Review: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue

Heart and soul

Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a daft name. There, we’ve got that out the way, we’ve stated the obvious, come to terms with it and can now draw a line under it. The name is daft, let’s move on.

While it lacks a major numbered entry like 1.5 and 2.5 HD Remix, 2.8 is still a solid chunk of Kingdom Hearts goodness that I thoroughly enjoyed keyblading my way through. Both of the games are amazing in their own ways, and one of them is probably the best looking game we’ve ever seen on the PlayStation 4. The included film is naff in every possible way, but also entirely skippable.

More importantly, 2.8 is where the pieces of Kingdom Hearts lore that have been dangling for the past 16 years finally fall into place, all set for the big grand finale in the eternally-upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3. While the previous two collections were great for those getting into the series for the first time, 2.8 is most definitely one for those acquainted with Sora and pals already.

The first game in the package, and arguably the main event, is Kingdom Hearts HD Dream Drop Distance. It’s bizarre that the game was a 3DS exclusive up to now, because it is probably the single most important entry in the series. It isn’t necessarily the best one to play, though.

KH 3D (Dream Drop Distance, 3D, because it was a 3DS game. Do you get their genius naming scheme?) is chronologically the latest current entry, being set after Kingdom Hearts 2. Playing as both Sora and Riku, you’re tasked with finding the “seven sleeping keyholes” found in a mix of returning and new worlds.

Impressively, the entire game is fully voiced.

On the whole, DDD plays out much the same as the main entries; you hack, you slash, and you magic your way through iconic Disney settings. This time the worlds have been attacked by ‘dream eaters’, creatures that are essentially Heartless and Nobodies but a bit more colourful.  While lifted from a 3DS game, there’s still the grand-scale bosses and set pieces we’ve come to love and, impressively, the entire game is fully voiced – no more stilted comic-strip-style dialogue scenes!

DDD introduces some new mechanics as well. Primarily, the new flowmotion parkour system lets you bounce and run along walls, spin on poles and pull off other very over the top acrobatics. It’s a system that takes a bit of getting used to thanks to dodgy timing, but once nailed, flowmotion feels just as natural as jumping or dashing in previous games.

How the game handles its two protagonists is interesting. Instead of having Sora and Riku team up, or have two separate stories a-la Chain of Memories, 3D has the “drop” system. After a certain amount of time, whoever you’re playing as will fall asleep and the game will pass over to the other. Sora and Riku could be in different worlds entirely, doing their own things, and the game will seamlessly switch between them when time is up. It’s a neat system that keeps things from getting too stale (like Kingdom Hearts 2’s structure that made you revisit each world twice), but it also causes a lot of faffing in menus while you tweak Sora and Riku individually and make sure they’re both adequately levelled for their next worlds.

Another new mechanic are the dream eaters themselves, which serve both as the enemy and as your party. Friendly dream eaters called ‘spirits’ can be crafted and raised, with each spirit giving their own abilities and spells for Sora and Riku to use. I miss having Disney characters fighting alongside Sora. I’d have loved Quasimodo or Quorra from Tron Legacy to fight beside me instead of a glowy bat thing. Not to mention Donald and Goofy are almost entirely absent from the game, which means the comedic relief they provide just isn’t there.

Mechanically I’m not sure the system works well. Finding the materials for the bigger, more impressive spirits is nigh-on impossible, and by the time you do you’ll find that the ones you started off with are just as powerful anyway. Why would I swap to a new spirit when one on my party is giving me all the spells and abilities I’ve grown accustomed to? The drop system also doesn’t fit very well with it, as eventually I just gave Sora and Riku the exact same team of spirits and tried to ignore micromanaging them entirely. Spirits are fun from a ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ angle, but I sure as heck miss having actual party members instead.

I miss having Disney characters fighting alongside Sora.

As it was originally a handheld game, Dream Drop Distance borrows the deck-building systems built up in Chain of Memories and Birth by Sleep. The skills and spells you have access to are installed into Sora’s and Riku’s decks, so combat plays out like a mix of hack and slash and Final Fantasy active-time battles. You can swing your keyblade as much as you like, but anything more advanced than that requires you to wait for its timer to be filled.

