Emma Withington reviews Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue…
In spite of a title that is as convoluted as the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Square Enix maintains strong dedication to the fans in its depth and diversity. This time around we are provided with a console remake of 3DS exclusive title ‘Dream Drop Distance’, a feature length cinematic production of Kingdom Hearts lore entitled ‘X – Back Cover’, and a taste of what’s to come in 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage…
There have been gradual improvements and HD up-scaling within the franchise since Kingdom Hearts II, but no dramatic changes have occurred over the last ten years – until now. 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, is a mouth watering morsel of what we can hope to expect from Kingdom Hearts III – if we ever see the day – and proves it should be worth the wait. This instalment follows Aqua after the events of Birth by Sleep, as she navigates the realm of darkness. Beautifully rendered in Unreal Engine 4, movement and combat feels effortless and intuitive, enhancing and expanding on features introduced in its predecessor.
Focus Mode which enables Shotlock returns, enabling you to multi-target heartless nobodies – the game’s enemies, not my personal view of the inky imps. Time slows marginally, as you build up targets for maximum damage and devastating finishers. Next up we have Situation Commands, which activate depending on your play-style, that allow you to unleash spectacularly brutal finishers and combat styles, such as Spell Weaver.
The main point to hammer home, however, is the mind-bending visuals which blend depth and detail while maintaining the series’ distinct visual style – making it the most stunning instalment yet, by a long shot. The Way Within, which is essentially a mirror world, is a stand out zone among a line-up of winners. There is a staggering sense of scale, assisted by the lighting and textures which make such an intangible world tangible, as you fall into the depths of darkness alongside Aqua.
Sadly it’s all over too soon and within three hours you will have completed this episodic length tale, hoping for more. There is a ‘new game plus’ system where you can play through again from the level you reached and with the cosplayer gear you have collected so far, but that’s not quite enough to truly extend the experience.
Dream Drop Distance makes a smooth transition from the 3DS to the PS4 in this HD collection, matching up to the visual quality of previous entries in the series, but betrays its natural allegiance to the 3DS as it plays out in digestible chunks and is fraught with mini-games. Following the events of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, Dream Drop Distance follows Riku and Sora as they take the Mark of Mastery exam. They traverse the seven worlds of sleep battling ‘dream eaters’ to become Keyblade Masters, as they prepare for Xehanort’s return.
Instead of having character companions such as Donald or Goofy, you can create your own cute n’ cuddly ‘Dream Eater’ spirits to battle alongside you. Starting off with a little fella who looks something like a Tsum Tsum, with whom you need to bond to increase buffs, stats, and unlock moves. These little ‘bonding’ diversions are entertaining, breaking up the button bashing combat that is characteristic of Kingdom Hearts. However, prodding and petting your Tsum Tsum begins to drag and just doesn’t sit right on a console after a significant period of time – something that the 3DS, with its interface and touch-screen capabilities, is more suited to. A particular instance in which this is glaringly apparent is the Balloon Training Toy mode – the PS4 controller’s touchpad involves a bit of random tapping if you want to see what you’re doing and hit the balloons at the same time as they are flung at the screen.
The ‘drop’ system in which you switch between Riku and Sora at timed intervals carries over onto the PS4 and works well if you’re playing in short bursts or like to change things up frequently, particularly on the portable device it derives from. That being said the main issue here is that if you have reached a major turning point, or are about to face a boss battle and your drop time comes to an end, that can become intermittently frustrating.
These slight transition issues aside, as a console port it runs smoothly, looks great and is a hugely enjoyable addition to the HD collection. The Flowmotion combat translates to the PS4 extremely well and allows you to navigate and enhance encounters via the environment around you – rail sliding into a buzz-saw attack or spinning around ‘dream eaters’ allows chained combat to flow more freely and organically without stop-starting, or waiting for commands to come off cool-down. Dream Drop Distance is the longest of the offerings, giving you 20-30 hours of goodness to delve into.
X-Back Cover is a cinematic entry which sets up the Keyblade War, placing itself as a prequel to the Kingdom Hearts series. The opening few minutes leaves a lot to be desired, with nonsensical clips from its mobile counterpart and a grating narrator, but persevere – X-Back Cover has a lot to offer.
Taking you back to where it all began X – Back Cover is an unexpected delight, engrossing and performed with strong conviction by the voice actors – particularly the Deadpool-esque Master of Masters. It sets itself apart from everything you have experienced in Kingdom Hearts and holds its own in the absence of Disney characters. While this collection isn’t for newcomers to the franchise it would be difficult not to become absorbed in X – Back Cover, regardless of your knowledge, as a film in its own right.
All in all, Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue leaves you wanting more and is a must have for fans of the franchise – whetting your appetite for Kingdom Hearts III, by dangling the carrot in front of your nose…
+ A first taste of what to expect from Kingdom Hearts 3 in 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage and X – Back Cover.
+ Dream Drop Distance is a quality remaster of what was a 3DS exclusive.
+ 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage is a visual spectacle and the most refined combat system so far.
– Some mechanics lost in translation between devices in Dream Drop Distance.
– Shortest of the collections available.
– Wouldn’t recommend as an introduction the franchise.
Emma Withington – Follow me on Twitter