It's baffling to consider that a new Kingdom Hearts hasn't been released on consoles in over a decade. The series' sappy emotion, bizarre juxtaposition of characters, and overly convoluted story may drive many away, but there's a stirring magic and innocence to it all that has never waned on us. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue proves this to be true once again, serving up a short yet promising episode of what to expect from Kingdom Hearts III, while packaging in a neat film and surprisingly solid remaster of Dream Drop Distance.
If you're expecting to jump into Kingdom Hearts, we highly discourage this assorted collection. The most significant portion – preposterously named 0.2 Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage – is meant for fans seeking revelations about Aqua's fate in the Realm of Darkness. It's not so much a complete story, but exactly what the title suggests, providing some context to Aqua's internal conflict, Terra and Ventus' statuses, and the premise leading right into the main trilogy topper. It's lore candy for connoisseurs, especially since there's a shocking tie-in at the end that shines new light on a classic moment.
If story revelations aren't your thing, then the gameplay won't disappoint. While the experience's brevity of 2-3 hours doesn't allow for systems with deep progression or customisation, our favourite mechanics partially return from Birth by Sleep with Shotlucks and Command Styles. Other attacks can't be assigned to the Command Deck, but nevertheless, what's here jives well with the hectic pace of combat. We still wish you could cancel failed blocks or a pointless combo to recover from stupid mistakes, but the flow of dodging, air dashing, and executing moves feels as good as ever.
A peculiar new addition is completing challenges to unlock wardrobe accessories for Aqua. You can earn differently patterned skirts, headgear, and whatnot, choosing to customise colours if you wish, but this hardly sets the game apart from its predecessors. What struck us most is the spectacle of the visuals. There's much more going on with the backdrops and immediate settings with a good command over reflective surfaces, lighting, scale, and textures that made us exclaim in wonder with massive areas and hallucinatory rooms. Even the materials of characters' outfits are evident with fine leather and textiles of intricate patterns. We were also particularly amazed by how grand some of the boss fights are, even if they may not be the greatest the series has been blessed with.
It's unfortunate that the game is limited to 30 frames-per-second on the standard PS4, but at least it runs at an unlocked 60 frames-per-second on the PS4 Pro. We could also nitpick at the low pool of enemies and puzzles in spite of some cool gimmicks, but keeping in mind that this is only a taste of what's to come, then the future looks bright. Besides, there are two other titles to consider after the main attraction, and Nintendo 3DS remaster Dream Drop Distance is the most robust reason to own this package.
Taking place after the events of Kingdom Hearts II, we follow Sora and Riku's journey to become Keyblade Masters by awakening worlds they saved from darkness that still slumber. Their individual resolves are tested with rich development for both characters that involves even more convoluted messes such as time travel. The gameplay, basing much of its deserved appeal on 'Flowmotion', transitions well to consoles, though some of the stylus mechanics like Reality Shifts and managing your Dream Eaters in a Pokémon Refresh-esque mode feel trite and not as engaging with analogue sticks. We still dislike the Drop system that forcefully removes you in the middle of lengthy fights, and some of the worlds can drag on for a bit longer than they need to, but the game has some highly memorable bosses and a unique slew of features that distinguish it as one of the series' best.
It helps that the reworked cutscenes and graphics are leagues above the Nintendo 3DS. The differences are stark with dramatically better anti-aliasing, updated textures, and 60 frames-per-second performance. This is the definitive experience, which is a 25 plus hour affair that somewhat counteracts the shockingly full retail price tag. At least there's the hour-long movie x Back Cover to sweeten the deal, which has incredible animation, suitable voice acting, and fairly compelling drama. However, if you never played the Unchained x app, it's harder to invest in the main cast and immediately understand what's going on.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a strong but unnecessarily pricey collection for die-hard fans, especially for those who don't intend to play Dream Drop Distance. For those who do, it most certainly is a wonderful game that has undergone an admirable transition between platforms. With a fair film and enticing episode in tow, there's only so much more our hearts can bear in anticipating Kingdom Hearts III.