The system itself is fine, I like having to adapt which abilities I can use for a situation, but the menu you have to fight with in the heat of battle is just infuriating. By default, the menu will cycle through abilities that can be used, but when you’re trying to get a cheeky heal in it can be a nightmare trying to find the correct skill. This can be changed in the options, but that doesn’t do much to help. When you’re in the middle of a screen-filling boss throw bullet-hell numbers of projectiles at you, the last thing you want is to be distracted by the UI being a pain in the arse. I vastly, vastly prefer the main entries’ system of submenus and hotkeys.

Kingdom Hearts’ main appeal has always been its worlds. Getting to explore Disney settings and chill with their cast makes progressing through the game exciting, especially when you see a world based on your favourite film just on the horizon. 3D makes the smart decision to do away with a lot of the series staples like Atlantica and Halloween Town, and instead has a mostly new collection of themed worlds to explore. Notre Dame, Tron Legacy, Fantasia and more make for unique worlds to explore, and even the few returning worlds are slightly less commonly reused than Olympus sodding Colosseum. Everything feels fresh, and I really appreciate the use of less popular films like The Three Musketeers.

The final world, which is a series original and not based on any Disney film, drags on for far too long, but that’s par for the course with Kingdom Hearts. If you’ve played The End of the World or the World That Never Was in previous entries, you know how the final quarter of 3D will pan out: lots of frustrating bosses in a visually impressive landscape, but you don’t really notice because that’s where the entire story happens.

Every other game is explained in detail.

The series has always been criticised for having an indecipherable story, but Dream Drop Distance HD should, hopefully, lay that to rest. Every other game is explained in detail through journals and glossaries to the extent that you could have only played the two numbered entries and still be able to follow what’s going on. Sure there’s the usual monologues rife with metaphor and nonsense that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s almost entirely disposable dialogue meant to confuse Sora and Riku anyway.

DDD does a good job of tying together 16 years’ worth of lore, making the connections between seemingly separate plot threads clear, and laying all the cards on the table for the final confrontation in Kingdom Hearts 3. I had plenty of ‘ah-ha!’ moments where things that have been right in front of me for years were made apparent, and I had more than a few theories of my own before they were answered in the game’s conclusion. It’s a JRPG plot full of abstract concepts and strange terms, but it’s one that makes its bizarre logic surprisingly accessible, especially considering the reputation Kingdom Hearts has built.

As a remaster, 3D HD LMNOP has its ups and downs. Compared to the original 3DS version it’s definitely a massive upgrade with its high quality textures and solid 60 frames per second. The jaginess inherent to the 3DS hardware is completely gone too, making it, as you’d expect, far and away the prettiest version of the game.

But as a PS4 game released in 2017? Not that impressive. The environments can feel very empty, there’s some dodgy lip syncing and some of the character models are noticeably low-poly, even when accounting for the game’s cartoony aesthetic. The controls are also iffy at times, especially in the Spirit-themed minigames, as it tries to recreate stylus-and-touchscreen controls using the DualShock 4’s subpar touch pad and analogue sticks. I wasn’t expecting Kingdom Hearts 3-level tech here, but it’s painfully obvious that little attention was given to making this a console game and not a console port of a 3DS game.

Kingdom Hearts HD Dream Drop Distance isn’t the best game in the series, but it also isn’t the worst by any means. What it lacks in scale and technical ability, it makes up for with a story that finally brings together years of dangling plot threads and clever imagery to set the tone for the next entry. All the pieces are put in their positions for the final confrontation, so if you’re planning on playing Kingdom Hearts 3, Dream Drop Distance is essential playing.

  • Interesting world choices from less well-known Disney films.
  • The story finally comes together.
  • Flowmotion is great.
  • Environments can feel sparse.
  • Some dodgy adaptation of 3DS controls to the DualShock 4.
  • The menu system.

HD Dream Drop Distance is essential playing if you’re intended to play Kingdom Hearts 3. Great world choices and a story that finally answers long-standing questions makes putting up with a few slightly iffy mechanics worth it.

Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage (hereby referred to as just 0.2) is way, way more than a silly name. It’s one of the most exciting, and easily the most beautiful games in the entire series. Heck, I’d say it’s the best looking game on PlayStation 4 right now.

