Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue Review
Author: M.S.
System: PS4

September 17, 2002. I remember it like it was just yesterday. After first reading the previous year that Square Enix (Squaresoft at the time) and Disney would be joining forces to bring us an action role playing game akin to classics such as Secret of Mana, I couldn’t have been more excited. Melding together two of my great loves, Final Fantasy and classic Disney animation, the aptly named Kingdom Hearts became something only the craziest of dreamers could have imagined and quickly became my most anticipated game ever.

That fateful Autumn day, I – a high school freshman – rushed to my local game store the moment the school bell rang, proceeded to wait almost 2 hours for the owner to come back with his weekly game shipment and finally held up proudly my copy of the game. I was so overjoyed, I was barely halfway running through the park adjacent to my house before I couldn’t take it anymore – I ripped open the packaging and feasted my eyes on the disc inside. The game was a masterpiece and one of the most important games of my childhood. Three and a half years later when its sequel arrived, I remember hearing that exact same bell, waiting that exact same wait at the game store, and making that exact same run through the park, culminating in the exact same lack of patience that led to me prematurely opening the game.

Now that I’m finished that story, you might be wondering what does any of this have to do with anything? It’s very easy. If any of you can relate to this tale or have similarly been influenced greatly by this series, than you already know whether this game is for you – that would be a resounding yes. For everybody else though, that’s an entirely different question and it depends on what you relation to or interest in this series as a whole. I hate judging games by their value proposition, but Kingdom Hearts 2.8 will only be as valuable to gamers as what’s included in the package.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, is as expansive in name as its breath of titles included in its compilation. With 2.8 you get 3 different experiences that span the very beginning of the Kingdom Hearts timeline to its most recent point. Included are the movie Kingdom Hearts Chi – Back Cover, the HD re-master of the Nintendo 3DS game Dream Drop Distance, and 0.2 Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage.190d1fb0e52f5336b03beab339b2a8625c2828ffee68cf1d592f02b2e3d05e7b_large

The least interesting in the package is Back Cover, the film adaptation of the mobile game of the same name, which has been beautifully rendered in the Unreal 4 Engine. It tells the story of the Foretellers, champions tasked with preparing the world for the impending calamity of the Keyblade War and its aftermath.

At around 60 minutes, it gives some insight into the world’s earliest history, but it overstays its welcome with stilted dialogue and some inconsistent performances. It is also hard to follow at times and unless you are really hardcore into the mythos of the series or played the mobile game, you might just find yourself lost – at least there is a chapter select in case you want to re-watch any scenes. In a series that has gone off the rails when it comes to the story, it’s at least told in a mostly straightforward manner. Though if you are expecting it to explain a lot of the series unanswered mysteries, just be forewarned it opens up just as many questions as it seems to answer.13

The biggest piece in the collection and the only full-length adventure is the HD re-master of the side game Dream Drop Distance. The story takes place directly after Kingdom Hearts 2, Sora and Riku are on their way to begin their Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade Masters and take on Xehanort, but before doing this they must find the Seven Sleeping Keyholes by both travelling to sleeping worlds formed from the projections of dreams that are harnessed by the light and darkness blah blah blah. The story is easily the most convoluted in a series, which has more holes than Sora has “friends”. As someone who has played through every single game in the series multiple times, I am still confused as to what the hell is going on and what significance it has on the overall series narrative. If you have never played a Kingdom Hearts game and are someone who appreciates a well thought out or at least passable story, this is not a great game to start off with.

This becomes an incredibly different story when it comes down to gameplay as Dream Drop Distance is just as fun to play now, as it was when it first debuted in 2012. The game introduces many new mechanics to the series including the Flowmotion battle system and Dream Eaters – who act as both the game’s friends and foes.

Flowmotion adds an element of Parkour to the series staple action battle system, allowing either Sora or Riku to bounces off walls, swing around poles or even enemies and perform all sort of gravity-defying combos. It’s fast and fluid and adds a new layer of depth and strategy to gameplay.

Dream Eaters on the other hand replace the Disney-borne sidekicks of past titles for cute animal-like critters. You can raise them akin to Pokemon or Tamagotchi by feeding, petting and playing a variety of mini games. As the game progresses you find dream pieces and recipes, which allows you to create new Dream Eaters for your party – which can house up to 3 at one time. They are an essential element to gameplay as not only can help you fight, as they level up they also unlock abilities via skill trees for your main character. It becomes fun and addictive to see just how many different creatures you can nab yourself and the rewards justify the effort put in.

