Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is finally out, and the wait’s been as long as its title. With this, the trilogy of trilogies leading up to Kingdom Hearts III is complete, and I seriously could not be happier with what we have.
Like the previous HD ReMIX ports, 2.8 follows the pattern of two games and a movie. The titles on this collection are Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage, and Kingdom Hearts Unchained X: Back Cover. Each one of these titles are a full, individual story that take place at wildly different points in the Kingdom Hearts timeline.
It wouldn’t make sense to try to review the product as a whole. These are all separate entities with their own merits. So instead I’ll break it down into three mini-reviews.
Dream Drop Distance
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance is the only game in this collection that isn’t brand new content. It’s a straight port of the 3DS game released in 2012, with only the slightest of new or changed content. I want to focus primarily on what’s been changed in this port, but I do need to first establish the foundation of my opinion on DDD in general.
Opinions on the ranking of favorite to least favorite in the Kingdom Hearts fandom can be divisive. I know it’s slightly controversial to say this, but DDD is my second favorite game in the franchise, just barely underneath KHII. It felt like a real return to Kingdom Hearts form, after such a long absence of games where you actually play as Sora. In essence, everything is nearly exactly as it should be, if not vastly improved.
Visually, the game is astounding. It’s almost staggering how much better the game looks, but that’s to be expected. What wasn’t expected was the rock-solid 60fps during gameplay. The game’s cutscenes are still only 30fps for what I can only assume is a timing issue. But this created an interesting effect, where I would get used to the 30fps cutscenes, then be dropped back into silky-smooth 60 and be wowed all over again.
When I first heard 2.8 was announced with HD DDD, I was concerned about the touch screen mechanics. DDD used the touch screen for a number of things, and I worried how they would adapt for this port. The answer? Pretty simply, actually. A few tweaks here and there to the controls and the Reality Shifts and Dream Eater minigames are perfectly intact and just as fun as they’ve always been.
The only thing I can really complain about, and this is as nitpicky as it gets, is that I could absolutely feel this was a port of a handheld. The port of BBS on 2.5 had the same problem. On a handheld, they could mask how big and empty a lot of the worlds are. Here, on my TV, it’s pretty clear. La Cite de Cloches and The Grid especially suffered from lots of big open areas with not a lot going on in them. I would have preferred they condense the areas down a little bit so it’s not so empty. The later worlds are much better in this regard, especially Symphony of Sorcery. They ditch the big open spaces and keep the maps a bit tighter and easier to use the Flowmotion mechanics to navigate the environment.
Birth By Sleep 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage
A Fragmentary Passage is a whole other story, though. DDD was a well-crafted port, but this is the first piece of mainline content we’ve had for Kingdom Hearts since 2012, and it does not disappoint.
Right off the bat, this is the first significant visual upgrade in the entire franchise. Every previous game held onto, more or less, the same high-end PS2 era graphics. 0.2 is not one, but two console generations ahead of its predecessors and it shows. The game is absolutely gorgeous and the environments are breathtaking. Several times throughout my playthrough I had to stop moving and pan the camera around just to take it all in.
Now, onto the actual gameplay. 0.2 is pretty much a tech demo for Kingdom Hearts III, giving us some hands-on experience with the KHIII engine. If this is how KHIII will play, then I’m fully on board. It still feels like Kingdom Hearts, but with just the right amount of tweaks to make gameplay more efficient. One of the first things I noticed is that casting spells no longer interrupts your movement. How many times have I cast Curaga in midair just so I could stay moving? That’s no longer an issue here. Casting a spell while running now makes your character hover and continue moving forward while the spell is coming out.
The game also teased Situation Commands, KHIII’s answer to Reaction Commands. These are powerful finishers that can stack on each other. Keep up the offense to build up a meter, then unleash a 4th level spell or powerful physical attack, depending on which method of attacking you’ve used. Cast a lot of Fire spells? End it with Firaza. Cast a lot of Thunder spells? Cast Thundaza. Mix it up and use both? Cast Firaza, then Thundaza. I can only imagine the potential if this is carried over to KHIII and its wider variety of spells.
And I, of course, have to mention one of my personal favorite additions to 0.2, character customization. Getting different accessories and color palettes to add to Aqua was a tremendous amount of fun, and I hope it carries over into KHIII. Even more fortuitous, the accessories don’t show up in cutscenes, meaning the mood will never be ruined because Aqua is caught up in despair while wearing Minnie Mouse ears.