0.2 is a bit difficult to pin down chronologically. Officially stated to be an epilogue to the PSP’s Birth by Sleep and a prelude to Kingdom Hearts 3, it also acts as a follow-up to Dream Drop Distance and a midquel to the first game. Despite sounding complicated, the whole thing fits nicely into the landscape Dream Drop Distance sets out, meaning there’s not too much mental straining needed to follow what’s happening. As long as you know the basics of Birth by Sleep (either having played the game or read the summary found in Dream Drop Distance), you’ll be able to keep up with 0.2.

It follows Aqua, one of the three leads of Birth by Sleep, as she moves through the realm of darkness in search of a way out. It’s not a full Kingdom Hearts game, taking me only a couple of hours to complete and taking place in just two different worlds. Much in the same way that Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was a short, standalone taster for The Phantom Pain, 0.2 is the first look we get at Kingdom Hearts 3’s new tech. And boy howdy does it show that off well.

The PS4 has many great looking games, but 0.2 surpasses every single one of them

This is the first time we get to see Kingdom Hearts running on Unreal Engine 4, and it makes full use of everything the engine has to offer. The visuals utterly blew me away, with every particle and lighting effect adding so much to that “Disney magic” aesthetic the series has always gone for. Spells feel amazing and look powerful, and enemies liberally spew darkness, water and fire during the course of a fight. The PS4 has many great looking games, but 0.2 surpasses every single one of them.

That tech boost also helps the level design in huge ways. One of my criticisms of Dream Drop Distance HD was that the environments sometimes felt a bit sparse, with little hiding the fact the worlds were a series of bigger and smaller boxes joined up. 0.2, on the other hand, felt incredibly detailed in its design. Areas were surprisingly large at times, with plenty of places to explore and an element of verticality we don’t normally see until the final set pieces of the other games.

Mechanically, 0.2 is a cross between the numbered entries and Birth by Sleep. Gone are the deckbuilding elements of BBS, but certain features like the shotlock system (which lets you aim and fire at Heartless in a stunning blast of colour) are still there. There’s also an interesting style mechanic, where chaining up attacks quickly can let you access stronger spells or entirely new fighting styles for a limited amount of time. It makes the proceedings much more aggressive as you rack up the combos, then ramp up into an even more frantic moveset, and then end with a stunning finisher.

Hundreds of Heartless can join together to make flowing masses of darkness

The game really comes into its own during the boss battle segments, which are primarily used to show off the Heartless swarming tech we’ve seen in alpha KH3 footage. Hundreds of Heartless can join together to make flowing masses of darkness that are absolutely massive and make for really flashy fighting. Knocking off dozens of Heartless in one combo, or being swept up by the current as they flail at you really is breath-taking in a way even some of the better bosses in previous entries were unable to pull off.

Hopefully for Kingdom Hearts 3 they function a bit more dynamically, though, as at times it felt like I was fighting just one angry-looking thing instead of the thousands of Heartless it was supposed to be. Enemies joining together to make bigger ones on the fly, maybe?

One iffy thing about 0.2 is the wardrobe. During the course of the game, there are various hidden challenges that can be completed, and doing so rewards you with cosmetic items. They range from the sensible (by Kingdom Hearts standards) like different patterns for your clothing to the ridiculous such as wings and cat ears.

It bothers me that the first Kingdom Hearts game to have a solo woman lead also conveniently has a tacked on cosmetics mechanic, but it bothers me just as much that those tacked on cosmetics don’t even show up in the cutscenes. As soon as cinematics roll Aqua is back in her default costume, so what was even the point of faffing with cat ears and cyborg shoulder pads?

Despite the wardrobe guff, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep A Fragmentary Passage is the highlight of the entire collection. Its shortness left me desperately needing more, but considering its job is to make me excited for Kingdom Hearts 3, I’d say that’s a plus. The new visuals and awesome boss fights make this something you can’t miss.

  • Stunning visuals, the best on the PS4.
  • Swarm boss fights are awesome.
  • Clever level designs.
  • Too dang short.
  • Wardrobe is out of place.

A Fragmentary Passage is the highlight of the collection. An exciting look at the series’ future and a great Kingdom Hearts installment in its own right. More than anything, I can’t get over how damn gorgeous it is.

Kingdom Hearts x Back Cover is easily the weakest part of the collection. Fortunately, it’s also the one I can justify not spending as much time discussing, because it’s not a game. Back Cover is the movie portion of 2.8, much like how 358/2 Days and ReCoded were presented in the previous collections. Unlike those two, however, Back Cover is really not worth your time.