While there are very few new reasons for a veteran player to come back for seconds, this re-master is far from being just another rush job. The HD overhaul given to Dream Drop Distance is spectacular especially in 4K on a PS4 Pro. Colors just pop off the screen just like they did (literally) in the 3DS and it really showcases the strong art direction of the game and series in general. This is especially true for the Dream Eaters designs, whose neon-soaked, rave-like aesthetic bizarrely meshes perfectly with the soft cartoon shading featured in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. It truly is a sight to behold and even more impressive given the fact this is coming from a game that was released on the hardware equivalent of two generations prior. It is also refreshing to see a Kingdom Hearts game now run at 60FPS as well.

On top of the graphical update, we also get a few quality of life improvements as well. The Reality Shift system, – world specific, special attack prompts that can be activated during combat – which was relegated to the touch screen on the 3DS, can now be activated by simultaneously pressing triangle and square and the analog stick now acts as the Stylus. This new method works wonder as it frees you from having to use the PS4’s touchpad and speeds up the process without losing any accuracy. Touch is still used for some of the Dream Eater training mini games and unfortunately it’s transition to the PS4 touchpad in this case is not as smooth, with inconsistent touch recognition ruining a lot of the finesse these side activities take.maxresdefault

This leaves us with 0.2 Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage, which is the most important piece in the collection and its biggest selling point. It essentially acts as a 3 hour sequel to Birth by Sleeps as well as a prelude to Kingdom Hearts 3, but most importantly, it is the first taste of what next gen Kingdom Hearts will look and feel like.

The story takes place directly following the secret ending of Birth by Sleep as we get to continue our adventure as Aqua. She finds herself trapped in the Realm of Darkness, a place created from the manifestations of darkness in people’s hearts. Here, she must find away to escape lest her dark thoughts consume her. The narrative is not the most interesting; leaning heavily on expository introspection and it is not helped by the fact that, like many games in the franchise, the dialogue is very on the nose. It’s almost as if they directly translated the spoken Japanese into English without embracing the culture’s varying colloquialisms. That’s to say, it becomes very stale hearing about the light and the darkness for the 50th time and on multiple occasions, I could feel my eyes glazing over. The actual pacing of the narrative itself is actually well done and simplified, which is a saving grace compared to Dream Drop Distance, and the ending, without spoiling anything, is especially satisfying and serves as really cool callback for fans. We even get an epilogue that leads directly into Kingdom Hearts 3 and as I reached the end of my time with 0.2, I found myself very excited for where the series is going next.

Where the game shines the most is in its gameplay and level design. The battle system is pretty much carried over from Birth By Sleep, allowing you to chain together magic spells and physical attacks in hopes of gaining extra attacks through situation prompts. Where this prologue differs is in the fluidity. Switching between attacks and magic is incredibly smooth as Aqua moves gracefully through waves of heartless. She even has some new moves that are as surprising as they are exciting. Casting Blizzard, for example, not only allows you to attack enemies but can also form a rail from which Aqua can grind to get across the battlefield quicker.

The camera for the most part does its job just fine, even when the action is getting hot and heavy. While it will never be perfect for any action game, which focuses on lightening quick movement and speed, it is never as egregious as some other games in the genre – I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XV.

The level design is also excellent. Environments are not only varied and detailed, but are chock full of secrets and have an impressive sense of verticality that was missing from the cramped corridors of earlier titles. There are even some clever environmental puzzles that will have you scratching your head. If this is a small taste of what we can expect from Kingdom Hearts 3, I think we will be in store for something special.

The game looks absolutely stunning and after two console generations, it definitely is a jump up in quality. Character models and animations are great, particle effects from magic light up the screen brilliantly, and the framerate even runs at a higher clip than the series standard 30FPS – though it dips and dives frequently. While character models do look great, my only complaint would be that they could stand to use a little more cartoon shading as they suffer at times from that “plastic” look.

Speaking of character designs, for the first time in the series you can now customize your character. Throughout the prologue you will be tasked with challenges, that when completed, will unlock accessory pieces to decorate Aqua with – such as Minnie Mouse’s Bow. This gives a lot of replay value to the game’s standard 2-3 affair and if you want to see everything that’s on offer, it could take you upwards of 6-8 hours to get every last treasure chest and accessory.

Rating: 3.5/5

 With Kingdom Hearts 3 on the horizon, it is easy at looking at Kingdom Hearts 2.8 as nothing more than a cash grab – and I couldn’t really blame you. It might be non-essential for anybody other than the series faithful, but that doesn’t make it any less of an enjoyable package.

Back Cover might be filler for some, but it has its moments and Dream Drop Distance HD is a superb remaster of a very fun, if unnecessary title in the series canon. And while the showpiece, 0.2 A Fragmentary Passage, is a brief experience compared to full-length titles, its quality is so excellent that I’m more than satisfied with the experience. If you are new to the series or want more bang for your buck, wait for the release of 1.5/2.5 Re-master in a couple months. For those who can’t wait to get their first taste of next gen Kingdom Hearts, just know you get a pretty good game to go with your demo.

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