Known for its enigmatic plotline, Kingdom Hearts is a franchise that frequently braves the line between outright confusion and child-like joyous behaviour as players continue to struggle with its complex story but happily put that to one side to enjoy the classic hack and slash gameplay and mesmeric world jumping the franchise so willingly and fruitfully provides.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue represents not only one hell of a mouthful as far as video game titles go, but also Square Enix’s final high-definition compilation before the arrival of Kingdom Hearts 3. 2.8 follows on from the HD releases of 1.5 and 2.5 for PS3, both of which are set to arrive on PS4 this Spring.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue: PS4 [Reviewed]
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 24 January 2017
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Whilst 1.5 and 2.5 respectively offered players in the West their first opportunity to experience versions of select titles never seen outside of Japan, 2.8‘s collection invites players to experience an all-new chapter, cinematic storytelling and a remaster, all seeking to set the stage for the long overdue arrival of a third installment more than 11 years after the release of Kingdom Hearts 2.
Not simply content with quenching players thirsts with the inclusion of 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, an entirely new chapter that follows on from 2010’s PSP title Birth by Sleep, 2.8 also boasts the remastering of fan favourite Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance along with a compilation of short cinematic videos by the name of Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, that retell the story of the Foretellers before the Keyblade War.
Kingdom Hearts comes with it a tough narrative that is both perplexing to follow or digest, a bewildering storyline that could comfortably keep you awake until the early hours as you attempt to defragment just what it all means, however, newcomers shouldn’t be swayed into avoiding what this collection has to offer. Players welcoming themselves to the wondrous and captivating world of Kingdom Hearts for the first time can find solace in 2.8 by simply indulging in of one of the franchises finest outings, and the collections only remaster – Dream Drop Distance, a perfect way to find your feet in an enchanting world that’s worth investing your time in, regardless of how puzzling it all might appear.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance is widely considered by fans of the franchise to be the best title and it’s easy to see just why. Previously released for Nintendo’s 3DS in 2012, Dream Drop Distance serves as a perfect platform for newcomers to Kingdom Hearts with players controlling the franchise’s main characters Sora and long time BFF Riku as the pair seek to refine their skills in preparation for the return of Master Xehanort, Kingdom Hearts main antagonist.
Although Mickey, Donald, Goofy and co appear throughout proceedings Disney’s finest sadly do not feature as party members, instead we get Dream Eaters, animals that act as both companion and enemy to the player with 2 different variants – Spirits and Nightmares, a step away from the games usual enemy – Heartless.
Spirits replace the loveable childhood staples and act as a form of companion that can be interacted with through touching, petting and feeding. Interaction is strongly encouraged as players look to build a close bond with their companion, and through the use of a fun minigame increase both player and Spirit stats to give you a better chance in combat.
My primary concern with a remastered version of Dream Drop Distance was in the way it would transition itself from dual-screen to large screen. Its very development saw Square Enix take full advantage of the 3DS’s functionality to offer players the best handheld experience possible at that time, and it was certainly interesting to see how the developer would bring across similar functions to the PS4 with a notable lack of touchscreen. Thankfully, though, the transition is easily managed with a restructured control scheme and the use of the d-Pad and X button to slow the action down, which makes Dream Drop‘s handling comfortable to understand.
Dream Drop Distance‘s gameplay feels seamless; a thoroughly enjoyable experience as players drop between Sora and Riku with ease and movement remains energetic as KH3D takes full advantage of Flowmotion’s inclusion to grind with style on rails ala Tony Hawk, vault to high points with the use of wall-jumps, and glide gracefully through the air in short bursts. The use of Flowmotion feels as fun as it is energetic, which is perfectly evident throughout the game’s many battles, that feel rewarding as players dash towards enemies with great power or averting enemy advances by darting back away quickly.
Graphically the 5-year-old handheld game feels slightly dated and clearly shows its age. Its level design suffers through transition significantly with open spaces left feeling slightly barren on the big screen. However, for newcomers and those yet to experience it because of Square Enix’s affinity to flirt between Sony and Nintendo, Dream Drop offers all of the world jumping so synonymous with Kingdom Hearts as players travel through to some of Disney’s greatest settings including La Cité des Cloches and my personal favourite – Pinocchio‘s Prankster’s Paradise. However, where it succeeds most is finally progressing Kingdom Hearts plotline forward for the first time in over a decade towards Kingdom Hearts 3.
