Released back on January 24th outside of Japan, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (which will be referred to as Kingdom Hearts 2.8 from now on for my own sake) is the last collection by Square Enix to bring the entire series to home console before the release of Kingdom Hearts 3. Now you can play the Kingdom Hearts saga in its’ entirety on the PS4. Where Kingdom Hearts 2.8 fits into this is as a direct lead in to the beginning of KH 3. With two games and a movie like previous collections, this one is lacking in key areas that the other collections excelled in but the future seems promising for Kingdom Hearts as a whole.
This collection encompasses the final handheld from the KH series, Dream Drop Distance which received the full graphics overhaul. Normally when it comes to graphics for a remaster you can only really touch on how they improved from the previous version. Kingdom Hearts 2.8 gets some high praise in this department though because not only is Dream Drop Distance brought up to full 1080p but is also now running at a full 60 frames per second. Dream Drop Distance recieved the full remake treThis technically being the first time anyone got to play Kingdom Hearts at 60 fps, it was certainly a treat. It’s a major upgrade from the original 3DS version. Sound was also improved and while not my favorite KH soundtrack, it was certainly passable.
Dream Drop Distance takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2 and it’s about Sora and Riku taking their Mark of Mastery exam to be recognized as true Keyblade Masters. This is in preparation for the upcoming battle with Xehanort. While way more confusing to explain than your average Kingdom Hearts story, the high stakes kept things from ever being boring. But that’s when the story finally gets moving as the first half of the game is rather slow. As DDD has you playing as both Sora and Riku, the opening levels feature you going to the same worlds for both characters and doing very similar things. Plus you can only be each character for a limited time as they “Drop” when a special gauge runs out. So the beginning of the game can really drag. Thankfully this is remedied in the second half as worlds become more distinct and Sora and Riku aren’t doing the same thing.
Combat remains similar to Birth By Sleep with your standard attacks and use of the Command Deck for abilities. However added in was Flowmotion which lets Sora and Riku utilize the environment to add a much needed layer to combat found in the handheld games. Flowmotion lets you run, jump, slide, bounce and spin off of objects to perform some flashy attacks. I really wasn’t a big fan of the slow combat in Birth By Sleep so I found this new mechanic to be very fun and refreshing.
Another new addition is the ability to fight alongside Dream Eaters. In a style similar to Pokemon, you can collect and fight with Spirit Dream Eaters you create from materials. This is so you can fight against the new enemies, the Nightmare Dream Eaters.
Boss battles were a mixed bag with a couple stand outs. The final boss, in what seems to be typical handheld fashion was quite difficult and took me several attempts to complete although it wasn’t near the toughest challenge in the entire collection (more on that in a bit). Overall I would say my time with Dream Drop Distance was positive as it was my first time playing this particular entry. It took me about 25 hours to complete and there is some post game content after the final boss is beaten, including a rather tough secret boss.
Next up is what I assume most players are buying this collection for and that is Birth By Sleep 0.2 -A Fragmentary Passage-. This piece acts as a tease into what Kingdom Hearts can be in the future. It’s our first glimpse into the series running on Unreal Engine 4 and made specifically to run on PS4 hardware. However this still feels like a tech demo as it doesn’t run perfectly. While it does look great at times with some amazing particle effects, there was still an occasional stutter here and there. But the music this time around was very strong with some great tracks throughout. The somber melody set the mood and created a dark ambience, and the final boss track lifted things into a major climax.
In 0.2 we play as Aqua who appeared as a playable character from the original Birth By Sleep game. Here she is trapped in the Realm of Darkness after sacrificing herself to save the heart of Terra, her friend. She seeks an exit from the Realm of Darkness so she can reunite with her friends again. Combat here plays more like Kingdom Hearts 2 with things like normal combos, magic and items. Aqua controls really well and her combat animations look really good, especially her magic. Some things from Birth By Sleep carry over like the Focus meter, which lets Aqua perform a powerful ranged attack and her Command Style which augments her combos and lets her deal a powerful finishing blow. Also, kudos to voice actress Willa Holland who provided an impressive performance as Aqua here.
So while there are a lot of positive things to say about 0.2 there is still one glaring flaw and that is the length. Now, in all fairness, we were never promised a full length game from this and I know that. However it’s important you know that this section only lasts about as long as one world from a Kingdom Hearts game. Which means only about 3-4 hours. So where the other collections came with 2 full games with many hours of gameplay, this one comes with only one and a demo/tech test for another. And to make things worse Kingdom Hearts 2.8 was sold at the full retail price of $60 and as of this writing, is still $60 on PSN. Thankfully the price is around $40 on websites like Amazon but that PSN price is NOT OK.
I don’t want to leave this part on a sour note so I do want to talk about what you can do after the 3-4 hours. Square, in an attempt to alleviate the time to complete this chapter (which still doesn’t excuse the initial price) does offer some extra content. There are optional objectives to complete to collect some customization items for Aqua and there’s the fan favorite Critical Mode (which cuts your HP and MP in half and you take more damage) after you beat the story once. Not to mention there’s the secret boss, which is one of the best bosses in Kingdom Hearts to date. From a design standpoint, this secret boss is only outdone by Lingering Will and the Data Organization battles from Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix. To win will require insanely quick reflexes and the willingness to learn patterns so you can deal damage. You can’t mash X to win this one. It is a monumental challenge and took me a few days to overcome. If more bosses are designed like this going forward then I’m excited to see what is being developed in Kingdom Hearts 3.
And finally we come to the movie portion of our of HD collection, Kingdom Hearts x Back Cover. In past collections, the movie part has always been the weakest point and in some sense the same holds true here although I found Back Cover far more entertaining then any of the other cutscene movies. Back Cover tells the story found in the mobile game called Kingdom Hearts Union x[Cross] which takes place before the entire series. Here we learn about the beginnings of the Keyblade War which set into motion events that would affect everybody in the series going forward. A major plus of Back Cover is the fact that the visuals in this movie are absolutely stunning. There is some amazing work being done here. Character models and backgrounds are highly detailed and animated extremely well. Voice work was also good across the board with special mention to the Master of Masters. Easily the standout performance of the entire movie.
As it stands, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is not the strongest collection for the series but it’s certainly worth playing to whet your appetite. Dream Drop Distance is worth playing if you missed the 3DS version and even if you didn’t, the remake treatment it received is worth checking out as well. Birth by Sleep 0.2 is a short but sweet tease for the long awaited Kingdom Hearts 3 and the movie Back Cover might only be enjoyed by the truly hardcore of fans with its’ deep connection to the past but it is an upgrade over the previous movies. In January, I would have told you to wait for a sale as I could not have justified the $60 price tag. But now the game is available for a much cheaper and more reasonable price online. Now is the best time to jump in if you’ve been waiting.