First things first, before putting that Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (here forth referred to as KH2.8) into your PlayStation, you are going to want to re-familiarise yourself with its storyline. Yes, the storyline that has stretched over 15 years, across 6 different gaming platforms, with every title adding more to the in-depth, and let’s be honest, confusing-at-times plot.
To be transparent, I’m a massive Kingdom Hearts fan. Ever since it’s release in 2002 I have been hooked to its button-bashing gameplay, beautiful cutscenes, deep storyline and that sweet, sweet tune that is ‘Simple and Clean’. Having such passion for this franchise I wanted to make sure I looked at KH2.8 with a level head; love is blind and all that. However, after playing through for the purposes of this review, I stepped away feeling confused, excited, frustrated and happy…in true Kingdom Hearts style, there are now so many more questions unanswered.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue features a collection of titles: Dream Drop Distance, Birth by Sleep 0.2 – A Fragmentary Passage, and Kingdom Hearts X[chi] Back Cover. As a tip I would play through them as the welcome menu suggests – Dream Drop, Birth by Sleep 0.2 and then Back Cover.Dream Drop Distance is a full-HD remastered version of the 2012 title released on Nintendo 3DS. It picks up after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2 with the franchise’s protagonists, Sora and Riku, taking on the Mark of Mastery exam in preparation for the coming threats (essentially what we will see in Kingdom Hearts 3).
The first noticeable element of Dream Drop was that it is indeed a 3DS port, with my biggest strife coming from the controls. Don’t get me wrong, Square Enix have done a great job taking a game from a two-screened handheld device to a home console, but the controls are still locked off to their original mapping. For instance, target lock on an enemy is triggered by the R1 button, but to change targets you must hold R1 and use the left analog stick to select another enemy. What are you complaining about Jake? Well when you have 10 enemies flying around you, attacking in every direction, instead of an easy tap of R2 (like it’s brother and sister titles), you must now sacrifice your movement to switch the lock to the desired enemy, resulting in a number of smacks to the face and lose of health. Not a big deal I know, but it still would have been nice to include an extended control map specifically for the PS4 remaster. But to be fair, this was my only gripe.
It was refreshing seeing the introduction of new combat and traversal mechanics, such as Flow Motion and Reality Shift, which at first were odd in comparison to previous titles, but the more I played the more I began to enjoy and combine the two with the standard combat elements to be rid of enemies at a surprising pace. The game utilizes a “Drop” system that has you switch between Sora’s and Riku’s perspective of the world’s events. I believe this would have played out well on the 3DS and the time frame you’d play for on a handheld, but on the PS4, it creates more time pressure to complete tasks and get to a save point, before it forces a switch to the other character. This, however, aided in the pace of the game.
Dream Drop Distance is by far the title amongst the three that you’ll spend the most hours playing. It’s fun and introduces a lot of different combat and traversal mechanics not seen in other titles, as well as providing a substantial gameplay experience in this collection.Birth By Sleep 0.2 – A Fragmentary Passage was the title of the collection I was most looking forward to. It is a completely new episode in the series that links the story to the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3 and takes place after the events which occurred in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, released on the PSP in 2010.
Throughout the game, we play from the perspective of Aqua, who after sacrificing herself to save her friends, Terra and Ven, walks the plains of the Dark World (a Disney version of hell you could say). In true Kingdom Hearts fashion, the story highlights the war between good and evil – the light versus the dark – and for Aqua we witness her doing this both physically against Heartless as well as internally as she battles her inner demons. It was definitely a story I appreciated more after completing the game and reflected upon, however, at the time of play-through, seemed a little disjointed and messy within the series timeline. The episode (what we play through as Aqua) links with the original Kingdom Hearts game – and due to spoilers I won’t say how, but it is also a retelling from King Mickey who is sharing the story after the events of Dream Drop Distance – the last game in the current timeline (yes it’s confusing, it took me a while to piece that together). It’s not an enriching story, but very much ties a bow on a lot of loose ends and sets up character motives for Kingdom Hearts 3.
