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Artwork of Sora, Riku, and other characters silhouetted against a heart-shaped moon, from the original Kingdom Hearts. Image: Square Enix

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Kingdom Hearts is a nightmare on Switch

The cloud versions of the beloved series are nearly unplayable

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Kingdom Hearts players have put up with a lot over the years: story nonsense, sequel titles that don’t make any sense, finales that don’t live up to over a decade of hype, and all of our friends insisting that the entire series is terrible (when only some of it is). But the Nintendo Switch Cloud Versions of the Kingdom Hearts series are perhaps the community’s biggest burdens yet. These unreasonably priced packages are barely functional, and it’s hard to recommend them to anyone, even in the most ideal conditions.

Several newer games on Nintendo Switch have opted for a “cloud version.” Instead of running natively on Switch hardware, the game leverages the player’s internet connection and streams directly to the device. Theoretically, this allows players to jump into a game with no download times and without hardware constraints. In practice, though, it’s a nightmare that doesn’t ever perform as well as the games do on much older platforms, including the PlayStation 2. (If you want to know more about how this process works and why it’s not great on Switch specifically, we highly recommend this breakdown from Digital Foundry on YouTube).

Launching the game not only requires an internet connection — something Switch owners who share an account across multiple devices are already familiar with — but players will need to sustain that connection throughout their entire play session. Every time you put the Switch to sleep, the device will need to reconnect with the cloud and reestablish your connection. Or maybe you kept your Switch asleep too long? Well, the game might just outright crash, which can cause a lot of headache in a series like Kingdom Hearts, where most of the entries require manual saves.

But losing progress due to a connection error will be the least of your worries with these ports.

Goofy, Mickey, and Sora in stand ready for battle in Kingdom Hearts 3. Image: Square Enix/Disney

The Kingdom Hearts series is divided into three packages on Switch: Kingdom Hearts HD - 1.5+2.5 ReMIX - Cloud Version ($39.99), Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue Cloud Version ($49.99), and Kingdom Hearts 3 + Re Mind (DLC) Cloud Version ($49.99) — if those titles are obnoxious read, just imagine how annoying they are to type. You also can get all of them together in a single package called Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece for Cloud for $89.99. There are six games total, with one short prequel experience and three games-turned-cutscenes. For the purposes of this review, I played the intros of four: Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts 2, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep, and Kingdom Hearts 3. I tried a variety of different setups, each in an attempt to better the experience. All of them were awful.

Naturally, I started with Kingdom Hearts. I left my Switch in the dock, playing over Wi-Fi, and began my adventure on Destiny island. I ran into problems almost immediately after getting past the menus. The game’s opening music video — an absolute banger, Simple and Clean, beloved by 20- and 30-somethings everywhere — stuttered the entire way through. In addition to the lag, the game also just looked uglier and fuzzier than usual. Unfortunately, the hinky PlayStation 2 physics of Kingdom Hearts did translate accurately, and the combination made if feel nearly unplayable in certain spots. After making it to Traverse Town, I gave up in frustration.

After my first foray in this collection, I docked my Switch OLED and continued with an ethernet connection. (It’s worth noting that older Switch docks do not have an ethernet port, although players can purchase one from Nintendo). I booted up Kingdom Hearts 2 using this more stable connection to see what would happen. The frequent lag was gone, but it was far from a smooth experience.

The game’s framerate continued to run at sub-30 frames per second, and rarely stabilized. Protagonist Roxas’ every movement felt sluggish. In the end, I was able to compete against enemies and win the Twilight Town Struggle tournament, but it just felt uncomfortable to play and headache-inducing the entire time. Even after it gave a much better performance than the first game on Wi-Fi, I was relieved when it was time to set Kingdom Hearts 2 down for the next in the series

For Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 3, I shifted to handheld mode for the entirety of my playtime. Both games functioned the same as the first. On Wi-Fi, each game was constantly lagging, even sitting next to my router, on a gigabit connection.

Sora and Kairi look at the vast sky together in Kingdom Hearts 3 Image: Square Enix

I walked away from my time with the Switch versions of Kingdom Hearts knowing I would never play them again. You can’t put the game to sleep without risking a crash, so you can’t take them on a plane or to remote locations, and they aren’t good for touch-and-go travel. The games lag so badly that you can barely play them without a hardwire connection, meaning that you can’t realistically take it out of the dock, play it in bed, in the bathroom [Ed. note: gross], or at a friend’s house. And even under the most ideal setup — which completely ruins the handheld draw of the Nintendo Switch console — the games are still sluggish and miserable. If there’s a better setup than the options I exhausted, I don’t know what it would be.

The Kingdom Hearts series is old. It’s come to multiple platforms since Square Enix launched the first game in 2002, and players have ample opportunities to play them with stable frame rates, sometimes even in HD, without lag. But what about the players who’ve been waiting for this day? Switch owners who have long dreamed about seeing Hollow Bastion on their handheld screen will be drawn in by some excellent games before realizing they’re all trapped in a terrible form, relying on technology that just doesn’t work.

Many players will undoubtedly grab these versions to replay some classics from their childhood, and I already feel for them when that wave of disappointment hits. But truth be told, I feel worse for people hoping to finally give the series a try now that the entire collection is on a mobile, family-first platform. If that describes you, and you’ve been waiting for this moment to finally dive into Kingdom Hearts: Keep waiting.

Kingdom Hearts HD - 1.5+2.5 ReMIX - Cloud Version, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue Cloud Version, and Kingdom Hearts 3 + Re Mind (DLC) Cloud Version are available now on Nintendo Switch. The games were reviewed on Switch using a code provided by Square Enix. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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