Kingdom Hearts has gained notoriety over the years for its overly complex plot, as well as almost every title being released for different systems. Recently Square Enix has made valiant efforts to fix at least the latter of those issues, gradually re-releasing every Kingdom Hearts title to date in remastered packages for PlayStation 3 (and as of this March, PlayStation 4 as well). Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is the final of these compilations, once again packing together two playable games and one high definition cinematic experience. Final Chapter Prologue may sound like a mouthful, but the title rings true in that the games contained within 2.8 all lead the player right up to the beginning moments of the highly anticipated Kingdom Hearts 3, which is to be the aforementioned “final chapter” in this saga.
While the big draws for Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 were the previously-unreleased-in-the-west Final Mix versions of several titles, 2.8 seeks to gain its popularity another way; by bringing two brand new titles into the fold that pave the way for KH3: Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage- and Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover. Additionally, 2.8 comes with Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD, a high-def remaster of the 2012 3DS game. Without further ado, let’s take a look at what each of these titles has to offer.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD (KH3D)
KH3D is a possibly the best place for newcomers to the series to start, or for those who haven’t played all of the non-numbered titles. Throughout the game you unlock Chronicles for each previous game in the series, which are text documents you can read to catch up with the important events of those titles. Considering even the most hardore Kingdom Hearts fans can get confused when explaining the plot, these Chronicles are extremely helpful resources for everyone. They’re a bit lengthy, but do a lovely job of getting you up to speed.
It makes the most sense to play KH3D before 0.2, since the events of the former lead straight into those of the latter. Plus while the graphics of KH3D look superb when compared to those of the 1.5 and 2.5 compilations before it, they pale in comparison to those of the Unreal Engine 4-developed 0.2.
Besides looking great, it plays like a hot knife through butter. The game was played for this review on a PS4 Slim, and even on that model it felt like playing a high-framerate film. Sometimes while jumping around it would feel almost dizzying because how how fast everything moved, but even during grand battles with many enemies on-screen the framerate never noticeably dropped.
Part of what makes this important is the inclusion of Flowmotion, a mobility mechanic introduced to the series in KH3D. Instead of a standard jump or double-jump action, Sora and Riku can now use Flowmotion to grind on rails, wall-jump to the highest of ceilings, and glide swiftly through short distances of air. Flowmotion is also effective in battles as you can dash rapidly toward or away from enemies, use the momentum from a wall jump to thrust yourself into the action with a powerful attack, or even swing around a large enemy and throw it into others, damaging them all. As the name suggests, Flowmotion flows incredibly smooth. Moving around in other Kingdom Hearts games after this just feels dull.
Perhaps the only drawback to Flowmotion (or perk, depending on your point of view) is that there are several puzzles and platforming segments throughout KH3D that can be completely bypassed with the right series of wall jumps and glides. Still, it’s difficult to complain about a mechanic that actively makes moving around as easy and efficient as Flowmotion.
Of course such freedom of movement requires wide, open spaces in which to take advantage of it, and there is certainly no lack of these spaces in KH3D. The good news is that this means less loading screens in between areas, as each space is vastly larger than in past games in the series. Unfortunately KH3D suffers from the same problem as other handheld titles that were upgraded to home consoles, like Final Fantasy Type-0 and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. While the environments look crisp and vibrant, they also tend to look quite barren in areas. Portions of the Country of the Musketeers and Prankster’s Paradise, in particular, often look quite empty and lacking, which means you’re just running through nothing to get to the other side where a cutscene awaits.
Since the majority of KH3D takes place inside a dream world, Sora and Riku’s companions are Dream Eaters instead of the standard Disney teammates of Donald, Goofy, and Mickey. The Dream Eater are also your enemies, as opposed to Heartless, and they are broken down into good and bad types, called Spirits and Nightmares respectively.
Spirits are like pets that you can touch, pet, feed, and play with, and there are several fun, if simple, mini-games you can play while training them. These games are not only an entertaining way to break up the action of the main game, but also prove to be an extremely helpful way of boosting your Spirits’ stats and affinity for you. There are other mini-games such as Flick Rush and Diving (KH3D’s answer to Gummi Ship stages) to try out as well, so there’s plenty to do aside from just playing through the game.
