Razer Kishi v1

Since I saw the original model on sale for such a reasonable price and have no idea where my MOGAs went (though I was able to recover the MOGA Universal Driver app from Google Play since my last rant, even if it’s not listed anymore), I thought I’d give it a go.

"Kishi" is actually going to probably bother me as a name until the end of time since it sounds like something rude in Gaean, but since this is an Earth controller and not a Jerako one, I’m not going to hold that against Razer.

So how is it? Let’s dive in!

Feel in the hands

It’s a nice little thing, but a little disappointing that it’s not Bluetooth in a way. When put together for storage it’s a nice size and would work in a pinch as a remote controller. Sadly, while it has USB-C input for charging passthrough only, it doesn’t have its own battery, and it warms up quickly when plugged in. Other reviews I’ve read comment it drains battery even when a game isn’t running, but that’s because it’s a dumb unit. You can use it to navigate around your phone icons if you can work tilted 90°. That’s not what makes it impressive.

The buttons have a long press and are a little squishy, but the triggers have a pleasant, even resistance. I personally like buttons with a long press, but I know some prefer them with a shallow click. I did feel like I maybe had to press them a little harder than anticipated, but some of that is a compatibility problem and I’m not sure how much is actually my imagination. They do make a small, rubbery pop, but it’s not a big deal, and they’re frankly quieter than even major console controllers because the buttons don’t rattle. The thumbsticks have a shallow click and are comfortable, but the D-pad is a bit large and will need some getting used to.

Otherwise, around my Pixel 5, it’s a comfortable size in the hands and while it’s not necessarily a perfect fit for my palms, it’s not distracting.

Something else I think is actually really appreciable is that the holding plate in the center of the back is some fabulous engineering. Not only does it hold the two halves together in compact mode, but it also uses the pins that make that work to hold it off the back of your phone, providing a little extra girth to those of us from the Vita camp who are used to running our fingers all over the back of the system. If Sony ever were to make their own controller attachment, sticking a touchpad in that same spot using the same sort of bridge would be a brilliant idea for the Vita legacy. Obviously that’s not in Razer’s branding, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea regardless. In terms of its functionality with the Kishi, it actually doesn’t hold tight to the phone due to the way the elastic ribbon connects underneath, but it does provide a stop that also makes the whole thing feel like a real unit when you, say, set it on your leg. Really, while the panel is far from reaching the back of the phone much less the rest of the controller, it’s of sufficient size to give quite the illusion of solidity in that it’s unlikely anything you do with it naturally is going to make it feel like there should be something where there isn’t. The Kishi is in fact an excellent user of negative space and so much of it is almost touching, but with small gaps, that it’s really nothing short of brilliant. Just holding it, it feels solid despite the fact that it’s like 50% plastic and 50% empty air. It really does feel like it turns your phone into a system, rather than being like most controllers and controller clips where it turns your phone into a screen. It really is a major difference in how I expect to treat it.

A more important consideration might be whether it actually fits in a pocket and the answer to that is "are you a man who prefers baggy pants?" If so, yes, it will fit in a pocket. If you’re the skinny jeans type or victim to the Women’s Clothing Pocket Tax™, then the answer is going to be a resounding "no," though it feels sturdy enough to survive being thrown into a purse or satchel, if maybe not a backpack where too many other items will present a hazard to it and an outer pocket is likely to get it smashed into something solid. If you’re the fanny pack type of person, it will absolutely be at home in there, though.

How it plays

Well enough, when it works. "When" being a key word here. I was rather excited to see RPG Illusion of l’Phalcia was immediately populated into the supported list of the Kishi app, but when I got in there, literally the only button that worked was A as a confirm. Everything else was completely dead. I happen to have that one on PS4, but it’s not exactly the greatest experience on PS4 and certainly not something I’d choose over the rest of my gaming backlog, so the fact Kishi doesn’t actually work as advertised as the first app I tried with it was immediately disappointing. It did work with Secret of Mana, but seeing as I rage quit Secret of Mana every time I manage to get mere minutes into the game, that’s not exactly a feature. It does work nicely with RPG Symphony of the Origin, but I’m playing that on Razer Forge and already have almost made up my lost progress that way, so that likewise is not the selling point it could be.

I think the biggest issue is that the Kishi app serves as nothing more than a storefront and as a storefront it’s simply not accurate or maintained. There are dead links to removed Final Fantasy titles and if they’re not going to actually keep track of what apps actually work with it or even major announcements of apps being pulled, I don’t really need the service. With MOGA, the app was your gateway to supported games AND using a controller with them. Kishi doesn’t even act as a controller interface and if I’m already just left to try the controller with whatever, it’s not really doing me any favors.

Otherwise, as for how it feels in the games for practical use, it’s… actually kind of hard to say how much of the jankiness is the games’ fault and how much is the controller’s. For the sake of argument, I’ll say that I didn’t have any real delay issues, but that was specifically never a real issue for me with Bluetooth controllers, and as such not the issue here given Kishi is, for lack of a better word, "wired." A better question is whether it’s "graceful" and that’s going to depend on the game, and unfortunately games that take full advantage of it are at a premium, though Soulcraft is thankfully one of them after trying a few out of my library, and, other than the Home button bafflingly not working despite there being immediate uses for the bumpers and all 4 face buttons, is actually quite a joy with it, inasmuch as it’s a joy. For a guy with wings, you’d think your character would be a bit more agile, but no, he kinda stomps around and movement being slow is just kind of a pain in any game, really. That’s its own review, though.

Something that did happen a bit was I found the half in my left hand came loose a bit during play due to me twisting my wrist, but since it was easy enough to twist back, it wasn’t the issue it could have been. You only can sacrifice so much screen real estate, and honestly, playing it my lap? It felt rock solid.

So is it worth it?

Is there a game you want to use a controller for on mobile? If so, and it supports HID controllers, then it’s probably worth it, at least at its current price of under US$50 including tax, or a little more for the Xbox edition. Certainly nothing I would’ve paid more than that for, though.

Though, strictly speaking, unless you already have a good list of games you’d want to use it with, it’s not worth having just on its own. I’d say the storefront has a "generous" number of games in it, some of them good ones, but "generous" is actually not that many all things considered depending on the types you want to play. It certainly has RPGs, but as I said, the storefront is at best outdated, so it’s not the selling point it could be.