Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue Review



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An occasionally satisfying appetizer to Kingdom Hearts 3.

The awkwardly titled Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue is meant to set the stage for the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts 3, but this collection will really only be of value to those who are already well versed in all things hearts and heartless. Without that background, dropping into this collection at this point would likely leave amateur keyblade wielders in a confusing place.

Final Chapter Prologue is composed of three portions: 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, Dream Drop Distance, and Back Cover. The first of those three, a mini-chapter that fills in the gaps of Aqua’s history, is 2.8’s most exciting and rewarding aspect.

Exploring what happens to Aqua after the events of the 2010 PSP spinoff, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, A Fragmentary Passage is a genuinely fun and exciting three-hour glimpse at what Kingdom Hearts 3 could be. Fighting with Aqua feels powerful, and chaining together magic and physical attacks against enemies small and large is the series’ combat at its best. Each Kingdom Hearts entry tweaks the real-time combat, but A Fragmentary Passage’s take works in an intuitive and engaging fashion that encourages a fluid flow that’s mirrored by Aqua’s fierce yet almost ballet-like movements.

Exploring the Dark World, where Aqua finds herself trapped, is also a reminder of what the Kingdom Hearts series’ best levels are, harkening back to the design of the original Kingdom Hearts and its direct sequel. The franchise’s weakest worlds, often found in its spinoffs, have felt like little more than a series of flat, hollow rooms, but A Fragmentary Passage’s Disney World-turned-dark delivers a visually imaginative environment on a much grander scale. Each subsection of the Dark World has branching paths, treasures hidden in nooks and crannies, and a verticality that encourages exploration. The campaign also offers a welcome twist on some of the most overused enemies in the series, introducing a scale that I found genuinely intimidating in the final moments.

The Dark World is a grand reminder of what Kingdom Hearts’ best levels can be.

Speaking of that ending (without spoiling where it goes) I was surprised at how directly A Fragmentary Passage seems to lead into Kingdom Hearts 3. I certainly came out of Aqua’s journey as excited for the sequel as I was when I first finished Kingdom Hearts 2, though now the still-nebulous release date of the third game feels more aggravating than it did back in 2005.

So while A Fragmentary Passage is a truly fun glimpse ahead, it is still a short one that doesn’t necessarily merit jumping into this entire separate collection (which is different from the one coming on the series’ 15th anniversary in March). Aqua’s journey includes optional side objectives which unlock costuming options for the keyblade master, but outside of the fun visual component these alterations don’t have an affect on gameplay. (Still, being able to change the color of Aqua’s outfit, add awesome armor, and give her Minnie Mouse ears is an enjoyable addition that I wouldn’t mind seeing applied in future installments.)

Simple and Clean

But the impact of Aqua’s journey, while enlightening, for Kingdom Hearts 3 remains uncertain at this point, and didn’t radically shift my understanding of the series’ story so far – and the same feels true of the other two portions of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8.

When the spinoff Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance originally came out on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012, IGN gave it an 8.5, saying:

“Despite its problems, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is an enjoyable experience with an engaging story and incredible characterization. Although the platforming is far from fluid and the story can feel convoluted at times, when KH3D soars, it soars high – capturing that KH magic that has propelled the series to great success for a decade now. Dream Drop Distance captures the quality of the console releases, but in bite-sized chunks fit for a portable, and successfully whisks players away to the world of Disney films like Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pinocchio, Tron: Legacy and more. Overall it’s a great new entry in the series, one befitting Sora and Riku’s return. With the excellent additions of Flowmotion combat and the Drop system, this may be the best portable entry in the series to date.”

This 2017 remaster is surprisingly clean, polishing up the handheld game for the PS4 so that it compares well to the previous updates of the Nintendo DS and PSP games in previous Kingdom Hearts collections. The original version’s touch-based systems have also been translated well enough to the traditional controller setup, with occasional awkward use of the DualShock 4’s touchpad. But because none of those controls are all that necessary to Dream Drop Distance’s moment-to-moment real-time RPG action gameplay, they’re not much of an issue.

The very fun Flowmotion combat system remains a blast.

Some of the additions Dream Drop Distance made to the series, such as Dream Eaters, which are party members that can be trained like a cross between Pokemon and Nintendogs, are still relatively uninteresting. Meanwhile, the worlds themselves, while impressively big for handheld games of their day, are noticeably sparse at times. But it’s a decent Kingdom Hearts spinoff that makes good use of the very fun Flowmotion combat system, which turns virtually any surface in the world into an opportunity to attack enemies in creative ways.

Again, its story is more table setting than meal, though, as Sora and Riku are put through the paces of the Mark of Mastery exam to become true keyblade masters. For those who want every bit of Sora’s story ahead of Kingdom Hearts 3, it’s certainly worth a playthrough, but those who have already experienced the 3DS version won’t have much reason to return here.

Begin Again

Lastly, Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover is an animated movie that fills in some of the story dating back to the earliest portions of the Kingdom Hearts mythos, some of which was previously explored in the mobile and browser game Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ.  The film is well animated, which bodes well for the cutscenes of Kingdom Hearts 3, and the voice cast includes some fun performances from Travis Willingham (Harvey Dent in Batman: The Telltale Series), Ray Chase (Noctis in Final Fantasy XV) and more.

But it’s an often-slow build to a conclusion that leaves just as many questions open as it attempts to answer. The segmented, chapter-by-chapter unfolding of the story both works in its favor by making it easy to watch all at once or spread out over time, but ultimately translates into an only intermittently engaging experience.

The Verdict

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is the most far-reaching package of content in the franchise, stretching from the series’ earliest moments all the way to its most recent, but an understanding of its scope requires some history with Kingdom Hearts lore. And because much of it touches on familiar territory, as a whole it lacks an essential feeling that the main numbered entries and spinoffs (like Birth By Sleep) evoke. A Fragmentary Passage is a truly exciting glimpse through the door to Kingdom Hearts’ future. That look ahead is a wonderful appetizer for what’s to come, but hopefully that tease, along with the rest of the tablet setting done here, doesn’t make the wait for the full course that is Kingdom Hearts 3 more difficult in the long run.

Editors’ Choice



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