I normally can’t stand mobile games, especially the “pay to win,” model. Micro transactions have become a cancer on the gaming industry over the last decade or so, and there’s been a fair share of controversy over them in recent years. Mobile games, therefore, don’t have a particularly good reputation when it comes to instant gratification, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Kingdom Hearts Unchained X. Not only can you manage perfectly well without draining your wallet, it’s charming, fun, and actually worth playing.

Not bad for a free to play title that we weren’t sure would ever make it to Europe.

This game is the very, very first in Kingdom Hearts’ ever convoluted storyline, way back before Birth by Sleep, and is telling the tale of the original Keyblade wielders and the Foretellers, along with the creepy cat creature Chirithy. It’s got tenuous links to the Keyblade War, and tiny bits of it are already becoming relevant to Kingdom Hearts III, so it’s holding its own in the series, despite being another addition that wasn’t really needed. The lore is deep and interesting, and I wouldn’t be surprised with the Foretellers at least being mentioned in the long awaited third title. Now to some, this might be the excuse to skip it, but I’d say that isn’t a good idea. Mostly because it actually appears to be good.

The game is moving back to its Disney routes and incorporating the worlds and their characters into the original scenarios. We all know how Kingdom Hearts II was slammed for just shoving Sora and co into Disney plots and letting them loose, but X seems to be remedying that. It’s largely reminiscent of the first Kingdom Hearts in terms of tone, and that’s a very good thing. Kingdom Hearts I, along with Chain of Memories, always had the most solid storytelling in the series, because they kept it simple, and all this has done is helped Kingdom Hearts UX.

The gameplay seems to be taking tips from the mostly ignored Chain of Memories, too. If you look at the screenshot above, you can see the disc with the medals in it on the right – that’s your primary method of attack. Similar to how keychains affected various Keyblades’ abilities, this time, you’re equipping medals of all kinds, from Disney characters to canon characters. Though they initially come in three types (strength, magic, and speed) the abilities the medals hold vary wildly. They each have a “cost” attached to them (represented by the bar at the top) and provide special attacks that do a lot of damage – spells, final blows, some even hitting fifteen times in a row. Each has their own benefit, and you can build a truly interesting team, depending on who you want to use. Although some whine about not being able to get the best medals without paying for them, I feel this is something of an exaggeration.

I don’t pay for mobile games because I don’t want to, yet I pull ten medals whenever I get the 3000 jewels free for simply logging in, or participating in special events. At the moment, an event’s being run where you can get up to 200 jewels for completing all three story objectives, and at least 40 if you only do one objective. The events – along with the chance to play for less AP (your energy, essentially) and the chance to get/level special medals – are being run all the time, so even if you can’t afford to drop stupid amounts of money on the game, you’re at least in with a fighting chance. I remember playing and giving up on the Sims Social a few years back because you could never get all the items or have enough energy to complete all the quests on time without spending cash, and Kingdom Hearts UX actually values all of its players, not just the ones with disposable income.

All of the features are pretty damn fun. You level your medals by fusing them with others, synthesise your Keyblades into stronger ones with the item drops, kill raid bosses every so often, and there’s some process called guilting which I believe is fusing medals of the same character to earn attack bonuses. The team player aspect is pretty much optional, and you don’t have to rely on friends sending you things or participating, though you do get extra prizes for participating in your union, and bonus stuff depending on your ranking that week. Avatar boards are one of the best bits – you get Avatar Coins from completing missions, and you use those to unlock not only new outfits for your characters, but more cost capacity (so your Keyblade has more space for medals) higher AP, and more HP, all without paying a penny. Some of them do cost jewels to unlock, and yes, you can pay for them if you want to, but it’s not a pre-requisite. It’s wonderful.

Combine that with the gorgeous artwork that’s completely different to what we’ve seen from the rest of the series so far, it looks as if it’s shaping up to be a big hit. Kingdom Hearts Unchained X is chock full of charm and whimsy, complete with actual gameplay and an interesting plot, to boot. It’s available to download for free on the Android/iOS stores, and I’d highly recommend you check it out!