The Final Passage (Hopefully)
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 final chapter prologue (try saving that three times fast) is sort of like the extras never before seen bonus DVD to 1.5 + 2.5’s complete collection. The latter is the perfect gift for newcomers and old fans who want to return to a classic series they grew up on, the former will leave the uninitiated equal parts frustrated and confused requiring players to not only be familiar with the previous main entry games but all the portable side games as well. Similarly to this analogy however while 1.5 + 2.5 has little to offer the hardcore fans desperate for new content 2.8 is two-thirds new content. (though admittedly the most substantial part is a redo)
It’s undoubtedly the weakest collection released so far in terms of content, however it also offer the most new content of the collections so far making it equal parts the weakest and most exciting of the HD collections. 2.8 also manages to somehow do the impossible and tie up the notoriously very (very, very) convoluted and plot hole filled storyline of Kingdom Hearts into something that actually (somewhat) makes sense and has me excited to play Kingdom Hearts 3.
As this is a collection of three separate “games” I’ve decided to break this review into three parts and give my overall opinion and score at the end.
Dream Drop Distance
Dream Drop is probably the hardest game in the series to give my opinion on. There were times when the game was brilliant, reminding me of all the reasons the series has meant so much to me over the years. Then there were times when I couldn’t stand it, having easily some of the most frustrating and tedious moments of the series so far.
Luckily it ends on a high note that is both challenging and narratively satisfying leaving me fonder of the game than its weaker moments would have allowed me. Taking place after Kingdom Hearts 2 (and that one scene that mattered in recoded) DDD follows Sora and Riku as they embark on their mark of mastery exams to finally become Keyblade Masters.
To do this they must go into the realm of dreams and seek out worlds trapped in sleep and unlock their seven keyholes. (but of course this is Kingdom Hearts so evil bad guys and ridiculous plot twists ensue) Talking about the positives first, despite the fact that DDD takes place in dreams Square didn’t try to be pull another 358/2 days and have all the environment be hand me downs. The game is almost entirely populated by new Disney worlds from the visual spectacle of Tron Evolution to the dynamic level design of Fantasia. They’re all visually vibrant and each one feels refreshing to be in, even if what you’re doing in them doesn’t always hit the high mark the visuals do.
Populating the new worlds of Dream Drop are the games’ new enemy type the Dreameaters …. oh man, the Dreameaters. These colourful individuals make up possibly the most frustrating and tedious enemy type of the entire series, stun locks, sleep spells, freeze spells, vanishing a second before the last hit, flying enemies who love to constantly move just out of reach, every status ailment or frustrating attack pattern these guys throw out. They’re tedium was probably best summed up by a level in which I was up against a fairly trivial group of penguin enemies who decided to take it in turns freezing me for 10 seconds at a turn, each time I got out of the freeze lock the next one was there to put me back in.
Luckily, level design and combat really save the gameplay here. The Disney worlds are vertical and filled with fun designs and environmental hazards. Tron’s world is populated by poles and pads that the player can swing, jump and slid on. Nostradamus is filled with hidden pathways and hard to reach platforms, that really give the player room to learn the excellent combat system.
Introducing the new flow-motion system DDD felt almost a little loose and floaty at first however its a system that really clicks when you learn it. It’s essentially a free running mechanic in which jumping into walls, poles and enemies causes the player to spin, dive and fly at significant speed. The game is fast and pretty much every surface the player touches has a contextual move attached to it. Once you have the games mechanics figured out you can clear entire areas in a few jumps and dives and its impressive that despite constant new iterations and additions in past games Square still manage to find new ways to add to and evolve the Kingdom Hearts battle system.
The game is a lot of fun, enemy grievances aside and though the combat system isn’t quite up to Birth by Sleeps’ high bench mark, it has a good mix of new and old elements, like the return of the command deck. (Though I will admit I missed the D-links greatly.)
