Kingdom Hearts 3: How to beat Critical Mode

Square Enix just released Kingdom Hearts 3’s Critical Mode, the hardest difficulty in the game. This isn’t just a buff to enemy damage. There are new enemies, new encounters, even new enemy AI barring your way to earning the “Proof of Times Past” unique item, your ultimate reward for beating Critical Mode.

It might be a bit of a punch to the gut to hop into Critical Mode and suddenly find yourself dying to shadows and other low level enemies. However, there are a few tips and tricks that you can follow in order to make your Critical Mode journey easier.

Understand the new modifiers

Here are the basic changes to critical mode. First, your MP and HP are halved and enemies do increased damage to you. Situation commands including form changes, attraction flows, and grand magic all appear less often. The AI is at a much higher level and will seek out openings to attack Sora.

What does this all translate to? Sora can take approximately 1-2 hits before dying, depending on where they come from. This stays constant throughout the mode. So you will have to defend and dodge a lot in order to survive.

Understand the new skills

You are given a lot of skills right at the beginning of the game in Critical Mode. Here is the full list:

  • Aerial Recovery - Press ○ after taking damage in the air to recover.
  • Counter Slash - Press x after a successful block to slash at nearby enemies
  • Counter Impact - Press x after a successful block to send surrounding enemies flying.
  • Counter Kick - After a successful block, press ○ to kick an enemy from a distance
  • Final Blow - Press x after performing a reprisal to instantly move next to the target and continue attacking.
  • Risk Dodge - After being blocked by an enemy, press the ○ button to dodge the incoming attack. Counterattack the target by pressing ○ after dodging.
  • Rising Spiral - While performing a combo, press ○ to launch enemies into the air.
  • Groundbreaker – While performing an air combo press ○ to slam enemies toward the ground.
  • Air Slide X3 - While airborne, tilt Left Joystick and press □ to air dash in that direction and evade attacks. Stack the ability to increase the effect.
  • Superslide X3     - While in Flowmotion, tilt the Left Joystick and press □ to air dash a long distance.
  • Combo Master – Continue combos even if you don’t make contact with the enemy.
  • Damage Control - Halve the damage you take when your HP is at 25% or below.

You are also given three Critical Mode exclusive abilities:

  • Critical Counter - Deal extra damage with reprisals by blocking right before an enemy attack lands.
  • Critical Recharge - Fill situation command gauges more quickly while recharging MP.
  • Critical Converter - Green attraction indicators no longer appear, but filling the gauge always produces a form change command. Indicators may still appear for certain battles.

Having all these abilities gives you two notable bonuses. One, it basically gives you end-game mobility and defensive tactics right at the start. Two, it starts you off with a HUGE well of AP (around 70) just so you can equip all these abilities. That AP well is actually going to be your best friend here, since there are a lot of abilities you can ditch in order to equip abilities that you’ll learn over the course of the game.

For starters, take off Damage Control. In the beginning of the game you’ll die in the same number of hits whether it’s off or on.

If you aren’t doing a speedrun you can also unequip some Air Slide and Superslide abilities. At the very least unequip superslide since you won’t be using flowmotion all that often.

Personally I suggest taking off Groundbreaker. It’s a pretty expensive ability and all it does is slam enemies into the ground… where other enemies are. You actually want to keep enemies in the air as long as possible because it means they can’t attack you.

As for the new Critical mode exclusive abilities, you should probably put Critical Converter on and never take it off. Situation commands are nerfed to begin with, but knowing that you will always have a Form Change on deck after filling the meter is super useful, especially if you have access to high-level keyblades like the Ultima Weapon. It’s also worth noting that Attraction Flows do not make you invincible and since so many force you to stay in one place, they are essentially a death sentence. You’d much rather have a Form Change.

Import your keyblades

KH3 doesn’t have a proper New Game + mode. The only thing you can do is import your keyblades, which all start at level 1. Most keyblades are approximately equivalent at level 1, so don’t feel bad about importing them. The only two keyblades that give you any sort of advantage at such a low level are the Ultima Weapon and Classic Tone, and honestly you need all the advantage you can get.

