Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (Review)

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Copy obtained via GameFly

Despite the mouthful of a name, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is the most easily digestible of the Kingdom Hearts HD collections. Developer Square Enix has been slowly releasing these collections over the past few years in order to satiate the hordes of fans craving Kingdom Hearts III, and with 2.8 it truly feel like we’re getting closer to that final chapter. 2.8 only has one full game in its collection, which is what makes it more manageable, but there is some bonus content that helps turn it into a more satisfying experience. Unfortunately, while the other collections have served as good ways for people to dip their toes into this universe, 2.8 is a collection that requires extensive knowledge of the complex storyline of the series, making this a collection for only the most die-hard of fans.

The meat of this collection comes in the form of an HD remaster of “Dream Drop Distance” which was originally exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS. Dream Drop Distance finds main protagonists Sora and Riku undertaking the Mark of Mastery exam, which upon completion will mark them as Masters of the Keyblade. Their exam takes them to the land of dreams, which is comprised of seven distinct worlds that they must deliver from darkness. Along the way, they’ll uncover a dark plot involving Organization XIII, the malicious collective behind several key events in the franchise. As the story progresses and more revelations take place, it becomes increasingly obvious that this is one of the most important stories in the entire series, and by the time it wraps up, you’re left with a concrete idea about the direction of the long anticipated Kingdom Hearts III.

Dream Drop Distance also adds in a bunch of fun twists to the Kingdom Hearts formula, making for one of the most memorable games in the series. Instead of fighting the classic Kingdom Hearts enemies, the Heartless and Nobodies, you square off against Dream Eaters. While essentially just another group of varied enemies to vanquish, the major difference here is that you can tame them and make them join your party. While it’s similar to something like Pokémon, it also does a great job of standing out on its own. As you add new Dream Eaters to your roster and level them up, you’ll not only increase their stats in battle, but also unlock new abilities for Sora and Riku. From devastating melee attacks, to elemental buff and stat boosts, taking the time to raise your Dream Eaters is extremely beneficial. You can even link with them to pull of powerful special moves that can turn the tide of combat in an instant.

Speaking of, the combat has been tweaked as well. Thanks to the new Flowmotion mechanic, you can utilize the environment in cool new ways to spice up your attack style. You can bounce off walls and rails to deliver crushing blows, spin on lamp posts to cause damage in a radius, or traverse the battlefield with immense speed to close the distance on far off foes. It’s a little too easy to exploit this system and make some of the tougher fights a borderline joke, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to see Sora and Riku shoot around the map and deliver massive damage.

The last big change to Dream Drop Distance is the ability to switch between two characters. For the most part, the game does a solid job of making the feature fun. Sora and Riku both visit the same worlds, but they visit different parts of them, meeting new characters and enemies in the process. Unfortunately, the way in which switching characters is handled is a little frustrating. Sora and Riku both have a dream gauge which slowly depletes. When it runs out, you instantly “drop” out of one dream and into the other. There are items you can find to refill a portion of your dream gauge, but that doesn’t take away the sting of dropping in the middle of a boss fight. You can choose to manually drop at save points, but it would have been cool if that was the only way you dropped, allowing you to choose when to move on to the other character and their story arc for a world. Thankfully, this is balanced out by the fact that you can gain points in combat that can be redeemed on drop to give your next character a boost in attack, defense, magic, etc.

Although Dream Drop Distance is the lengthiest part of this collection, fans are most likely going to want to pick this one up for 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. Despite carrying on the legacy of awful names, A Fragmentary Passage is an absolute treat and one of the best parts of this entire package. Running on the Kingdom Hearts III engine, this short 3-4 hour long adventure sees the return of Aqua, one of the three protagonists from the PSP entry “Birth By Sleep”. After her last adventure ended with her entering the realm of darkness, her fate seemed unclear. This gives us a glimpse of where she’s been and what she’s been up to, but the excitement of playing with this new engine outweighs the curiosity of her story.

Everything in A Fragmentary Passage looks vibrant, detailed and polished, but it’s the gameplay that steals the show. Kingdom Hearts has never felt this good to play, with traversal and combat seamlessly intertwined. Blasting enemies with fire, landing a combo with your Keyblade, and then creating an ice rail you can slide on feels slick, stylish and fun. Magic in particular feels more useful than ever and its visually stunning to see spells fill the screen with elemental effect. And while it doesn’t add anything to the actual gameplay, there’s a neat costume system that allows you to unlock cosmetic items for Aqua. From the basics like new colors and patterns, to the more elaborate wings and tiaras, customizing Aqua is a fun little addition that’s worth playing around with.

Rounding out the collection is Back Story, a short hour-long animated film that fleshes out the earliest point in the Kingdom Hearts timeline. Back Story introduces us to a group of animal masked Keyblade wielders known as the Foretellers. Each member of the group is assigned a secret task by their Master, with the movie focusing on discovering what their tasks are and why they must complete them. Although it’s an interesting story, it’s also the weakest part of the collection. The voice work is hit or miss across the characters, the animation feels a little stiff, and an hour just simply isn’t long enough to fully connect with these characters. By the time it ends, you feel like you’re just getting to know them, which leaves a strong feeling of dissatisfaction. It’s still worth sitting through, especially if you’re a fan of the series and want to know as much about its lore as possible.

FINAL VERDICT

As much as I enjoyed my time with Dream Drop Distance and A Fragmentary Passage, I have a hard time recommending this to anyone who isn’t already familiar with the franchise. For starters, both Dream Drop Distance and A Fragmentary Passage would make little to no sense to those unfamiliar with the convoluted Kingdom Hearts timeline. These two experiences expect you to come into them with a heavy load of knowledge, which makes this a collection for only the most die-hard of fans. The animated film, Back Story, also leaves a lot to be desired. However, if you’re up to date on the goings-on of this story, there’s a lot to love here. Dream Drop Distance is not only a really fun game, it tells a great story that has some massive revelations that fans won’t want to miss. Likewise, A Fragmentary Passage is the closest thing you can get to actually playing Kingdom Hearts III right now, so it’s almost worth the price of entry on its own.

– Zack Burrows

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