The Kingdom Hearts Combat System – A Retrospective


Hey there, fellow keyblade fanatics! Today, in honor of the upcoming English release of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and all it’s new features, we will be exploring the history of combat mechanics in the Kingdom Hearts series from the beginning to present day and beyond. While you’re here, you might as well let us know in the comment section below what Kingdom Hearts game has your personal favorite combat system and what new additions you’d like to see in future games (that means you, Kingdom Hearts III).

Original Kingdom Hearts battle system guidelines

The first and most successful in the series, Kingdom Hearts for the PS2 combined role-playing actions with real-time combat. Borrowing heavily from the Final Fantasy series, Kingdom Hearts crafted the basic standard for combat for most of the series to date, including the Command system (Attack, Magic, Items), A.I. party members, summons, and a variety of keyblade choices.

While the battle system was rather straightforward, utilizing the correct attacks and magic on certain enemies mean the difference between victory and a swift end. Players who prefer real-time strategy along with a bit more formidable difficulty will enjoy this game the most.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories card deck battle system

For the sequel to Kingdom Hearts, Square decided to drop Sora onto a handheld for the first time; a GameBoy Advance to be exact. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories continues the story of the first game and tied into the next main console game on the PS2. Although the story is as deep and invigorating as the first game’s, the combat is completely fresh, and to some, this was not an easily welcomed change.

Instead of a basic hack & slash, CoM introduced a card-based gameplay experience. Everything in the game revolved around cards, from unlocking rooms to combat. A card used would deal damage to the opponent as long as it was stronger than their own.

Combining certain attack, magic, or item cards would unleash a “sleight”, a powerful and unique combo that could leave your enemies in the dust. One of the most distinct features of this game is the ability to play as Riku through his own side-story after finishing Sora’s. There’s even a multiplayer mode where two GBA’s can connect to fight eachother; this feature is not present in the PS2 remake, Re: Chain of Memories

Players who prefer card game strategy, deck editing, and customization will enjoy this game the most.

Kingdom Hearts II review for battle system

Picking up 1 year after the events of Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II returns the series to the PS2. All of the gameplay features present in the original Kingdom Hearts return, with only some slight additions, the most prominent of which is the Reaction Command: when a certain enemy triggers the green triangle to appear, Sora can unleash special enemy-specific attacks if pressed at the correct time.

Another notable feature is the Drive Gauge, allowing Sora to transform into either the Valor, Wisdom, Master, Final, Limit, or Anti Drive Forms; this gives Sora enhance strength and unique abilities that enhanced the flow of combat greatly. Sadly, even on the Proud difficulty setting, these new features removed most of the difficulty many players adored from the first game.

Most gamers can easily get through the entire game mashing on the attack button, avoiding most of the magic and summon commands entirely. Players who prefer flashy quick combat will enjoy this game the most.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days battle commands

Back on a Nintendo handheld (DS), Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days served as an interquel between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II and running parallel to Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Unlike the last handheld game, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a full 3-D gameplay experience where the player controls Roxas, removing the card-based system and returning to the Command system. However, a new system was introduced called the Panel System, a similar system to the deck customization present in CoM.

Players have a set number of spaces where they can “fit” panels with different items and abilities together like a puzzle. Another new feature (but previously present in many Final Fantasy games) are Limit Breaks; once the player’s health drops below yellow, they can unleash powerful signature moves. The difficulty from the first game returned, requiring the player to use magic and strategy more often.

Multiplayer also returns to the series with coop missions where 4 players can play as any member of Organization XIII (along with other famous Kingdom Hearts characters), utilizing their skills and weapons. Players who prefer customization, strategy, and multiplayer will enjoy this game the most.

Birth by Sleep Battle Command controls

Now on the PSP, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep serves as the prequel to the first game and introduces three new keyblade wielders: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. This game retained the hack & slash gameplay of the previous, but with many new additions. The most important new feature is the Command Deck, removing the Magic and Item options present in previous games and instead opting to let players pick specific techniques and abilities (which can be upgraded and combined) to add to their deck and use during combat. Successfully attacking and use of Commands fills a gauge that activates different Command Styles.

Command Styles changes the players basic attack into a more powerful elemental attack that leads to a powerful finishing move. Also present are the Focus and Dimension Link systems. Using Focus unleashes the Shotlock, where the player enters first person perspective to target enemies and cast a collection of different spells and attacks.

The Dimension Link draws the powers from certain companions the player has previously met in the story and uses them as their own. New abilities temporarily replace the Command Deck related to that ally. Multiplayer also returns in this game in the form of Versus, Survival Mode, Rumble Racing, and Command Board. Players who prefer deck customization, flashy-quick combat, enhanced features, and multiplayer will enjoy this game the most.

Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded battle controls

Back on the Nintendo DS, Kingdom Hearts: Re:Coded (a remake of the Japanese-only Coded) follows the events of Kingdom Hearts II and leads into Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The player controls Data-Sora through Data forms of previous Kingdom Hearts worlds. The Command Deck from Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep returns, but instead of Command Styles, a new system was introduced called the Clock Program. After attacking and filling up the Clock gauge, the gauge will level up and release a “passive ability” that grants Sora extra special effects. When the gauge reaches MAX Clock, Sora can use a powerful finishing move similar to Birth By Sleep

Instead of the Panel System, Re:Coded introduced the Matrix System, handling Sora’s level growth and abilities through a circuit of connected blocks. Panels received in the game can be placed to enhance Sora’s power; if panel connect to an ability, the player can activate them at will. Players who prefer customization and the original Kingdom Hearts will enjoy this game the most.

Kingdom Hearts 3DS: Dream Drop Distance

Releasing July 31st in the USA, the latest Kingdom Hearts game seems to be the most promising yet, and most likely leads into Kingdom Hearts III! Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3DS follows the story of Kingdom Hearts: Re:Coded, where the player controls both Sora and Riku as they attempt to complete their Mark of Mastery exams. Control over these characters rotates through the brand new Drop System: when the Drop Gauge depletes, control over the present character switches to the other. The Command Deck from Birth By Sleep and Re:Coded returns. An exciting new feature known as Flowmotion allows the player to utilize the surrounding buildings and elements for enhanced movement and to activate a special finishing attack. 

Dream Eaters are the new enemies, as well as your new allies. Each special Dream Eater companion provides Sora and Riku access to specific abilities, attacks, and cooperative actions. Players who prefer customization, flashy-quick combat, mini-games, and 3-D visuals will enjoy this game the most.

I hope you’ve enjoy this little trip down memory lane that hopefully sparked up old nostalgia from this fantastic series of Kingdom Hearts games. Make sure you let us know which game’s combat system was your favorite and why below and what you’d like to see in future games. Stay frosty!