Deep within the darkness you can find the light. In the recesses of the light you can find darkness. Don’t think too light of the darkness or the light nature of being dark on the subject around lightly darkened spaces with dark tendencies making light of the situation around the dark nature of light. But within this darkness we can find a glimmering light, the light of Kingdom Hearts.
It is a series developed and published by Square Enix for both home consoles and hand-held consoles, with nearly 16 games in the line-up there is many an adventure to choose from. As a game franchise I hold very close to my Heart, Kingdom Hearts is one I have grown up with and thoroughly enjoyed since getting the first game for my tenth birthday. I remember fondly saving Kairi and Riku and the Princesses of Heart and stopping Ansem. Then I though Oh boy, time to play Kingdom Hearts 2! Wait, where is Sora… Who is Roxas? Whats is a Nobody? What is an organisation XIII? WHAT THE HELL IS A CHAIN OF MEMORY?! You see, Kingdom Hearts does this funny thing of putting direct sequels into handheld only versions of their game. Especially to a then 13-year-old boy, this can be understandably confusing particularly when trying to understand the games convoluted story line.
In an effort to both help people who did not get the chance to play these games, or just wanted to replay them with HD graphics, Square Enix has release a few ‘ HD Remixed’ versions of the various games. The HD 1.5 Remix has KH1, Chain of memories, and 358 and a half over twelve through a thousand days (seriously screw the title of that one). HD 2.5 has KH2, Birth By Sleep, and Re:Coded. All of which have been up-resed and re-packaged. And now we have Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 which has a redone 3DS game, Dream Drop Distance, which shows Sora and Riku becoming fully fledged Keyblade masters, Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, which is a glorified tech demo, and χ Back Cover, which is a up-resed movie, of a remade mobile game, based on a web browser game. Seeing as Square Enix was so nice as to wrap up all of the pieces in a neat package, it is only fair that I examine them separately, then as a sum of its parts.
Dream Drop Distance
Dream Drop Distance was a 3DS released in 2012. Much to the ire of many Kingdom Hearts fans, myself included, as the console was not yet obtained by all. Leaving this game to be missed out on by many. There is some precedent with this however, with Birth by Sleep being on the PSP and 358/2 Days being on the 3DS as well. Now, like the handheld games that precede it, Dream Drop Distance is playable on a console in an up-ressed and up-styled form.
As it turns out, Riku and Sora are not the hot stuff they thought they were Re: Keyblade Wielding and although they have saved the worlds countless times, they are not yet deemed ‘masters’. Set after the second game they find that this right can only be dubbed once they have proven themselves to Master Yensid. To do so, they must travel to several worlds that are ‘sleeping’ after being restored in the previous game, and awakening them. The story is a standard fare for long time fans of the series.
The dialogue is cheesy and the cut scenes are long yet both are welcomed in an endearing way. Strong pangs of nostalgia can be felt harkening back to the first game as you enter new worlds and are introduced to a new cast of characters, and some familiar faces, in every world including Tron, Pinocchio, and my personal favourite the cast from The World Ends With You. Although it is a touch formulaic there is enough in it to stir the pot and to churn up some new interesting situations that are appreciated and a few new discoveries that are unexpected.To sum it up, a familiar, yet welcome feel, with a few twists and turns along the way.
Some would say the most important thing about a HD collection is graphics, and Square Enix tend to agree with you as the graphics are the best part of this version of DDD. For the most part all pixels are looking more polished and all polygons are much more… Polygonigal? This is the case for both the game play itself and the actual cut scenes. The actual cut scenes are, mostly, all redone into full HD cinematics, with some played the same, just at a higher resolution.This can be a little jarring swapping from full HD to them standing there looking like their mouths are cardboard cut outs that flap about South Park style. Despite this, going through the story again with HD cut scenes makes the repackaged game worth it. Which is good as the gameplay seems a bit… Empty.
