Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece Switch Review
Gamers have been clamoring for some time to see the Kingdom Hearts series come to Nintendo’s portable/at-home hybrid Switch console ever since the Story So Far and All-in-One collections began to spread from the PlayStation, until Xbox, and later on PC. However, to bring some of the more modern Kingdom Hearts titles to the Switch, developer Square Enix dropped the ball by relying on cloud gaming to host the entire collection. As a possible explanation and defense for Square Enix’s decision to use cloud streaming for all Kingdom Hearts titles in the collection, these are not direct ports of PS2 games or titles as originally launched on other mobiles devices. Many of them have gone through remastered treatments to make the series run well on PS4 and Xbox One, as well as PC today, giving each of these games higher requirements than the originals. That said, sacrifices may have been made to prepare the games to run natively on the Switch which may not be noticeable when compared to the original versions of the previous Kingdom Hearts games. To start getting into the details of Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece, as the Switch version is named, it might be best to look at what the collection does well. As a result of the cloud streaming used by the collection, most of the loading and processing is done on a series of servers with impressive amounts of available processing power. This means that loading times are very fast across seven games and three video collections, with time to load a new world or area compared to backward-compatible versions on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S . This is really impressive, and makes exploring levels like Agrabah and Wonderland much faster and less tiring. Loading times are unfortunately where the benefits of the cloud system end, as the online part causes a lot of problems in terms of lag and video quality. The first thing that stands out, especially in the original Kingdom Hearts, is the frame rate of the cutscenes, particularly the ones rendered in-engine, compared to the pre-rendered intros and outros. Depending on the internet connection, the frame rate never reaches the 60-120 fps available on PC, instead dropping below 30 to cause visual stutter. These lower frames are most noticeable in cutscenes with either a lot of camera movement, such as when the Genie from Aladdin is introduced or after defeating Shadow Sora in Hook’s Ship. Even worse in the playthrough performed for this review is when interacting with Trinity Marks, where a White Trinity slows to a slideshow instead of a flowing animation. Strangely, this frame rate issue is less noticeable in Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, although they are more pronounced in Dream Drop Distance, especially during peak hours of online usage. Moving away from the cutscenes, things don’t get any better. As with many problems that come with cloud streaming of the collection, connectivity can affect how much input lag each of the games has. Throughout testing at various distances from the router, and at two different access points, input lag varied from barely noticeable to making some of the more difficult encounters impossible . This was less noticeable in the original Kingdom Hearts and most noticeable in both Kingdom Hearts 3 and Dream Drop Distance, where some early fights were completely frozen and then progressed to victory after some button mashing. Along with the input lag is a strange audio lag, which is almost equal in all games. This ranges from the sound of attack hits being delayed by a second to the voice lines in cutscenes not matching the characters’ movements. At best, this was a little distracting, but at worst, it made scenes seem poorly dubbed or improperly localized, even though previous releases in the Kingdom Hearts timeline have shown high quality localization. The worst latency issue only happened twice in over twenty hours of gameplay, but it caused two cutscenes to buffer and skip several minutes of scenes by the time they returned. It should be noted that these occurrences are extremely rare, and may not occur for a normal playthrough of any of the games in the Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece collection. However, it’s possible and frustrating that instead of freezing and buffering when player inputs stop working, the cloud service just picks up later and skips the content. A final problem with latency issues that fans quickly became aware of when the collection became available as a demo, was that some flashier titles like Kingdom Hearts 3 on Switch had pixilation issues. That said, the game has a problem when it comes to streaming visuals that have a lot of particle effects or otherwise very colorful and busy environments. The result isn’t as painful as memes and online jokes might make it seem, but there are situations where 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 endings, it’s a severe sour note in the gameplay as the screen becomes unintelligible for a moment. All of these comments on lag and frame rates just scatter over what’s really wrong with the cloud service model for the Switch, more so than any other console. The main issue goes with the entire selling point of the Switch, which is that it’s a hybrid portable system that can be picked up and taken on the go. However, tethering Kingdom Hearts collection gameplay to cloud streaming means 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 many Switch players don’t bother removing the system from its dock, but the option to cart the console around is still a major selling point and a reason why players want to see Kingdom Hearts on Switch. Cloud streaming also means there’s no way to temporarily pause any of the games, such as using the Switch’s ability to close the screen and suspend any game to pick up right where it left off later. Leaving the program in any way, even going to the Switch’s eShop, interrupts the connection and requires reconnecting. This will also happen if the player quits the game, but it will leave the Switch on. To reduce the strain on the servers, idle players are disconnected after a certain amount of time without consistent input. Unfortunately, the result is that stopping and starting gameplay is limited to saving points just like any other console. Since cloud gaming service outages have negative effects on many games, as seen in 2021 at Google, measures to keep servers running are an important part of the online infrastructure. So, it’s understandable that an anti-idle system is put in place for the sake of the servers, but the effect on players is that turning off the screen, checking the Switch’s home page, or anything that isn’t played directly can be cause the connection to end. This is exacerbated by the fact that nine out of ten interrupted connections will require the game to be closed and reloaded before being able to play again, which will then return players to their most recent save. Looking at the Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece collection as a whole, it’s a decent attempt at celebrating 20 years of Kingdom Hearts content by bringing together all the games on the Switch. However, the entire Kingdom Hearts series is now available without a consistent connection required on PS4 and Xbox One, as well as next-generation PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. Players can also have the bonus of mods on the PC versions of all these games. The Switch version of Kingdom Hearts only manages to bring a lesser 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 more desirable than others currently available. For players where the Switch is the only option available, it will work to get to the end credits, but it won’t allow those players to experience this incredible series to its fullest. Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece is now available on Switch. Today Technology was provided with a Switch code for this review.