If you have access to the Ultima Weapon, you are going to want to use it no matter what build you are going for. It comes with Situation Boost which negates some of the Critical Mode nerfs to situation commands. While in Ultimate Form you also get the abilities Second Chance and Withstand Combo which can let you take up to two more hits. You also get Leaf Bracer which allows you to heal while getting hit. Simply put, it’s a must have keyblade for surviving beefed up enemy attacks.

Further on in the playthrough (once you have gained some of these abilities for yourself) you might want to switch to Classic Tone for its higher magic value and three stacks of MP Haste. Spells are generally safe to use and keep you out of harm’s way as opposed to melee attacks. So you are likely going to want to focus on them as much as possible.

Every so often you might want to switch to the Favorite Deputy keyblade, simply because it’s Lucky Strike ability will fill your pockets with materials, and items are far more important in critical mode than they are in any other playthrough.

If you don’t have access to any special keyblades then you probably are going to want to use Ever After for magic and its Leaf Bracer ability, and the Wheel of Fate whenever you have to get up close and personal.

Go WizMiz

All of our tips from our original Kingdom Hearts 3 guide apply here, but this one in particular is important. In the Dive to the Heart, choose the powers of Wisdom and Mystic. Why? Because Critical Mode makes the other choices obsolete.

Yes, Vitality starts you with more HP, as does Balance, but in effect, choosing either still causes you to die in 1-2 hits from the beefed up enemies in Critical Mode, thereby producing no noticeable effect. However, Wisdom’s MP buff will grant you a couple extra spells which can be a life saver in the beginning of the game.

Now let’s talk about skills. Power of the Guardian focuses on defensive abilities, but you already start with many of these abilities and its major bonus, Damage Control, does little to help you survive since you usually won’t be below 25% HP before you die. Power of the Warrior gives you offensive abilities, of which you already have quite a few of when you start Critical Mode. In addition, you don’t want your combos to be too long because that opens you up to enemy attack.

Once again Wisdom and Mystic is just the best way to go. It gives you the maximum amount of new abilities, extra magic casts, and general benefits as opposed to any of the other options.

Miscellaneous Tips

There’s no golden key to completing Critical Mode, but there are a few tips that will keep you going.

  • Critical Mode is a game of pattern recognition. Whatever you do, DO NOT BUTTON MASH. If you are going up against bosses, wait to dodge their attacks and find and opening. Then go in with your most powerful strikes.
  • Huge hordes of enemies are death sentences in Critical Mode. Don’t go in swinging your keyblade. Instead use AOE attacks. Thunder is almost always a good choice, and if you have access to it, the Ultima Weapons shotlock will make quick work of just about any huge group of enemies.
  • Cooking is absolutely necessary. Not only can it give you an extra hit or two in battle, but it also can mean the difference between barely damaging an enemy and chewing through their health bar in a few swings of your best keyblade.
  • Be particularly wary of elemental resistances. While they were almost useless in other difficulties, they will save your bacon here.
  • Be sure to stock up on potions and other restorative items. While other modes allowed you to rely on cure, you basically always want to have a potion on deck to heal you to full after an unexpected hit. Ether’s are also a great way to compensate for MP’s slowed recharge rate.
  • Don’t rely on your party members, and don’t invest anything in them. Their AI is too dumb to avoid getting killed. You are going to have to rely only on yourself. Turn any party member that you can into a heal bucket, loading them with items and instructing them to only ever use them and other healing abilities on you. Don’t even bother upgrading their weapons or armor. It won’t do anything for you.
  • Meanwhile, equip yourself with the best equipment you can. You are going to want to prioritize AP first, and then defense and HP. Despite your massive boost in AP at the beginning of the game, you are still going to want to raise your AP as much as possible to equip powerful abilitieis that will let you take an extra hit or two.
  • Finally, note that Critical Mode doesn’t do anything to the Gummi Ship modes. So farm as many items from this mode as possible.

That’s all the tips and advice we have for you today. Do you have any tips for surviving Critical Mode? If so leave them in the comments below.