With the road to Kingdom Hearts III still shrouded in darkness, Square Enix has seen fit to put out another HD collection to hold fans over with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. A mouthful, I know, but it’s the final piece of the puzzle needed before the series can continue – or so we hope.
Here’s what you need to know: packed inside this release is a story told in three parts. An HD remaster of the original 3DS title Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance is joined by a cinematic movie collecting the events of mobile title Kingdom Hearts χ. To top things off, players can dive into Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage- – a prologue of sorts chronicling Aqua’s journey through the Realm of Darkness before Kingdom Hearts III. There’s a lot here for long-time fans.
Let’s talk about Dream Drop Distance first, since we’re the most familiar with it already and it’s the only full-length game in this collection. At first glance it’s clear the game has benefited from the transition to the HD screen along with a host of other enhancements and improvements. Yes, it’s still largely the same game but Square Enix has polished it up with a number of quality of life improvements that really standout over some of the other entries.
Now at 60 frames per second, battles run a lot smoother and controls and camera are benefited by a traditional console experience. Load times and visuals are also improved from the original 3DS version. Many of the 3DS-specific features that used the touchscreen have also been ported over well with some exceptions. Namely the Dream Eater breeding and training felt better suited for the stylus, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Ultimately this HD version is still the way to go now.
Perhaps the key to this collection, the part that makes it most appealing, is A fragmentary passage. Built upon Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, this short chapter actually gives us an idea of what to expect heading into KHIII. Here the story picks up following the events of Birth by Sleep and once again the player is given control of the steadfast heroine Aqua.
This prologue episode clocks in at around three to four hours, depending on how much you enjoy running around collecting things. There’s a decent amount of treasure chests to recover along with vanity items you can earn for Aqua by completing certain objectives. Once you’ve got them, you can style her up, mix and matching her in-game outfit as you see fit.
The premise is fairly simple: Aqua must travel through different locations, solving puzzles or getting through obstacles along the way. In the beginning, you’ll be doing a little bit of platforming to active gears and restore a clock tower. Later on Aqua must make her way through a forest while chasing after shadows of her former allies while fighting through enemies. There’s even a section with mirrors where reflections play a big role in solving various puzzles. They’ve done a good job of mixing things up here, even if some of the treading back and forth can get a bit tiring after a while.
One of the biggest improvements to be found in A fragmentary passage is its battle system. Positioned as a precursor to Kingdom Hearts III, this episode features some of the smoothest battles I’ve seen in the series yet. Between regular attacks, magic spells and special abilities – it builds on some of the basics established with Birth by Sleep but enhances them to the point where I found it hard to go back to some of the older games. The battle system is boosted by larger environments and the ease of getting around too. Long gone are the constrained areas making fights somewhat a chore. There’s a lot of freedom even with some of the larger enemies.
The enemies themselves don’t offer too much in the way of variety, however. You’ll encounter a handful of Heartless types throughout Aqua’s journey – some more tedious than other. In particular the elemental Heartless seemed to give me the most trouble. Not only can they fly but their attacks do hurt quite a bit. Between levels you’ll also encounter boss fights – the likes of which include a swirling mass of Heartless and hordes of Darksides.
Even on normal difficulty these guys can be challenging as you come to grips with Aqua’s moveset. The game offers several modes at the start and upon completing the story once you’ll unlock the ultra-hard Critical Mode. Overall A fragmentary passage is a refreshing take doubling as the future of the series.
The other piece of new content created for this collection is the high-definition movie Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover. Featuring over an hour of content, this video serves to set up the beginnings of the Kingdom Hearts series beyond what we already know. Done in the visual style of A fragmentary passage and KHIII, it’s a solid prequel that focuses on a group of people known as the Foretellers and a certain prophecy of darkness takes hold of their lives and motivations. Without going too far into spoiler territory, there’s a good amount of twists and turns that left me wanting for more.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 is a fine collection for fans of the series. While newcomers may shy away from the massive story threads, there’s enough with what’s essentially a Kingdom Hearts III prologue and the full-fledged Dream Drop Distance for an easy buy. A fragmentary passage is absolutely the shining star here though. It’s a brilliant, long-overdue first step into a new generation of Kingdom Hearts. Finally it feels like everything is coming together.
Disclaimer: A PlayStation 4 version of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue was provided to Nova Crystallis by Square Enix for review.