Set during the events of Kingdom Hearts X (the earliest prequel, set long before even Birth by Sleep), Back Cover follows the six followers of ‘The Master’, a mysterious character who has the ability to see into the future. After it becomes apparent there is a traitor amongst the followers, intrigue and conflict break out, with each member revealed to be hiding secrets from the rest.

In theory this sounds pretty cool. There’s certainly a political, almost Game of Thrones-y feel to the concept, but it utterly fails to stick any sort of landing. Only one character, the Master himself, is at all entertaining to watch, and the world all the events take place in – one that is meant to be every world combined into one land – feels entirely empty. Any raised stakes don’t have the emotional punch they could’ve had.

Most scenes amount to two or more of the masked followers talking in an empty street or a warehouse, which would be tolerable if the performances were any good. As it is, they’re standard at best vocal performances even by video game standards. Again, The Master sticks out as being the only decent part in the entire thing, with Ray Chase giving him enough personality and humour to carry any scene he’s in single-handed.

They’re standard at best vocal performances, even by video game standards.

The problem with Back Cover is that it’s video game cutscenes posing as a fully animated film. Running on Unreal Engine 4 as a way to showcase some of the tech that will be used in Kingdom Hearts 3, if Back Cover was cutscenes separated by moments of gameplay, it would be fine by series standards. Lots of JRPG guff about hearts and darkness and light, but tolerable.

As a film that I have to spend an hour watching, though, it’s borderline unbearable, even with me being such a big Kingdom Hearts fan. The performances are horrendous, there’s no ending to speak of, the visual design feels empty, and the very few action scenes there are end before they get good.

Please either get Back Cover out the way before playing the two games in 2.8, or skip it entirely. I feel like I wasted my time watching it, and wish I’d just left the game as a whole with the great taste of 0.2 Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage still in my mouth.

  • A nice showcase of Unreal Engine 4.
  • Completely inconsequential to the rest of the series.
  • It’s short.
  • Poor vocal performances.
  • No closure.
  • Empty world that nothing happens in.

Even by video game film adaptations, Back Cover is bad. Nothing of any importance happens, it takes place so long ago it has no impact on the games, the characters are boring and there’s no actual ending. You can skip this one, and you’d probably be better for doing so.

Ultimately, 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue has one purpose – to pave the way for Kingdom Hearts 3 – and it pulls it off incredibly well. Dream Drop Distance HD has a great story and some really cool mechanical ideas, but is let down somewhat by the limitations of the 3DS hardware it was adapted from. But 0.2 Birth by Sleep A Fragmentary Passage is just stellar. It gives the perfect taster of what to expect in Kingdom Hearts 3, while also being its own awesomely designed short-form experience. If we discount its smaller scale, 0.2 is probably one of the best instalments of the series we’ve ever had.

Newcomers should stay away from 2.8 until they’ve played (or read, or watched, or whatever) Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, at the absolute bare minimum. But for fans both dedicated and returning, picking this up is pretty much essential (except for Back Cover, that’s not essential for anything ever).

And now begins the long wait for Kingdom Hearts 3. I’ll be in Traverse Town if you need me.

A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

Platform: PlayStation 4

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix 1st Production Department/Square Enix

Price: £44.99

Release date: Out Now

  • Dream Drop Distance is essential for the ongoing story, and ties things together nicely.
  • 0.2 Birth by Sleep is a gorgeous look at what’s to come.
  • Plenty of extras and unlockables across both games.
  • The Dream Drop Distance port has some control issues.
  • X Back Cover is just awful.
  • 0.2 Birth by Sleep is hecking short.

A collection for fans and not newcomers, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a great package of two fabulous games and one appallingly bad film. It’s made me unhealthily excited for Kingdom Hearts 3.

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It's got heart.

Joe is LPVG’s resident hardware nerd. If it’s overpriced and has gaudy RGB lighting, he’s probably drooling over it. He loves platformers, MMOs, RPGs, hack ‘n slashers and FPS, with his favourite games being Mirror’s Edge, Left 4 Dead, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Oblivion and Dead Space. Don’t ask him about his unhealthily large Monsters Inc memorabilia collection. Seriously, just don’t ask…

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