Let’s Mosey: A Slow Translation Of Final Fantasy VIIPart Japanese grammar lesson and part meditation on the impossibility of a “perfect” translation, Let’s Mosey presents a “slow translation” of Final Fantasy VII.
I first played Final Fantasy VII in English immediately after it was released in 1997. I was in college at the time. In 2017, possessing two fresh decades of life experience and a fluency in the Japanese language, I decided to revisit Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t meant to revisit it quite as, uh, thoroughly as I ended up doing, though here I am: two years later, I have finished a meticulous assessment of the Japanese script of Final Fantasy VII.
In Japanese, the game is very well written. It lacks typos. It’s never awkward. Many affectations of the English translator have no counterpart in Japanese. Seeing as the English translation formed the basis for the Spanish and German translations of the game, I can conclude that the Japanese version differs meaningfully from the version of the game Spanish- or German-speaking readers might have played as well.
This last half of the 11th episode of my 11-part series focuses on what is perhaps the most famous scene in the game (and one of the most famous scenes in all of games), in which main character Cloud’s primary love interest Aeris dies by the sword of antagonist, Sephiroth.
In 1998, when I moved into a new college dorm, I remember a kid seeing Final Fantasy VII in my pile of games.
“Isn’t that that game where a chick dies?”
“Oh. Uh. That’s a weird takeaway, bro.” (I promise this was my actual reply.)
“What, a girl dies in that game?” another guy said. “So what?”
“She’s like a main character,” I started to say.
“Doesn’t Mario die like every five minutes?”
“Not if you’re good at Mario,” I said.
I remind you that it was 1998. You couldn’t get a Red Bull sponsorship for being good at Mario yet.
Here was a man who did not fathom the difference between an arcade-style action cartoon game and a serious game with CG cutscenes and a story.
He didn’t know the difference between pressing the jump button and equipping a materia.
He knew about Aeris’ death.
It doesn’t feel wrong to say that Aeris’ death “elevated the discourse” surrounding games in this pre-social-media era.
Several boys whose back-then hobbies suggested that today they live in houses full of furniture they made with their own hands gave Final Fantasy VII a spin on the PlayStations they only used for Madden. All of them gave it back. All of them performed massive Cloud-Strife-worthy shrugs upon handing the game back.
“Like, you’ve gotta choose ‘fight’ to fight? That’s dumb.”
“I dunno man, like, it’s pretty hokey.”
Only one of them had a give-up reason differing from disinterest: he gave the game back to me because he’d bought his own copy.
I’ve been discussing him throughout my series. I’ll refrain from spoiling the ultimate revelations he shared with me, because they form the climax of the final video in my series.
Though I will say that he did not like Aeris at all. He said she was equal parts annoying or boring. He said he felt nothing when she died.
I was amazed. How could he have felt nothing?
22 years later, playing through the death scene in both Japanese and English at the same time, cross-analyzing their scripts, I think I have arrived at an explanation.
Back in 1997, the game had enthralled me, a fan of the Final Fantasy series since I first saw it in Nintendo Power in 1988, so that I was blind to the hokeyness of its script.
Now 22 years after first playing the game in English, I experienced the Japanese version. I have extracted every bit of nuance I could, and I have a long, wild explanation for how exactly this scene lost some of its impact in English.
In this final episode, I exercise all of the observations I’ve made about Aeris’ character throughout my series. I reiterate the original Japanese script’s portrayal of her as a caring, brilliant, hilarious person. In Japanese, she is a paragon of emotional intelligence, inner strength, and feminine power.
In English, she’s the girl in pink who says “This guy are sick.”
In this final episode of my series, I arrive at the end of a thousand hours of work over a period of two years, to lay down my 20-years-late rebuttal upon the boy who shrugged off Aeris’ death.
I zero in on and indicate what I believe to be the five key translation errors which miscontextualized both the characters and the conflict, reducing the power of her sacrifice, the evilness of the villain, and the grief of the hero.
In the end, I hope that I have sufficiently redeemed Aeris in the eyes of at least one viewer who might have overlooked her back in the day.
Specifically, I hope that guy from my dorm is watching.
If the above interests you and you are just hearing of my videos for the first time, you could watch my series from the start! It also functions as an interesting visual journey: watch as I learn how to properly edit videos and graphic-design text onto the screen! In the spirit of Final Fantasy, every episode has a different look and feel! Let’s pretend this is intentional.
I now approach the end of this, the last post I will write about the last episode of this series, confident that Final Fantasy VII has become my second-favorite Final Fantasy game after Final Fantasy IV and before Final Fantasy VI. I suppose that, after all these years of telling people after punk rock shows that I read literature in my spare time, it turns out I like cyber-magic trashcan shonen manga dystopias with fairy princesses and whale-shaped spaceships and eight-foot-long swords more than delicate sprawling Dickensian romances.
This series was extremely difficult to make. It was the result of about a thousand hours of work and contains roughly 80,000 words of voiceover script. I want to thank everyone for watching it. And if you haven’t watched it, I want to thank you for maybe being about to start watching it. You’re in for a long, weird spiral down into obsession, linguistics, and discovery.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa, an independent game for the Nintendo Switch, shocked me with its greatness. I streamed it yesterday. You can watch the above video archive if you want to see me, sincerely and in real time, react to the game’s blowing of my mind.
