Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in 2006. Since then we’ve seen the saga expanded in the form of spin offs and side stories that have prolonged the inventible 3. After the 2.5 HD collection we thought that was it, but here comes 2.8, the final HD collection. To be fair it’s not pointless and will not only let players experience the 3DS exclusive Dream Drop Distance in HD but two other additions that help set the stage for Kingdom Hearts 3.
Just like the last two HD collections, 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue comes with two playable games and a film: Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD, A Fragmentary Passage (FP), X [Chi] -Back Cover-. While the last two are new additions made specifically for this collection and not an HD remaster, it’s worth noting that they’re considerably short. FP is basically a glorified demo and Back Cover is shorter than the other two films. However they do manage to get me hyped up Kingdom Hearts 3.
FP takes place right after the secret episode of Birth by Sleep. Aqua stumbles upon several worlds that have fallen into darkness and in the process begins to fight not only heartless but herself. The struggle of her being in the world of darkness while also being isolated and alone has left her in a dire state. It’s definitely one of the more darker chapters that occur in the Kingdom Hearts series as you don’t visit any bright colorful worlds and instead deal with hordes of heartless in dark and desolated environments. That being said, FP is still a beautiful looking game. This is the first time since the beginning of the series fans get to see a Kingdom Hearts game in HD rather than being based off the overused PS2 visual art style. The Unreal Engine 4 was a fantastic choice as we get to see the cartoony look and feel mixed with some realism. It’s kind of like seeing a Pixar movie come to life in video game form and it’s simply a blast to look at. Furthermore the framerate is unlocked leading to a 40-60 fps performance on the PS4 Pro.
Gameplay though is where it shines the most. They managed to take the best parts of Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 2 which have the best combat systems in the series and merge it perfectly here. Each attack builds up a combo bar and depending on what you mix in will lead to a transformation (which includes its own unique set of combos). For instance if I keep using physical attacks I will have the choice to use Spellweaver but if I keep using Thunder I will get Thundaga. I can stack up these combos and execute them with the triangle button. In terms of traversal, the maps seem to be more linear but dynamic. Rather than jumping around mini platforms, Aqua will react automatically and hop on certain points. It took me about 3 hours to finish, but left me hyped at what comes next.
Back Cover is a mini film that talks about the Foretellers and the very beginning of the Kingdom Hearts universe. A lot will be discussed here but thankfully it’s been explained properly unlike the more recent entries in the franchise. This is also helped thanks to a great scrip and some pretty solid voice acting. The Master in particular was exceptional and I hope to see him come back in 3. There’s not much to discuss here without spoiling anything but if you thought this would be another boring Re:Coded film then you shouldn’t worry. It’s highly worth the time and it’s disappointing that it was shorter than the other 2 that came before it.
Finally comes Dream Drop Distance. This entry gets a lot of flak, some of which is justifiable. For starters, it doesn’t really add much to the overall narrative and feels like a waste of time. It’s Kingdom Hearts filler, if you will. It’s only the last few chapter where the game’s narrative really picks up but otherwise it just ends up adding unnecessary exposition to a universe that already feels like a chore to explain and understand. Sora and Riku take their Mark of Mastery exam to train and become Keyblade masters. Doing so will prepare them for the battle and final confrontation against the series main antagonist, Xehanort. You’ll visit various worlds who are trapped in the world of dreams and haunted by nightmares. That’s right, there are no heartless and instead you’ll face countless cute like rainbow creatures called Dream Eaters who have become nightmares. You will also be able to raise and create your own Dream Eaters who will help you in a battle. It’s basically Pokemon light. Personally I didn’t enjoy it as raising and petting little animals felt out of place in a Kingdom Hearts game (which is ironic consider this is the same series where you fight alongside a duck mage).
Combat takes heavy inspiration from Birth by Sleep’s combo deck. You can basically build and create your own combos including items such as potions. The other side of combat is Flowmotion which allows Sora and Rik to zip and bounce around the environment. For instance in Traverse Town you can swing around street lamp posts to build momentum for a devastating twister attack. Flowmotion can also be used on certain enemies such as giants which can be thrown like a bowling ball. Link attacks allows you to combo with your pet Dream Eaters which is always helpful when things get dicey. Despite these interesting additions, Dream Drop Distance’s combat mechanics don’t feel that intuitive, a lot of the combos start getting old and overall lack the appeal that Birth by Sleep and KH 2 setup. Worst of all is the drop feature. Since this game is about both Riku and Sora, the game will alternate between them via a drop gauge which when depleted will interrupts the game to swap to the next character. This becomes an extra pain when fighting bosses as you get “dropped out” at the worst possible time. Thankfully there is a way to manually drop out but it still begs the question why this feature exists. It’s pointless and overall makes the game feel like a hassle.
Dream Drop Distance isn’t all bad though, some of the worlds you visit are great particularly Tron Legacy and Fantasia. And the final part of the game is so intense that it almost makes up for the bad sections. For what it’s worth fans who haven’t gotten a 3DS should definitely give it a shot and at least play it once.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is kind of the Ground Zeroes of Kingdom Hearts 3—serving as an appetizer. Dream Drop Distance may feel pointless but the other two games do an amazing job and setting up the stage for what will surely be the biggest Kingdom Hearts game yet.