I’ve got a lot of love for the Kingdom Hearts series. Ever since catching my first glance of the Final Fantasy/Disney crossover universe I’ve been hooked, with the action-focused RPG gameplay giving me hundreds upon hundreds of hours of joy over the years. It’s been over ten years since we last got a mainline entry in the series though, but thankfully that wait will be coming to and end soon with the upcoming release of Kingdom Hearts III.
Still, with no confirmed release date fans have been itching to get some Keyblade action and thankfully Square Enix have delivered with another remastered release of Kingdom Hearts titles in the form of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. For the first time in awhile though we actually get to play something brand new, with 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage giving us a look into the future of the series. There’s also another remastered portable entry to play through as well as a cinematic experience to watch too, giving plenty of content for Kingdom Hearts fans to sink their teeth into.
Much like Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix gave non-portable owners the opportunity to play through a previously handheld exclusive title, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue lets gamers tackle the Nintendo 3DS’ Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. As was the case with Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix, this could essentially be regarded as the definitive release of the title with enhanced visuals that look slick and shiny on modern consoles, a constant and impressive 60fps, as well as controls that have been refined to better suit a console controller.
Whilst Dream Drop Distance offers more of the same that we’ve come to expect from the Kingdom Hearts series, there are some neat new additions that help spice up the formula. The new ‘Flowmotion’ combat mechanic sees protagonists Sora and Riku utilising the environment around them as they dash aerially across walls and ceilings to take out the countless Dream Eaters (this game’s villains). It adds a greater sense of mobility to combat, which is pretty impressive seeing as it already sets the bar high for frantic action-packed battles against large groups of foes. Being able to attack from almost all angles just adds a greater sense of excitement and oomph to the whole thing. It all comes naturally too, with these new expert moves looking slick but simply requiring a simple press of a button to perform.
Whilst the aforementioned Dream Eaters are your foes in the game, some of them will also become your allies and take on the roles that were previously (and affectionately) owned by Goofy, Donald, and the assortment of Disney characters you’d meet on your adventures. It’s a pretty noticeable change not to see the lovable pair by Sora’s side throughout the adventure, but the Dream Eaters still have a very welcome presence – something that’s boosted by the game’s new Chao Garden-esque nurturing gameplay elements. Sure, it’s not as intimate an experience as Sonic Adventure’s legendary mini-game, but you’ll still look after them and train them up to take into battle with you. I’ve always been a sucker for this sort of thing in video games, so the fact that the benefits of looking after them carry over to the main game simply makes it all the more worthwhile.
Dream Drop Distance takes us to all new worlds, with familiar Disney faces such as Quasimodo and the Three Musketeers making their debut in the series. You’ll also get to head back to Traverse Town, which is always an absolute pleasure and as pleasant to explore as it has ever been. There’s also the presence of characters from Square Enix RPG The World Ends With You, giving us a change to the usual cast of Final Fantasy veterans that we’re used to.
Whilst the new worlds look and feel great, like previous handheld entries in the series there’s often a sense of emptiness about them. There are areas that are packed with detail and things to see, but most of the time it feels like you’re exploring a series of open areas that have been designed simply with combat in mind as opposed to offering things to see. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially with the enhanced mechanics offered by ‘Flowmotion’, but the mainline entries have often prided themselves on giving us these luscious lands full of things to uncover. Still, the game deserves some credit for all of the nods it gives to Disney’s history – no matter how obscure that reference might seem…
Dream Drop Distance gives newbies to the series the chance to catch up on the story of the previous Kingdom Hearts games through the unlockable Chronicles. If I was being honest, it’s something series veterans might also appreciate – I’ve played through every title since Kingdom Hearts’ inception and these Chronicles were a benefit to me too. I’ve often been guilty of hitting the Kingdom Hearts Wikipedia page ahead of playing one of the games as an attempt to keep up with the often baffling storyline, so these extra chunks of detailed lore straight from the source helped enhance my knowledge of the story.
