Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: March 30, 2021


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PC Review - 'Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue'

by Cody Medellin on May 4, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a compilation that brings Kingdom Hearts [Dream Drop Distance] to the PS4, remastered in high definition.

Buy Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is an interesting compilation package for the series. On the one hand, there's only one game that got the HD conversion treatment, so it already feels lighter than either of the 1.5 and 2.5 compilations released earlier. On the other hand, it comes with two new titles that will be of interest to the series faithful. How the package fares as a whole depends on your outlook.

The remade game is Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD, originally released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. In preparation for Xehanort's eventual return, both Sora and Riku are instructed by Yen Sid to undergo training so that they can become Keyblade Masters. To do so quickly, they go through the Mark of Mastery exam, which tasks them with freeing any of the worlds still trapped in darkness by the Heartless.

Compared to the other spin-offs, the story in Dream Drop Distance HD seems predictable. You can somewhat predict how the exam will go, and Xehanort's plans come off as a retread of past ideas. If it weren't for the fact that some significant details are brought up, you might be compelled to gloss over this one. Then again, part of the appeal to the narrative is that they're now visiting a few new lands instead of revisiting every old place. You'll still be hitting up Traverse Town, this time with characters from The World Ends With You in tow, and now you'll visit a few new sets, such as ones from "Fantasia," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers," and "Tron: Legacy," to name a few.

The series' combat has always felt like it has been building into something more stylized over time, and this title reinforces that. The system from Birth By Sleep is ported over almost wholesale, minus the Shotlock ability. In lieu of that, you have something called Flowmotion, which grants mobility and some extra moves that build on the newfound mobility. Run into a large enemy, and you can swing around to throw the foe into another enemy. You can also swing off poles and grind on rails to go into a keyblade drill attack or put a greater distance between yourself and the crowd. It works fine most of the time, but the camera's close distance to your protagonist means that there are inevitably times when you'll come off a big attack and be momentarily lost since either the camera is moving too fast or it couldn't keep up with your location. It's a good base to improve upon if the objective is to appeal to a more action-oriented audience.

The Flowmotion system is generally good, but all of the other mechanics are pretty hit-and-miss, although the development team should be commended for porting over some of the features that played into the strengths of the 3DS. The dive minigame pops up when you traverse a new world, and even without the 3D effects in tow, it's still an enjoyable event. The only flaw is that you do it way too often, as both Sora and Riku need to do the dives to the same world, so it can get pretty tedious. The slingshot attack is also nice, but it isn't so easy to read where your projectile will land. It also doesn't help that the radius and distance the projectile can travel is inconsistent, so using it is something you'd do out of curiosity, not precision.

Meanwhile, the other non-3DS specific features are also divisive. The inclusion of Dream Eaters as fighting companions and a means to power up attacks is nice, but aside from adding more stuff to the lore for the sake of it, their inclusion can be rather tedious, since it requires frequently taking care of their needs. Both pet simulators and RPGs are long and involved, so mashing them together makes it feel too busy. The game also throws in what it calls the Drop system, which gives you the ability to swap between Riku and Sora at any time. You'll do this as a means to cover more ground, since both characters are always in different parts of the world with their own questlines; it's reminiscent of Birth By Sleep since you don't have to wait for checkpoints to swap characters. On the other hand, frustration can seep in since you're essentially on a timer with both characters, and spending too much time with one forces you to swap over to the other, since your character is now too tired to continue. As such, the forced swapping can be a big turn-off for those who want to focus on one task at a time rather than multitasking.

While some may be interested in revisiting the 3DS game on a more powerful platform, others are going to be attracted to the two new entries. The first is an epilogue to Birth By Sleep, titled Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage. It's set after the events of the PSP game, and it has players take on the role of Aqua, who is trapped in the world of darkness. Her resolve is breaking, and she can easily manifest hallucinations that plague her psyche. She perseveres and hopes that she can make it out to rescue her best friends.

Considering that this was built using Unreal Engine, you can effectively look at this as a preview for what to expect from Kingdom Hearts III. Aside from the graphical upgrades with the engine change, the game looks more dour. Familiar environments are either shrouded in darkness or completely twisted in unexpected ways, while the newer areas and skyboxes continue the dark vibes to make it apparent that Aqua has been trapped with little hope of escape. It's a suffocating look, but it's brilliantly done for the tale.

