Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue
Since its debut in 2002, the Kingdom Hearts franchise has gone from “that game with Final Fantasy and Disney characters” to a complex tale of conspiracies, and just about everything in-between. It’s gone from being an action-heavy RPG with a behind-the-back shooting segment to a card battling game and back to an action RPG. No matter what platform it has been featured on, it’s been a showcase. It was a stunner on the PS2 that made a seamless transition to pixel art on the GBA, and then showed just what the PSP could do with Birth by Sleep. The DS entries may not have been jaw-dropping, but did show that the DS could handle a high-end 3D game; just with mixed results. The various PS3 reMIXes brought nearly everything together well, but did leave some content on the table.
The most recent entry in the long-running franchise was Dream Drop Distance on the 3DS, which never hit a console until now. 2.8 brings together yet another compilation of various elements of the series. 1.5 brought the original game, a full 3D remake of Chain of Memories, and a movie version of 358/2Days, and 2.5 gave you Kingdom Hearts II, a remake of Birth by Sleep, and a movie version of the second DS game Re:coded along with a ton of extra content added to the cinematics.
This blend of gameplay and movie versions of the game has been largely well-received, but the lack of fully remade versions of some of the games did also alienate some players wanting to have a truly definitive version of every game in the series. 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue gives players Dream Drop Distance HD (3D) and two new story-heavy areas. One, Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage gives you new gameplay to enjoy and follows up after Birth by Sleep, while Kingdom Hearts x Back Cover is a new movie that explores parts of the franchise’s canon that haven’t been explored up to this point. It also acts as a follow-up to a browser and mobile-based game, which is fairly minuscule in terms of exposure.
In terms of the sheer amount of content, 2.8 is the least content-rich of the Remixes so far. Fortunately, the quality of Dream Drop Distance helps make up for that. It may not be the biggest story in the series, but it is one of the fastest-moving and has the best core gameplay of any Kingdom Heart game. Flowmotion is one of the biggest upgrades for Dream Drop Distance’s core gameplay, and it’s a huge upgrade for the series as a whole. It’s essentially a mix of parkour with dashing and it’s weaved into every part of the game.
Traversing the world itself is done with flowmotion – so you will start off with a jump and then latch onto whatever you need to in the world, or just do a mid-air dash with the square button. This makes platforming a breeze and allows you to evade far easier than you normally could during battles. Instead of just moving around from side to side, you’ve got a lot of vertical movement on your side and can avoid pretty much any attacks that you can see coming if you’re careful.
Animalistic allies join the fray as well, as newfound Spirits allow you to build a bond and stats as well. These allies can be used to dole out a bit of damage, eat damage, heal, or do just about anything you need to in a support role. You can build up your bond with the Spirits by playing with them and petting them between battles – adding a touch of Nintendogs to the mix alongside some alchemy since you can buff their staff with item collecting. When combined with the far faster pace to the combat, 3D manages to feel like a blend of what worked in prior games with a near-complete elimination of what didn’t work before. The long-hated camera no longer gets in your way nearly as much, and there aren’t as many platforming challenges either – although Flowmotion-heavy areas can bog you down a bit if you don’t have the camera controls tweaked to your liking.
New mini-games add even more variety to the mix as well. While the gummi ship may forever live in infamy, 3D’s diving sections evoke both runners and especially the half-pipe Sonic 2 special stages. You’ve also got rail-grinding to work with and a bit of light cycle racing in the TRON world too. Every mini-game is well-crafted and allows you to mix things up so the core gameplay doesn’t get old. The parkour-style gameplay can get old, but the ever-present challenge ensures that things are always interesting while the reduction of time-filling fetchquests is much appreciated. Sora and Riku are the main playable characters here, and the new Drop system allows you to switch between them as you need to in order to progress the plot. It works fairly well most of the time, but can leave you a bit confused as to what you should be doing if you drop in and out and then don’t save after fully completing a mission.
0.2: A Fragmentary Passage starts off with a beautiful remix of the original game’s theme song and offers up a new playable chapter for the series. It follows up on the PSP’s Birth by Sleep and showcases Aqua’s life after BBS. You’ll explore a far more action-filled adventure that retains the feel of Kingdom Hearts, but with a much more action-centric bend to things. The story is a bit darker than the mainline series fare, but tells a different side of things than is normally seen. The movie-only X Back Cover is great for those trying to explore the lore – but isn’t going to be for everyone. It focuses on crafting dramatic tension, and a melodramatic series like Kingdom Hearts doesn’t quite gel with that. It’s twists and turns are enjoyable to see unfold, and thanks to the preamble video, you don’t need to have played the mobile/browser game to follow the plot.
Visually, 2.8 looks on par with the prior remakes of the games – you’ll notice a huge increase in visual fidelity for Dream Drop Distance. The pixelated character models of the 3DS now look solid and quite beautiful, which helps the worlds themselves that now have a lot of added detail. 0.2 features some of the best-looking locales in the series, and its best lighting effects as well. The CG-only X Back Cover looks gorgeous too, but is hampered a bit by stilted acting and a lot of cloaked-character acting relying on the voice work to carry it instead of the animation.
From an audio perspective, 2.8 also features some of the best remixes of the franchise’s best J-pop songs – so it’s well-worth getting just for fans of the soundtrack. The theater mode lets you enjoy a lot of it in cutscene form over and over again too, adding a bit more replay value to various parts of the game. The franchise’s usual mix of comedic voice acting with the Disney characters blending in with the more dramatic Square Enix original characters and storyline leads to some strange voice work, but it is usually fun to listen to, even if it’s a bit hard to take seriously at times.
For the most part, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue delivers a lot of high-quality content. The movie-only portion of the game is fairly lean – as is the second playable entry – but it’s also far different in tone than the usual Kingdom Hearts games. Dream Drop Distance alone is worth buying the collection for if you haven’t played that yet, as it looks better than it ever has before and delivers exactly what long-time fans of the series have loved for nearly 15 years now. This is a robust collection that allows series completionists to enjoy the entire franchise in just a few compilations – which will become only two when the PS4 version of the 1.5 and 2.5 Remix comes out in March.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square Enix.