The road towards the third installment of the Kingdom Hearts series has been a long test of patience for many fans. Thankfully, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (hopefully…) marks the final spin-off title before the release of the long awaited Kingdom Hearts 3. Much like the previous 1.5 and 2.5 collections that were on PlayStation 3, this collection is a combination of rereleased content and new stuff that directly relates to the next big game in the series. However, you’ll only be getting a small portion of new content that offers a sample of things to come.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue contains two playable games and one small CG movie. If you’re interested in the over-arching story of the Kingdom Hearts series, the events of all three do relate to one another and tie into the next big installment of the franchise. Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD is the one that most players will glance over at first in favor of the newer content in this collection. Dream Drop Distance was originally a Nintendo 3DS game that continued the spin-off titles of the series, while taking advantage of the touchscreen capabilities of the hardware. The HD rerelease of the game instead favors an upgrade to the visuals and bumps the frame rate to 60, making gameplay a lot smoother than its 3DS counterpart.
If you never played Dream Drop Distance before, the story focuses on Sora and Riku, who are taking the Mark of Mastery exam under the guidance of Master Yen Sid. Dream Drop Distance is arguably a hit or miss title for fans of the series, mainly because its story plays out in a somewhat non-linear fashion and has a lot of filler to the larger story of the series. You’re constantly switching control between Sora and Riku, which can be frustrating when you’re forced to switch over to the opposite character when you might not want to.
The events that transpire in each world are unique to both Sora and Riku, though at times can get confusing when you’re constantly switching between the two. Combat is similar to other Kingdom Hearts games, only this time you have the Dream Eaters as allies who fight with you in battle instead of Donald Duck and Goofy. Overall while not the best the series has to offer, Dream Drop Distance HD is still a lengthy experience in this collection that you should play through if you missed it the first time around.
Though the real reason that most fans will pick up Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is for the second game in the collection. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage tells the story of Aqua in the realm of darkness after the events of the original Birth by Sleep. The biggest selling point of this game are its visuals, which are the basis of what fans should expect for the eventual release of Kingdom Hearts 3.
While still maintaining a stylized look that fans will recognize, everything looks much more polished and detailed than any other game in the series. The fabric on Aqua’s clothes, the individual leaves on the trees, and even the water that flows in some areas all look gorgeous in their own ways. The game runs at 30 frames per second on a standard PlayStation 4, but is also said to reach up to 60 frames per second on a PlayStation 4 Pro, though you won’t get much difference anywhere else between the two consoles.
Gameplay is where fans will see a lot of big changes to the formula of the series. You still are fighting enemies in real time, but the number of enemies that appear in combat has been increased exponentially. There’s a lot more variety in the groups of heartless you come across in game, as well as the craziness of their attack patterns. However, Aqua has plenty of attacks that blend together elements of the original Birth by Sleep with that of other Kingdom Hearts games, making for probably the most dynamic range of actions you can do in the series to date.
Aqua can use her Spellweaver style after engaging in combat enough, but also has access to finishers that yield powerful magic spells that deal heavy damage over a wide area. However, despite being having lots of options in combat, Aqua still is vulnerable to taking heavy damage from enemies you encounter. She’s not so much a glass canon, but won’t be able to last long against physical attacks from the heartless if you aren’t careful.
In addition to this, you have a list of side quests that require you to complete specific tasks in exchange for cosmetic items you can equip to Aqua. These side quests are mostly menial tasks related to different areas you explore, but the items you obtain don’t really affect anything other than Aqua’s appearance. Watching a shooting star in the sky will give you an item for Aqua to wear, while finding a glass slipper opens up a new color scheme for Aqua’s clothes. It’s debatable whether completing all of the side quests are worth your time, but it’s nice to receive small bonuses for completing each of them. Hopefully if this continues into future entries of the series, completing side quests will yield rewards that will actually affect the gameplay in meaningful ways.
The story of Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage is one that fans will most likely be divided on. Without spoiling anything, the entire game takes place around the time of the first Kingdom Hearts, with Aqua being stuck in what is known as Dark World. Though beautiful to look at, the context of every cutscene is almost depressing since Aqua has been roaming around the realm of darkness for a very long time.
It’s heartbreaking in some moments to see Aqua not only question herself, but borderline feel like she’s giving into the darkness while seeing mirages of her friends. This depressing undertone lingers throughout most of the entire game, right until the very end where things start to pick up a bit. Some might feel what happens to Aqua in this game doesn’t have much importance, while others may find a few events to be out of place in the larger story of the series.
The final part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is the short movie based on the Kingdom Hearts Unchained X mobile game for iOS and Android. Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover follows the events of the Foretellers and their master, the Master of Masters, before the events of all the games in the series. This is the most confusing part of the collection because without having played Unchained X on mobile, you won’t have any context or understanding for what is happening in the movie. The events in this movie plant the seeds for everything that happens in the entire Kingdom Hearts series, but it’s both very complicated and confusing without having played Unchained X.
By the time you finish the movie, you will most likely have many more questions than answers since most of what happens ends up being vague and ambiguous for now. It should be noted that there are some events in the Back Cover movie that directly relate to Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. If you played through Aqua’s story before watching the movie, some of the events early in that game will feel very out of place and unrelated to anything else.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue offers a lot of value in one package, but requires a lot of prep to fully appreciate everything that’s offered. The big question that Kingdom Hearts fans will ask is “will this get me ready for Kingdom Hearts 3?” The short answer is yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind. If you missed playing any of the previous games, you’ll miss details that will clarify important aspects about the overarching story that are referenced here. It’s also recommended that you play Kingdom Hearts Unchained X on mobile devices beforehand if you don’t want to feel lost when viewing Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover. There’s a lot to appreciate in this collection of Kingdom Hearts titles and a lot to look forward towards for the future of the series, provided you’ve done your homework beforehand.
This review was based on a digital review code of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue for the PlayStation 4, provided by Square Enix.