Before I downloaded it, the game had already hooked me with its concept. Visually and with its game design, it evokes works in the legendary Japanese Kunio-Kun series, in which a high school ne’er-do-well pals around with like-minded tough guys. Together, they with whom he bonds over a trouncing of similar-haired tough guys from other neighborhood high schools. Western audiences most likely know Kunio-Kun through the game River City Ransom (1989), a superlative early example of what the video game industry would later come to call “localization”: in River City Ransom, the Tokyo suburbs of Kunio-Kun became a cartoon America; the monochrome school uniforms became shirts with jeans. Rice balls became hamburgers. The teenage yakuza-posery J-slang morphed flawlessly into the affectations of any given James Dean wannabe who slouched teenagedly through the 1950s.
As the 1980s became the 1990s, video game magazines informed young me that River City Ransom came from Japan, that it was related to the unremarkable, straightforward NES brawler Renegade, and that it got a sequel for the Super Famicom entitled Shodai Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-Kun, in which Kunio and his friends, fresh off a turf war victory at home, go on a school field trip to Osaka, where they rekindle their love with being unable to stay out of trouble.
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa lifts the pompadoured image and brawling RPG concept of a Kunio-Kun adventure, yet where Kunio-Kun games carried themselves like a cartoon frolic and tended to dance around social issues, Ringo Ishikawa’s sole developer has allowed his game to marinate in the decades of meaningful distance between its 1980s setting and today. Its characters smoke. They spew profanity. There’s a dedicated button on the controller (R) for entering “delinquent mode,” which puts your character’s hands in his pockets. Where in River City Ransom you can read a book instantly to be able to punch faster, or eat a hamburger to gain more maximum HP, in Ringo Ishikawa you sit sit at a library table and watch a page number tick up. Eventually, after multiple tightly time-managed sessions in the library between classes, Ringo might declare “The book was about nothing.” You gained no stat bonus. However, you read a book. Here is Persona and Stardew Valley by way of Waiting For Godot.
The fighting action is fantastic. It contains both touches of River City Ransom and its largely unplayed-in-the-West Super Famicom sequel. I detect a tinge of the influence of Kunio-Kun developer Technos’s more straightforward Super Double Dragon in here as well. Anytime a game makes me think of a lesser-appreciated game like Super Double Dragon, I’m all ears. (I mean, we all love Streets of Rage 2, though like, we can talk about some other brawlers, you know?)
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is a game that feels like reading a book. I said on Twitter yesterday that this game “has the texture of literature.” I still believe this, though I’m not sure yet how to unpack it.
The texture of literature studs the surface of this, a Kunio-Kun-inspired minimalist life-sim with crunchy brawler mechanics, immediately and forever after you consider that you can assemble a posse after school and then press down on the d-pad while holding the A button to hunker down simply for the graphical effect of it, and to know that your character is wasting precious in-game time he could be using to study, get his grades up, and avoid expulsion. Then, the magic happens: your boys all hunker down right next to you. One of them lights a cigarette. Now you’re all literally smoking in the boys’ room after class.
The texture of literature is palpable in the quietest moments: press down on the d-pad (don’t play this with the analog stick, please; Kunio-Kun wouldn’t approve) while standing in front of your dormitory balcony to put your arms on the railing. Press B to light a cigarette. Now listen to the smooth jazz and watch the pixel sun go down while a man waits patiently beneath a street lamp below.
The texture of literature sparkles in the game’s structure: Ringo, a ne’er-do-well, has to juggle being captain of a brawling gang of idiots and trying to not get kicked out of school. You can sit at his desk at night and read books to improve your grades from 0% to 100%, one percentage point at a time. If you don’t eat, you’ll pass out. Food is expensive. You have to beat people up to eat. The mechanics are all so tuned and work so well together that Ringo’s desperation becomes yours and a sense not too much unlike Russian literature begins to crush you.
Speaking of which, you can literally read Russian literature in this game. You can buy Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov and watch while Ringo reads the books slowly in a cafe. Does he understand their subtle thematic structures? What happens if you finish reading them? I wholeheartedly intend to find out.
The texture of literature is palpable in dialogues. A classmate tells Ringo about how life is struggle, and the boneheaded doubt Ringo expresses about her claims rings chillingly true to his character.
A weight gym owner explains to Ringo why he does not offer single session passes.
The school theater club captain offers Ringo a role in a play, to which Ringo replies that he doesn’t like pretending to be other people. Her reply to him is classic.
More than anything, what immediately shocked me about The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa—well, first was the developer himself confirming that, yes, the title is a reference to The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The second thing that shocked me about the game is the quality of the dialogue.
The English script in this game feels perfectly, flawlessly, texturally like reading the Japanese language. It feels as though someone with a PhD in literature translated Japanese to English. I do know that the developer lives in Russia. I wonder about his literary influences. I suppose I could always ask him, though for now, I will hold any questions until I have completed the game. Also, speculation is fun.
The one thing I haven’t praised yet is the Japan. The Japan is incredible. The developer communicates a knowledge of Japanese popular culture so intimate the game has managed to climb the Nintendo eShop charts even in Japan. Japanese commenters on videos of the game commend the game for presenting such a nuanced portrayal of Japan that they’d swear a Japanese person had made it.