A slightly confusing matter is that of trophies. Of course, being a PS4 title, it comes packed with dozens of Trophies you can unlock throughout the game, either for completing certain chapters, excelling at a mini-game, or reaching a particular level. However, the original 3DS version of KH3D also had its own in-game trophies, of which you have to unlock a specific amount in order to unlock the secret ending. While some of the in-game trophies mirror the PS4 ones (like completing the game on Proud or Critical Mode), many of them are completely different. If you’re a PS4 trophy hunter, this may lead to some confusion when looking for tips. Ultimately it doesn’t affect the game in any way, but it’s an interesting point nevertheless.
Whether you’re diving into a new world, flowing through the iconic scenery of Fantasia, playing with your Dream Eaters, or fighting the final boss, there’s one constant throughout the entire game: the quality of its soundtrack. It wouldn’t be difficult to write another review entirely for the KH3D soundtrack, as there is so much greatness to be had between the new mixes of The World Ends With You tracks in Traverse Town, a fresh take on the familiar tune Dearly Beloved, and even just the background music in the many all-new worlds like The Grid and La Cité des Cloches. It’s all A+ work, and sets the varying moods perfectly.
Despite its few shortcomings, Kingdom Hearts 3D HD on PS4 is extremely fun, and easily the best version of the game to play thanks to smooth animations and even smoother tunes. The fact that it finally moves the plot forward chronologically for the first time since 2006’s Kingdom Hearts 2 certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
Kingdom Hearts 3D and Kingdom Hearts 0.2 are practically day and night. KH3D is bright and colorful where 0.2 is dark and dreary. KH3D is mostly light-hearted and fun, while 0.2 is bleak and depressing. KH3D started on the 3DS, and 0.2 began life on the PS4 (and it shows, drastically). Though there are many differences between the two, there is at least one trait they share: each is well deserving of your time.
Elaborating on the hardware, the difference between how worlds look in KH3D and other previous titles compared to 0.2 is staggering. This is our first look at how a Kingdom Hearts game made specifically for the PS4 with Unreal Engine 4 will play, and it certainly is exciting. The environments in particular are stunningly detailed, and each part of the Dark World Aqua explores showcases the beauty in different ways. Familiar creatures like Shadow and Neoshadow Heartless, though they are essentially jet black blobs, show more detail and texture than ever before, and the shadows cast by Aqua and those she fights are dynamic and move with the lighting. It is a marvel to behold, especially following a nearly 20 hours with KH3D.
For every yin there is a yang, however, and unfortunately there’s one big problem with the current animation: the people. Original characters such as Sora and Riku, whose designs were inspired by a blend of Final Fantasy and Disney characters, fit in well with the likes of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, thanks to everything looking a bit cartoony. Even many of the recurring Final Fantasy characters received makeovers when appearing in the Kingdom Hearts series to make them less realistic. Now the series is filled to the brim with proportional characters like our heroine Aqua, the members of Organization XIII, and of course Sora.
Against such detailed backdrops like those present in 0.2, Aqua, Terra, and all the others that show up look like plastic toys, all shiny and smooth. There are no imperfections on any of them; they look more out of place than Sora looked in Port Royal in Kingdom Hearts 2. The hair is admittedly more impressive, showing strands blow with a breeze instead of all moving as one unit, but only on some characters. Yen Sid is shown as well – a Disney-born human character as opposed to Nomura-designed – and he looks bizarre in an entirely different way. His hair doesn’t impress at all; it’s just a grey clump that looks as plasticlike as Aqua’s skin. It just seems like Square Enix is still trying to find that sweet spot between realistic and fantastic, but they’re not quite there yet. Perhaps the character models will look less out of place in brighter worlds such as those based on previously announced properties Tangled and Big Hero 6, but in the Dark World they just look a bit wrong.
Conversely, there’s one aspect of Aqua looking like a plastic doll that works well; the accessories you can unlock to customize her outfit. There are no alternate outfits or anything, but by completing specific objectives throughout the game you unlock various pieces of headgear, backgear, armlets, and shoulder pads, as well as different designs for Aqua’s outfit. You can even change the colors of her outfit, in case her standard blue and white isn’t doing it for you.
