There’s something gleeful about a new Kingdom Hearts game. The winning formula of combining a Square Enix action-role playing game with some of Disney’s most beloved characters has spawned various spin-offs, side stories and a baffling numbering system, but we’re still waiting on the third mainline entry to appear. Sadly that isn’t this game, but its 2.8 sequencing tells us that we’re getting close.
Combining the HD remaster of previous 3DS exclusive Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, with the brand new Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, as well as the extended cutscene Kingdom Hearts x Back Cover, it’s already a wonder if you’re able to follow what’s going on. I’ll try to go easy on you.
For Kingdom Hearts fans it’s likely to be 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage that fills them with the most glee. Built from the ground up in Unreal Engine 4, the expectation is that this is a taster of what Kingdom Hearts III will look and feel like, and if that’s the case then we’re all in for a treat once it arrives.
Following the events of PSP’s, Birth By Sleep, you take control of Aqua as she attempts to escape the Dark World that she’s been lost in for the last decade. You find her at Level 50, meaning that in terms of combat she’s an absolute riot, and within the opening section alone you’ll unlock a good chunk of her formidable arsenal. The action-heavy combat is a blast, with the generous lock on helping to keep your combos flowing, while the three difficulty settings mean you can choose to literally walk through the whole thing or ramp up the difficulty so you’re chewing your way past every single enemy.
It’s a huge step for the franchise in the looks department, with Aqua, her enemies and the various locations you visit being absolutely stunning. The frame rate doesn’t always quite cope with some of the more intensive settings, but it holds up fairly well. In some ways though the whole experience feels like an extended demo or an additional prologue, but as long as you approach it as such you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
What is midly disappointing is that you have to buy the whole package to experience it, particularly if you’ve already completed Dream Drop Distance on 3DS. The HD remaster does little to improve on the handheld title, even if the smart 3D visuals have made the jump to PS4 surprisingly well.
The action orientated combat of Dream Drop Distance does at least carry one major difference over other entries in the series with the addition of Dream Eaters – spirits that you can create and who will subsequently join your party and fight by your side. You can create new spirits throughout your adventure, and then by nurturing them you can increase both their stats and in turn your abilities – mostly by performing some digital stroking. It works as well here on the DS4’s trackpad as it did on the 3DS’ touchscreen, but as with other such gimmicky mini-games it never feels as though it’s a serious way of gaining the upper hand in battle.
Linking with your spirits is an integral means of ensuring success, and Sora and Riku do so in mildly different ways. Sora uses link attacks to team up with his team of Spirits while Riku can absorb his own Spirits to power up his combos. You’ll probably be having too much fun battering the hell out of evil spirits to be too concerned about the differences.
The adventure itself, following Sora and Riku’s Mark of Mastery trial, is a fun outing that takes in a pleasing range of Disney’s movies, though the included Tron: Legacy portion actually feels as though it dates the experience. For Square Enix aficionados there’s also a number of characters from the fantastic The World Ends With You which lends it a slightly different flavour from the earlier Kingdom Hearts games.
The weakest part of the 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue package is undoubtedly the overly lengthy extended cutscene that is Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover. Dealing with the earliest events in the Kingdom Hearts timeline and covering the same ground as mobile/browser title Kingdom Hearts X, we learn about the mischievous Master of Masters and his apprentices, and the events prior to the Keyblade War.
While it certainly looks the part, having been crafted in Unreal Engine 4, the narrative could have been given much more energy had it been half the length, and actually tied up some of its loose ends. Kingdom Hearts fans will no doubt appreciate the relatively clear storytelling – a welcome change from the norm – and anything that adds to the lore, but there’s too little excitement to be found within. It’s not helped by a lack of playback options the first time through, although access to the separate chapters is thankfully unlocked once you’ve completed it.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue may be saddled with a ridiculous title, but the package offers plenty to enjoy. It may not be the most welcoming of games, thanks to Kingdom Hearts being amongst the worst offenders for convoluted narratives, but the HD remaster of Dream Drop Distance combined with a glimpse of what is to come for the franchise makes this more or less essential for fans.