Kingdom Hearts making its debut on PC coming on the 30th March, as an exclusive on the Epic Game Store, is a pretty big deal. With this big ol’ move, and because I’m a dorky super fan, I’m gonna talk about Kingdom Hearts a lot. With this first article, here’s my take on the Critical Mode. The hardest difficulty in a bunch of the Kingdom Hearts games.
Specifically, as the title very clearly states, I think Critical Mode is the best difficulty in any game. My hope is to explain what it is, and why I think this today. So let’s get right in it!
So what is Critical Mode?
The first question to answer is “What is it?”. Put simply Critical Mode is just a harder difficulty in some of the Kingdom Hearts games. A lot of the Critical Modes, and other higher difficulties in games, comes with just less damage/ less health.
Talking more specifically about Critical Mode in Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, there’s a lot more to it.
Firstly, you have less total health and take more damage from enemies. Even in the early game, there are basic enemies that can one shot you. This would be pretty awful if that’s all there was though.
You do however do some more damage to enemies when compared to other difficulties. This can help balance out the damage change somewhat. So you can kill enemies quicker.
However you also gain less experience from pretty much everything, meaning you level up slower and get to better skills later. This is important as some skills are necessities for Critical Mode.
Now for my favourite change, you start off with a load of ability points (AP) and abilities unlocked. So you can turn on plenty of combo boosts, for example, right off the bat. They also give you the “Zero EXP” which I’m not brave enough for…
So where do others go wrong?
Most games go wrong in most areas when they up the difficulty. There is just no balance, or fairness. You’re just dead instantly all the time, and the enemies are damage sponges. There’s also rarely any extra mechanics or abilities to make it an enjoyable experience.
An example of a bad heightened difficulty is Call of Duty. You just die instantly, or you get low health and have to hide for 5 minutes. You spend more time prone behind a copier than you do shooting. That’s just not fun, there’s no incentive or reward to playing this way.
As a broader example, like all RPGs, with guns, swords, or magic, all enemies and bosses just become sponges and it can be unbearable. At times, even nearly impossible. Games like The Division for example are awful for this.
So what’s so good about Critical Mode?
Honestly, just about everything.
Firstly, how hard it is. Now, I am no stranger to hard games, I really flourish in them. Here’s me explaining why I like hard games for example. This is no small feat, being on the verge of death the whole time adds complexity.
It also requires a level of mechanic understanding that the other difficulties don’t. It’s not quite on the same level as a Dark Souls, of course, but it’s closer than the rest.
Next is the balance. The balance of taking more damage and doing more is perfect. The added AP and a bunch of great abilities from the start really help here too. It makes the combat a little more complex and enjoyable right from the get go.
This goes back to the difficulty scaling too but each encounter is a challenge. It’s never unbeatable or insurmountable, it just takes some effort. Sometimes even some patience.
This is a little separate from the combat but you get the Lucky Lucky skill from the start, which increases the drop rate of rare items. So farming for materials to make the higher tiered equipment is sped up greatly too.
So let’s recap. It offers a great challenge, requires you to ‘git gud’, it’s better balanced than most games, and wastes less time. That’s literally every sweet spot that you need in a higher difficulty.
So what does it all mean?
The key takeaway for me is that more games need to put more effort into their difficulties. Don’t just make the player easier to kill and enemies harder.
Think about balance, give incentives, and make improvements around the game’s early gameplay. Just all round, maintain or enhance the enjoyment of the lower difficulties. Giving more benefits, incentives and, most importantly, balance to playing on higher difficulties is the key.
That’s just a theory, a Seriously Average theory, if you will. For real though, that’s my opinion. What do you think? Do you like Critical Mode? Or do you have another example of a difficulty you really like in a game? Let us know in the comments!
Critical Mode in Kingdom Hearts is the Best Difficulty Around.
Written by Kyle Munn.