I doubt many would find themselves comparing Cuphead to Kingdom Hearts for any reason. Both IPs are different in obvious ways, at least regarding presentation. Still, after playing through Cuphead for the first time, I couldn’t help but equate my experience with it to my extensive time with the Kingdom Hearts franchise’s most challenging content, its data battles.
Kingdom Hearts boasts a plethora of avenues of appeal. Its narrative, soundtrack, and crossovers are some of the more apparent facets. However, its combat is undeniably one of its most appealing traits as there’s an admirable degree of depth poured within certain titles’ combative designs. Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind are at the forefront of what the community considers top-notch combat quality, and for good reasons. Though, while there are several reasons for that, what matters for this piece is that both games grant masterful ways to showcase skill adequacy; their post-game super bosses.
As masochistic as it may sound, part of my love for video games comes from the gradual growth of constantly failing and retrying against well-designed challenges. That collective thrill makes video games such a delightful pastime for me. Of course, I also highly value music, story, and other factors, but gameplay satisfaction is, at least in most cases, enough to save an otherwise mediocre time. To this day, I have still not encountered any bosses in gaming that have fulfilled me quite as much as those in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix’s and Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind’s post-games. There is not only a genuinely wild quantity of provided battles, but also intricate, varied telegraphs and movesets, and in Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind’s case, completely unique battle themes.
Most of these post-game fights are known as Data Battles since they comprise the antagonists that the protagonists have fought prior, except in amplified forms where some manner of data manipulation has considerably enhanced their combat prowess to their limits (not counting Yozora or Lingering Will). Of course, these challenges aren’t for everyone, but they’re at the apex of my gaming experiences. Due to the aforementioned factors, alongside implemented retries to prevent backtracking, I could take my time internalizing each fight’s traits to their utmost capacities. And, well, I’ve reached a point where these battles’ praiseworthy designs have somewhat spoiled me.
You see, recently, I played through and even earned the Platinum trophy for Cuphead. I tried the game out a few times over the past years, but something always came up in real life that made me forget about it. So, I was determined to give it another shot and dedicate at least enough time to beat it. Needless to say, I was not expecting to Plat it in a few days. Further, it was…shockingly unchallenging. Of course, this unexpected ease might partially originate from the game’s online reputation of being nearly unapproachable. Still, even with that point in mind, my overestimation of the game’s difficulty birthed a head-scratching conundrum where I was unsure about what bosses I was meant to struggle at.
I should clarify that I don’t want to come off as if I’m bragging. I’m truly atrocious at Fromsoftware games, so take with that what you will. However, one point I’m trying to make here is that action fans should pay more attention to Kingdom Hearts’ Data bouts for cathartic satisfaction if they’re fans of games like Cuphead. For as seemingly opposed in appeal as the games might be at face value, the feats they demand from players to accomplish felt nearly identical in sensation, just differing in severity. Likely because of its genre and stylistic approach, Cuphead’s bosses are far simpler to contend with than Kingdom Hearts Data battles.
None of the Cuphead bosses are overwhelming with their movesets, as they are all overt with their openings and telegraphs. Figuring out how to approach these foes is never part of the challenge; it’s simply the act of doing it that is. Kingdom Hearts super boss openings require craftier know-how with consistent experimentation, and having done that, the transparency of Cuphead’s boss design feels like a lower plane of difficulty altogether. There’s one less collective, gargantuan step needed for victory.
In a sense, I suppose my time with Kingdom Hearts can be perceived as unintended training for Cuphead. I guess the best way I can explain how Kingdom Hearts unintentionally trained me for Cuphead is I’m positive that if I went into Cuphead without that Kingdom Hearts post-game experience, I’d have a far more challenging and frustrating time.
The reputation a piece of media has does impact my perception of it, usually for the worse. And with how Cuphead’s level of challenge was hyped up so robustly compared to the relatively niche Kingdom Hearts trials, Cuphead would have ailed me far more intensely. So ultimately, I’m glad that Kingdom Hearts granted a training ground of sorts where I could bask in elements I inherently enjoyed before diving into remotely similar contexts that contain the blueprints for joviality but lack its instilled comfort.
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