In conclusion: I wake up at 4am every day. I swear off all social media use until 9am. I reserve the hours between 4am and 9am for personal projects. Sometimes this simply means reading a book. Sometimes, I tinker with the game I’m co-developing with my best friends. Usually, it means writing my own fiction, which I show to no one. Today was the first day in eight years when I have used that time to play a video game, and that video game was The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa.
In July of 2017, I realized I’d never played Final Fantasy VII since learning Japanese. I decided to do so, and make a little video about the experience. In the very first text box of the game, I encountered a nuanced difference between the Japanese and the English. This inspired an obsession. Two years later, I have played through the game sixteen times in both English and Japanese, and made five hours’ worth of videos detailing hundreds of meaningful differences between the English translation and the original Japanese script. Today the project is complete. This is the first part of the two-part finale.
As I always say when presenting one of these videos, my explanation of the differences between Japanese and English lines in this game does not represent a “retranslation.” I am never trying to say the translation is “bad,” or that my suggestions are “better.”
Rather, I’m engaging in what I call “slow translation,” in which I present to you nuances of the original language that the translator could not possibly, for technological reasons, have fit into Final Fantasy VII’s text boxes in 1997. Heck, even if he could have fit all the nuances that I illustrate into the text boxes, it would have been impossible to present them as interesting writing.
With this series, I have set out to “loan” you my experience of having spent the entire decade of my twenties living in Tokyo, speaking Japanese (on the average) thirteen out of every fifteen days. In this series, I discover, unpack, explain, and explore meaningful differences between the English translation and the original Japanese script across dozens of key dialogues. Sometimes I conduct this exploration via brief lectures on the mechanics of Japanese grammar; sometimes I offer anecdotes describing how I personally first encountered a particular word, phrase, or structure.
Many of you have told me that this series has helped you approach the study of a second language. So many of you told me this, in fact, that out of a sense of duty to my audience, I have flown wildly past the original estimate I gave Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo both with regard to the series as a whole (“I think this will be just, like, one five-minute video”) and with the length of this finale episode.
I had originally intended it as an epilogue in which I would briefly explore the most famous scene of Final Fantasy VII, in which main character Cloud’s primary love interest Aeris dies by the sword of Cloud’s hated rival Sephiroth.
Instead, as I reviewed my footage of this last segment of the game, I immediately discovered a tiny, honest translation mistake that, owing to its position and timing within Final Fantasy VII’s narrative, suffices as the most catastrophic mistake the translator made—one that might have set up a misconception that tainted many players’ understanding of the story’s climactic events.
Basically, he translated the Japanese word “Ishiki,” which means “consciousness,” as “knowledge,” which in Japanese is “chishiki.” This is a particularly interesting mistake isolated from Final Fantasy VII, because it suggests that the translator is fluent enough in the Japanese language that he bilingually slipped in a way a native speaker might have.
As for why that’s such a big deal—buddy, it requires a pretty long explanation.
Months later, this finale episode has wound up the length of a feature film. I split it into two parts. This week’s installment ends in a cliffhanger. I’m sorry about the cliffhanger, so as a way of apology, I graphic-designed what I consider to be a great “intermission” title card.
Next week, we’ll present the finale. I’ll see you then.
Yoshi’s Crafted World is cute, fun, and either childish or relaxing, depending on your mood. So come chill and childishly relax with Stephen Totilo and I as we plunk around a bunch of levels, talk about how great Yoshi’s Island is, wonder why Nintendo decided to immediately send Yoshi games back to preschool after Yoshi’s Island, and ask the big questions—for example, if Yoshi’s World is Crafted now, what happened to his Woolly World? Mario only has one World, and now Yoshi has two worlds—and an island? That’s a little greedy.
Nintendo’s embargo restrictions for Yoshi’s Crafted World dictated that we can provide our readers with 30 minutes of video footage. However, no individual clip in said footage can be longer than three minutes. So Stephen Totilo and I made a 30 minute video showing ten different scenes, each less than three minutes long.
During the video, I note that the Stephen-Totilo-controlled Yoshi is wearing a digital cardboard train costume which doubles his visible body length. This makes it sort of hard for a viewer to tell where Yoshi’s feet are. Stephen Totilo does not seem have a problem landing jumps, and maybe I wouldn’t, either, if I were the one playing. Though as an observer, I kept feeling the need to bring it up. Platform games are all about knowing where your character’s feet are.
Yoshi’s Crafted World comes out on March 29 for the Nintendo Switch. I know: it’s pretty weird that it’s not also coming out on the 3DS, right?
I estimate I spent around 800 hours playing Super Mario Maker on the Wii U. My friend (and professional Super Mario speedrunner) GrandPOOBear, however, has spent 5,000 hours. I invited him to dissect the Super Mario Maker 2 trailer with me.
In the video you can see us point out every new feature, philosophize about our favorite (and least-favorite) power-ups, and cower in fear of the troll potential for a couple new features.
GrandPOOBear’s stance on Super Mario Maker 2 as of this writing is that he feels that he will play it for 6,000 hours, and that his hype level is a “14 out of 10.” You heard it here first.
