Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Aug 312022

It’s finally time to talk about Kingdom Hearts Dark Road.

When the Kingdom Hearts mobile game was shut down, Square Enix decided that Dark Road would be completed as an offline app, which I greatly appreciate.

Don’t get me wrong, Dark Road still has gameplay built around the idea that you’ll set combat to auto and grind endless battles while you do other things, but now that it’s offline, I could do that without worrying it might lose the Internet connection partway through.

That doesn’t make it any more fun, though.

In fact, starting Dark Road now probably feels grindier than ever since there are no longer daily/weekly/monthly events to help you level. But as someone who had played up until the closure, I found myself at a high enough level to make it through the finale content without too much trouble (aided by my stockpile of revive items).

You’ll never catch me saying Dark Road was fun to play… but it’s worth it for the story.

The early chapters of Dark Road doled out its story in tiny snippets interspersed with far too many grindy battles, but the finale made some major improvements in that regard.

First, battles are much less frequent. There are still some quests that just give you a string of enemies to fight, but the majority had story content.

Second, these chapters lock you into a certain party. One of my biggest criticisms of the story before this was that who you added to your party didn’t seem to matter, making the supporting characters feel interchangeable. Now that the party members were locked in, and therefore the quests could have scenes related to the specific characters in them beyond just Xehanort and Eraqus, the characters felt much more real and distinct.

Third and most importantly, the finale has some of the best story moments of Dark Road that make it (much like KHUX) a story that deserves better than a mobile game many people will probably ignore.

After that first chapter, I expected Dark Road might have some emotional moments, but I was still taken aback by how bleak some aspects of the finale feel. This might be the darkest Kingdom Hearts game.

Click for Dark Road spoilers
They set it up with that early flash-forward to Xehanort visiting the graves, but watching the most of the cast be murdered – not turned into Heartless/Nobodies, straight-up killed – was brutal.

And the scene of Baldr falling to darkness was chilling.

Aside from these emotional scenes, it also has some comedic moments that really made the characters feel like a group of friends.

(The carpet conversation was pure gold.)

It also had some interesting twists, one which I definitely should have seen coming but had forgotten all about, one that completely took me by surprise, and some that have me questioning what will happen next.

Click for Dark Road spoilers
Bragi being Luxu… okay. Okay. I really thought the name being so similar to Braig was a coincidence, but nope! That said, the actual reveal was fantastic. Having him reference vessels and wanting to keep his body made me realize it was him, and then just following it with a casual “As if!”? Yeah, that was great.

On the other hand, the Player reincarnating into the blue-robed figure is insane, because I (like nearly everyone else) completely took that KHUX ending scene to mean the Player reincarnated as Xehanort! For it to actually be the mysterious character WITH baby Xehanort, that was clever.

And then there’s stuff like Xehanort saying he’d want 14 lives, 13 to rebuild the world and 1 to explore the new world… is that a hint that we’re going to see him again?

The story of Kingdom Hearts Dark Road is still on my mind, especially how somber and impactful some of those later scenes were. I only wish this story was available as something other than a tedious mobile game.

Kingdom Hearts Dark Road is not particularly fun to play, but its story makes it well-worth experiencing. I had some concerns when it was delayed, but the wait for the finale was definitely worth it.

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Aug 292022

On Friday we discussed the exciting announcement of Armed Fantasia and Penny Blood, and now the Kickstarter campaign is live!

Once again, this is a double Kickstarter to fund both a Wild Arms spiritual successor and a Shadow Hearts spiritual successor.

I love both series, so I had to jump on this.

The platforms are now clear: the initial funding goal is for PC, there is a console stretch goal for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, and a Nintendo option will be included in case a Switch successor comes out in the meantime; if one doesn’t, they’ll work something out with people who chose it.

(So no Armed Fantasia or Penny Blood on Switch.)

When I first heard about this Kickstarter, I thought it might be confusing for someone who is only interested in backing one of the games, not both. It turns out I was wrong. This Kickstarter is much more confusing if you want both.

Armed Fantasia and Penny Blood each have a nice selection of tiers with various rewards, but only a handful of tiers include both games. Some rewards are available as add-ons, although they’re somewhat expensive and are missing some notable options, like the soundtrack CDs.

I would have liked to get physical copies of both games and both soundtracks, but that seems to be impossible at the moment outside of the super high tier that includes everything. They’ve said in replies to comments that additional add-ons might be possible through backerkit later on.

So the tiers are a bit confusing right now, and there’s also a lot of stuff about community goals and how supporting them for one game or the other will work that seems a little complicated, but if you’re interested in one or both of these JRPGs, check out the Kickstarter!

(I was going to review Dark Road today, but we’ll have to save that for next time.)

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Aug 262022

I keep hoping for a new Wild Arms announcement. I keep hoping for a Shadow Hearts revival, too.

But in the absence of those two things, spiritual successors have been announced.

Yes, one for each.

WILD BUNCH Productions, founded by Wild Arms creators, has announced Armed Fantasia: To the Ends of the Wilderness, a large-scale JRPG inspired by Wild Arms.

At the same time, YUKIKAZE, founded by Shadow Hearts creators, has announced gothic horror JRPG Penny Blood, inspired by Shadow Hearts.

The two will hold a joint Kickstarter for these games, with a combined funding goal of $750,000 for PC releases. The campaign will begin on August 29.

Overviews of the two games, along with information about how the joint Kickstarter will work, are detailed here by Gematsu. An interview with the two development teams also sheds further light on them.

What stands out to me the most is that these two games are fully embracing their inspirations. Armed Fantasia looks like Wild Arms, and Penny Blood looks like Shadow Hearts.

(According to the interview, the Armed Fantasia characters being called Pathfinders is even just a different translation of the same Japanese word that was translated as Drifters in Wild Arms.)

Armed Fantasia is aiming to have a “gigantic” world map, with the aim being a world map “so big that there isn’t a word to express how big it is.” That makes me a little nervous, both because this is a crowdfunded project and because having your goal just be to have the biggest map possible doesn’t feel to me like the best priority. However, it also sounds like there’s a chance that it’ll be a traditional JRPG world map, which would make me very happy.

Moving on to Penny Blood, while it looks like a Shadow Hearts successor through and through (it’s not visible in any of the screenshots, but the interview describes a “Psycho Sigil” that sounds like the new version of the Judgement Ring), it stands out from its predecessors by involving murder investigations. According to the interview, sub-quests will feature “fingerprinting, voiceprint profiling, mental profiling such as Rorschach tests, and other pioneering methods of criminal profiling.”

One concern I had initially is that the funding goal seems low for this sort of project, but it sounds like the Kickstarter is intended to be used to demonstrate interest and get a publisher on board. With as ambitious as these games look, I hope they succeed.

So a Wild Arms spiritual successor and a Shadow Hearts spiritual successor that’s also a detective game; I haven’t been this excited for a Kickstarter in quite a while! Check out the articles I linked above to learn more about the games, and then join me in waiting for the Armed Fantasia and Penny Blood Kickstarter campaign to go live!

What are your thoughts on Armed Fantasia and Penny Blood?

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