May your heart be your guiding key.
Kingdom Hearts has always been a fascinating enigma. Although a strange combination of Disney and Square Enix properties, it somehow works, and has become an enduring series of action RPGs. Perhaps just as enigmatic though are the plethora of spinoff titles and compilations that now greatly outnumber the core entries in the series. 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is the latest compilation, and the most interesting yet, as it combines a remastered spinoff with two new titles that lead directly into the eagerly anticipated Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is comprised of Dream Drop Distance HD, a high-definition remaster of the 3DS spinoff, χ Back Cover, a cinematic retelling of events from the browser/mobile game χ[chi], and 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, a brand-new experience that acts as an epilogue to Birth by Sleep, and a prologue to KH3.
The core offering of 2.8 is Dream Drop Distance HD. Taking place shortly after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2, this title sees Sora and Riku completing their Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade Masters by unlocking seven Sleeping Worlds. These worlds, including locations based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tron Legacy, are still immersed in darkness, and threatened by Dream Eaters, a new Heartless-esque foe.
Here’s the good news: Dream Drop Distance HD is a great remaster. This a vibrant upscaling of the 3DS original, with the colors and characters models really shining through the HD polish. The game plays great too, as the frame rate has been bumped from 30 to 60 fps, and you can really feel the boost in performance when rotating the camera or leaping around with Flowmotion. The changes made to rework the game for PS4 are welcome too, as inputs previously reserved for the 3DS touchscreen has been remapped to the DualShock 4 touchpad and button inputs for Reality Shift or playing with your Spirit.
Here’s the bad news: It’s still has the problems of the original game. Dream Drop Distance has the most convoluted narrative and poorly told story of all Kingdom Hearts games, and nothing is done here to change that. If you haven’t been keeping up with every spinoff, you’re going to be lost, and chances are you will be confused even if you are caught up.
While Dream Drop Distance is the biggest part of this collection, undoubtedly the most exciting title in 2.8 for longtime fans is 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. Picking up shortly after Birth by Sleep, A Fragmentary Passage follows Aqua as she navigates the Realm of Darkness; hunted by Heartless and haunted by her memories of Terra and Ven.
While a follow-up to Birth by Sleep, Fragmentary Passage is more so a taste of what to expect in Kingdom Hearts 3, as it uses the same engine and battle system of the upcoming title. Think Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. If this title is any indication of what Kingdom Hearts 3 will be like, I have never been more excited, because A Fragmentary Passage is an absolute blast.
The combat utilizes Birth by Sleep mechanics, like Shotlock and Command Styles, but the battle system is straight outta Kingdom Hearts 2 with improved features. For example, casting magic is now a fluid motion. When Aqua casts Curaga, she keeps her momentum if she was moving, so she doesn’t have to stand in place. This makes magic the most dynamic it’s ever been, and I would use it frequently in every Heartless encounter.
A Fragmentary Passage is rendered in Unreal Engine 4, so I don’t need to tell you the game is gorgeous. The environments in the Realm of Darkness are stunning and varied, and individual special effects like fire or smoke look incredible. Aqua and the other character models look great as well, as this is the first time the character’s in-game appearances matches the CG opening movies.
Story-wise, A Fragmentary Passage is short and satisfying. It’s welcome character development for Aqua, lingering questions are answered, and most importantly, it leads directly into KH3. Where Sora, Donald, Goofy will start their adventure in the upcoming game is set up really intelligently, and again, I haven’t been more excited.
What’s left in 2.8 is χ Back Cover, the weakest aspect of the collection. While beautifully animated in Unreal Engine 4, this hour-long “movie” does little to clarify the story elements of Unchained χ, and rather raises more questions as well as making things more complicated. The voice work is pretty great though, with Ray Chase as the Master of Masters being the standout. This character seemingly sets up the entire chain of events for the series, but is also a weird goofball brought to life through strong voice acting.
Kingdom Hearts has always been a fascinating enigma, and 2.8 is no exception. I cannot recommend A Fragmentary Passage enough to longtime fans of the series anxious to get their hands on KH3; however, it takes about 3 hours to complete, even though there is replay incentive with a Critical Mode difficulty setting and objectives that unlock clothing items for Aqua. At this short length, the whole collection is tough to recommend to those who have already played Dream Drop Distance, and don’t plan on completely revisiting it any time soon. This is compounded with the $60 full retail price tag as well. 2.8 is uneven and not a tremendous value, but if you’re excited to play Kingdom Hearts on PS4, now’s the time to deep dive in.
FINAL SCORE: 4/5