He also points to many key moments of this trailer (for example, that it opens with Mario in dire need of a sloped surface) as almost concrete proof that Nintendo has listened to the Mario Maker community while putting together Super Mario Maker 2. You can practically feel his excitement as he discusses the variety multi-directional scrolling is going to bring to new levels.
We ended up talking for just under an hour. Yes, this might seem excessive, given that Nintendo’s trailer is only one minute and 27 seconds long. However, one hour is only 1/5800th of our collected Mario Maker experience, and Nintendo packed a lot of information into that trailer.
With a new Smash Bros. game out, the biggest Smash Bros. game of all time, it should come as no surprise that Nick Luciano’s now 67-year-old dad is back to perform each of its over 200 fighter taunts.
Nick Luciano’s dad previously performed all the taunts from Smash Bros. Wii U, followed by all of the poses from Street Fighter II, and eventually even the summons from Final Fantasy VII—with his butt. Now he’s back to doing the classics, like Jigglypuff’s “Jigglypuff!” and Captain Falcon’s “Show me your moves,” as well as stretching his talents with the game’s newest characters.
Back in November, Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai said the game’s DLC characters were already all decided. Be that as it may, I think Nick Luciano’s dad has more than earned his spot.
On the occasion of Crackdown 3 releasing just eleven days from today, I revisited the first Crackdown. I loved it in 2007, and it pleases me to report that I still love it today. In this video, I ruminate on my enjoyment of it and philosophize about why it might have failed to become Microsoft’s “GTA Killer.”
Why didn’t Crackdown beat GTA? Well, for starters, it wasn’t as good. Also, it was exclusive to the Xbox 360, whereas Grand Theft Auto IV was multi-platform. Those two factors might have a lot to do with Crackdown’s failure to become a global household name.
In looking at Crackdown more deeply, I found it to be a game that narratively contextualizes Grand-Theft-y behavior by making every civilian a serial killer. It’s a game made for water-cooler discourse about its big, shocking moments. It is the perfect game for Twitch, a decade before Fortnite.
It is also a game about cops who can jump. Why didn’t “cops who can jump” at least become a genre of movies?
Though developed by a team led by David Jones, alumnus of Grand Theft Auto publisher DMA designs, Crackdown represented a different take on the open-world genre. Without Crackdown and its tireless devotion to wild mechanics and hilarious fun, we might not have Just Cause. Saints Row might have never decided to go all in on humor in its later installments.
I loved Crackdown in 2007. I played it in online co-op with a buddy across an ocean. We shouted like spontaneously combusting imbeciles as we threw cars, jumped between rooftops, kicked dudes, threw cars, kicked cars, threw dudes at cars, kicked dudes at cars, kicked cars at dudes, threw cars at dudes, threw cars at cars that the other one of us had just thrown, and threw dudes at dudes that the other one of us had just thrown.
You can hear more about my enjoyment of the game in the video.
Despite Crackdown 3‘s imminent release, little information about it has reached me. That is by choice. I’ve tried to avoid getting hyped because I don’t want to feel bad if it’s not the best game of all time. I’m a little worried about it. On the other hand, its trailer clearly shows Terry Crews’ lead character collecting an Agility Orb. That’s all I need to know to stand at attention ready to play it when I can.
I played all the way through Kingdom Hearts III. I played it extremely underleveled. I did this because I love a challenge and because I was in a hurry. I also did this for you: my struggle forced me to play the game well. That means, buddy, I got tips.
Hey! I explain all of these in a rapid-fire fashion in the *SPOILER-FREE* gameplay video at the top of this post! If you want to watch that, wow, that’s nice of you! If not, that’s OK.
Almost all of these tips focus on the battle mechanics. I presume you don’t need my help to enjoy the Disney moments or the cutscenes. Therefore I’ve included no story spoilers in here, except in the very last section, in which I talk about something which happens to Olaf from Frozen both in the film and in Kingdom Hearts III.
Watch The In-Game Lore Explainer
Even if you’ve already played every game in the series, you should watch the in-game lore explainer available on the title screen under “Memory Archive.” You could also watch it right now on YouTube on your phone with one earbud while sitting in the bathroom stall at your office, though what fun is that? Settle down with a beverage and watch it from Kingdom Hearts III’s title menu immediately prior to choosing “New game.” The high production values of the explainer mesh wonderfully with the lovely musical cutscenes that open the game. It’s like they made it that way on purpose!
Check Your In-Game Phone
Furthermore, Sora gets a smartphone in a ten-minute cutscene very early in the game. The game is trying to impress you with the importance of the phone. By opening it from the pause menu, you can read concise explanations of all major plot points and characters introduced so far in the game. You can rotate all the character’s models! You can sit on your sofa with a buddy and talk about their clothes for like an hour! It’s lovely.
In more utilitarian aspects, the phone also keeps track of the treasure and Lucky Emblems (Hidden Mickeys) that you’ve found so far in all the available worlds.
All in all, the phone feels like something straight out of an ambitious PlayStation 2 game like Dark Cloud 2: just a whole bunch of nice, helpful stuff crammed into one convenient place with cute graphic design throughout.
Don’t Grind Too Much!
