Kingdom Hearts has become one of those titles that is in the same vein as Half Life, Portal and other Valve properties. Aka, where the heck is the third installment in the series!?
While we wait again for the next proper installment in the main series, we get another remastering of some previous titles along with a new distraction piece in Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue… And you through Street Fighter had weird naming ideas. So how well does a 3DS & PSP ports play on a seventh generation console after a graphical refresh? Does the new content satisfy fan’s hunger as they paw over screen shots from Kingdom Hearts III? Drop $60 and find out yourself, or just keep reading.
Game Name: Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Disclosure: Review copy provided by PR company on behalf of Square-Enix.
While Kingdom Hearts II.8 has some kinda linking narratives between its three games, there’s not a whole lot to them. You could call this is Star Wars Prequels of the Kingdom Hearts universe as all the stories seem to take place before the Legendary Keyblade War and over 10 years before Sora’s main adventure yet Sora is in the stories and yet he’s not… ARGH!! This stuff does my head in.
Anyway, we start things out with Dream Drop Distance, a remastering of the 3DS title of the same name. Anticipating Master Xehanort’s return following the defeat of his Heartless Ansem and Nobody Xemnas, Yen Sid puts Sora and Riku through a Mark of Mastery exam to deem them Keyblade Masters and counter Xehanort. For the exam, they are sent to worlds that were restored at the end of Kingdom Hearts, albeit in a “sleeping” state disconnecting them from other worlds.
These worlds are inhabited by Dream Eaters, creatures born from darkness that seeks out the Keyholes of Sleep found there. Sora and Riku’s task is to reawaken the sleeping worlds by unlocking the seven Keyholes of Sleep, and then return to the realm of light; they are advised to create benevolent “Spirit” Dream Eaters to guide them and battle the malevolent “Nightmare” Dream Eaters. Along the way, both Sora and Riku are separated due to the sleeping nature of the worlds. Both encounter a mysterious kid who seems to be able to travel between both the dreams of Sora and Riku. There’s also the usual “Sora’s heart is captured” nonsense from Kingdom Hearts, Riku rescues him and there’s a lot more set up for things that may or may not happen in other games.
Next up is the remastering of the PSP title, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. This is the “First” Kingdom Hearts story where we meet the original Keyblade masters: Terra & Aqua. During the keyblade exam, only Terra makes it through leaving Aqua all grumpy and easy to manipulate by Master Xehanort, who was the reason Aqua failed the exam. Xehanort up and disappears at the same time a new enemy, called the Unversed, start making their way through the worlds and looking for the Princesses of Light. This goes into a deeper plot with Ventus wanting to get a special keyblade called the χ-blade and begin another keyblade war, something that is so devastating that it’s an apocalyptic level event. There’s more personal stuff involved too, including the usual “someone is taken over” and it looks like the same plot we’ve seen a million times.
The last story in this trilogy is Kingdom Hearts χ; a new story in the series. While this is an 80-minute movie that has been included in the set, it does have a story. But due to embargo reasons, I can’t talk about it. So you’ll just have to get the game and watch the movie yourself.
For the main part, the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts II.8 isn’t too far removed from the mainline Kingdom Hearts titles. You have a series of 4 on screen commands that you cycle through in order to do normal attacks, special attacks, use items and anything else. You do have shortcut commands for the items and magic commands too which is really helpful in the heat of battle. Mainly, though, you spend a lot of time mashing the attack command to string in combos to take down enemies. You get enough health bubbles (which restore health) from defeated enemies that having to heal yourself isn’t really needed at all.
Each game does have a couple of things that help it stand out though. For example, Dream Drop Distance uses 2 very cool mechanics called “Drop Gauge” and “Flowmotion“. The Drop Gauge is a small meter that fills up as you fight enemies in the game. Once full, it begins a countdown timer. When the countdown reaches zero, you automatically get removed from your current character and placed into the role of the other. You can also trigger the countdown and change manually if you wish, or just change characters at any save point. I personally found the Drop Gauge to be an interesting idea of changing things up when the game would otherwise slow down and get boring, the only drawback being that in some more intense fights, you forget about the mechanic and suddenly change characters, making you think you’ve lost a lot of progress.
