After seeing the Kingdom Hearts III gameplay trailer last week, I was reminded that there was still one Kingdom Hearts title I had yet to play: the browser game Kingdom Hearts χ. I was wary going in but, surprisingly, it managed to exceed my (admittedly low) expectations.
Kingdom Hearts χ is built on the same model as just about every Japanese social game. You collect cards and use them to battle enemies for the purpose of… well, getting more cards. And as your collection grows, you are able to sacrifice your weak cards to level up your stronger ones. The game also has the typical social aspect of teaming up with other players to take down bosses.
In battle, three cards are drawn from your deck of nine cards and the cards' effects happen in order. Then it is the enemies turn to attack. If you survive, your next three cards are drawn and the cycle continues. All in all, this semi-automatic battle system is pretty much par for the course for Japanese social games.
It is in the actual presentation that Kingdom Hearts χ is a step above its numerous social game cousins. While most games of this type are little more than a set of menus with the occasional "battle" between static pictures, Kingdom Hearts χ actually has its own animated sprites and battle animations.
When you start the game for the first time, you build a character in a similar art style to that of Kingdom Hearts Mobile and Theaterhythm. Then, after the tutorial, you are free to choose one of three Disney worlds (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alice in Wonderland, and Aladdin) and head there. Unlike most social games, Kingdom Hearts χ actually has a traditional level design — you are able to move your character sprite through these worlds and explore the various areas as you move from map to map.
There is also more of a plot in Kingdom Hearts χ than is common in most browser games — though I admit I have experienced it little so far. It even comes with in-game cutscenes that happen as you progress through the main plot objectives for each area.
Of course, once you look past the graphics and presentation, the typical micro-transaction system rears its ugly head. Everything you do when exploring, from fighting monsters to opening chests, takes up some of your AP. When it hits zero, you cannot continue playing until it fills up enough to perform an action (which takes several minutes) — unless of course you want to spend some real world money to replenish it. Rare and event specific cards can also be purchased by using money at the game's store.
So while Kingdom Hearts χ is still a micro-transaction social game, a bit more heart has been put into the game's presentation. If you are a Kingdom Hearts fan (and don't mind wading through a little Japanese), you may find Kingdom Hearts χ to be an enjoyable little time waster.
Kingdom Hearts χ was released on July 18, 2013, in Japan. There is currently no word on a Western release. It can, however, be played for free (in Japanese) from the game's official website for those who have/make a Japanese Yahoo account.