Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue
After various spin-offs and re-releases, the buildup to Kingdom Hearts III has been nothing if not drawn out. Kingdom Hearts II launched more than a decade ago, and a whole new generation of gamers can play the early entries thanks to HD remasters on PS3 (and later this year on the PS4). Final Chapter Prologue should be the last new remaster before Kingdom Hearts III; it includes Dream Drop Distance (originally a 3DS exclusive) for the first time on the big screen. Additionally, an episode starring Aqua and a mini-movie, which shows how this crazy journey all began, are both new for this entry. As convoluted as the Kingdom Hearts storyline is, after playing through this collection, I have a clearer understanding of the narrative leading into Kingdom Hearts III. Even without the extra story context, Final Chapter Prologue is fun on its own, and Square Enix did a wonderful job making this a worthwhile collection and not just a port of Dream Drop Distance.
The most appealing part of the collection is A Fragmentary Passage, which follows Aqua after the events of Birth By Sleep. The episode took me about three hours to complete, but if you collect every treasure, you can extend that an extra hour. Aqua is one of my favorite characters due to her selflessness and determination to save the world, and getting some resolution to her story was satisfying. I won't spoil anything, but playing the episode only makes me more excited for what potential role she might play in Kingdom Hearts III.
A Fragmentary Passage takes you through various levels, each with its own gimmick. For instance, in the first world, Aqua must locate five clock gears, platforming on high ledges and rooftops, while battling enemies to achieve them. In another, she must go through mirrors and uses their reflections to create ledges or manipulate gravity. Square Enix says A Fragmentary Passage uses development tools similar to Kingdom Hearts III, showing off more expansive environments and the ease of getting around them using the air slide and a powerful double jump, so it's almost a first look at how the tech has advanced for the upcoming entry. It makes me excited for Kingdom Hearts III's exploration. The episode also shows off the smoothest combat I've experienced in the series, playing out in a faster, more fluid pace. Camera issues didn't plague me as much as past entries have, either.
While some cool boss fights, like a titan that takes up most of the landscape and a tower of Heartless that morph into different shapes, test your skills, these baddies often repeat through the short levels, and a lot of the objectives feel like busy work. You're never just locating one thing – it's usually five, or backtracking to get what you need. The journey is breezy, so if you're looking for a challenge, I recommend starting on Proud Mode. You can unlock Critical Mode after completing A Fragmentary Passage on any mode for the highest challenge, which really tests your combat prowess.
A Fragmentary Passage isn't perfect, but I'm glad Square Enix included completely new content, and dressing up Aqua by completing challenges is a fun bonus. My Aqua ended up wearing Minnie Mouse ears and having a red-and-white dress with ribbons to match. At the end of the episode, a lengthy scene (presumably from Kingdom Hearts III) allows you to finally see the characters embark on the next part of their journey, which is really what we've been waiting all this time for – to see that Kingdom Hearts' plot is moving forward instead of explaining past elements.
The collection also features an HD movie, Kingdom Hearts Back Cover, which runs a little over an hour. The movies in these collections haven't always been that impressive, and I was skeptical knowing that this was based on a mobile game's story, but Square Enix really spruced it up. It's the best movie featured in all the HD collections up to this point, and sheds worthwhile light on the series' early history and how the prophecy of darkness affected the Foretellers. The movie is a good look at what set the events of Kingdom Hearts into motion, and has some memorable betrayals and action sequences, as everyone tries to do what they think is right to save the world from its dark fate.
Dream Drop Distance HD is the part of the collection you can sink the most time into, and Square Enix has made plenty of enhancements and changes to get the 3DS game running smoothly on console. The battles are faster-paced, the camera benefits from a larger screen, and load times are improved from the original handheld version. The controls are also better on the PS4, feeling less clunky. Square Enix updated the minigames and abilities that previously used the 3DS' touchscreen, although it's not always an improvement. For instance, the reality-shift slingshot worked much better with touch controls, and petting your Dreameaters felt more natural with a stylus. Still, this version is far from just a visual upgrade (although it does look fantastic on PS4). For those who haven't played Dream Drop Distance, or want a refresher, this is the best way to go.
Final Chapter Prologue is a solid collection that I enjoyed playing, and got me more excited for Kingdom Hearts III due to how it sets up everything so wonderfully. I wish I were playing Kingdom Hearts III instead of another remaster, but this is the best collection for getting you prepped for what's ahead.