Players have been asking for some time to see the Kingdom Hearts series come to Nintendo’s portable/at-home hybrid Switch console since the Story So Far and All-in-One collections started spreading from PlayStation, to Xbox, and eventually to PC. However, in order to bring some of the more modern Kingdom Hearts titles to Switch, developer Square Enix has dropped the ball by relying on using cloud gaming to host the whole collection.
As a possible explanation and defense for Square Enix’s decision regarding the use of cloud streaming for all the Kingdom Hearts Titles in the collection, these aren’t direct ports of PS2 games or titles as they were originally launched on other mobile devices. Many of them have gone through remastered treatments to get the series running optimally on PS4 and Xbox One, as well as PC now, giving each of these games higher requirements than the originals. That being said, sacrifices could have been made to prepare the games to run native on Switch that may not have been noticeable when compared to the original versions of earlier Kingdom Hearts games.
To start getting into the specifics of the Kingdom Hearts Integral Masterpiece, as the Switch version has been named, it may be best to look at what the collection does well. As a result of the cloud streaming the collection uses, much of the loading and processing is done on a series of servers that have an impressive amount of processing power available. This means that the loading times are lightning-fast across the seven games and three video collections, with time to load a new world or area comparing with backward-compatible versions on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. It is truly impressive, and makes exploring through levels like Agrabah and Wonderland faster and less tedious.
The load times are unfortunately where the benefits of the cloud system end, as the online component causes a lot of trouble in the case of lag and video quality. What stands out first, especially on the original Kingdom Hearts, is the frame rate of the cutscenes, specifically those that are rendered in-engine, as opposed to the pre-rendered intros and outros. Depending on the connection to the internet, the frame rate never reaches the 60-120 fps available on PC, instead dipping far enough below 30 to cause a visual stutter.
These lower frames are most notable in cutscenes with either a lot of camera movements, such as when Genie from Aladdin is introduced or after defeating Shadow Sora on Hook’s Ship. The worse it ever got in the playthrough conducted for this review was when interacting with the Trinity Marks, where a White Trinity slowed to a slideshow rather than a flowing animation. Strangely, this frame rate issue was less apparent on Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3although they were much more pronounced on Dream Drop Distanceespecially during peak online usage hours.
Moving away from the cutscenes, things don’t get much better. As with many problems coming from the cloud streaming of the collection, connectivity can affect how much input lag each of the games has. Across testing at different distances from the router, and on two different access points, the input lag fluctuated wildly from hardly noticeable to making some of the more difficult encounters impossible. This was least notable in the original Kingdom Hearts and most noteable on both Kingdom Hearts 3 and Dream Drop Distancewhere some early fights completely froze and then progressed through victory after some button mashing.
Accompanying the input lag was an odd audio lag, which was mostly equal across all games. This ranges from the sound of attack hits coming a second late to the vocal lines in cutscenes not matching with the movements of the characters. At best, it was slightly distracting, but at worst, it made many scenes look like they were poorly dubbed or improperly localized, even though previous releases in the Kingdom Hearts timeline have shown that the localization is high quality.
The worst latency issue only happened twice across more than twenty hours of gameplay, but it did cause two cutscenes to buffer and skipped a few minutes of the scenes by the time they came back. It should be noted that these occurrences were extremely rare, and might never happen for a normal playthrough of any of the games in the Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece collection. However, it is possible and can be frustrating that instead of freezing and buffering when player inputs stop working, the cloud service just picks up at a later spot and skips content.
One final problem with the latency issues that fans were quickly made aware of when the collection became available as a demo, was that some flashier titles like Kingdom Hearts 3 on Switch had a pixilation problem. Namely, the game has trouble when it comes to streaming visuals that have a lot of particle effects or otherwise very colorful, busy environments. The result isn’t as bad as memes and jokes online might make it seem, but there are situations where the compression issues make things difficult to see. When the condition is at its worst, like in the opening Dive to the Heart or when using Links and most attraction finishers, it is a severe sour note on the gameplay as the screen becomes momentarily incomprehensible.
All of this commenting on the lag and frame rates only scratches the surface of what is really wrong with the cloud service model for Switch, more than on any other console. The core issue comes with the entire selling point of the Switch, which is that it is a hybrid portable system that can be picked up and taken on the go. However, tethering gameplay of the Kingdom Hearts collection to cloud streaming means that internet access is required, something players won’t always have access to while in the car or waiting at places like the DMV. It’s true that a lot of Switch players don’t bother to pull the system out of its dock, but the option to cart the console around is still a major selling point and a reason players wanted to see Kingdom Hearts on Switch.
The cloud streaming also means that there is no way to temporarily put any of the games down, such as using the Switch’s ability to shut off the screen and suspend any game to be picked up right where it was left off later. Pulling away from the program in any way, even going to the Switch’s eShop, interrupts the connection and requires reconnection. This will also happen if the player puts the game down, but leaves the Switch on.
In order to reduce the strain on servers, idle players are disconnected after a certain amount of time without consistent inputs. Unfortunately, the result is that stopping and starting gameplay is limited to save points like any other console. Given that cloud gaming service outages have had negative effects across multiple games, like seen in 2021 with Google, measures to keep servers working are an important part of online infrastructure. So, it’s understandable that an anti-idle system is in place for the sake of the servers, but the impact on players is that turning off the screen, checking the Switch home page, or anything that isn’t directly playing the game could cause the connection to end. This is made worse by the fact that nine times out of ten an interrupted connection will require the game to be closed and reloaded before being able to play again, which then sends players back to their most recent save.
Looking at the Kingdom Hearts Integral Masterpiece collection as a whole, it’s a decent attempt at celebrating 20 years of Kingdom Hearts content by bringing all the games together onto the Switch. However, the full Kingdom Hearts The series is already available without consistent connectivity required on PS4 and Xbox One, as well as on the next-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. Players can also have the bonus of mods on the PC versions of all of these games as well.
The Switch version of Kingdom Hearts only manages to bring an inferior experience to a new console, without giving players access to the portable and casual benefits of that console. So, there’s really nothing that makes the Switch version a preferable option over the others that are currently available. For players where the Switch is the only option available, it will work to get through to the end credits, but it won’t allow those players to experience this incredible series at its best.
Kingdom Hearts Integral Masterpiece is available now on Switch. Game Rant was provided a Switch code for this review.
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