I don’t have much to say against 0.2, but the one sticking point I do have is that it feels rushed. I know it was only supposed to be a small game that lasts a few hours, but by the end, it gets caught up in itself. For most of the story, the pacing is solid and it flows naturally. The story content after the last boss, though, feels like something is missing. Without going into spoilers, events happen so quickly that it can feel a bit contrived when all’s said and done. However, the rushed feeling seems to be intentional, as the characters themselves are rapidly improvising their actions by the end. Still, one more gameplay segment after the final boss would’ve paced things out a bit better.
Unchained X: Back Cover
And finally, there’s Back Cover, a movie I’ve been excited for because it means I don’t have to play Unchained now! I wasn’t a big fan of Unchained when I tried it. F2P mobile games are not my thing and I get bored with them as soon as I hit a paywall. These types of games are designed to give you the ability to progress just enough that you’re potentially invested by the time it starts getting too difficult to keep going without spending money. But this review isn’t about Unchained, it’s about the movie.
The real treat about Back Cover is that it isn’t just a cutscene compilation, it’s an entire hour-long film. 1.5 and 2.5 each had their own “movies”, but this is an actual story being told without having to brush away gameplay. It tells the story of the Foretellers, five leaders of five guilds, and the events that will eventually lead to the Keyblade Wars. It’s only an hour long, but in that time, we manage to get a good look at the personalities, motivations, and relationships of the Foretellers, and a small look at how the world was before it was divided.
The events in the movie show how these five trusted individuals started to slip away from each other, and how miscommunication, secrecy, and alliances could ultimately lead to betrayal. For long-time fans of the series, it can be pretty heartbreaking to see these events play out. Kingdom Hearts is, primarily, a story about friendship and relying on one another, so to see these people helplessly drift apart and mistrust one another is painful. Especially considering it’s a foregone conclusion how they’re going to end up.
However, don’t think this is a bleak, morbid tale leading up to the end of the world. This is still Kingdom Hearts, after all! Most of the lightheartedness of Back Cover comes straight from my personal favorite addition to the franchise in a long time, the Master of Masters. The leader of the Foretellers, an enigmatic, nameless, faceless man in the familiar black cloak, takes the wizened old mentor figure we’ve seen in Yen Sid, Eraqus, Xehanort, and Ansem, and flips it completely on its head. He’s a young, easygoing man who makes fun of his students, pouts whenever his dramatic speeches fail to impress his audience, and generally acts more like a class clown than the most powerful Keyblade wielder in the series. Every scene with him is either endearing, hilarious, or foreboding, and I’m desperate to learn more about him.
Like the rest of 2.8, it’s hard to find anything necessarily wrong with the movie. It provides some solid content for people who were turned off by Unchained, and it’s implied the events will tie directly into KHIII in some way. The pacing is tight, the characters are memorable, and the events are intriguing enough to leave the audience hanging by the end. It asks a lot of questions, and then calmly tells us to wait for the answers.
As a huge fan of Kingdom Hearts, I gladly welcome these HD Remixes for providing newcomers with an easy means of getting the full story on only a handful of discs, and 2.8 is definitely a welcome addition. It’s not a port put together to stall for KHIII’s release, it’s full of brand new gameplay and story content that builds up hype for the next game. With this and the upcoming 1.5+2.5 compilation for the PS4, it’s literally never been easier to consume the entirety of the Kingdom Hearts story while we all wait impatiently for Kingdom Hearts III.
“May your heart be your guiding key…”
Hey, if you like reading my review of Kingdom Hearts, maybe you’d like to hear me talk about it, too? You should check out my podcast on iTunes, The Gorge Podcast: With Ben and Sara.
I just did an episode where we talk about the plot points of Kingdom Hearts, and I try to clear up some of the more confusing parts of the story. It’s pretty cool, I guess! Thanks again for reading & be sure to subscribe to Dashing Nerds if you haven’t already.
- Seamless port integration for DDD
- Back Cover features a full story for those who haven't played the mobile games
- 0.2 has sweet customization I hope will continue for KHIII
- 0.2's exciting magic combos
- 0.2's beautifully animated setting
- Some of DDD's worlds feel empty
- 0.2's ending wasn't very well paced