The accessories range from tiaras and Minnie Mouse ears, to glowing angel wings and laser antennae, and much more, but they are purely aesthetic. It’s fun to try out different looks on Aqua for a bit, but it’s slightly disappointing that none of them offer any kind of stat boost or enhancement, like all equippable items in the past. This may be splitting hairs, but it’s also disappointing that your custom gear doesn’t translate to cutscenes. Your Aqua might be wearing cat ears and a green and red stitch-patterned skirt, but when a new scene rolls you’ll just see plain old Aqua. There’s nothing wrong with Aqua as-is, but it feels like a step backwards when if you entered a cutscene in Kingdom Hearts 2 while Sora was in a Drive Form, he would appear in those duds.
Regardless, even if you opt to stick with Aqua’s initial gear the whole way through, the 51 objectives you can take on during the game make for fun challenges. Some are simple enough, such as vanquishing 30 Shadows or defeating 50 Heartless with Fire-based magic, but others encourage you to explore the Dark World in ways you may not normally, such as finding the highest point in Castle Town. Of course none of the objectives are mandatory, but since many of them are locked away until you’ve beaten the game, they give 0.2 more longevity past its modest 4-6 hour play time.
Though the play time is relatively short, the content packed within is exemplary. Aqua’s struggle through the Dark World is quite emotional, especially if you’re well familiar with the events of Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. Voice actress Willa Holland knocks it out of the park, bringing more weight and gravitas to Aqua’s turmoil than most of her Birth by Sleep performance in its entirety. Truly a step up.
The boss fights shine in 0.2 as well, with particular praise for the final boss. Without getting into spoiler territory, the fight offers unique challenges that, while extremely frustrating when you die multiple times in a row, give you an immense feeling of satisfaction once you finally conquer it. You are rewarded mightily for your efforts, too, as the cutscenes following the final fight last around half an hour. Again, no spoilers, but suffice to say that when director Tetsuya Nomura claimed 0.2 would lead into Kingdom Hearts 3, he wasn’t kidding. Any fan who completes this game will be wanting that long-awaited threequel immediately.
Kingdom Hearts χ: Back Cover (BC)
It might be unfair to compare the beauty of a completely CGI movie to playable games, but this is easily the best Kingdom Hearts has ever looked. Nomura has stated previously that he would like the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts 3 to look like Back Cover, which is a truly exciting prospect.
There’s not much to say much about Back Cover without spoiling it, but it does provide some intriguing insight for fans interested in KH lore. The movie tells the story of the Foretellers and the Master of Masters, and hides many secrets within. Slightly disappointing is that you finish the movie with more questions than answers, but it also feels like many important breadcrumbs have been laid out for Sora and friends to follow to find the answers in the future.
The highlight of this movie is easily the Master of Masters, who assigns tasks to each of his six apprentices in wildly slapstick manner. His voice is full of whimsy and humor, his mannerisms reflecting that as well. His aloof nature complements the serious tone of the rest of the movie surprisingly well, acting as the comic relief. Ray Chase of Final Fantasy XV fame provides his voice to the role, and does an absolutely splendid job. You’d never guess the Master of Masters and Noctis were the same guy, and that’s splendid.
At the end of the day Back Cover will most likely appeal to players of the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ, as you meet some of the Foretellers and the Dream Eater companion Chirithy in that game, but casual Kingdom Hearts fans may find themselves in over their heads. It might pay off in the long run when all is revealed in Kingdom Hearts 3, but as it stands it’s not particularly thrilling to be left with even more questions than before.
Taking everything into account, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue legitimately feels like the penultimate episode in this epic 15-year old series, and it does an excellent job in ramping up the hype for the finale in Kingdom Hearts 3. There might not be as much content in terms of sheer hours of gameplay in this collection compared to those past, but the amount of brand new content in 0.2 and Back Cover more than makes up for that. Plus the stellar amount of post-game content in both KH3D and 0.2 gives you plenty of reason to keep playing well past the games’ finales.