Kingdom Hearts' Cloud Ports on Switch: Far from an "Integrum Masterpiece"
I don’t think Kingdom Hearts needs any introduction, nor the rabid hunger Switch fans have had to see these games run on the system. For a brief moment, fans were filled with joy seeing the Switch ports announced alongside Sora’s invitation to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but then the monkey's paw finger curled.
Dramatics aside, I think disappointment in Square’s decision to use cloud streaming to put Kingdom Hearts on Switch is fair. High-speed internet can be a luxury depending on where you live, one that immediately alienates a large number of people who want to experience these games without significant issues.
Cloud gaming is a two-way street. You need to have high-speed internet, and the host needs to have a good infrastructure in order to support it. It’d be easy to put the brunt of fault for bad cloud performance on the user, but if the port being hosted for the users to play is flawed, then it doesn’t matter how good your speed is. I recently moved into a new apartment and decided to pay for the 500/500 Mbps plan with FiOS. That’s pretty good internet, honestly the best I’ve ever had. When using wifi, my average Mbps can max out at around 375, depending on my distance to the router.
There are three collections offered via cloud: 1.5+2.5, 2.8, and 3 with Re Mind included. For those unaware, this is essentially every entry of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. They are offered for purchase as either a total package bundle or separate collections.
1.5+2.5 deserves the most scrutiny, being the oldest games in the series. Comprising remasters of three PS2 games, one PSP game, and two movies this collection probably could have run natively. I do not assume that porting games is easy, but newer, more complicated games have made it to Switch, and some have come out very well. This is why it’s such a letdown that 1.5+2.5 is easily the weakest on offer of the three collections.
In terms of gameplay, my inputs felt responsive enough for casual play, but not very consistently. Any difficulty higher than Normal, where fast reaction speeds are required, simply won’t do on the cloud version. So fans of KH2 Critical, like me, are already left out to dry. If you’re playing these for the first time, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be sticking to Normal. The casual Kingdom Hearts enthusiast or the newcomer, looking to just experience the story, is unlikely to be satisfied either.
The cutscenes stutter often, and I could not fix this no matter how close I’d get to my router. Whenever I’d find myself feeling pangs of nostalgia from revisiting Destiny Island in Kingdom Hearts or Twilight Town in Kingdom Hearts 2. Background elements in certain cutscenes take a massive dip in quality, with a good example being the Struggle Tournament in KH2. Everyone behind whoever is on the stage is very pixelated, and when I noticed it, I couldn’t un-see it. Stuttering persists outside of cutscenes, with camera movement rarely ever being smooth. These issues also apply to the other two games in this collection, but are most prevalent in 2. Out of all of these, I’d say the first game offered the best experience, but not by much.
The worst thing about these cloud versions is how saving works. If you’re playing any of these games on Switch there’s a chance of losing your progress if you, for whatever reason, go to the Switch Home menu for more than a few seconds. If the game recognizes you doing this, it will close out of the game immediately and not save. I understand that these old Kingdom Hearts games were not initially designed around this, but if cloud versions have a chance of abruptly closing, not designing these versions to save state in these situations is a mind-boggling oversight. If you play games in short bursts, or suddenly need to put what you’re playing on hold, then you are at risk of losing everything you’ve done since your last save. Kingdom Hearts games are designed to be fun and comfy, and having to always worry about losing progress after a random crash on the server side clashes with that.
Back when the promise of KH Switch ports were nothing more than a hypothetical, Dream Drop Distance was the one I was most excited to play. It started as a 3DS game, but it arguably wasn’t fully realized until its PS4 port. So, being able to play that version on a portable had interested me, but be careful what you wish for. Cutscenes had about the same level of inconsistency, though I did feel like the gameplay segments were more consistently smooth. However, the dips in performance happened more often than in other games. 0.2, the other game in this collection, was only slightly better. The resolution took a hit, with models being more pixelated than expected, but it felt more consistent in gameplay.
I was surprised to see that Kingdom Hearts III was easily the smoothest time I had with any of the games. You would imagine that the more graphically intensive they’d get, the harder they’d be to run, but that’s not the case. At least, that’s what I imagined. Maybe it is because the PC version these are probably based on was higher quality than 1.5+2.5’s and 2.8’s, but who can say. The cutscenes almost never skipped, and gameplay was smooth enough that I actually considered running through the whole game in this way. This isn’t still the ideal way to play Kingdom Hearts 3, but if there’s one of these cloud versions to get, it's actually this one.
The only thing I found consistent across my time with all three collections is how poor the resolution seemed when playing docked. I don’t know how to precisely describe resolution. I blame my eyes and brain for not being able to count pixels, but it didn’t look higher than what I assume 720p. This looks worse the further into the series you get, with KH3 looking the worst. However, all of them looked quite crisp on my Switch OLED screen, especially KH3. If you are going to get these, I would not recommend playing it any way other than undocked. However, doing that limits you to wifi connection, so it's a double-edged sword.
Cloud gaming is a neat idea, but we’re far from a position where it’ll be viable. Supposedly Internet infrastructure is generally much higher quality in Japan, so maybe that had something to do with Square’s decision to host the Switch ports on the cloud. Even if you did have the internet connection for it, you’d have to be lucky enough for the servers to meet you halfway. It seemed like most of the time, they failed to do that. Combine inconsistent game streaming with the staggering price they’re being offered for, and I wouldn’t blame you for being hesitant in taking the plunge. If the cloud versions were of higher quality, these might be an easier recommendation, but it still wouldn’t replace playing these games on any other platform that can run them natively.
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.