The game is for the most part, fairly easy meaning the frustration I had with the enemies was alleviated by the fact that I died very little. (that is up until the final level but more on that later)
The games biggest problem is how uneven it is. The early Disney levels are fun enough if a little uneventful, almost all the games story and narrative intrigue is tucked in at the end of the game. For around 15 hours of the games 20 hour run very little happens baring the usual Kingdom Hearts characters in a Disney story shtick. It’s only in the last 5 hours that the game truly shines and has some of my favourite moments in the series.
Filled with excellent and really challenging boss fights (really, really if you aren’t prepared with balloon magic) that caused me to truly learn and master the combat system in a way that the previous 75% of the game never challenged me to.
It also has some brilliant narrative reveals and pay off, that by some divine miracle manages to tie up the many (many, many) narrative points and plot holes of all the previous games in the series into something that actually makes sense and sets the stage perfectly for Kingdom Hearts 3.
It seems like I’m a bit down on DDD but the truth is it’s a good game for a majority of its run and an excellent one at the end. If Square had spaced out some of the boss fights and narrative threads more evenly throughout the game and given the new world ends with you characters something more to do, I’d be looking at the game more fondly looking back. As it stands DDD has some brilliant moments towards the end and the game is going to be pretty much required to understand the narrative of Kingdom Hearts 3.
But it’s definitely not dethroning Birth by Sleep or KH 1 & 2 in terms of favourite games in the series. At the same time it isn’t quite wallowing in the same muddy puddle as Recoded either.
Birth by Sleep 0.2 A fragmentary passage
0.2 is excellent but it’s important to keep your expectations in line before diving in. This is a roughly 3 hour taster of what Kingdom Hearts 3 will (hopefully) be, similar to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. With that expectation 0.2 is a really great experience that left me feeling very confident about where the team is taking the series in the future.
0.2 follows Aqua some years after Birth by Sleep around the tail end of the original Kingdom Hearts, still trapped in the dark world it recounts King Mickey’s final run in with Aqua before escaping the realm of darkness.
We see a surprisingly varied number of environments as we try our hand at the episodes excellent combat system. The game had me fooled at first, as you start out with very few combat options and something reminiscent of the first games basic combat, it admittedly played superbly but the options were limited.
Thankfully as 0.2 goes on it unlocked layers of the combat system and by the end I felt like an addict desperate for more, it really has cherry picked all the best elements from every game in the series to create something that manages to feel familiar and also completely exciting. D-links and shotlocks returns from birth by sleep but the command deck is switched out for the original Kingdom Hearts attack, magic and item list, elements of DDD’s flow motion are felt in the jumping and movement mechanics and overall it feels like all the elements that worked before fit tightly into a gameplay corset.
As well as showcasing the new combat system, 0.2 also gives us our first look at the series new Unreal Engine 4 powered graphics. It’s an interesting look, with environments, lighting and spell affects being highlights. It’s the little details like the way ice spells glisten and leave frozen patches on the floor or how enemies explode in a flurry of particles and health orbs. 0.2 also somewhat solves the series long running problem of static environments, in past games though every environment shinned from an artistic perspective they felt flat and somewhat lifeless. Here they feel far more packed with little details and more three-dimensional touches, this is relative of course 0.2 takes place in an environment that is quite literally lifeless, so its impressive that they still had a burst of life to them.
The one element of 0.2’s graphics that I’m not quite sold on is character models, stylistically I find them a little odd, everyone is clean… like ridiculously clean, they almost look plastic at times with shiny flat faces. now this isn’t an issue of quality as it is style because the actually quality of the models is the kind of every hair falls perfectly that Square is known for. This is more a style issue than a technically one and I imagine come Kingdom Hearts 3’s release it’ll be something I’ll be more used to.
Overall though 0.2 looks incredible, the environments are densely details and the animations are some of the best square have produced. As a taster of what KH3 will be it rests any worries I would have had and is a genuinely worthwhile experience in its own right. Now that’s not to say 0.2 is completely worth the price of admission of 2.8 on its own however it is a big part of what makes the collection a worthwhile purchase.