Apart from the story, Birth By Sleep 0.2 introduced us to the beautiful, new look of the Unreal 4 engine on top of some gameplay elements I hope they continue in Kingdom Hearts 3. Graphically it is stunning. I spent the first few minutes of gameplay staring at all the little details in the surrounding landscape, brick work of the first town and saying phrases like “Damn!” and “Ooh that’s nice!” at the smoke, particle and lighting effects. It gave a taste of what I hope Kingdom Hearts 3 will look like, and I’m excited! I also loved the somewhat trivial addition of the customizable wardrobe. A list of objectives is available within the pause menu, which once achieving one will unlock a new item of clothing you can equip to Aqua. Her head, arm, back, material textures and colours all have unlockable items, which really allow you to parade around your own personal style – if you must know my final look boasted a set of Minnie Mouse ears, Tron-like pixie wings and some dope gradient colour textures I designed myself (I’m available for fashion work). Situation Commands was another mechanic presented, which I found very similar to Kingdom Hearts 2’s Form Drive. Essentially a special move or fighting style would become available (activated via the Triangle button) dependent on your combat style – magic heavy or keyblade driven. This definitely had you thinking about your move sets and how you would approach certain battles as some enemies were easier to pick off with a quick acquisition of a magic situation command like giant fireball explosions, or whether you needed the extra combos achievable with the mechanic’s transformation in fighting style, like Spell Weaver.
The best way I can describe Birth By Sleep 0.2 for anyone thinking about getting this collection is that it’s a great experience, not game. It’s short in length (about 3 hours), the combat is fun and new ways to play are engaging, however, there isn’t much to it. Majority of the time, you’re fighting the same enemy types and even the boss battles are against the same character. The story like mentioned is a bit all over the place, with the main and most important plot points occurring in the very beginning and very end of the episode. But even with all that, it is worth the play through for any Kingdom Hearts fan and those anticipating Kingdom Hearts 3.
Lastly, we come to the movie in the collection, Kingdom Hearts X[chi] Back Cover. Back Cover tells the mysterious story of the Foretellers, and evidently how the historical event of the Keyblade War came to be…well kind of. Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time reviewing movies, so I’m going to keep this brief and start off by saying…huh?
If you were like me and hoping this addition to KH2.8 would finally help you understand how the Keyblade War came to be and how the world survived the fallout, well you might as well put that hope back in the drawer next to your hopes for the Kingdom Hearts 3 release date, because that ain’t happening. Once again without spoilers, this movie is (if anything) a collection of cutscenes all highlighting the 6 apprentices of the Master – a man (who is dressed in an Organisation XIII black coat, yet you really learn nothing about) who can see into the future, and therefore foresees the Keyblade War. You witness conflict amongst the 5 apprentices (the 6th is not present till the last scene) but never truly understand what causes the historical event that is literally spoken about in every Kingdom Hearts game in existence. What makes things worst is just as it seems to be leading into an epic final showdown after finding out more about the 6th apprentice (who also dons a black coat), it ends. Yep. It literally ends with like 6 billion cliffhangers…maybe an exaggeration but still. This is a movie that will answer some questions, but prompt more. What you (and I) need to do is then download Kingdom Hearts X[Chi] Unchained on your mobile to (what I believe) get the full story. Once again, thank you Square Enix for spreading your entire storyline across a billion different platforms…ok sorry, again an exaggeration.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 – Final Chapter Prologue left we with even more questions when I was hoping it would answer the ones I had. However, upon reflection, I think it’s important to see what this HD collection is, a prologue. I mean it says it in the name. It works beautifully to set up what will surely be the biggest and most anticipated game in the series franchise once Kingdom Hearts 3 finally releases. It allows for fans to engage with a game they may not have been able to play previously with Dream Drop Distance, it links together a previously distant story from the original game in Birth By Sleep 0.2 on top of setting up characters and plot points for the final game, and, I hope, Back Cover was an addition to help link and explain some of the earliest parts of the series’ history with events we will see play out in Kingdom Hearts 3. All in all, KH2.8 is worth the experience for any Kingdom Hearts fan and I look forward to piecing more of the story together and enjoying more of the series’ back catalogue with the other two remixes set to release early this year.