rewards in the game, as well as the experience for leveling up.
Attacks can be performed in one of three ways. Tapping the screen or an enemy will make the player do a standard strike while swiping the screen will make the player attack all enemies in a group with a slightly weaker attack. The third attack is a special attack, where players will utilize their special gauge and activate the special power of a medal. By swiping it to the middle of the screen, the medal can perform various attacks like magic spells, multi-hit combos, status effects and even healing. It takes a bit of foresight and some strategic planning to properly use the special attacks to defeat the stronger enemies, and there will still be moments where it won’t be possible to defeat an enemy in one turn on the first try. It’s a simple combat system, but it works surprisingly well and it especially fits the series.
Enemy heartless are mostly recycled from other games with a few exceptions. Each mission will have a target enemy that the player has to defeat to complete it, and this could be either a group of weaker enemies or a more powerful boss-like enemy. Aside from that, there are also Raid bosses, powerful heartless that can typically take players down in one attack. Players will have to stun the boss by destroying their limbs to have a good chance of defeating them, though if they fail, this automatically sends a signal to the player’s party to have other players help take the boss down within a ten minute time-limit. It’s a rather cool feature that shows more social activity between Kingdom Hearts fans, and it’s a nice way to help new players adapt to the difficulty more.
Outside of the main missions, there are a few other mission types, like special missions that provide a different challenge for every day of the week. These typically provide a chance for players to farm crafting materials to power up their Keyblade or even experience medals to improve the medals the player has, or even evolution medals to power them up further. It’s actually a pretty effective system that makes it so the player will have to pay attention to the day of the week if they want to perform a specific goal, like evolving a powerful Cloud medal with special medals earned only through playing a special mission. There’s also Event missions, which are more like tests of skill, each one pitting players against more advanced challenge, but they can also be a gateway for timed events to unlock new outfits and medals.
Getting more to the social aspect, players are asked to join a union, which are supposed to be representations of the five apprentices of an unknown Keyblade master. This union will then be ranked each week based on how much Lux is collected by the players within it, and depending on what the placement is, players will be rewarded accordingly. The same works for the party the player joins, which their union determines the party options they have. Players can switch parties at any time, but when switching to a different union, players will lose all their Lux and start from the beginning. At the moment, it doesn’t seem fairly balanced, as the Vulpes union is currently winning based on popularity alone it seems. Hopefully the game works out another way to balance it so other unions can be fairly rewarded.
The game has two forms of currency used for various things. Munny, the staple currency of the franchise, is earned through fighting enemies and selling moogle medals, which the game is actually very generous in giving. It would seem pretty rare for players to be out of Munny considering how many opportunities there are to get more. Munny would typically be used to power up medals by feeding other medals to them. The higher the level of the medal, the more expensive it is to level it up. Jewels are more of a real world currency, which can be purchased with real money to put towards buying new medals, but can also be used to help power up the special gauge and even give a second chance if the player were to fall in battle. Players can earn jewels throughout the game as well, for every five new story missions rewards them with 150 jewels, and many of the event missions reward at least 30 jewels for completing the first time. Even logging in daily will grant the player jewels.
Players upgrade keyblades by applying materials collected throughout the game. Getting to a certain level and using the incredibly rare orichalcum, plus other materials, will allow a fourth or fifth medal to be equipped. Players are given orichalcum every 25 story missions, and it can even be a reward for various event missions. Sadly, this means that the rare material is limited to roughly 15 until future content is added to the game. Leveling up Keyblades will also power up certain slots, which will grant more power to a medal that matches the slot color, powering up the medal even further. Luckily, most materials aside from orichalcum are fairly easy to obtain.
Players that start playing now until the end of April will have a nice advantage, as all AP costs are halved for doing missions. Since leveling up fully restores AP, the game is actually very generous in making it so players can get through the whole 200 story missions with very little downtime needed. Even in the situation they need to recharge, it only takes roughly an hour for a good amount of AP to be restored for more missions. Even completing the raid bosses gives the player a ton of experience and often levels them up, and the raid bosses players encounter themselves always have a zero AP cost for the first fight. The game in general is actually pretty generous to players not wanting to spend a single penny on the game, though players that do will definitely have an advantage in having access to more level up opportunities or even just having access to more materials for powering up medals and Keyblades.
Getting to the presentation of the game, simple visuals were used with static character art to represent cutscenes. It would have been nice to have some voice clips to improve the overall feel, as it definitely helps bring more of the Disney characters to life. Gameplay has pretty basic animations with colorful effects that work well for a mobile title, so even though it will look a bit more cutesy, this visual style works well for the overall experience. All the different Disney worlds look like the ones from previous games, despite the flat visuals. All the music aside from a handful of tracks are also pulled from previous games, so again, fans of the series will have a lot of familiarity with the game already. Even with simplistic visuals and recycled music, the game feels part of the Kingdom Hearts world.
Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ is truly a blast to play despite it’s simplicity, and it can get pretty addicting just trying to get stronger medals. It’s a bit of a tease that the stories are left incomplete until the game has future updates, especially with how many story missions do practically nothing to actually progress the story. Hopefully it doesn’t take too long for Square-Enix to release the future updates, as many players have already reached the 200th story mission, and there are even some who have reached level 200, the current cap. It will also help players needing more materials to power up their Keyblades or even just to get more opportunities to advance their level. It might have a few flaws with the story, but the overall simple gameplay and the charming style are enough to make Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ a worthwhile time killer for any Kingdom Hearts fan.
Final Score: 7 out of 10