The wait for Kingdom Hearts III feels unending. Officially announced in 2013, it feels like we’re nowhere closer to a release date four years later. While the wait remains agonizing, Tetsuya Nomura and Square Enix have been able to keep our appetites at bay with various HD collections. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is the latest, bringing the final major game in the franchise, Dream Drop Distance, to console. Most exciting, however, is the fact that the HD collection brings two new additions to the franchise 0.2 Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage and X: Back Story. Is Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue enough to appease fans or does it make the wait for Kingdom Hearts III that much more painful?
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is split into three different parts. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD is an HD remaster of the 2012 3DS title. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage details Aqua’s story while in the Realm of Darkness between the events of Birth By Sleep and the original Kingdom Hearts. Finally, we have Kingdom Hearts X: Back Cover, a one-hour cinematic film that tells the tale of the Foretellers, five Keyblade Masters that reigned before the Keyblade War.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD follows Sora and Riku as they traverse worlds that are currently asleep. That is to say that they did not return to the world of Light following Sora’s actions in Kingdom Hearts. The goal is to find and unlock the seven sleeping keyholes, which will earn both characters the rank of Keyblade Master. Along the way, they’ll meet new friends, reconnect with old ones, and stumble upon a sinister plot that will have wide-ranging effects on the future.
If you played the 2012 3DS original, then you’ll know what to expect. This is an HD Remaster through and through, and as such almost nothing has changed. The game will last you over twenty hours and take players to seven worlds, which are a mixture of new and returning locations. While the story can be entertaining and intriguing, it is one of the more confusing titles in the franchise. While an in-game glossary summarizes the events of the previous games, those going in without playing any of the previous games are likely to get lost very fast.
The jump from the 3DS to the PS4 has worked enormously in Dream Drop Distance’s favor. While some of the controversial design choices, like tying abilities to Dream Eaters or the hit-and-miss Reality Shifts, remain intact, the extra functionality the console provides vastly improves the experience. The camera is now mapped to R3, and all touchscreen functionality has been remapped to the face buttons, which means you’ll never have to take your eyes off the action. This is particularly useful with Reality Shifts later in the game where players need precision that the 3DS touchscreen just couldn’t provide. There’s also the option to use the touchpad in specific scenarios, but it’s never forced.
Dream Drop Distance’s significant addition to the Kingdom Hearts formula was Flowmotion, or the ability to perform some sick platforming. Not only useful for platforming, but Flowmotion is also excellent in combat, allowing players to deliver some good damage by linking Flowmotion moves together. It was a joy on the 3DS and remains a joy on PS4, especially considering just how much better the game runs on the platform.
In fact, Dream Drop Distance’s presentation on PS4 is a grand slam. While the PS3 remaster of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep could have used some more upgraded assets, the PS4 remaster of Dream Drop Distance got a lot of attention with vastly improved assets. While the worlds are still too barren, and secondary characters sometimes don’t emote much, the rest of the game looks excellent and is up to the graphical standards set by Kingdom Hearts II. Even better, the game runs amazing. While the 3DS original had a hard time sticking to 30 frames-per-second, the PS4 remaster clocks in at 60 frames-per-second. The presentation is a vast improvement over the original and is one of the biggest upgrades seen yet from a remaster.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage is an all new adventure starring Aqua. This short adventure takes place during the ten years between the events of Birth By Sleep and original Kingdom Hearts and follows Master Aqua as she visits worlds taken by the darkness. 0.2 is a surprisingly deep and reflecting journey, forcing Aqua to confront her sins, doubts, and decisions made during Birth By Sleep. It adds plenty of new elements and fills in a few questions from previous games, and successfully sets the stage for Kingdom Hearts III.
0.2 Birth By Sleep will last players anywhere between 2-4 hours to beat depending on difficulty and how many objectives they complete. Here, players have the opportunity to complete over fifty objectives that unlock accessories to personalize Aqua. These range from different ears to put on her head, to patterns for her dress, and to color shaders that change the coloring of her outfit. Even though it’s short, there’s still quite a bit to do here.
Gameplay is the perfect mash of the best elements of Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. From Kingdom Hearts II you have the MP bar and different magic tied to the four face buttons. From Birth By Sleep you have Shotlocks and Command Styles, which have been upgraded to included more powerful variations of magic. It is the perfect marriage of mechanics to create the most fluid, and fun version of combat the Kingdom Hearts series has had yet. While Dream Drop Distance’s Flowmotion does not return, there are areas in-game that allow Aqua to perform moves similar to Flowmotion.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep is the first Kingdom Hearts game built in Unreal Engine 4, and the game looks exquisite. Though it may take a little bit of time to get used to the new Pixar-esque art style, it does grow on you. Character models and textures are extremely well-detailed, and the facial animation is the best it’s ever been. Worlds are bigger, more detailed, and have a lot more going on in them. What takes the cake, presentation-wise is the quality of the effects. Magic in this game is unbelievable, and unleashing a fully upgraded spell for the first time can be jaw-dropping.
Kingdom Hearts X: Back Cover rounds out the collection. Set before the Keyblade War, back when all the worlds were still connected, Back Cover follows the events of the five Foretellers. Following the disappearance of their master, the five’s friendship begins to fragment as they discover there is a traitor amongst them. As the looming darkness approaches, the Foretellers must band together, or lose everything they have fought to protect.
Much like 358/2 Days in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix and Re:Coded in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix, Back Cover is a cinematic movie. However, unlike those previous movies, Back Cover isn’t especially good or filled with the answers fans seek. Characters and their relationships are loosely defined, and you never get a sense of who these characters are, where they came from, or what their relationships were like before their master disappeared. Perhaps if Back Cover was longer than an hour a lot of these gaps could have been filled in. Considering 358/2 Days and Re:Coded both clocked in at about three hours, Back Cover’s length is disappointing.
Probably most disappointing about Back Cover is that there’s a lot of build-up, and no payoff with an anti-climactic that comes out of nowhere. While Back Cover does pose new mysteries, it also answers none of them. The mobile game, Kingdom Hearts X Unchained, does extend the story a bit, it also doesn’t offer the revelations Back Cover continuously teases.
At least Back Cover looks good. Running on the Unreal Engine 4, the film is stunning to watch. Production values are top notch with Square Enix potentially giving even Pixar a good run for its money. Overall, Back Cover is a good look at what we can expect from Kingdom Hearts III cutscenes.
It feels cruel for Nomura and company to continue teasing Kingdom Hearts fans who just want Kingdom Hearts III, but a delicious appetizer is better than nothing, and that’s what Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD finally makes its way to a home console and plays infinitely better than it did on the 3DS. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage is short, but it’s a thrill ride that sets the stage perfectly for Kingdom Hearts III. The only downer of the bunch is Kingdom Hearts X: Back Cover, which feels like it needed a bit more time to flesh out the story fully. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue may not satisfy those who desperately want Kingdom Hearts III, but it is the perfect collection to experience old and new adventures in the Kingdom Hearts universe while we wait.