Celebrating its 15th anniversary, Kingdom Hearts has been given yet another compilation of titles rather than the much anticipated third entry. However, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally offers fans a new look into the next generation of the series with Birth By Sleep 0.2, an incredibly fun battle system with Dream Drop Distance HD, and a fascinating peek into what really is going on with the Tome of Prophecies in X Back Cover. However, there are a few technical issues with Birth By Sleep 0.2 and a disappointing plot from Dream Drop Distance to keep in mind.
Let’s start off with Birth By Sleep 0.2. Aqua, after the events of the PSP title, is now stuck in the Realm of Darkness. She is trying to fight the darkness within her and the environment as she explores multiple sections of worlds she has seen before. However, they have been altered as they have been taken by the darkness. Birth By Sleep 0.2 does a good job at filling the holes that the previous game made; a few of many many holes that need to be filled in Kingdom Hearts 3. If you are looking for something meaty within the Kingdom Hearts mythos, you won’t find it here. There’s little substance to the plot, but one thing that it aggravatingly does well is how they set up Kingdom Hearts 3 at the end of 0.2. From what narrative there is to find, though, the voice actors do a great job at portraying the characters again. One particular character I won’t mention for spoiler’s sake sounds more mature than usual and it’s surprising to see a new take.
Birth By Sleep 0.2 is a blend between the initial PSP title and Kingdom Hearts 2 with its battle system. It has a traditional command system but the shot-locks and transformations return. The battles are as riveting as always with clutch-based rolls/reflect blocks and heartless designs that desire some thought rather than bashing the X button. However, there are issues on a standard PS4. Firstly and most important, the game doesn’t always feel precise. You need to be accurate with your rolls and reflect blocks, especially during boss battles, but there’s too much of a gap between pressing the button and Aqua reacting. This led to many frustrating deaths, mostly because of the delayed reflect blocks. Second, the game freezes for about a second during intense parts of a fight. Birth By Sleep 0.2 runs smoothly at 30FPS at most points, but when there is a lot happening on screen, it freezes for a split second and then continues. It’s not too much of an issue, but it can take you out of a pulse-pounding battle. Lastly, the end boss fight. This part of the game felt unbalanced during my time with the game, but it has been patched. Still, some of the moves from the last section of the fight were way too widespread and rarely allowed you to avoid its attacks.
Despite a few issues technically and its overpowered last boss, this game looks beautiful. The jump from PS2/3DS to PS4 is night and day. The glow of a light on the street, the brimming sky of stars set above a stunning remade Castle of Dreams, the emotion of Aqua’s face during cutscenes, the particle effects from the slash of a keyblade or a fire spell, and the imaginative visuals of the dark versions of these beloved Disney worlds all make this game magical. As a long-time fan of the series, I was screaming internally and externally. I was just in awe and I can’t wait to see more Disney worlds realized in Kingdom Hearts 3 in this engine.
For this part of the review, let’s look into both Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover and Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD.
Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover is a 1-hour movie, which focuses on the story of the mobile title, Unchained X. This is set way before the events of Kingdom Hearts during the first keyblade war. It explains why the war takes place and the Foretellers who each have the Book of Prophecies. given by a mysterious man called the Master of Masters. This story leads up to the events of Kingdom Hearts 3 in an unexpected and exciting way and after watching the movie, fans will have more answers than questions. The voice of the Master of Masters, Ray Chase (also the voice of Noctis), is so captivating in this movie. The character is an eccentric nutter, but at the same time sinister with a scheme in the back of his mind. This performance is the best in the series, par none as he holds such a presence. The rest of the voice cast is stellar as well except for a few scenes in which the direction was a bit too melodramatic. Overall, you can buy from the voice actors how worried they are about what a dark prophecy entails.
If you are a fan of the Kingdom Hearts series, you will love this. If you are just jumping in, you will be so confused by the plot and it’s not worth watching. To add one more note, Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover is made in the same engine as Birth By Sleep 0.2 and Kingdom Hearts 3, and it is just as (or perhaps more so) stunning as previously mentioned. One shot of the Master of Masters standing in front of a long range of grasslands and mountains under a stunning sunrise really adds to your imagination of what the next entry will look like.
Dream Drop Distance HD is the final mainline step to Kingdom Hearts 3 and Square Enix did a fantastic job of remastering this game. It runs at 1080p with 60 frames per second, and you’ll instantly notice the change. Unlike Birth By Sleep 0.2, the game is extremely responsive, the visuals pop on the screen, and the models were touched up to the point of it looking like a PS3 game. However, it is far from perfect. Unlike the previous remasters, there is no extra content to the game as it didn’t have a Final Mix edition. The end-game is lacking with one secret boss and dull side missions that have you defeat a wave of enemies in a certain amount of time or without getting hit. The writing is so cringeworthy, especially with Sora. He is written and sounds like a child rather than a teenager. He’s happy-go-lucky, for sure, but he has more of a brain in previous games than this one and fans of the character might be annoyed with how they’ve regressed the character back rather than maturing him slightly. Riku, on the other hand, has a nice progression as he learns to deal with the darkness within him.
Haley Joel Osment in this game sounds so forced with his attempt to sound like a young teenager. It doesn’t sound natural and gives me so many concerns over Kingdom Hearts 3 because, at the end of Birth By Sleep 0.2, he sounds exactly like he did in Dream Drop Distance. Damn, it’s so annoying. Other than that, the voice cast is excellent with the Disney characters sounding like they should and a solid performance for Riku from David Gallagher, who sounds like his age!
As for the writing, the worlds they include in the game don’t feel natural to the story, unlike the other titles in the series. Also, Square Enix have left so many more plot holes to the point of a worn battlefield. Spoiler: There’s time travel and that’s never good in a long-running series. The maligned plot is definitely concerning for the future of Kingdom Hearts, but with Birth By Sleep 0.2 and X Back Cover beginning to lay the seeds of Kingdom Hearts 3 in such a fascinating way, it is beginning to look brighter. The incorporation of Sora entering San Fransokyo after the events of Big Hero 6 is also a good sign of the Disney worlds becoming more intrinsic to the narrative than Dream Drop Distance.
Despite a lacking plot, Dream Drop Distance was the first title to have the Flowmotion mechanic, which allows Sora and Riku to bounce off walls, swing on light posts, ride on a rail, and more. In 60 frames per second, it’s so fun to run through each world and fight in such a frenetic and refreshing way. While creepy in design – Look at them! They’re freakish! – there are creatures called dream eaters that offer an addicting experience hook. Each creature gives you different abilities and spells. In a similar fashion to World of Final Fantasy, creatures get more experience while battling with you and with their Link Points, you can unlock new abilities as you get further on in the progression tree. You can also expand the tree with affinity points that are gained from battle and mini-games. You gain new dream eaters by synthesizing materials you have gained from dropped enemies or chests and like Pokemon, they have their own traits. Players will have their own unique and customizable progression through this system and it’s a fun take on the formula.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a mostly positive step towards the next entry of this “Dearly Beloved” franchise. Birth By Sleep 0.2 has a few technical problems and the narrative of Dream Drop Distance is written in a cringeworthy way, but the combat has never been better and the visuals are fittingly magical for a Disney and Square Enix title.