The Kingdom Hearts franchise started life as a curious beast when it released on PlayStation 2 back in 2002. It combined characters from the Final Fantasy franchise with characters from Disney properties and created a fun and, at the time, fresh JRPG experience. As time has progressed the franchise has grown more and more, with its lore becoming quite the challenge to keep track of. With a third game due out at some point in the near future it would be a smart idea for Square Enix to help bring everyone up to speed by making sure everything is available in one place.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is the start of that collection on PlayStation 4. It’s also quite a peculiar package to older series fans, as the three offerings within the package do away with some of the elements that the older entries in the series were known for. The most obvious is the lack of characters from the Final Fantasy series.
The only appearance by a character from the Final Fantasy universe happens in the main game of the package, Dream Drop Distance. An HD remake of the 3DS original, the graphics are given a nice upgrade from the handheld, but look far from cutting edge, which is emphasised in the two other available parts of the package. Despite the small niggle in graphics its combat, for the most part, translates well to the DualShock 4.
Unlike the original games you fight your battles solo, calling upon small creatures known as Dream Eaters to assist you. If that sounds a bit like Pokemon that’s because, in a way, it is. You create the Dream Eater you want, bond with it, name it, feed it, use it in battle and level it up. Depending on how you treat them they develop certain personality traits as well. As intriguing as it is it’s something that doesn’t transfer to console that well. Petting and bonding with your Dream Eater would be done with the touch screen on a 3DS but on the DualShock 4 it’s just awkwardly twiddling your analog sticks.
Even if you mostly ignore the Dream Eater parts of the game, though, you can still have a good time. You play as one of two series mainstays, Sora and Riku, as they try and pass an exam that will see them become Keyblade Masters. To make sure you don’t just play through the game with one character and end up having to tread through it all again with an under-levelled character, Dream Drop Distance uses a mechanic known as a Drop Gauge.
The Drop Gauge is something you’ll want to keep an eye on as you push through a level because, as soon as gauge empties, you’ll switch to the other character. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a battle, as soon as the time has run out on the gauge you’re forced to swap. Although it’s heartless, it encourages you to be smart with your time and means that you’ll end up with your characters in the same place most the time.
There are seven worlds to save, but finding out what they are is part of the fun. You’ll get a different viewpoint and different tasks in each world depending on whether you’re Sora or Riku. To get to each new world for the first time with a character you’ll have to instigate a Dive. It works in a similar way to the Gummi Ship parts of the original games, although different Dives will come with different challenges. Sometimes you’ll have to fight a boss, whereas other times you’ll have to collect a certain amount of items. They’re small differences but they help add variety.
Speaking of variety, the introduction of Flowmotion in Dream Drop Distance is a welcome addition. With a simple button press you can move faster across a part of the map, or set yourself up for a more powerful attack against an enemy by launching off a wall or, even better, a larger enemy. You’ll soon fall in to a pattern, but Flowmotion does give you a different way to go about attacking bad guys. Something that breaks up the mashing of the attack button and flicking through your combat deck.
The combat deck can be a frustrating way to gear yourself up for battles. The reason it’s frustrating is each time you use a special move, something you’ll find in each stage, it’ll skip on to the next part of the sequence. It does allow customisation though, and if you’re not overusing the special moves, you can create a nice wave of attack and healing to keep your enemies at bay whilst keeping your character alive.
Dream Drop Distance may be the biggest part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, but it’s also the only part of the package that isn’t new. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage follows on from PSP game Birth By Sleep and is a completely new entry. In it you play as Aqua as you try and figure out how you found yourself where you are and, more importantly, how to escape it.
The first thing you’ll notice is how much slicker it looks compared to Dream Drop Distance. This is because the technology used to make A Fragmentary Passage is similar to what is being used for Kingdom Hearts 3. It’s a relatively short experience that should only take you around three hours to complete, but there’s replayability there due to challenges you can complete to unlock new costumes for Aqua.
There’s some nice moments that will make long term series fans smile. There is a slight issue though. With it being a game to bridge the gap between 2 and 3, in that it ruins plot points of Dream Drop Distance so if both games are new to you then you might consider waiting to play it after you’ve had your fill of Dream Drop Distance. Despite that there’s visually impressive boss battles that feel frantic, even if they do repeat themselves a few too many times in the game’s short playthrough.
You’ll be pinging about the screen in combat hitting numerous enemies effortlessly, as is the charm to the combat of Kingdom Hearts which is really emphasised in the updated engine. Locking on and staying locked on to enemies remains pointlessly fiddly, although this has been a long running issue with the series, especially in boss fights. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll definitely get a few hours of enjoyment out of this part of the game at the very least.
The final part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a film called Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover which delves in to the backstory with a level of depth that hasn’t been seen before. It’s about an hour long and although it looks nice it’s unlikely you’ll get much from it unless you’re a diehard fan of the series. Even then most of your excitement will probably be from the fact that this should be a glimpse of what the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts 3 will look like.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a nice enough package. Other developers might’ve settled for just releasing Dream Drop Distance by itself but Square Enix decided to add that little bit more. It’s also a package that is very hard to recommend to people that aren’t already fans of the series. There’s interesting bits of story told in each section of the package but, for the most part, they require you to hold the knowledge of the other games in the franchise. If you’re a fan that never got a chance to play Dream Drop Distance then the package is definitely worth considering. If you’re only picking it up for Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover and Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage you’ll have some fun, but it’s worth keeping in mind that these experiences aren’t very long.
You can watch me play a tiny part of Dream Drop Distance and A Fragmentary Passage below.
+ Helps pad out the lore.
+ The bits using the Kingdom Hearts 3 Engine Look Nice
+ Dream Drop Distance is ported well.
+ A great bundle for series diehards.
- Voice over work is fairly poor.
- Gameplay can be lacklustre at points.
- Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover isn't.
- Not very accessible to series newcomers.