The Kingdom Hearts franchise is known for two things: 1) an impressive and well-respected list of characters, and 2) a freaking convoluted story spanning nine games over a variety of different consoles. Thankfully, Square Enix have decided to join all the games into remasters that they’ve slowly released over the past few years in the build-up to the series finale Kingdom Hearts 3. The latest remaster, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue not only acts as a bridge to the new Kingdom Hearts, but also serves as a summary for all the past games. However, is it as good a package as its predecessors?
Welcome back, Sora
The first game in the package is Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance and is the direct link between all the other games and the next chapter in the adventure. It focuses on both Sora and Riku’s training to become Keyblade masters. Fair warning though, this is not the game you want to play as your first Kingdom Hearts game. The story and lore, up to this point, is complex and substantial, and if you’re not up to speed, then this is NOT a game for you. In other words, it’s imperative that you play all the games from Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 before you even consider playing this title.
Back to the game. Both Sora and Riku are tested by Master Yen Sid and sent to the land of dreams where their job is wake up the sleeping worlds. Our two heroes are thrust into danger and somehow manage to slip into two different realms. They’re alone, but oddly need to work together in their respective realms in order to proceed. This time though, there’s no Donald or Goofy or any other Disney/ Final Fantasy side characters joining you. Since you’re in a sleeping world, you’ll be accompanied by dream spirits, little creatures that help you fight in battle. Conversely, your new enemies are called nightmares, dark versions of your helpful spirits.
It’s raining Sora and Riku
I won’t dive too far into the story of Dream Drop Distance, as it can get complicated, but I also risk spoiling the previous games if I say too much. As a game though, it has a lot going for it. In many respects it’s very different from the main games. You’ll play both Sora and Riku and constantly change between the two using the new ‘drop’ system. There’s a little gauge on the bottom right-hand side of the screen that slowly depletes. This is the drop gauge. When it’s empty, the character you’re playing will automatically enter a state of suspended animation and you’ll be forced to play the other one until his gauge depletes and you switch back. It’s a constant shuffle between Sora and Riku, but it’s a system that gets old real quick, especially when you run out of time during a boss fight.
Then there’s the combat itself, which focuses highly on the ‘Flowmotion’ system. This system allows you to jump around the field doing weird acrobatics and even boosts your fighting abilities. The problem is, as a movement gimmick, that it’s hard to control with the occasional camera problems. It’s also overpowered, especially early in the game where you can beat scores of enemies without any problem. There’s also the Reality Shift system which you can use to solve certain platforming puzzles or defeat enemies. Under certain conditions, you can activate the Shift and, depending on the world you’re in, can deal significant damage. What I don’t like is how it cuts the uniquely fluid fighting. A lot of attention and detail went into making the combat slick and smooth, and then this reality shift nonsense just grinds it to a halt. It doesn’t gel well in combat and should’ve been focused more on puzzle solving.
From 3DS to PS4
One of the most surprising details is that this game was originally on the 3DS system. The graphics have improved significantly, the movement is fluid and it’s overall very polished. The soundtrack is great, but does feel a bit limited and I definitely recognise a few of the tracks. The stand out section of this game is the commitment to the spirits. In a way it’s very Digimon meets Monster Rancher meets a Tamagochi. You can create your own spirits using different ingredients, train them for battle, feed and pet them, and even enter the spirits in a spirit tournament. There’s also a significant RPG element that connects the spirits to Riku and Sora. By unlocking abilities specific to your spirit, you can apply certain advantages to your heroes. It’s very good and the integration is very well executed. I also appreciate the glossary and short summaries of the previous games included. It covers the absolute basics of each previous game, but there are details that may be too hard to understand without having played them first. However, I already have a good grasp on the story, so I’m not 100% convinced it’s good enough for someone who doesn’t.
As a whole, Dream Drop Distance is a good game, but I’m not sure it’s strong enough to serve as the foundation for this remaster. In the previous 2, a main title was used as the foundation and I don’t think this game is up to that level. I think it would’ve been smarter to use Birth By Sleep as the foundation for this game as it leads in nicely to the Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep: a Fragmented Passage.
What to expect next
The next two parts of 2.8 are probably what you’re going to want to see more of as they show you what you can expect from KH3.
The second game in this package is a very short story with Aqua as its lead character. Technically, it takes place right after Dream Drop Distance, but also takes place after Birth by Sleep and during Kingdom Hearts 1 – confusing, amiright? I’m cutting the story out as it is short and surprisingly simple, but I will say this, it’s very sad.
The main takeaway is how the game looks and feels as it’s basically what you can expect KH3 to be like. Visually it’s very good and reminds me of Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII, even down to the costumes you can make Aqua wear. The combat is a bit limited, but for a game that can be beat in about 2 hours, it’s enough to get you by. It’s really crisp, but does need a little more work in the smoothness department and the camera controls need some tightening up. I like that the HUD doesn’t take up too much space on the screen so you can really absorb everything that’s going on. I also like the additional missions included in the game and I hope it’s something that passes on to KH3. The additional missions add a lot more game time to it and some of them really test your mettle as a skilled fighter.
The third portion of the remaster is Kingdom Hearts Back Cover, and serves as the ‘movie’ portion of the game. This will show you what the cinematics will look like in KH3, and my goodness are they awesome. The story takes you back to before the Keyblade War, where you learn about the foretellers, the original keyblade masters, and the actions that eventually lead to the start of the war. It’s a sad tale, but one that puts the story into perspective and even includes a ‘oh snap’ moment when you see a certain object.
Compared to the other two remasters, I’m not sure this one stands as tall. Kingdom Hearts mega fans will definitely get a lot of worth out of this game and the opportunity to get a taste of KH3 is also a high note. unfortunately, if you’ve only dabbled in Kingdom Hearts, and by that I mean have only played 1 and 2, then you might be in a bit of a pickle as it does require some knowledge of all the games to make complete sense. This is KH’s greatest downfall, its reliance on all the other games to make sense. So, essentially, if you’re up to scratch, then you’re golden. If not, catch up first.