This is my opinion, but if you want to see what Ryan thinks of it, check out his review.
X Back Cover
And then we come to Back Cover …. urggg Back Cover. As with both previous HD collections the third slightly less viable game for HD recreation has been turned into an hour-long collection of HD cutscenes. Unlike the two previous conversions 358/2 days and recoded however, X Back Cover isn’t a remake of its titular mobile game Kingdom Hearts X. (previously unchained now union)
Back Cover instead tells the story of events from the perspective of the 5 union foretellers, as they deal with the prophesied Keyblade war destined to happen in the book of prophecies. Couple in a layer of whodunnit with the fact a traitor exists among the foretellers, hidden pages in the book, the enigmatic Master of Masters, the mysterious box and a keyblade that may or may not have an eyeball in it.
What I’m trying to illustrate is X Back Cover has a lot of elements and seems hell-bent on answering absolutely none of the questions it puts forward. It’s enjoyable visuals and excellent voice acting (who didn’t love the Master of Masters unexpected charisma) are completely offset by the fact that X Back Cover essentially says nothing, instead it seems hell-bent on adding yet more confusion and complexity to a collection that up until now is doing everything it can to fix and untangle the confusing plot threads.
It’s not even as though what X Back Cover does isn’t interesting, the Master of Masters murky motives, what exactly is in the box given to his apprentice Luxu and while admittedly its far less confusing and hard to follow if like me you play Union X. (A mobile game I’ve expressed my fondness for in previous articles http://www.thezombiechimp.com/2017/04/29/kingdom-hearts-union-x-year-later/)
However, it’s all mysteries this series could do without. For the first time in a year the Kingdom Hearts story actually makes sense and has all been cleared up nicely in both DDD and 0.2, X Back Cover feels like it’s completely backwards in that regard.
Grievances aside a watch of X Back Cover is probably going to be essential to understand elements of Kingdom Hearts 3 as Tetsuya Nomura has stated its characters will be a big part of the games narrative.
Though as it takes place around the first 400 missions of Union X, I might have been able to recommend it as a Prologue for it, but you will still have to play said 400 missions meaning in its current state it doesn’t have much purpose. It also ends just as the story is actually getting interesting and we’ll have to wait till season 2 of the mobile game (and whenever Square finally feel like giving western players the new missions) to see where these threads go.
In the end, despite Back Cover’s attempts, 2.8 as a whole is a good sort of book end to 1.5 + 2.5’s complete anthology collection. Yes its undoubtedly the weakest of the series HD collections and its also completely impenetrable to anyone other than die-hard fans (or anyone who has finished 1.5 + 2.5 from cover to cover)
2.8 still offers the most “new” content so far and completing it really does feel like the end (finally) till Kingdom Hearts 3.
With Dream Drop Distance taking me about 20 hours to finish, 0.2 being roughly 3 and X Back Cover being another hour, you’re getting around 25 hours out of 2.8 (that’s not including extras and completionist runs) which is undoubtedly less than the previous collections roughly 50 hours each. Though at the same time despite a shorter run, I left 2.8 fairly happy with what I’d played and was happy with my purchase overall.
Dream Drop Distance is a fun game overall with a really great combat system and selection of Disney worlds. Though I was disappointed by the small role of the world ends with you characters and some frustrating designs, the end game completely saves it, giving those rage educing boss fights you hate with all your being until you finally emerge victorious feeling like a true Keyblade master.
0.2 is a great taster for what Kingdom Hearts 3 will hopefully be, with stunning graphics, excellent gameplay and is an enjoyably story in its own right. It’s definitely not a full length experience and doesn’t quite fill the space of a second game but I enjoyed my time with it regardless.
… and well X Back Cover is here, to its credit the voice acting and visuals are both top-notch and hey The Master of Masters antics were at least enjoyable.