While Dream Drop Distance will take up the bulk of your time invested with the compilation, A Fragmentary Passage offers something entirely new to the franchise. Following directly on from Birth by Sleep, Fragmentary Passage provides players with a completely new chapter that paints in the gaps of Keyblade Wielder Aqua’s history, as seen through her eyes. Graphically, Fragmentary Passage puts its fellow remastered brethren firmly in the shade with a gorgeous yet slightly depressing look and refreshing gameplay that serves up a small slither of what’s to come when Kingdom Hearts 3 finally graces our homes.
The stark contrast in tones between the worlds of Dream Drop and Fragmentary Passage couldn’t be more apparent. On one hand, we have Dream Drop which is fun, vibrant and exciting and on the other you get a murky, lifeless world drained of any punchy or uplifting colours; a complete polar opposite of Kingdom Hearts 2.8‘s remastered title. Devoid of all the positive life that makes Dream Drop such an entertaining and loveable experience, Fragmentary Passage does, however, introduce a compelling story that doesn’t dwell too long to become massively confusing, it also acts as a perfect bridge, connecting the stories of Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 3 together in fine fashion.
Completable in a little over three hours, Fragmentary Passage could conceivably be perceived as a teaser demo ahead of the release of Kingdom Hearts 3, and yet it contains raw emotion, brilliantly fleshing out Aqua’s character in eager anticipation of her much larger appearance in KH3. I thoroughly enjoyed the progression of the relationship shared between Aqua, Terra and Ventus as the heroine makes her way through the unforgiving Realm of Darkness, a realm weaved from a collection of all the darkness inside people from every world. In all, Fragmentary Passage is a lore filling journey that certainly adds some much-needed depth to the games main character.
Despite its short play time, Fragmentary Passage and Nomura elegantly teases players, offering long-time fans of the 15-year-old franchise the slightest of glimpses into the direction the famed director is taking us with Kingdom Hearts 3‘s combat, an improvement on an already pretty impeccable combat system. With lightning speed and unerring precision Aqua flows through combat scenarios with aplomb; dodging and dashing through the air with grace before luring enemies into execution in a way that feels both pleasing and exciting.
Fragmentary Passage not only plays out extremely well, leading directly into KH3 and filling in missing lore, it also looks utterly gorgeous, beautifully rendered with Unreal Engine 4. This is by far and away the greatest Kingdom Hearts has ever looked without the want or need to sacrifice the franchise’s iconic cartoon-esque look, and its very inclusion in this collection delivers the perfect pre-game treat to those who may be struggling to wait for Kingdom Hearts 3.
Lastly, we have the ugly duckling of the group, Back Cover χ, not a game but a collection of cutscenes that pre-date the Keyblade War. Again rendered beautifully with UE4, Back Cover χ takes events from the mobile and browser versions of Kingdom Hearts χ and presents them in beautiful cinematic form, a retelling of the “Foretellers”, or 5 of them to be more specific. Its very place in this collection feels rather strange, and while its appearance will largely appeal to fans of the mobile title, its runtime which leads to an ending that poses more questions than it gives answers leaves Back Cover χ more a miss than a hit and a largely forgettable experience as a whole.
The inclusion of Back Cover χ while gorgeously rendered and adding further lore to an already enriched franchise takes a lonely backseat to a remaster of a 5-year-old title and the emergence of a brand new chapter to a fantastic 15-year-old franchise. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue duly serves up some memorable moments with Fragmentary Passage, a rich and beautiful experience that, while short on gameplay fills in the blanks of Aqua’s story whilst showcasing great things to come, and Dream Drop Distance, a remastering of a popular 3DS title that allows PS4 players to experience the fun and frolics of Sora and Riku for the first time before Kingdom Hearts 3. If 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a sign of things to come, we’re all in for a very exciting showdown between Dark and Light.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue
- Dream Drop Distance finally on console
- Fragmentary Passage offers refreshing, refined combat
- Fragmentary Passage and Back Cover X look beautifully rendered with the use of UE4
- Flowmotion is a joy to experience
- Back Cover X does little to benefit newcomers, posing more questions than answers
- Fragmentary Passage while beautiful is ultimately short
- Dream Drop's level design suffers on transition to big screen