Originally published on PlayStation Wire on February 10, 2017. PlayStation Wire is no longer active, so I have republished the review here for myself. If you would like to see the original post, check out the Web Archive.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (a name that makes absolute perfect sense, I swear) is a look at the foundation on which Kingdom Hearts 3 will be built. The culmination of the portable titles, a narrative gap lost in the shuffle of apps, and a brand new chapter come together to mark the cornerstones of the Disney-filled JRPG that will be Kingdom Hearts 3.
It has been a whopping 11 years since a proper numbered Kingdom Hearts game was released, with each spin-off tale in the interim weaving a more detailed tapestry that will be culminated with Kingdom Hearts 3. My patience —and exasperation— with the series’ seemingly endless amount of titles not called “Kingdom Hearts 3” is well documented. I can’t be too ungrateful though – my favorite title in the series, Birth by Sleep, was born out of these spin-off portable titles.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue marks the final portable title being ported to console, with the 3DS entry Dream Drop Distance heading to the PlayStation 4, fully upscaled in 1080p 60fps. This collection also features HD cutscenes of a new narrative based on the mobile game, Kingdom Hearts Unchained X. Finally, rounding out the bundle is the brand new content – brace yourselves – Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage-. As fans wait with bated breath for the true next installment, this latest collection offers a glimpse at Kingdom Hearts 3 and boy-o does it look swell.
3D to HD
Dream Drop Distance was the last fully fledged Kingdom Hearts title. Made for the 3DS, it is great to see the game become more accessible to players who never picked up Nintendo’s latest handheld. It has been given the full visual upgrade, and that fluid performance lends itself incredibly well to the game’s Flowmotion navigation. The ability to jump, grind, and fly around environments has reached its fullest potential and couldn’t be more fun to play with.
Combat is a toned down version of the mechanics found in Birth By Sleep. The command deck is present, but without the ability to fuse moves. I imagine this decision was made to allow Flowmotion to shine in combat, but it would have been nice to get a little deeper with the combinations.
Another key component to Dream Drop Distance is the addition of Dream Eaters. These take the place of both enemies you fight and your partners in combat. They are adorabl, oddly colored creatures typically based on real animals. Unfortunately, since the only difference between good and bad Dream Eaters is their color scheme, I found it easy to confuse which one was my partner and which was the enemy. Ultimately, it feels like Square Enix tried their take on Pokémon, but ended up with Spectrobes.
Reminiscent of Nintendogs or the newer Pokémon games, you can also take care of and “bond” with your Dream Eaters. This involves petting or feeding the Dream Eater so its stats can level up. This was a passable mini game on the 3DS, due to the portable touch screen nature, but when the game walked me through the tutorial on the big screen, I couldn’t press X fast enough. This started revealing the cracks in bringing the entry to the big screen.
Another cost of it originally being a portable game is that the worlds in Dream Drop Distance lack any life. While the game may look top notch technically, the environments are barren with very little to do. The game feels like getting from point A to B without anything interesting to look at in between. In the end, it’s a treat to have such a strong portable entry on the PS4, but bringing it to TVs definitely highlights its flaws.
The cutscene-only Back Cover helps flesh out the narrative introduced with the free mobile game, Unchained X. It covers the origin of the Keyblade War, the Foretellers and the factions that ultimately started it. I am personally a huge fan of prequels, Birth By Sleep is my favorite title in part because of its prequel nature, but the story in Back Cover didn’t strike me as essential. In fact, I didn’t fully grasp the narrative’s importance told over the course of roughly 60 minutes until I re-watched the Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer from E3 2015. It really does feel like the back of a cover or an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.
The movie is quite gripping visually though. Using Unreal Engine 4 and the Kingdom Hearts 3 shader, this is a great taste for the cutscenes and visuals we should expect in Kingdom Hearts 3. No scene is dull, with environments rich in detail and color. The voice acting could have been a tad better though, as it come off as cheesy more often than not.
Ultimately, Back Cover is a nice addition to both the collection and the series, especially for those that didn’t dig into the mobile game, but it doesn’t feel necessary. Just how important it is remains to be seen whenever the next proper game is released.
Where Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue shines is in its brand spanking new content: Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage-. This three to four hour chapter in the Kingdom Hearts saga is an absolute delight, using the full Kingdom Hearts 3 engine to give players a true taste of what is to come. It is essentially to Kingdom Hearts 3 what Ground Zeroes was to The Phantom Pain.
Taking concurrently with Kingdom Hearts 1 and with framing after Dream Drop Distance, the narrative fills in one of the final holes left for the saga. Aqua’s time in the Realm of Darkness, alluded to in Birth by Sleep’s secret ending, is detailed in a heart-wrenching way. After her sacrifice in Birth By Sleep, watching Aqua’s determined spirit deteriorate over time is upsetting to say the least. As she drifts further and further into darkness, one of the most personal tales in the series weaves itself beautifully. This is a story that matters to fans.
Speaking of the Realm of Darkness, if darkness looks this good then I don’t want to go in the light. A Fragmentary Passage is stunning to look at, with its shadowy twisted takes on previous worlds being totally captivating. I wanted to soak up every detail in each world – the franchise has never looked so good and yet it still captured the magic of Disney’s worlds and characters.
When it comes to wielding the Keyblade, it becomes clear which fusion of combat systems Square Enix has decided to go with for Kingdom Hearts 3. A blend of Kingdom Hearts 2’s magic system with a dash of Birth By Sleep’s Action Commands is the formula they have landed on, and I am personally disappointed. Reverting back to the magic bar from Kingdom Hearts 2 feels like a step backward in customization and strategy. I always felt the command deck offered the best solution by providing the ability to stack your deck and have a recharging element.
Thankfully, it is not the button mashing fest Kingdom Hearts 2 could be. Strategy is still present with different combat forms you can take. By using a certain move so many times or a combination of skills, Aqua can take on a variety of combat forms that add more power and unlock new moves. I am glad to see these aspects carried over from the portable games.
Customization plays a different role outside of combat this time around, too. For the first time in the series, players can customize the physical appearance of their character, beyond the different forms in Kingdom Hearts 2. By completing in-game objectives, players can unlock hats, patterns, wings and arm bands all to make Aqua look how they wish. It is a fun addition that I am stoked to try out on Sora, Donald, and Goofy, assuming it makes the transition. The new in-game objectives also speak to the inner completionist in me and expand the way I approach fights. I need 20 Thundara kills to unlock this pattern? Easy. These are a welcome addition that shake up the way I typically play a Kingdom Hearts game.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a fitting conclusion to the series of ports, seeing the entire saga immortalized in HD. The name is just obnoxious enough and still makes perfect sense (I swear it does!), while the three parts give both long time fans and people playing catch-up a reason to dive in. It offers a delightful appetizer for Kingdom Hearts 3 and with no more narrative gaps left, we can all resume holding our breath in anticipation for the conclusion to the Xehanort Saga.
- Visuals across the board are striking
- Finally filling the narrative gaps
- A satisfying taste of Kingdom Hearts 3
- Caring for Dream Eaters
- Dream Drop Distance worlds barren
- Wonky voice acting in Back Cover