As I said up top, I played Kingdom Hearts III underleveled. I played straight through. I barely stopped. I arrived at the final boss on level 40. This was probably too low of a level.
Well, I loved it.
All of the tips I’m about to give you about battling are thus based on the experience of me, a person who suffered in those final battles. I was in pain. And this really made me feel in touch with Sora’s experience, you know?
Also, I was in a hurry.
On the world map, every area has a “Battle Level” number. This number is usually the level I was on after beating the big boss of the next world. That’s how underleveled we’re talking here.
I like to play underleveled in a game with a leveling system because it forces me to learn to play well. The little things I learn might then be useful even to someone who does not wish to play underleveled.
Here’s two defining aspects to being underleveled in Kingdom Hearts III:
1. The bosses are beatable even on stupid-low levels, sometimes without even taking damage! The secret is blocking, reprisals, effective camera movement, and efficient shortcut management.
2. You get every one of your necessary abilities and all of your magic spells by beating bosses, not by leveling up.
Furthermore, Kingdom Hearts III features a “Zero Experience” ability unlocked from the start. If you equip it, it prevents you from ever earning experience. That sounds like a challenge!
I’m saying the game doesn’t seem to want you to grind. Or, at the very least, it’s proud of the fact that someone on the development staff can beat every battle on level one. I totally respect that.
Grinding Even A Tiny Bit Makes You God
By hinting so often that you don’t need to grind, the game designers are also hinting at the power of grinding. If you grind you can become monstrously strong and obliterate bosses. Maybe that’s your style.
If you don’t want to necessarily break the game though you also don’t want to get your clown shoes thrown down atop your bones in a shallow grave, I’d suggest this: there are a lot of enemies in Kingdom Hearts III. Fighting is pretty much the whole point of every level. Just fight all of the regular battles you encounter as you progress through a level. If—oops!—you get lost and come back around to a place you’ve already traversed and you trigger a battle there again, just fight it again! Consider it practice for the wild trials to come.
Also, every time you reach a save point, it restores your HP and MP completely. This makes grinding perfectly easy in every level. Wow, I’ve played so many Kingdom Hearts games recently that I’ve forgotten that’s a thing some people might not take for granted!
There Is No One Correct Approach To Loadouts
This is difficult to position as advice: I did not settle upon any one strategy or configuration of equipment or abilities that worked even half-perfectly for more than a handful of boss battles.
I was always considering a way to take down bosses more efficiently, so I was always considering different loadouts.
This is actually a huge part of the fun of a modern RPG, and of Kingdom Hearts III in particular: constantly min-maxing your personal tactical satisfaction is as fun as battles themselves.
Kingdom Hearts III gives you access to all of your magic spells all of the time, though it buries them deep in a menu.
Luckily, you can configure shortcuts. By holding the left bumper, you can open the shortcut menu. This displays a list of the four shortcut commands, mapped to each of the face buttons. By pressing up and down on the d-pad, you can swap between up to three decks.
What you end up putting in those three decks is up to you. I experimented with having a deck of support spells, a deck of attack spells, and a mixed deck, though that wasn’t right for every situation.
As you unlock higher levels of attack spells, you’ll naturally want to use them, though you won’t always want to rid your decks of the weaker versions, which cost less magic.
You can’t change loadouts once a battle starts, so you’ll need to do your configurations before a battle. If you’re in a dungeon and you see a save point, there’s almost always a big fight nearby. Now is the time to look at your ability decks and equipment.
Learning From Failure Is Easy (In This Game, At Least)
If you die in battle, you’re immediately offered the opportunity to “retry.” This is one of the many elements that makes Kingdom Hearts feel, to me, like an old-school arcade brawler.
If a boss has little baby gremlin minions that hassle you during the battle, guess what? Even if you die, you keep the experience points you got from killing them! That’s generous.
One of the death screen options is “prepare and retry.” This is excellent. Maybe you had forgotten to give Donald potions before the fight. You can do that here.
The further I got in my purposely underleveled playthrough, the more I encountered the utility of the “prepare and retry” screen.
I was short on money for most of the game because of my devotion to staying underleveled, though wherever I could I had made time to buy multiples of each new armor and accessory.
Sora, Donald, and Goofy can each equip multiple pieces of armor and multiple accessories. As they progress through the game they’ll earn more slots.
When you buy new equipment to put in these slots, you’re choosing from a few broad categories. Accessories might increase the wielder’s physical strength or magic. For some hard battles, I gave Sora three of the strongest available magic-enhancing ring, and for some, I gave him three of the strongest strength ring. For some, I gave him two of one and one of the other. Sometimes I stacked elemental defenses.
The key takeaway is, battles got easier when I committed to choosing a side—for example, magic or attack—and tipping my equipment loadout in its favor. Trying to achieve a perfectly balanced statistical profile is not the way to win, here.
Equipment in Kingdom Hearts is as fiddly as the combat is explosive and unpredictable.
Increase the camera movement speed
I generally like my cameras to be operated by moving a mouse, and I generally like my mouse to be on the highest sensitivity possible, so if that’s not you, maybe ignore this advice: go right into the menu the first chance you get and crank the camera speed up by at least 10 points (I put it up to 100).
