Warning: Spoilers for Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep ahead!.
When we first reviewed the 3DS installment of Kingdom Hearts, Dream Drop Distance, we gave it a score of 85% and said that it was, “a flawed game that occasionally reaches some great highs.” Now, almost five years later, Dream Drop Distance has been revamped for the PS4 in yet another Kingdom Hearts compilation, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (yes, that’s really the name). So how does it hold up with the move from handheld to console? Somewhat okay.
Let’s get this out of the way: If you’ve never played Dream Drop Distance before and plan on playing Kingdom Hearts III, this is an essential title. It’s a direct sequel to Kingdom Hearts II that bridges the gap between it and Kingdom Hearts III — truly, it’s III’s prologue. It follows Sora and Riku during their Mark of Mastery exam, where upon completion, they’ll become true Keyblade Masters. To complete their exam, they’ll have to awaken sleeping worlds, a handful of which are new to the series. My favorite worlds include a return to the world of Tron from Kingdom Hearts II, though this time focused on Tron: Legacy, and Symphony of Sorcery, which is based on Fantasia.
This time around, the duo are fighting enemies known as Dream Eaters, rather than Heartless or Nobodies. As the name suggests, these are beings that eat dreams and cause nightmares. However, a counterpart to these creatures exist that eat nightmares, and they’re known as Spirits. Rather than having Donald and Goofy along for the ride, you have these Spirits by your side to assist you in combat. Spirits are crafted from recipes or experimentation with ingredients dropped by Dream Eaters, and crafting them ends up becoming a neat little “catch-’em-all” mechanic.
What’s special (and so much fun) about Dream Drop Distance are the systems introduced; particularly the new way to get around worlds via Flowmotion, which allows you to spring off of walls, swing on poles, and even grind on railing. You can also incorporate Flowmotion into your attacks, either by using a move after pulling off a stunt or by stunning an enemy and using Flowmotion on them. For example, you can swing around a dazed enemy before launching it away with your Keyblade. Flowmotion makes the already fast combat even more frantic, and it’s highly enjoyable.
Unfortunately, not all of the mechanics work as well as they once did on the 3DS. A gameplay mechanic known as Reality Shift used to rely on the touchscreen, and its function now resides with the left analog stick. The problem is that this just doesn’t control as fluidly as it did when you could physically aim things like projectiles. The Nintendogs-like minigame for your Spirits also feels weird with the analog stick, causing you to “pet” your Spirit by holding down a button and moving the stick in all different directions. These are actions that just worked better with the touchscreen function of the 3DS, and in this port, they feel clumsy and awkward.
The real draw of Final Chapter Prologue, however, is the new entry to the series, a side chapter called 0.2 -A fragmentary passage-. It focuses on Aqua after the events of Birth By Sleep and serves as both an epilogue to the aforementioned title and to Dream Drop Distance, while the final moments seem to lead directly into Kingdom Hearts III.
In -A fragmentary passage-, Aqua wanders through the realm of darkness when she notices that a world she’s previously visited has now found itself there. Curious, she sets off to see what’s caused this world to fall into darkness, and what follows is a series of events that explore the heartache Aqua has been experiencing while living alone in a place with no time. She’s plagued by visions of her friends and has become her own worst enemy, and the story that this short side chapter tells is a wonderful one that’s packed full of emotion. This is a tale that touches on the depths of depression that comes from isolation and loneliness, and while it’s melancholic, it manages to get across its message quite well: You must always try to look for hope even in the darkest of times, or else that darkness can consume you. Is it cheesy? That’s up to you. But for a lot of people, the way the story handles this message will likely touch their hearts.
From a technical standpoint, this side chapter is a joy to look at. The environments in the realm of darkness are the best we’ve seen in the series, and the level design is superb — my particular favorite moment involved a gigantic, maze-like area full of columns that has you flipping between exploring upside down and right-side up. Spells, too, look better than ever; casting Thundaja creates an electrifying display of fireworks, while Blizzaja can cause the environment to frost along with your enemy.
There’s not much to say about Back Cover, the 60-minute animated movie that serves as a companion piece to the Kingdom Hearts mobile game, xcfx87. Showing off what kind of cutscenes we’ll expect to see in Kingdom Hearts III, the character models and landscapes look gorgeous, and the voice acting is some of the best in the series. Back Cover weaves a tale of deception, and while I found it interesting to see events that took place before the Keyblade War, I suspect only other diehard fans will bother with it. For those only slightly interested in the series, it definitely doesn’t warrant a watch.
It should go without saying, but the music in this game is truly top notch. Series composer Yoko Shimomura is, in my opinion, one of the greatest composers period — not just in the video game industry. Her music has a way of making you feel every emotion that’s being conveyed through the game’s script, and without her, Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t have the emotional impact on players that it does.
I only have one real gripe with Final Chapter Prologue, but it’s a huge one. Simply put, I don’t feel that there’s enough content to justify its price. Dream Drop Distance can be beaten in around 20 hours, -A fragmentary passage- can be beaten in less than five, and Back Cover is only an hour. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 and 2.5 both featured two complete games and a cinematic movie, and you can’t really argue that this title does the same when the side chapter is so short. It would have made more sense for these titles to have been included in the upcoming PS4 re-release bundle of 1.5 and 2.5 and having it be the true collection of the Kingdom Hearts titles.
If you have to own every Kingdom Hearts game on your PS4, then you’ll probably be satisfied with the collection regardless of how poorly the touch screen controls translated to the analog sticks, and I suspect you won’t be bothered by the price. For everyone else, I encourage waiting for a price drop. The inclusion of 0.2 -A fragmentary passage- and Back Cover just aren’t enough for me to recommend this game to everyone, and lack of content compared to previous collections resulted in its overall scoring. Those who are diehard fans, though, will enjoy both revisiting Dream Drop Distance and seeing the expansion to the series’ lore that this collection offers.