It's no secret that the Kingdom Hearts series has transformed into quite a meandering and occasionally confusing beast. After 2005's Kingdom Hearts II, the series spread itself across three additional platforms and continued telling side stories that expanded the lore, but never strictly progressed it any further than where things leave off with II. With the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III set to bring it all to resolution, Square Enix has taken it upon itself to compile all the games so far – in some form – in a three part collection for PlayStation platforms. The final part – Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue – is due out this year, and the games included will set up the story for the epic conclusion to this ongoing saga, whenever Tetsuya Nomura gets around to releasing it. So naturally, one must be wondering, how does this compilation stack up?
First, we'll go over the Kingdom Hearts 3D remake. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance launched four years ago for the 3DS, telling the first story that takes things a bit past the ending of II and into new territory. The demo we tried out had three different segments: a rooftop battle with Wargoyle in La Cite de Cloches, a trip through Traverse Town (again), and a look at The Grid from Tron: Legacy. What's immediately striking about the port is how well it looks and runs on the PS4. If we hadn't already seen it on the 3DS, this could easily be mistaken for a native PS4 game. Colours have certain vibrancy in ways they never did before, even in 3D, and everything runs at what appears to be 60 frames-per-second.
The Flowmotion mechanic – a somewhat broken means of enhancing combat via aggressive, dream-like parkour – looks flashier and more fluid than ever before, lending itself to battles that become veritable fireworks displays of carnage and Keyblade flailing spectacles. And don't worry, the touchscreen-centric mini-games have been swapped out with more console-friendly solutions that seamlessly integrate into the experience. Ultimately, this is still the same game that graced Nintendo's portable a few years back, but it's never looked better, and would stand as the best looking KH game if not for the other title it's sharing the disc with.
That other game is Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage, which easily takes the crown for the most confusingly named game in the series yet. This short game is set to star Aqua, one of the stars of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, as she stumbles through the shadows of the realm of darkness. What's immediately evident about this story is the sorrowful tone that it takes. We see the pain that Aqua is experiencing from the loneliness, as she explores a ruined Cinderella's castle town in search of five gears to fix a clock that will help her get across a bridge. It's certainly fun to play through, but you do feel sorry for this poor girl as she continuously reminds herself of better days and her friends back home to prevent herself from going insane.
The goal of Aqua's episode seems to be to give players an idea of what to expect out of Kingdom Hearts III, and if it's any indication, there's lots to be excited about. The level of detail in the environment of the ruined town is unlike anything the series has seen. Flying debris hangs scattered in the air, frozen in time, over the streets dimly lit by streetlights. When the fodder Shadow enemies inevitably show up and crawl along the ground, their silhouettes resemble actual shadows. The design of the stage itself has a lot more verticality to it, as well, something that previous releases seemed to have shied away from. Aqua spends most of her time figuring out how to hop ever higher up the dilapidated rooftops, and traversal feels smoother than ever.
Combat is nothing that hasn't been seen before, but it still manages to be as exciting as ever. Aqua carries over her moveset from BBS, so Shotlocks and Form Changes are the name of the game here, along with the Flowmotion of KH3D. True to form, Aqua's magic is as formidable as it's ever been; toasting enemies with Thundaga has a satisfying feel to it, and the visual effects of all the magic spells are top notch. We finished out the demo with a battle against a massive Heartless that was formed by dozens of Shadows joining together, hopefully setting the precedent for more intense bosses later on.
All in all, we absolutely loved what we saw of this last remix. The PS4's horsepower is definitely being used to great effect here, coaxing out some truly spectacular visuals. Kingdom Hearts 3D seems like it's the main draw here, but Aqua's side-story does a great job of showing us what to expect from Kingdom Hearts III, while also doing a great job of setting its own mood. Newcomers to the series probably won't want to start with this one (it'd be like starting a TV series towards the end of a season), but fans will find plenty to love here. It seems that Square Enix has saved the best for last.
Are you going quackers like Donald Duck over Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, or do you think that this is sounding Goofy? Let us know in the comments section below.