Again, maybe you’re not as seasicknessproof as I am, though I could swear the camera in this game is far slower than it should be. And given how fast the battles are, you’re going to want to be able to whip the camera around 360 degrees in less than one second to get a visual sweep of the battlefield sometimes.
Of course, you can’t whip the camera around 360 degrees easily when you’re locked on to an enemy.
Don’t Be Too Reliant On Lock-On
Lock-on is good, and convenient, because it assures that your magical spells are always hitting the right guy. And I’m locked on a lot when I play Kingdom Hearts III. Though I’m not locked on all the time. At some point I had to actively start telling myself to disengage lock-on.
As the game goes on and battles get bigger and more busy, you might want to have more control of the camera.
When you’re close to an enemy, you’ll see a yellow soft-lock reticule. The hard lock reticule is blue, so this makes the yellow reticule a perfect contrast. I’d encourage you to familiarize yourself with the automatic selection logic of the yellow reticule early so that it’s second nature later. If you’re good enough at knowing where that yellow reticule is going to snap to, you can battle while wheeling the camera wildly around to perceive attacks. This is crucial when you’re idiotically underleveled like me.
Try turning the lock off sometimes and letting Sora lock on using his instincts. He’s a good boy, and getting used to that will make you mentally stronger later.
Elite Shortcut Loadouts
I played Kingdom Hearts III on Xbox One X with my Xbox One Elite Controller, and because (as I have said a hundred times already) I was playing purposely underleveled, I needed to maximize the use of my hands. So I used all four rear paddles on the controller.
Press the shoulder buttons hyperextends my index fingers, making my analog stick movements less precise. So I put the shoulder buttons on the upper rear paddles, giving me access to lock-toggle with my right middle finger and shortcuts with my left middle finger.
I put the bottom face button (attack) on the bottom-right paddle and the left face button (block) on the bottom-left paddle so that I could press those with my ring fingers. This way I could run and rotate the camera while attacking, blocking, or using two of my four shortcuts. This exploded my efficiency in battles.
Later in the game, some bosses start to actively troll your dependency on lock-on by including way, way too many minion-gremlin buddies. By this point in the game, I was good enough at playing without lock-on that I totally owned these punks.
For my second paddle-mapping toggle on my controller, I had shortcuts on the top left paddle and the down directional button on the bottom left paddle, so I could flip through three decks. Then I put two of the face buttons (attack and block) on the right paddles so that I could quickly access six different shortcuts without taking my right thumb off the analog stick.
In summary: if you don’t have a controller with paddles, know that this game thoroughly inspired me to play it like an esport. Let this serve as an example of how important your shortcut selection is.
Again, alternately: grind a lot and just stomp over Xehanort’s minions in your big weird rainboots, if that’s your style.
Blocking Is Hard
In the first 10 playable minutes of the game, Sora receives the ability to guard by tapping the leftmost face button.
Kingdom Hearts III’s combat is so electrically fast and Sora’s block has such a long windup (I eyeballed it at about six frames! (I blocked as early as I could get away with in the above GIF, for illustrative purposes) and short duration that blocking might feel like a crapshoot to you the first couple times you try it.
Heck, it might feel like a crapshoot for several hours.
Don’t give up! You can block almost any attack in Kingdom Hearts III, because Sora is just that good a boy. It’s all about figuring out the exact timing and just nailing it. Make sure your display is on the lowest latency setting, or “game mode,” if you have one of those.
Later you’ll unlock the ability to recover from a hit in mid-air by tapping the right-most face button when falling. Landing on your feet means faster recoveries, and you want that. There’s never an occasion where you don’t want to recover in mid-air.
Once you get enough hours into the game, you’ll unlock “reprisals,” which are follow-up attacks you can perform in a short (around 48 frames) window after a successful block. These are often tide-turning, combo-ending, boss-breaking maneuvers that position good boy Sora in the prime position to cheese a boss into a pile of trash.
Super-late into Sora’s ability progression you’ll unlock the ability to perform special reprisals after performing an in-air recovery. These are wildly game-breaking in your favor.
If you feel like using these conflicts with our good boy’s pure heart, don’t. Don’t feel sorry for the enemies, because…
You Are Going To Get Hit A Lot
It’s OK. Save your frustration. Don’t scream. Save your throat. Kingdom Hearts is as much of a quarter-munching vintage 1990s arcade brawler as it is a role-playing game. I mean this lovingly. Enemies hit you with cheap shots a lot. And I gotta say: there are no cheap shots like Kingdom Hearts cheap shots. Enemies can teleport directly behind you on a frame’s notice. Enemies can spawn deadly stalagmites which elevator up beneath your feet all day long whenever they want.
All your moves have risks attached. The AI, however, is reading the inputs straight from your controller. Yes, the AI quote-unquote “cheats” sometimes.
It’s OK. They’re guided by an all-seeing cosmic wizard. So it’s contextually appropriate. You gotta let the narrative designers win some.
Because, you see, this game has its roots in the crustiest, oldest RPGs. Kingdom Hearts is the living legacy of prestigiously musty old games that weren’t just about doing damage—they were about taking damage. In RPGs I call this “taking your medicine.”
In Kingdom Hearts, medicine is delicious.
