I’ll admit that I was conflicted when the original Kingdom Hearts came out. I loved Square Enix RPGs, but I had long ago decided that I could never like anything with Disney’s child-friendly characters. Darkwing Duck and all that were fine, just not Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. But since you could visit the land of Hercules – one of my favourite Disney movies due to James Woods’ take on Hades – I gritted my teeth and bought it. I’ll freely admit that I loved it, and Kingdom Hearts II even more so. However, when it came to the spin offs, the only one I played was Chain of Memories on the Game Boy Advance.
In case you’re reading this without knowing a thing about Kingdom Hearts, it follows the story of a kid called Sora, as he quests to defeat the evil beings known as the Heartless who are taking the hearts of worlds, leaving only darkness. He teams up with a variety of Disney characters, from Aladdin, to Simba, to characters from Tron, through two main adventures and numerous spin offs. There are other original characters (and Final Fantasy ones), and his childhood friends, as well as the very slow build up of an overarching narrative.
That’s where 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue comes in. Since the work is well and truly in progress on Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix want to make as much out of the franchise as possible. 2.8 brings the final spin-off up to date with HD graphics and a little vocal re-recording, as well as a new adventure and a movie.
You get access to the 3DS spin off Dream Drop Distance, as well as a new adventure set after the PSP’s Birth By Sleep, and a movie which is basically the content in the mobile title Unchained χ. Fun fact, χ stands for “key”.
As with the HD ReMix titles, you get to choose which game you play when you load it up. Two games and a movie, in any order – though playing them in order will give you more insight into events in each one, and replaying them after gives even more. There’s a curious thing, when you press triangle, it brings up a box of Sharing Restrictions – basically you’re expressly forbidden from streaming the game for the express purpose of listening to the music. I love the music, but YouTube has tons of it… The console will also not allow you to take screenshots or video at certain points during the games.
Dream Drop Distance, as mentioned before, appeared on the 3DS a couple of years ago where it was cheekily called Kingdom Hearts 3D (because it was on 3DS and the title had three Ds, get it?). It’s been updated graphically, and the controls too. Since there’s no second screen, there’s now a minimap in the top corner, but as I didn’t play the original, I can’t comment on whether there are any big changes other than the graphics, but it’s quite a fun game. The addition of spirit beasts that follow you around, and have to be cared for to level up all feels very Digimon World, but I’m happy to welcome new mechanics to the action roleplaying that the franchise is known for. Combat is enhanced with a new movement mechanic and the aforementioned Spirits, but it suffers from giving you a moveset, like the cards in Chain of Memories. You have to put the moves you want to use into the deck, although you can switch between them – but if you don’t put a potion in and you need one, or worse you have potions and use one by accident… It can get frustrating. Another frustration is the acting from some of the non-Disney characters. At least the new enemy types are visually interesting.
The new game, Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, takes place after the events of Birth By Sleep, and is pretty much a preview of what Kingdom Hearts III will be. I had some issues with framerates near the beginning, but couldn’t get it to repeat. Combat is similar to Kingdom Hearts II, with Attack, Magic and Items, but Aqua has some new abilities which are pretty cool. When you’ve built up enough of a combo, your final move decides what kind of ‘bonus’ move you get to use, such as a huge lightning blast. There is also a move you can pull when you’ve built up the bar enough, which locks onto multiple targets and decimates them.
A bit of an ‘oh, Japan…’ feature was being able to dress up Aqua with different designs on her costume, cat ears – that kind of thing. You unlock new clothing by completing challenges, such as killing a certain amount of one enemy type. A Fragmentary Passage runs roughly two and a half hours, and the story is pretty sharp – I definitely enjoyed it more than Dream Drop Distance on the whole, but that may be because it felt more like Kingdom Hearts II than 3D did. You can even replay it as there’s a New Game+, to help get all of her clothing accessories and even 100% it.
Without going into too much detail, Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover tells the tale of the original Keyblade Masters, leading up to just before the Keyblade War which has been alluded to throughout the series’ history. Newcomers to the series won’t get anything out of it, and it runs about an hour and a half which I felt was a little long for what was basically cutscenes stuck together. There were clear jumps between each one, even when there wasn’t a title card. It didn’t help that the acting was hardly the best that Kingdom Hearts has ever known...
As a package, I’ll admit that it doesn’t feel as big as Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX did. It runs about half as long as a package, which is well shy of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX total runtime. It is nice to get more backstory, and a great peek at Kingdom Hearts III in the gameplay of Fragmentary Passage, but one and a half games plus a feature length cutscene make this the odd one out.
What is here is certainly worth it for a fan of the series, however. Dream Drop Distance might not be the most straightforward game, but it is different enough that – if you didn’t play it on 3DS – it is worth checking out now. Similarly, if you haven’t played the mobile Unchained χ then you will learn more about the overall storyline. Finally, I’ll say it again, Fragmentary Passage is really good, and it shows off what is to come in Kingdom Hearts III the same way that Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes showed off what Kojima had in store for The Phantom Pain.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Fans of the franchise should pick this up, if they’re eager to see what Kingdom Hearts III will have in store, although newcomers would do better to pick one of the previous HD remakes.