The fighting system has also been refined, and the combat is faster and more fluid than before. Dashing between enemies is effortless, but the camera can keep up, so you aren't lost when you dart from foe to foe. The lock-on system from previous games is here, but with the camera pulled back far enough, you won't need it as often since you rarely miss your swings. The ability to unleash a special move after successfully delivering a barrage of attacks has been modified, so the special move now correlates to your favored attacks. Use ice, and your special move is going to be ice-related, while favoring a lightning move does the same thing. All of your other moves from Birth By Sleep are still here, from the Shotlock to the speed at which you'll be able to unleash magic spells. The systems feel like they fit better this time, making the game feel like Square Enix's best attempt yet at mimicking a Devil May Cry-style fighting system.

Combined with important bits of lore, the combat and graphics make Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage a worthy entry. It's also a title that you can finish in a few hours, making it the shortest of the titles in the series by far. The game makes some effort to compensate for that by unlocking higher difficulty levels, and you can aim for specific challenges to add some cosmetics to Aqua, like changing the color of her outfit or giving her cat ears and wings. It isn't much, but it is a nice touch for those who are fond of revisiting games before moving on.

The other new title is Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover, a game originally released on web browsers in Japan in 2013 before moving to mobile devices two years later. Instead of being focused on the game content, the movie is set during the game's timeline. The focus is on the Foretellers, students of a master who predicted the takeover of the worlds by darkness and the other events that would lead to the Kingdom Hearts series. Running at roughly an hour, the movie follows the actions of the different Foretellers after the master vanished and the nightmare spirit was discovered.

Much like Re:coded in the previous compilation package, Back Cover doesn't feel essential to anyone but the die-hard Kingdom Hearts lore enthusiasts. Even then, with the movie set 100 years before the events of Birth By Sleep, already the best title in the series thus far to establish what's going on, this feels like extra material that can prove inconsequential to the third game. It doesn't help that the introduction is so messy that it drives away interest from wanting to watch the rest of the film, and the characters are rather unlikeable despite their importance. In short, unless Kingdom Hearts III makes a callback to the events here, you can skip watching this movie.

Like Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5, the PC version of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 has a few benefits over the other console iterations. While it doesn't have support for ultrawide resolutions, it does support uncapped frame rates, so those who bought high-refresh monitors or TVs can take advantage of something that's still not available on the console ports. That unlimited frame rate doesn't apply to the cut scenes, though, which creates a disconnect; the game's lack of substantial loading times means lots of frame rate shifts as the game frequently goes back and forth between the gameplay and movie. Keyboard and mouse controls are present, and while the game feels more natural with a gamepad, you now have full customization over every key. You still can't fully customize the gamepad controls, though. Unlike the previous collection, the game seems to remember the full-screen option after you run it for the first time.

Your outlook on the presentation is going to differ depending on which game in the package you're evaluating. Looking at Dream Drop Distance, the graphics almost match what was seen with the upgrades in the previous game compilation. The polygon upgrade isn't as significant as the older titles, which makes objects look blocky, but the art style saves it from looking out of place when you put the games side by side. It suffers from constant shadow flicker, and that becomes more obvious thanks to the constant bombardment of cut scenes. Move over to A Fragmentary Passage, and things are significantly better, with a wide swath of particles shown on-screen and excellent lighting throughout the world. What would normally be flat surfaces get tremendous shine to make the scenes feel rich. While the graphical shift between the titles is significant, the audio remains a highlight in both titles with the series' excellent voice acting and wonderful score returning in full force.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue isn't as strong as the previous package, even if you separate that into the original PS3 configurations. It's nice to travel to some new Disney locales, but the story for the included games lacks excitement despite providing some big details for the future. The combat is better, although some of that is bogged down in Dream Drop Distance due to extra gameplay mechanics. The overall game length is shorter, and while it looks great, it makes you wonder if it would've been a better idea to throw these titles into the 1.5 + 2.5 compilation rather than keeping them separate. As it stands now, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is fine for existing longtime fans — but not at its current price.

Score: 7.0/10

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