Besides the lengthy Dream Drop Distance, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue also includes 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, offering players the chance to take control of Aqua in the aftermath of the events of Birth By Sleep. I’m not going to go into story details because it’ll spoil the fairly short experience – let’s just say it’s a nice addition that builds up to Kingdom Hearts III without actually revealing a whole lot of what’s going to come in the eagerly anticipated follow-up.
When 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage was initially revealed I had a small sense of disappointment; Aqua was always my least favourite protagonist to use of the trio available in Birth By Sleep due to her magic-focused combat style (all about the offense for me) so using her again didn’t really excite me. It was a pleasant surprise then that I’ve found her such a joy to use 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, though it’s probably owed to the fact that the combat mechanics of the game have been vastly improved on both a technical and visual basis. It’s almost as if everything has been fine-tuned to the nth degree, with elements mixed in from multiple Kingdom Hearts entries to offer what could be the finest combat system available in any of the games yet. Of course, the fact that you’re given Aqua at a very high level and that she is super powerful helps too, but it does leave me incredibly excited for what’s to come in Kingdom Hearts III.
The short running time of 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage was actually the game’s only real downfall, with it easily finished in around three hours. It wasn’t the fact it’s so short that bothered me though, but rather that it meant I subconsciously treated the game as a demo for Kingdom Hearts III, akin to the likes of Gran Turisimo Prologue, as opposed to its own game. It felt like the appetiser before the main course, leaving me excited for what’s to come in the future as opposed to what I was playing now. I’ll admit that it’s probably a little unfair to treat the game that way, but after waiting so long for a new mainline entry in the series it’s something a lot of fans might feel. That’s not to say that 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage isn’t fun though, because you’ll certainly have a good time playing through it.
Visually 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage looks absolutely stunning. Despite a plethora of Kingdom Hearts games getting remastered and re-released on last gen consoles, this is the first time since 2005’s Kingdom Hearts II that a game in the series has been developed first hand for a current piece of hardware. The result is the best looking entry in the series yet – whether you’re in combat, simply looking at the environment, or admiring all of the different character models, everything looks utterly fantastic. It’s got me really excited for the potential of the worlds we’ll get to explore in Kingdom Hearts III. With a wealth of fantastic IPs in the Disney back catalogue (I’m still crossing my fingers for a Star Wars world), the possibilities are endless.
To complete the package is Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, which much like the previous remasters offers a cinematic experience that’ll fill you in on the story featured in mobile game Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ. It’s an enjoyable watch that goes into great detail about the lore behind everything in the world of Kingdom Hearts. What’s different this time though is that it’s set before everything that’s occurred in any of the games, offering a deeper look into the world and the events that took place leading up to the Keyblade War. It’s a real eye-opener and goes into levels of depth with the series’ lore that hasn’t been present in any of the mainline games.
Whilst I really enjoyed Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, it’s essentially just a very long in-game cutscene. It does a good job of showing off the graphical prowess of the new engine and offers a great feeling of depth with its story, but it’s not the most action-packed experience and I’d only really recommend it to die-hard Kingdom Hearts fans.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is another worthy collection of games in the Kingdom Hearts series, giving console gamers the chance to play through the enjoyable Dream Drop Distance whilst also giving us a taste of what’s to come with the all new 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage.
Whilst I’d probably consider it the weakest of the remastered collections that have been released so far for the series, it still maintains the high quality we’ve come to expect from Kingdom Hearts games – it just doesn’t have a mainline entry to give it that special touch. One thing it does though is show us the direction the direction that the series is going to take with the upcoming release of Kingdom Hearts III, and if the three hour tease 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage offers is anything to go by we’ve got a lot to be excited for.
Veteran Kingdom Hearts fans will find a lot to love with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, whilst those simply excited to see what’s coming in Kingdom Hearts III will enjoy what they see here too – another charming RPG experience from the masterminds at Square Enix and Disney.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 24/01/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4