To me, it makes sense for a franchise to stay on its original platform. Even if you create a multitude of sequels, the core of the series should always be available on the console where it all started. Take Halo; Bungie’s world famous first person shooter eventually found its way onto the PC, but each title has always been available on its respective Xbox console. If it wasn’t, Microsoft fan boys would be in outrage.
So, it’s strange to hear that the next instalment of Kingdom Hearts will come in the form of a trio. Perhaps most bizarrely, all three games are set to be released on completely different handheld consoles.
Now if you’ve managed to hide yourself from the might of Square Enix for the last seven years, I’ll do my best to quickly fill you in. The original Kingdom Hearts was an action role-playing game for the Playstation 2, throwing together the cast of Disney and Final Fantasy into a brand new cameo universe. As the young boy Sora, you travel alongside Donald and Goofy with the mysterious keyblade, attempting to ‘lock’ Disney worlds away from evil and find your missing friends.
With strong voice acting from Walt Disney and sharp game play from Square, the game was a smash hit. So much so that it warranted a sequel three years later, reuniting old faces and introducing a menacing Organisation called… Organisation XII. Not very imaginative, I know. However, I will admit that I loved both of these games dearly. The presentation was superb, the characters were easy to fall in love with and the controls were quick to pick up/ hard to master.
There’s been a few directors cuts since then (named Final Mix and not available in Europe) and a remake of the Game Boy Advance intermediary Chain of Memories (also, not available in Europe) so for UK dwellers, a new Kingdom Hearts has been a long time to coming. So what about this new trio on the horizon?
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Transferring the franchise to the Sony PSP makes a lot of sense. Presumably, a proportion of Playstation 2 owners have stayed brand loyal and invested in Kutaragi’s portable. The PSP is also the most graphically powerful of the handhelds, offering a control scheme that closely mimics the original Playstation 2.
Birth by Sleep was announced in 2007 at the Tokyo Game Show. This prequel takes place ten years prior to the original Kingdom Hearts, following three apprentice keyblade wielders named Terra, Ven and Aqua. They were hinted as much older knights in the scenes at the end of Kingdom Hearts II and Nomura has since confirmed them all to be playable characters. Gameplay is reportedly similar to the PS2 version of Chain of Memories, though hopefully without the irritating card system. Each character will play differently in their separate scenario and offer unique special attack modes.
The team behind development are using the same graphical engine behind Crisis Core and the game is set for a December 2009 launch in Japan.
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
Square Enix has found a new home on the Nintendo DS. Nearly every classic Final Fantasy has been remade, the strategy Tactics series is improving and Jupiter, the team behind the original Chain of Memories has found critical success with The World Ends with You.
Pronounced “Kingdom Hearts Three-Five-Eight Days over Two”, this interlude is set between the first and second Kingdom Hearts game. You take on the role of Roxas, the Nobody and Organisation XIII member born from Sora in Hollow Bastion. The single player mode teams you up with other Organisation members and allows your friends to take control of them on the fly. Players follow the birth of Roxas as he grows up during Sora’s absence, eventually defecting from the Organisation and getting tangled up with a brand new member called Xion.
Twilight Town has frequently been shown in trailers, but Destiny Islands, Beast’s castle, Halloween Town and many other worlds have all been confirmed. The 3D graphics look impressive for the system, but I’m sceptical on how the control scheme will fair. The touch screen seems to have been avoided in favour of a traditional control scheme, but with less buttons I could see this being a big problem. With multiple heartless attacking on screen, the camera will no doubt make or break 358/2 Days.
Developed with the assistance of h.a.n.d Inc, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days will be released in Japan on May 30.
Kingdom Hearts: Coded
Excluding the iPhone/ iTouch, I’m not a huge convert of games on the mobile phone. Most don’t have the screen or game engine powerful enough to do it justice, or the target audience is so small that the budget never lasts more than a few hours of play.
Coded might just be able to change my mind on that. A very simplistic, but pretty 3D engine brings Sora back in his original Kingdom Hearts outfit. It’s primarily a puzzle game though, which may confuse a lot of players that are expecting a straight up action RPG. Set after Kingdom Hearts 2 (so if you’re still managing to follow the insane chronological order, this is the most recent one in time) Jiminy Cricket discovers a strange message about Naminee in his journal. Wanting to find out what it means, he digitizes his journal and awakens a virtual Sora to carry out the adventure.
It’s likely this will be the least successful sequel and Nomura seems to have acknowledged this. The plot seems a minimal part of the Kingdom Hearts core and I’m guessing only a few important answers will be given away in the game. There doesn’t seem to be a concrete release date, but I’m betting it will co-inside with the release of Birth by Sleep or 352/8 Days.
So if you’re craving Sora, Riku and the rest of the gang it looks like Square Enix has got the answer. It might not be a true, home console experience… but three handheld games at once come pretty close.