Readers of the site should know what the Kingdom Hearts series has done for me is beyond words. Even so, I’ve created many news articles, opinion pieces, and features on Tetsuya Nomura’s love child. So like any die-hard fan I couldn’t wait for Kingdom Hearts 2.8. It would have brand new content where the other remastered collections did not and it certainly didn’t hurt that Aqua was the focus for one of them. Plus, the addition of a story that would shed more light on the Keyblade War was just icing on the cake. As a fan, I couldn’t be more overjoyed for how things turned out.
We’ll start out with what people are probably most excited about regarding the Final Chapter Prologue and that’s Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep A Fragmentary Passage. Yes, I am aware the last sentence was a mouthful. During this adventure you control Master Aqua who is a main character in the PSP title, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep. Due to the events of that game, she is and has been trapped in the Realm of Darkness (or a literal hell for all intents and purposes). She’s been there for quite a long time as she struggles to push forward in an attempt to both survive and have hope that she’ll one day make it back to the real world.
Right off the bat it’s made clear that her mental psyche is failing. She longs for the time of days past and is honestly just short of going insane. This is extremely telling by the narrative and voice actress performance respectively. Aqua’s only plan of action is to push on not knowing where her journey will end up and it takes her to some pretty strange places. The collection of levels are twisted as they are bizarre with some familiar world back drops.
The town that acts as Cinderella’s home has been morphed by the darkness so that it’s uneven and torn apart while still floating in air. Parts of Snow White’s world that are here have turned into a nightmarish area of never-ending corridors and mirrors. Then there’s brand new level designs of contorted forests and trails all steeped in shadow. There was never a time when the atmosphere for this game brought a happy thought as our heroine kept chugging on. The colors, lighting, and other miscellaneous effects certainly helped with that too through the next-gen graphics finally being brought to the series. Although once the framerate dropped for a few seconds but otherwise everything was beautiful.
One must not forget who Aqua is and what she’s done in the context of Kingdom Hearts however. She’s a bona-fide badass and probably one of the stronger heroes in the entire lore. This completely and truly radiates through the gameplay. It’s still the third-person, platforming, hack-and-slasher fans love but its bolder. The attacks are more powerful and the spells are more destructive. Then if you use any of these maneuvers enough in a fight, you’ll be prompted to perform a much more powerful move based on the techniques you utilized.
There’s a focus bar, in similarity to Sora’s drive gauge, that allows Aqua to unleash her shotlock ability. By holding down R1 you slow down time and target enemies with a barrage of powerful projectiles. When done right these bad boys can take down a standard Darkside heartless. She even has her own transformation called Spellweaver which is like if Valor form and Wisdom form merged, minus one keyblade. She radiates a white aura while levitating and growing stronger until the form’s finish command unleashes an ultimate attack.
All of these come together extremely well in normal battles but for boss battles as well. Which I must say have some of the best the series has to offer. There’s two in particular that made a classic boss a threat and a peon of a heartless into something to be feared. In the middle of all it though, some pieces are put into place that reveal the details behind antagonists’ motivations in other titles. The way these snippets of information are shown is also the work of the voice actors. They all did a good job portraying the hopelessness of certain situations while growing as time went on. One example even lasted for only a few minutes.
A Fragmentary Passage will last around three hours on your first playthrough and less than that when you essentially go into new game plus mode. There’s four difficulty modes to conquer, treasure chests to find, and a ton of objectives to complete that extend your fun. The objectives are basically challenges for you to accomplish and unlock customization options for Aqua. It’s nothing too detailed but you can equip headwear, arm accessories, wings, skirt patterns and colors, etc. The same can be said with the menu system. Fans will be familiar with the theme but there’s a lot fewer options than a full Kingdom Hearts game.
The cons of 0.2 were few and far between. There are rare instances where the notorious camera problem will come back to bite you in the butt, but only if you’re against a wall and pushed into it. This rarely happened. I also mentioned the graphics were great and they are. It’s just that anthropomorphic characters (Mickey, Goofy, and Donald) look a bit disconcerting at times due to their model design. Other than that, this is a perfect appetizer for what’s to come which is detailed here too by the way. Turns out there’s a whole other story that’s being told during Aqua’s adventure.
The next part of 2.8 is the Back Cover “movie” and acts like a collection of companion cutscenes to Kingdom Hearts Unchained. Instead of playing as characters that led up to the Keyblade War, we see those character’s leaders and what brought about the apocalyptic event in the first place. It didn’t really reveal anything we didn’t know from Unchained and more or less sets up future plot points. Basically it raised more questions than it answered. I was also hoping for more action scenes but this sixty minute endeavor was only laying groundwork. Still as a fan I was happy watching it once and speculating why all the characters did what they did. Voice acting was great here too but a few lines of dialogue were rather wooden, by no fault of the actor/actresses, thanks to the script.
