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Kingdom Hearts: Combat Evolution with Character Evolution

Originally posted on: maxpears.com

I discuss how Kingdom Hearts combat evolution is not just better for the game design but also for reflecting on the main character growth.

How combat design can work with your story

Max Pears, Blogger

September 12, 2017

8 Min Read

Hello Design peeps, I hope you are all enjoying playing and or making the games you love! I apologize for the lack of posts these last couple of weeks, I have had family come over and visit me. Was great to see them and for them to travel all that way for me. Anyway, I know you would love to hear all about my family’s visit, but we need to get back to the topic at hand here.

I have wanted to talk about Kingdom Hearts for a long time, there are so many areas to discuss (and I am sure I will talk about them in the near future)  recently I bought the PS4 HD collection. Thanks for another needless buy Square I feel though these HD collections are helping fund KH3 so that helps me sleep better at night. I decided to go through KH 1, this is not my favorite of the collection but I wanted to start from the first again.

While playing I noticed how slow Sora was with his Keyblade, how my timing was off with gauging the distance, pressing attack at the correct time was off to parry. I had just played KH 2.8 before as well, breaking necks and cashing cheques. Yet here I was sat on my sofa for a while, thinking

“Wow Max, you suck at video games”  

After this internal struggle played out, it hit me. Yes, the simple answer is that the combat systems have improved in most iterations of the KH series because the Devs got better at creating the combat. Yet it was not just that which stuck to me, the combat/style of it matched the age and experience of Sora.

This what we are going to talk about! How the combat style in your game can tell the players a lot about your characters. How (if you are fortunate to) sequels can advance not just the system but the characters own story.

Combat Weight:

Firstly let us take a look together at a breakdown of combat weight in other mediums, seeing how they are shown.

In the video it talks about, how the weight of weapons allows different characters to attack/defend at different speeds, limiting their attacks to certain strikes. As well discussing how different emotions can affect a combattons ability.

Now let’s go back to the first Kingdom Hearts for a second and break down the main character,

Kingdom Hearts 1:


In the first game, we meet Sora who is a Tween, only age 14 in the first game. We can see by this stance he is resting the keyblade on his shoulder as at that age I do not believe he would be able to hold it out with one hand for long (it also being a reference to the icon Cloud pose from FFVII).  When players first play as Sora he is practicing his combat with sticks, even then he is slow and clunky. I would, however, argue that with the stick he is actually a couple of frames faster than with the keyblade (but I would like to see someone break the swings down before I say this as fact).

As I said he was playing with sticks, fighting his friends in his home. So what does this say about Sora? Looking at this, we can say that Sora has NO experience in trained combat situations, no martial arts experience. His stance even shows this, it seems to be very exposed. Weapon down by his hip. Which is fantastic from a characterization point of view, as it shows that he is relaxed but also still learning. Again think about how these stances can tell the player about the characters background

(great talk from Blizzard: 

Now if we observe Sora fighting in KH 1:

You can see, how his moves are very big, wide swinging attacks. Very heavy hitting, so even the combos are 360-degree swings. His fighting style is that of what you see when two drunks fight on a Friday night out. Throwing the big haymakers praying they land the KO. All of this reflects Sora’s age, unsure of what he is doing but despite this, he is giving all he has got.

Next is how hard it is to break an action, for example, if I have pressed Square twice to start a combo, but now notice that an enemy is about to collide with me, so I try to jump back. It does not always respond (which is frustrating) but in terms of Sora’s age, it works in tandem with this, as if you swing a heavy object (which I imagine the keyblade weighs roughly 25kg +) the momentum would actually be hard to break and move with as a 14 yr old child.

All of these come together to tell Sora’s back story, which is never mentioned in the main story.

Kingdom Hearts 2:

Moving into Kingdom Hearts 2, Sora has aged a year yet it was an eventful year that is for sure, after defeating the Heartless he carried on his adventure, where he first encounters Organisation XIII. He was carrying this keybalde and fighting with it for a year. So let us take a look at Sora in Kingdom Hearts 2:

We can instantly see that his stance has changed to that much more of a confident one, he is now able to carry the Keyblade in one hand. His muscle mass will of increased due to him using his weapon constantly.  

(Kingdom Hearts 2 unlocks new power abilities for Sora called ‘Forms’ which are seriously badass but for the purpose of this post I will be ignoring these abilities)

His stance is great and everything but let’s break it down even further by seeing him in action.

Instantly we can see that jumping and aerial combat is much easier, it flows 100x better than the previous game. Sora is also able to hit much faster than the previous game, putting combos together much quicker. Not only has the combat design team made some big changes to the design, but it also reflects how Sora has grown within this year of fighting, he is now much stronger, faster and able to move far better.

Again we can all just say “Well duh….. they needed to make it better for sake of making it a better game, for the sales + reviews” I agree but again just take note how these combat changes don’t just reflect the progress of the designer but also tell the story of Sora and the result of our adventure through these worlds.

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance:

Kingdom Hearts 3 is not out during the time of this blog but I would like to talk about Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, as this game has arguably the best combat in the series called the ‘flow system’

Flow system is all about motion, the more you move the stronger your attacks are and even quicker evades. Now you may be wondering how does this reflect the age/story of Sora (it is unsure what his age is in this game). Well (the story honestly is rather crazy) Sora enters dreams and time travels (like I said crazy) which works with the flow system. As in a dream, we feel light, floaty, weightless. These are reflected in the combat with how Sora glides through the battle field, using the environment as a weapon to build up his momentum in battle.

This video shows how just moving in this game compared to the previous which I mentioned, have a whole different impact on how we as the players feel as Sora.


Now that you have seen the combat states I hope you can see that they do not have just changed/improved for the sake of the game but also to reflect the protagonist’s story.

Sora on his first adventure is wild, and heavy hitting, in his second he is faster, able to move better when facing enemies (even unlocking abilities) and in KH:DDD when Sora enters dreams he is weightless and even agiler.

Now it is not every day/project that designer get to work on a franchise but think about your character, who they are and can the combat not only be engaging/heart pacing + badass but what can this tell the audience about your character as well?

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and has made you think more about not just animation that tells the story of your character but also the actual design. If you like my blog then please subscribe below to be notified about my latest work.

Follow me on Twitter: @MaxPears 

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