Kingdom Hearts is and always will be one of my favorite game series of all time, and I know I’m not alone. These games hold a very special place in many people’s hearts and, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I’d be in the job I am today if I hadn’t picked up that unassuming PS2 copy back in 2002. So, naturally, the moment I saw the opportunity to sign up for the Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link beta, I did so without even looking up what the game was beyond a very brief cinematic trailer.
You can imagine my surprise when I realized it was, in fact, yet another AR game a la Pokémon Go, Pikmin Bloom, and Monster Hunter Now. But how on earth can you translate the world of Kingdom Hearts into a ‘walk to collect/interact with xyz’ game? What would you be encountering?
I mean, other than ‘darkness’ and ‘friendship’, the two things you can always count on being a central theme in anything Kingdom Hearts-adjacent. But I have to say, just as Kingdom Hearts manages to connect a wide variety of worlds across the games, Missing-Link does a pretty good job of merging KH with reality.
Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link starts with you creating your very own keyblade wielder – you choose a figure of either Mickey, Donald, or Goofy (each of which represents a different move), customize your avatar with a surprisingly varied selection of hairstyles and facial features, and go through a brief introduction atop those iconic stained glass windows every Kingdom Hearts fan will recognize.
From there, you get a little introduction into the game’s world as you find yourself washed ashore on a beach and discovered by another keyblade wielder. You get a bit of context to the world, grab a rusty old keyblade and start hitting heartless, and… Well, as far as I’ve seen so far, you then continue hitting heartless for the majority of the game.
Currently, the story is a little thin on the ground beyond the initial cutscenes, and I presume it will be fleshed out further with the game’s full release. However, there are a few things we do know, such as this taking place in Scala ad Caelum, otherwise known as Stairway To Heaven. Scala ad Caelum first appeared in Kingdom Hearts III, so, as with previous spin-off Kingdom Hearts games, it appears that Missing-Link is likely to bridge the gap between Kingdom Hearts III and Kingdom Hearts IV.
Despite all this and some clear ties and parallels to the now-defunct Kingdom Hearts X (Unchained X/Union X Dark Road), Missing-Link endeavors to forge its own story that works as a standalone experience. I can’t truly comment on how well it achieves this just yet, mostly due to just how little of the story we got to see in the beta.
But, considering how well each of the spin-off games stand up as individual stories (don’t @ me, 358/2 Days is one of my favorite games of all time), I can see this being a fine entry point and standalone experience. As with all KH games, if you’re happy to sit back and suspend disbelief for a bit, you can easily dive into Missing-Link, grab a keyblade, start walking, smacking, and collecting, and have a good time doing it.
Now, onto the gameplay. Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link is split into two different parts. Firstly, there’s Scala ad Caelum, where you can control your keyblade wielder and run around a beautiful city, interacting with moogles, NPCs, and more. Unfortunately, during the beta, there wasn’t much to this world – there’s a quest counter where you can complete short combat challenges and a moogle that also gives you a few things to do, but it’s otherwise quite empty.
I genuinely love the idea of an AR game having a separate world that you can roam around virtually, and Scala Ad Caelum makes for a beautiful hub world with its ornate architecture, stunning fountains, and cute little market stalls. As such, I truly hope that this is more of a fleshed-out and prominent feature in the full release, with more characters to chat with, more quests to pick up, and maybe even some events or story developments.
The other half of the game is, of course, the AR part. This takes place in the ‘astral realm’ and renders the world around you in a cute, KH-style map, with higgledy-piggledy buildings, landmarks, and a whole heap of heartless scattered around. Taking on the heartless transports your character to a small arena where you take part in a classic action-style battle, smacking away at your enemies with your giant key.
Combat is pretty simple but also quite effective. You can swipe your thumb around the screen to move your character, then hit one button to attack, and another to jump. The iconically fluid, lock-on-and-levitate fighting style recognizable from other KH games is present, and the auto-targeting is pretty good. You can also switch targets by hitting arrows next to the target enemy’s health bar, and there’s an auto-battle system that takes down your enemies pretty efficiently without any input from you.
However, there’s another big element in combat that’s new to Missing-Link, and that’s the character figurines. The closest thing I can compare these to in the KH world is probably the combat cards from Chain Of Memories, only vastly simplified. Instead of having the iconic Disney and Square Enix characters join you in battle through party loadouts or summons, Missing-Link sees you equip figurines that unlock certain skills. Each figurine has a unique skill, and you can equip up to three at a time, allowing you to use classic spells like firaga and aero, or more advanced versions of the moves.
The main way to get figurines is through the gacha system. Despite the industry’s clear drive towards gacha in recent years, I must admit I was pretty surprised to see that Missing-Link is a gacha game – and I’m not so sure if that was a pleasant surprise. Of course, during the beta I didn’t really get much of an insight into rates, currencies, and how the premium shop is going to look, so I can’t really comment on how it will feel in the full release.
I did manage to get quite a few character figures throughout the beta, and they all seem pretty useful in their own right, but I can only imagine that there will be a lot of time-limited characters with very powerful skills which, should there be PVP modes implemented in the future, would make this game very much pay to win.
Outside of the gacha, you can also collect some characters while out exploring the astral realm, where you fight one mini-boss-style battle in order to unlock the character. However, the characters you get through these events generally seem pretty basic and were mostly ones I’d already pulled from the gacha. I would like it if there were Pokémon Go community day-style events where you get a chance to obtain a rare character, but we’ll have to wait and see if that becomes reality.
In addition to character figures, you can also change your character’s appearance at any time, equip them with different outfits, and kit them out with different keyblades. The outfits are more than cosmetic, too, offering different stat boosts. However, during the beta, I only managed to obtain a handful of pieces through mission rewards, and there were two outfits in the store that cost quite a bit of currency, so take that as you will.
One thing I really like about the AR part of the game is the option to toggle GPS mode. This allows you to roam freely around the map without having to approach locations in real life, which is a valuable option if a marker or item is on private property or out of reach, or if, like me, you have a disability or mobility issues. However, engaging in battles or collecting items in free roam mode costs AP, which restricts how much you can do from your sofa.
Personally, this didn’t cause me too many issues – you can earn your AP back by defeating heartless in GPS mode, and a lot of heartless spawn near my house. Therefore, even on days when my mobility is bad, I can sit down and take down some nearby heartless to charge up my AP, then toggle to free roam and send my character off to grab some goodies. However, I can see this potentially being a limiting (and perhaps monetized) feature in the future, so I suppose time will tell.
Performance-wise, Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link looks great on my iPhone 13, and offers a lot of great quality-of-life features that I’d love to see in other AR games, including the ability to play in either portrait or landscape depending on your preference – in addition to the auto-battling, this makes Missing-Link a pretty accessible game, supporting one-handed play well. I also appreciate the minor but welcome pop-up screen when you switch to GPS mode, reminding streamers and content creators that it may reveal their location to viewers – it seems obvious, but a little bit of thought for your players can go a long way in terms of goodwill.
Overall, from the brief glimpse we got during the Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link beta, I can see some serious promise in this game. We’ve had many AR games pop up since Pokémon Go’s peak, some better than others, and it’s nice to see that Missing-Link appears to have taken some of the lessons from similar games and improved upon elements. However, at present, it’s hard to say where the gameplay loop, story, and future monetization will impact its success.
Either way, I look forward to the Kingdom Hearts Missing-Link release date to see how this plays out. In the meantime, be sure to brush up your KH knowledge with our Kingdom Hearts keyblades and Kingdom Hearts characters guides, or keep exploring the outside world with our list of the best games like Pokémon Go.