The final portion of the trinity is a remaster of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, the Nintendo 3DS game. The core game remains the same with Sora and Riku participating in a Mark of Mastery Exam. Yen Sid wants them both to be keyblade masters and doles out the task of traveling to the sleeping versions of worlds that haven’t returned to their original state yet. Consult the first Kingdom Hearts as to why they were taken out in the first place. Unfortunately, things go south and the test is interrupted by a mysterious intruder with mysterious intentions.
Surprisingly, the gameplay carries over nicely to the PlayStation 4 from the handheld. It honestly felt like the experience was made for console. What’s more is everything felt engaging, which some critiqued the original for lacking. I feel like the list of abilities to use is the most the series has seen in one entry. You got the flomotion mechanics which let you springboard off walls, poles, and enemies themselves to deliver powerful strikes. These worked amazingly on the PS4 and although you moved faster, you weren’t invulnerable. If you were in the line to take damage, you were going to take damage. Sadly, an issue arose more than once where rolling into individual objects proved to be a hassle. You could plan to roll into a pole, to activate flomotion, but find that you just missed it to the side. A few times I even gave up and went onto something else for my attacking needs.
Subsequently, you have the reality shifts which have been relegated to the triangle and circle buttons. If you weaken an enemy enough or come across something in the environment, you can access powerful attacks that vary depending on the world you’re visiting. Then of course there’s the Dream Eaters you can tame. When they’re not acting like the enemy force within the sleeping worlds, you can create your own to fight alongside you in place of actual party members or join together in powerful forms. This time though I felt like they’re more accessible. Everything from bonding with them to unlocking new perks was a click of a button away. You still have to treat them nicely if you want to get the most out of them nevertheless.
The deck mechanic makes a return in place of the attack, magic, and item boxes. You still have a set amount of space to place abilities, magic, and items that are used on the fly at your leisure. So if you want two curaga magic slots and five potion slots only in your battles, by all means. Just make sure to pay attention to the refill meters. Not having to use MP is great and all but no spamming of attacks allowed here. Other than the default X button naturally. Navigating the deck menus with the directional buttons while in combat was easy but I felt there was one menu to many.
From a technical standpoint, the load times are excellent and the framerate is consistent. The graphics were similar to Kingdom Hearts 2 and at times Kingdom Hearts 1 which I found impressive coming from a handheld and all. In spite of that, the technical achievements stop there. For some reason there’s a noticeable delay after performing an action. You won’t be able to do anything for a second or two which can screw you up in some of the faster boss battles in the game. Especially so when you have to deal with healing yourself. I died way too many times because my mashing of the triangle button didn’t bear fruit when it should have. It also doesn’t help that the moment of healing yourself to when you’re actually healed is at the series’ longest here.
Per usual with Kingdom Hearts titles, the right analog stick controls the camera. Except Dream Drop Distance moves the camera on its own accord to match Riku or Sora’s view. So trying to manually control the camera may be a nuisance at times. In fact, I found myself avoiding the right stick altogether outside of battles. Then the very minor problem of the drop system returning. Part of Dream Drop Distance’s shtick is the ability to control Riku or Sora once the other one’s drop bar runs out. You continue the story from where you left off with each of our main heroes while the other one slumbers more or less. Well a handful of times I found myself waiting around for ten to fifteen minutes as Riku because I finished all of his parts and couldn’t continue until Sora made it elsewhere first. I know the drop feature can be delayed with items and unlockables but it still seems redundant that you can’t force the drop system to change when playing through the story. Or why the timer for it doesn’t stop during boss battles which in that case, you’ll have to start over again.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue PS4 Review
Overall - Must Buy - 9.3/10
Let me put it this way. Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue brought back memories of playing a new Kingdom Hearts experience on console for the first time with the highlight being 0.2 A Fragmentary Passage. It’s sure to entertain and please fans for awhile with the story, boss battles, and handy carryover saves. The Back Cover, or cutscene movie, may not offer much in the way of answers but it raises some intriguing questions and lays some interesting groundwork for the road to come. Lastly, the Dream Drop Distance remaster may have some minor technical hiccups but otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tell it came from a handheld. All and all it’s a no-brainer that fans should pick this up. Heck, to some of us Aqua’s story alone is worth the price of admission. Now if only money could build a working time machine and take us to a place that has Kingdom Hearts 3 on retail shelves.
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Note: The official review embargo is November 23rd. We did not get our copy of the game from Square Enix so we’re under no obligation to adhere to the embargo or any other conditions placed upon those who agreed to Square Enix’s terms. This does not affect the content of the review or the final score awarded.
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