The other mechanic in Dream Drop Distance in Flowmotion. What this is is a weird movement based fighting style that has you bouncing off walls and spinning around poles and enemies in order to do damage and stay out of harm’s way. While this does add a whole new level to the fights, it is very hit and miss to get started and even harder to keep the flow going during battle, but when it does work, it really makes the battles fun and exciting.
The final thing that Dream Drop Distance does in introduce the Dream Eaters. While a lot of them are the main grunts of the game that you fight, you can create and train good versions of them to fight alongside you in battle. Now, this is just another Pokemon style gimmick that was included because that is what was still very popular when this game came out, otherwise it’s nothing really worth mentioning. I didn’t bother too much with this gimmick at all during gameplay as I was more used to playing the game as a solo player instead of a trainer.
As for Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, there isn’t anything too special mechanics wise to talk about. However, it does introduce the Deck Command system. The system basically is a new way to set your special commands and how to execute them. During battle you will build a gauge which once filled will make your attacks and combos more powerful depending on which one is active at the time. This was a nice new way to change up the fighting system but again it’s nothing to write home about in the grand scheme of things.
Unfortunately, the graphics in Kingdom Hearts II.8 are its biggest weakness. I know we started out with lower end portable device games that have been upscaled and retextured to fit an HD screen, but the end result isn’t all that great. The graphics in the two games look like what you would get from a Playstation 2 emulator with a more smooth graphical shine to it. Hell, I’ve seen n64 shaders that do a better job at making those games look better than these two do. It’s a real shame that we couldn’t get a real remaster like other games have done.
I know Square-Enix have access to the newer Unreal Engine since they use that in Kingdom Hearts χ, but to not use it to make the graphics in Dream Drop Distance and Birth by Sleep really pop is just screaming “I’m a cheap distraction cash in title”. By comparison, the graphics in Kingdom Hearts χ are far superior and look amazing. But I guess that’s what you get when you’re just making a movie compared to a video game.
The sound in all three titles here is amazing. The recreations of classic Disney backing and song tracks is near perfection. Sometimes I would just stand in one spot and let the music play for a few minutes and hum or sing along to the classic Disney tunes that I grew up with, making this a great musical moment for me during the games. However, the game is let down by a less than good sounds effects track. All the squeaks from enemies does get annoying after a while and the constant “thunk” noise from connecting my attacks really made me feel like I wasn’t doing any damage to them.
What made it worse was the same dialogue from Sora and Riku in Dream Drop Distance during those combo chains really got annoying. Outside of battle, though, the game is very well voice acted and the replacement they got for the likes of Sora wasn’t too jarring at all. The standout here is, of course, Kingdom Hearts χ.
Kingdom Hearts II.8 HD Final Chapter Prologue is a nice little distraction. The games are fun and quick enough that you can get them done in a solid day or so. Dream Drop Distance is the standout game out of the two due to the Flowmotion and Drop Gauge mechanics being new and exciting for someone who never got a chance to play the game on the 3DS.
While Birth by Sleep feels like it’s trying to shake things up in the story of Kingdom Hearts by giving us someone other than Sora to play as it doesn’t do enough to really stand out as a must play title of the series. Plus neither game has Roxas in it so that’s always a good thing. As for Kingdom Hearts χ, it’s a great way to tell the story of a game that would have taken way too long to completely change over to a 3D port (The original Kingdom Hearts χ was a mobile game. Sorry for not mentioning that earlier).
As a whole package, though, it feels cheap. It’s just another distraction from our wait for Kingdom Hearts III, but at the same time, it does close the holes in the HD Remaster collection of the series that has happened over the last couple of years. So I guess there’s that. Honestly, this does feel like it’s for the collectors only market and for the hardcore fans of the series that needed this to happen. For the casual player, though, you can wait for a sale or bargain bin for this title.
Dated but Enjoyable
While it is nice to see the portable titles make their way to home consoles, you can tell that this was just another distraction from the bigger issue for Kingdom Harts fans. While this game does fill that hole in the collection nicely, it’s not really worth a full retail price, or even a slightly lesser discounted price. These side stories aren’t going to give us any huge insight into the game series and is completely skippable. While it is an enjoyable romp if you do buy it, this is a game I’d recommended for hardcore fans only.