I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
I’ve always loved Kingdom Hearts. Its perfect blend of goofiness, edginess, and sincerity won me over from the very beginning and has managed to maintain a grip on my soul for years upon years. So you can imagine how disappointed I was by the initial release of Kingdom Hearts III, a game that I had to be reminded even came out last year.
As someone who’s replayed Kingdom Hearts II somewhere in the ballpark of twenty or so times, having the thirteen-years-in-the-making game come out only to be quickly forgotten was a bummer of unimaginable magnitudes. Dealing with the issues of easy and brainless gameplay, plot holes aplenty, and an overall feeling that this game felt more on par with a side game than a true successor to the last numbered entry in the series, was disappointing to say the least. While some of the issues with gameplay were resolved through various free patches to the game, the main allure of Kingdom Hearts has always been its story, so for it to have ended the series’ main arc on a pretty sour note made those fixes just pass me by.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Mind is definitely overpriced, and it definitely should have been something that was included with the original game from the beginning, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make me remember why I loved Kingdom Hearts all over again.
Although the main thing people will be looking for in any Kingdom Hearts game is the narrative, there are lots of little features baked into Re:Mind that feel like they were made specifically to cater to Kingdom Hearts die-hards. First is the addition of the Oathkeeper keyblade, which powers up into a form that lets you dual-wield and shoot out light pillars everywhere just like the series’ best boy Roxas. There are also new “Pro Codes” which let you make the game harder with stuff like constantly draining MP or no healing magic, if you didn’t think the post-launch Critical Mode was hard enough. For the less fighting-inclined, there’s also the new Data Greeting feature, which lets you mash all the various characters of the game up against each other like shippers have dreamed of for years. There’s lots of object, location, and color filter options too, so if you want to say, create a hypothetical angelic-looking date between two characters of your choice, this DLC has got you covered.
The main path of Re:Mind is one part retcon, and one part boss rush, sending players back through a revised telling of the game’s original ending sequence. While this plays out very similar to the original launch finale, there are lots of little touches added to help flesh out and cover all the bases that were originally glossed over and resolved a little too quickly. If you were wondering how certain fighters managed to make their way to the closing brawl, or even just wanted to resolve each character arc as not Sora, Re:Mind will impress.
While the original boss fights largely remain the same, new options and mechanics have been added to make the game feel a lot more like Kingdom Hearts II, the last real fully featured game in the series. The fight involving the Birth by Sleep protagonists, for example, now lets you play as Aqua for the entire duration, using special combo moves with Ventus to better demonstrate that this battle is about them and what they need to do. Even the new encounters added with the DLC have more original recipe flavor to them, with plenty of characters you wouldn’t have expected to interact mixing and mingling on the battlefield with a mix of comedy and downright cool as hell shit.
Speaking of the newer boss fights, they help make the climax of the game feel much more like a team effort, rather than a constant cavalcade of everyone else fucking up only to have Sora roll in and win whatever has been happening all by himself. In a game like Kingdom Hearts III, which is ultimately the culmination of so many different character groups and arcs, the original game’s focus on making Sora the ultimate archetypal hero who solves everything with a smile was more than a little frustrating. Now you get to see absolutely off the walls bullshit, like Mickey Mouse clinging to life in a sequence reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 4’s microwave hallway, or an encounter where you control every single Kingdom Hearts protagonist at once in a cycling group attack that has all sorts of wild character interactions that feel like fanservice at its best.
There are still tons of problems with the base game for sure, but these changes have helped III actually start to feel like the mainline Kingdom Hearts game everyone expected. While the original game wasted a ton of time meandering around largely disconnected and hollow Disney worlds, Re:Mind takes you immediately into the stuff fans are looking for. Instead of making you wade through redundant build up, you get to hear Xehanort talk about being a libertarian right from the get-go! The new final boss encounter is especially redeemed now, with a playable Kairi being given the chance to put her sword to some actual use in a tag team battle alongside Sora, rather than as a fridged damsel in distress.
This is especially true for the second part of the DLC, Episode Limitcut, which brings back the Final Fantasy characters who were weirdly absent from the original narrative to introduce a wildly difficult gauntlet against new “Data” versions of old boss encounters. Though most of the story here is limited to the initial cutscene, the personality and depth to these boss fights are much more reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts II than anything else in the game. Each boss is a character you already fought somewhere else in the game, but their mechanics have been overhauled, making each battle feel like how the fight against them should have felt all along.
While some of these fights are adapted from their Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix renditions, they’re much more dynamic, with mechanics that actually require significant engagement with the game’s systems on higher difficulties. One of the biggest problems when Kingdom Hearts III came out was that so much of it was a face roll, even on the hardest difficulties you would have had to go out of your way to not end every boss encounter in a few seconds. Such a scenario is impossible against these new bosses, with enemies like Xemnas taking his original kit from Kingdom Hearts II, but upping the ante with no quick-time events or button prompts to save you from his endless assault.
While this might seem brutal at first, if gone into with the right mindset and plenty of patience, each fight is incredibly rewarding. There’s something that feels really good about having to manually block the iconic laser dome attack from the climax of Kingdom Hearts II. Instead of feeling like the omnipotent god the story often makes Sora out to be, you feel like you’re winning these fights on sheer grit and earned prowess. Even more gimmicky fights with Luxord’s card games or Xigbar’s ranged tactics feel really fun to work your way around since all the tools to contend with them are at your disposal, it just takes learning the knowhow.
— RMT (@horngal) January 24, 2020
When you manage to work your way through Episode Limitcut, you’ll unlock a secret episode with a real hell of a superboss with some really confusing and wild implications for the ongoing Kingdom Hearts story. While I don’t want to spoil anything that happens outright, let’s just say that Nomura is doubling down on some really wild ideas and I cannot wait to see where Kingdom Hearts IV, or whatever sick as hell subtitle they come up with next, ends up going. If you’re someone who’s worried about difficulty stopping you from getting to the new story content worry not! Most of these fights are much more manageable on lower difficulties, with items like revive tokens and the new “Fast Pass” options (which allow you to adjust the difficulty in more minute and specific ways) trivializing these encounters. While the last superboss might remain rough even with all that help, the only difference between a win and a loss here are a couple of minuscule differences that you can probably look up on Youtube if you really can’t be asked.
Even after all my praise however, that kind of brings me to my unfortunate and prevailing opinion on Re:Mind as a whole: you should probably just watch it on Youtube. Though the new fights and options are great if you’re the type of person (like me) who loves replaying Kingdom Hearts games, it’s pretty hard for me to feel okay recommending people to go out and dump half the price of the game again on an experience that largely rehashes the source material, one that probably should have been included from the get-go. There’s an effort here for sure, but unless you’re really in love with the high-level gameplay, there’s really not much that couldn’t just be seen secondhand.
As someone who adores the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts, however, Re:Mind was exactly what my lovelorn heart needed after Kingdom Hearts III. It was the little things, like Xigbar’s quickdraw minigame, Marluxia’s Final Fantasy-style doom counter, or even just Luxord’s frivolous but earworming taunts as he slides around on his cards. The spirit of Kingdom Hearts was strong as it ever was in this one, and I can’t wait to see whatever nonsense will come next.