While an underleveled playthrough of the game is possible (bragging a bit: I’m living proof) it is excruciating to deal with these attacks in the endgame without red-eyed frame-perfect blocks and dodges.
And you know what? Maybe you need to just accept that blocking is a crapshoot for you. Though never stop trying to do it. Allow a successful block to feel like a break-even slot machine pull. And always be ready to deal with damage.
Healing Is Fiddly
Using curative magic in Kingdom Hearts III requires you to use all of the magic remaining in your magic meter. This is preposterous. This is wild. This will not stand.
That is what you’ll say the first couple of times you die because you forgot about this.
When all your magic is gone, you have to wait for a magic regeneration bar to fill in. This can take a painful amount of time. You might get killed the heck dead during that waiting time. Well, maybe not if you just healed.
“Healing magic eats all your magic power” presents you with a unique assortment of brain frictions. Let’s run down these:
When you get the next level of a healing spell, well, why the heck is that old one still in your shortcuts when they’re all cost-equal? Get it out of there, friendo.
When you need to heal, it’s best to pump off a bunch of attack spells in a flurry before doing so. Of course, this might get you killed. Though buddy, as soon as I learned how to always successfully do this, the money flowed like wine. I was murdering everything moving.
At some point you’ll unlock an ability called “MP Safety.” Except in extremely min-maxed cases where you’re confidently battling down a corridor teeming with hordes of enemies, you’ll want to leave this on. “MP Safety” makes it so that if you have only exactly enough MP to cast a spell, it won’t let you cast it. The only spell it will let you cast is a healing spell. Thus “MP Safety” prevents you from zeroing out your magic gauge and then being in a situation where you’re unable to heal.
Waiting for your magic gauge to refill can be painful, so you have to be ready for when it happens.
Endgame Sora has six item slots in his equipment inventory, so I like to keep two Ethers (to refill magic) in there, and two Hi Potions (to heal when my magic is empty and a boss has just cheesed me).
To speed the magic gauge’s recovery up, you can put on an ability called “MP Haste,” or equip some accessories that grant it. The effect stacks, so stack it up! This is how I turned my Sora into a god monster.
Furthermore, Sora can equip three Keyblades at any given time. The menu clearly describes the blades as being “Balanced,” “Strength,” or “Magic” types. Each type enhances the attributes of its respective category. Though you don’t need a magic-type Keyblade to cast magic, magic is noticeably stronger if Sora is holding one.
You switch between Keyblades during battle by pressing left or right on the d-pad. There’s about 48 frames of inactivity while switching, so getting the hang of quickly switching to the magic-type Keyblade immediately before healing or using attack magic takes time, though it’s a good skill to get into the hang of.
Embrace The Chaos
Eventually Donald and Goofy will get riled up and yell about a cool thing they wanna do right now in battle. They’ll be like, “Sora, let’s make these freaks bleed!” And you’ll be like, “D-Donald…!?”
These are called “Command Actions.”
I advise you to treat the beginning of Kingdom Hearts III like a MOBA: every time a special move is available to you, point yourself immediately in the general direction of something you can affect with that special move and execute it. You need to get into the habit of using your specials before you get into the habit of using them expertly. So just let loose and go wild.
Sometimes Just Shake The Chaos’s Hand
Command actions all have big loud video-poker-like countdown timers on the screen. Once you are super-familiar with what all of your command actions do (and buddy, there are a lot of them) you’re going to want to get picky.
Use the left trigger to cycle between available commands. Execute when you feel like it’s ready. My gambling experience tells me that in Kingdom Hearts III, except in dire emergencies, using your abilities at the absolute latest possible relevant moment is always best.
The best example here is “Grand Magic.” When you use one spell multiple times, you stand a good chance of triggering a “Grand Magic” command. This allows you to use, at the touch of a face button, a one-level-higher version of that magic spell exactly once at no MP cost. Late in the game this is a tide-turner. If you use Thundaga (the highest lightning-type spell) three or four times, and damage a wide enough field of enemies, you have a great chance of tripping a “Thundaza” command. “Thundaza” is just hyper-murderous. Use it to absolutely scorch the earth with a hideous HDR lightning bolt.
Of course, you want to scorch as many idiots as possible. So you will keep a steady eye on the availability bar as it depletes. Using it at just the right time during a multi-wave post-game battle is wildly rewarding.
I’d recommend to start playing with Grand Magic the first time the game tutorializes it.
The same goes for the “Lockshot” ability, with which you can hold the right bumper to first-person aim and tag targets for Panzer-Dragoon-style homing missile destruction. Each Keyblade has multiple Lockshot behaviors, depending on the number of targets and the “formchange” state of the Keyblade. You want to figure out which ones of those are things your playstyle appreciates. Personally, I liked the ones that did big ugly damage.
Lockshot uses the “Focus” gauge which, look, if I keep talking about all the little cockpit instruments in this game we’ll all be in a retirement home before I’m done. The Focus gauge’s recovery is fiddly. You want to use it when you mean it. I save it for scenarios in which I am able to target about 20 direct hits on a boss’ stupid face.
Don’t Forget Your Parkour!
Wow, I got all the way through these tips and a perfect simulacrum of my actual game-playing style manifested: I forgot about Sora’s parkour moves.