Much like the story, the game play follows suit in that Action-y, Rpg-ee style that we are used to. With the addition of the ‘Command Deck’ seen in Birth By Sleep. In terms of the game itself it has many different nooks and crannies you can sink time into. Aside from the regular story, there are a number of side games and missions, mostly revolving around you Dream Eaters. Dream Eaters are the replacement for the main enemies in this game. However, you can create and lord over two of them and force them to do your bidding and swap them out to oblivion when you make one with slightly better stats. One such side game is the arena within which you can fight other Dream Eaters to death, using your own. There is also a sizeable side game in a Pokémon-Amie style where you can pat, feed, and train your Dream Eaters for better stats and powers. Ultimately these feel like padding with not much substance but are still fun, which is an important distinction.
The combat, as stated before, is very similar to the mainline games. There are two notable differences, Reality Shift, and Flow Motion. Reality Shift is a contextual attack which can be used on enemies and objects, which is different for each world. Flow Motion is a rail system-like movement style that allows the player to do additional combo attacks and speedily zip across the maps much faster than normal movement. This is key as the one thing I noticed about the game was exactly how empty it felt. Each world is big open spaces and tall buildings for the most part and aside from the group of 4-6 Dream Eaters that will pop up every 3o metres or so, there is no-one to populate the space. Leaving much to be desired. This is understandable on the 3DS however, it is a shame the team did not do anything to liven up the gameplay for the PS4.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
For the sake of convenience, I shall refer to this game as 0.2 and if anyone has a problem with that, please refer to our HR department… Not that we have one. 0.2 for the most part is a glorified tech demo. It is a way to show us what to look forward to with KH3 when it comes out in 13 years time. With all of the performance and sheen it can muster we are thrown into the Realm of Darkness with the ever blue haired vixen, Aqua. She has been wandering aimlessly since the end of Birth By Sleep and is starting to lose herself. After a decade of nothingness she is greeted by visions of Terra and Ventus, curious, she follows them further into the darkness.
At a run time of about 2 hours (closer to three if you complete the added ‘missions’) this portion definitely rings true as a Kingdom Hearts 3 tech demo. Not that that is an inherently bad thing. Made in the Unreal 4 engine 0.2 manages to show off lighting, particle, and physical effects that genuinely left me surprised. The technical powerhouse that is the PS4 manages to rear in these graphical feats without so much as a single frame dropped Not for lack of trying however. The trip into the Realm of Darkness sees Aqua in a room with the mirror and floors perfectly reflected, to a world made of floating debris and rocks and more. All of which looking as an attempt to push the game and machine to its limits.
As nothing has changed since the end of Birth By Sleep the game gives you all of Aquas abilities and full health to make the game much smoother. there are several types of enemies on offer but nothing to substantially unique to the game which, while not detracting from the game would have been a nice addition. The ride as a whole is very streamlined with not much time for stopping. The game does encourage you to take it slower for a little bit by offering you certain ‘missions’ to complete. These missions include things such as ‘defeat the so-and-so enemy 100 times’ or ‘use the thingo attack 5 times’. Once completed you unlock a different apparatus for Aqua to wear. This was obviously padding to make the game seem longer and even though I completed a few due to natural progression there was nothing specific about it that caught my eye.
Essentially 0.2 is a short, but sweet, package aimed at solidifying the masses in their anticipation of KH3 whilst showing that, yeah, maybe it is worth the 42 year wait for the game.
Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover
Speaking of Kingdom Hearts 3 you know what I love more than sequels? That is right, prequels. You know what I love more than prequels? That is right, browser based web games. You know what I love more than browser based web games? That is right, mobile games. You know what I love more than mobile games? That is right, movies. You know what I love more than movies? That is right, movies based and mobile games that are remakes of a web-based browser game which is a prequel to a Playstation 2 game released 12 years ago.
Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover is a feature-length movie depicting events occurring 100 years before the first game. I could not control any of the characters and every time I tried the game would pause or fast forward or something like that. 0/10 gameplay. The only good thing was that one cutscene, and it went for an hour and a half.
Ultimately, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a glorified tech demo for what we can expect in Kingdom Hearts 3. However, that is the joyous thing about a glorified tech demo, the amount of glory this game has with it. A solid entry into Kingdom Hearts remake series and a game worth playing on its own, if nothing more than just for A Fragmentary Passage.
Enjoy Kingdom Hearts, now with 2.8 and a half new editions.