Title: Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release date: 1/24/2017
Hours Played: 15
In the eternal wait for the release of Kingdom Hearts 3, Square Enix decided to drop one more filler title to try and hold us over in the form of Kingdom Hearts 2.8. It is the latest (and hopefully last) in the remastered titles that have released in the build-up to Kingdom Hearts 3. It includes Dream Drop Distance, originally a 3DS exclusive, as well an episode featuring the character Aqua, titled A Fragmentary Passage, and a mini movie, Kingdom Hearts Back Cover, which are both new entries in this title. The Kingdom Hearts franchise has one of the most convoluted storylines in modern video gaming, but this collection efficiently fills in narrative gaps and gives players a better understanding of the overall narrative before KH 3 is finally (if ever) released.
Of the three titles, A Fragmentary Passage is easily the most enjoyable. It takes place after the events of Birth by Sleep and follows Aqua as she makes her way through the Realm of Darkness. The whole episode will take about three hours but can be extended it you want to collect every item and beat the in-game challenges. There are only four worlds to explore, but they are fun to experience and beautiful to look at. Each one has its own gimmicky mechanic that fits nicely with the theme of each world, like having to find gears to turn back a clock. Even though each world is well crafted, sadly they all feel too small and only leave you wanting more. The combat is fluid, but surprisingly simplistic when compared to previous titles. This, along with the fact that there are only a handful of enemy types, makes the combat gameplay get dull rather quickly. While the handful of boss fights are exciting, there really isn’t much challenge to be found in this episode–unless, of course, you try it on the hardest difficulty, but this mode only unlocks after the end of the first playthrough. The soundtrack is, as with every other KH title, wonderful. The beautiful melodies help give each world and each fight the appropriate tone, whether it be a somber song as Aqua travels alone through the darkness or epic orchestral arrangements as you try to bring down a powerful titan.
Considering its decent quality but lack of depth and content, A Fragmentary Passage sadly feels like an extended demo. It was nice to get another story about Aqua, but the whole episode essentially feels like a teaser for Kingdom Hearts 3. The whole experience might feel a little like filler, but a large scene offered at the end of this episode does show that the story is actually progressing, rather than just covering back-story. Thankfully, this does provide the anticipation necessary for this episode to contribute to the series’ progression.
Speaking of back-stories, Kingdom Hearts Back Cover is short HD movie depicting the events that are basically the starting point for the entire series. It runs just over an hour and is one of the better movies featured in any of the HD collections, which is impressive considering it covers the story that takes place in the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Unchained. The story revolves around the “Foretellers,” who were disciples to the mysterious Master, and how they carry out the roles he bestowed upon each of them in the wake of a prophecy forewarning the coming of darkness and their end. It’s visually appealing and has some nice fight scenes alongside some notable moments of betrayal as everyone does what they think is right to prevent the coming prophecy. It can get confusing story-wise, for anyone who isn’t a long time fan of the series and does little to clear up some of the franchise’s longer-running questions. Similar to A Fragmentary Passage, this entry feels more like buildup for Kingdom Hearts 3 than its own title.
The final entry in KH 2.8 is Dream Drop Distance HD. It’s brought to the big screen from the 3DS and it’s definitely the game worth sinking the most time into. The game doesn’t change anything with story or add anything new to the original title but generally it does benefit from the changeover to the PS4. The game feels much smoother to play and battles become more fast-paced. The graphics are improved, looking phenomenal in HD, and load times are reduced to make this version a smoother experience than the original. The mini-games that used to require the 3DS touch screen are turned into reaction triggers, but this doesn’t improve all of them; some reality shifts feel a bit clunky to perform and the new format can’t hold a candle to the ease and fluidity of the stylus. Plus, petting your dream-eaters was a nicer experience with the touch screen. But regardless of these minor issues, this experience was a blast to revisit and a triumphant new-console update on a game that was already a great time. If you haven’t played Dream Drop Distance Before or just want to play it again, this is the version to pick up.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is an enjoyable grab-bag of franchise goodies, but the lack of solid content or complete innovation makes the game feel like a place holder. While A Fragmentary Passage is a fun, casual experience, it feels like an extended demo, and Back Cover is a short movie. This leaves Dream Drop as the only full title of this release, and other than environmental and mechanical upgrades, it doesn’t offer anything new to long-time fans of the series. It sets up everything nicely for the release of KH 3, but leaves you wishing you were playing that highly-anticipated title instead of yet another remaster. That aside, this is the best collection for getting prepped for what’s ahead, which I can only hope is a Kingdom Hearts 3 release date.