If you press the dodge button and tilt the analog stick in midair, Sora will do what the game calls “Flowmotion.” It means he dash-slides toward an interactable object with a flair for style. Any glinting object in a battleground is a target for “Flowmotion.” Do it against a tree and Sora will gymnast-swing upon a branch. Press an attack from this state to deal much more damage than in some boring on-the-ground state.
Flowmotion against a wall and Sora will stick to it for a generous moment. Press the attack button from this state to do a sort of electric super jump attack. Of course, this does more damage than an attack from other positions. This works best if you’re locked on to the victim.
So that’s lock on, jump, dash, cling, then attack.
I found myself forgetting about these stick-shifty techniques until dying for the third time on a tough fight, when I realized I could be wall-running a lot more.
So: maybe you could be wall-running a lot more?
Use The Blizzard Spell To Go Fast
The game gives you the Blizzard spell very early. It’s not until much later in the game that you’re required to use it to move super-fast to catch up with something. You sure can use this ability right from the second you get Blizzard, though!
Basically, just face in the direction you want to go. Use the Blizzard spell. It leaves an ice rail on the ground as it moves. Jump on it and freak out, buddy.
This is great for when you’re feeling lonely as you re-traverse a monster-empty dungeon. If you’re out of MP, you can just use the “Air-Stepping” mechanic. This is cooler, though. Literally!
Getting Lost Sucks
Ah, heck. I took my time and spent all day writing this tips posts so that I could hopefully think of some perfect advice to give you about getting lost.
I’m sorry. I got nothing.
You will get lost in Kingdom Hearts III. A lot. This is, after all, a game descended from a proud lineage of PlayStation 2 role-playing games from Japan.
At some point in Kingdom Hearts III, Olaf, the snowman from the film Frozen, is going to have his body parts scattered. Just like he did in the film Frozen!
You are going to have to look for him. A character from the movie who has known Sora for less than one minute and talked to him for less than eight seconds is going to say, “Sora, why don’t you look for him?” Sora will then call this character by name when he says, “Sure!” I don’t know about you, though the way Kingdom Hearts characters so immediately take to a first-name basis with each other reminds me of the time a “date” took me to a Cutco knives seminar at a hotel by the airport in Indianapolis.
Yes, you’re going to be looking for a snowman. In snow. White on white. If you have a big TV, and if it’s got HDR, you might have to wear sunglasses.
Look, I’m sorry. I just—I can’t even tell you what I did. I just know that after an hour it was over and I wasn’t crying anymore.
Based on the cyberpunk manga from Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel follows an abandoned cyborg (Rosa Salazar) with no memory of her previous life as she attempts to outrun deadly forces from her past. Weta Digital, New Zealand-based visual effects company responsible for bringing Alita to life, was kind enough to invite us to their headquarters to talk about the upcoming film. In this video, we sit down with producer Jon Landau and senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri to talk about creating Alita: Battle Angel.
I love the Kingdom Hearts series. Furthermore, I believe I “understand” the Kingdom Hearts series. After careful consideration, I have decided that Kingdom Hearts III might be an “unreviewable” video game. This is precisely why I suggest you don’t read any reviews of Kingdom Hearts III. I present my case in this video.
This video suffices as a confession: 13 years ago, I wrote a scathingly negative review of Kingdom Hearts II entirely for the attention. I had found myself in possession of a Japanese copy of the game a whole month before its release, and so I blasted through it in a weekend before writing an awful, snippy 600-word review in which I awarded the game zero stars out of four, knowing full well that the internet would hate me for it. I am not entirely sure, though I believe my review was the first one published in English. That review earned me more than 4 million page views and 6,000 irate comments. In this video, I apologize for doing this in what I hope comes across as a sincere tone.
In this video, I beg long-time fans of any video game series or entertainment franchise to never, ever seek validation from a jerk like the guy I was thirteen years ago. As I often say, “If it doesn’t involve doing something actually illegal, it’s not a ‘guilty pleasure.’”
This video also aspires to celebrate the Kingdom Hearts series. In it I tell you why I think the series is immortally great. I also encourage you to jump into the series with the third installment. I urge you to embrace total, bold blindness, to swim in the series’ lore. I implore you to be lost. I explain to you quite rationally that to play these games is and always has been to play them out of order.
The Kingdom Hearts series is a writhing nest of inside-out Uroborosing enchanted eels. The longer Kingdom Hearts lives, the more immune it grows to criticism of a non-fan. As typhoon-sized hype mounts for Kingdom Hearts III, it’s never been harder to be not a fan of Kingdom Hearts.
If you like Kingdom Hearts, you’ve always been loving Kingdom Hearts. So why not try liking Kingdom Hearts?
Please watch this video, in which I say “Kingdom Hearts” many, many times.
Note: Between my making this video and my posting it on Kotaku, a situation arose which requires me to write Kotaku’s review of Kingdom Hearts III. I promise I did not orchestrate this, though I must admit I find it a hilariously shocking plot twist worthy of a Kingdom Hearts game. The sentiments I expressed in this video remain sincere in spite of this recent development. In fact, it perfectly feels like I’ve challenged myself. Please, then, consider this video Episode 0.6 of Kingdom Hearts III: The Kotaku Review.