Kingdom Hearts 2.8 review: A sliver of what you’ve been waiting for

Reviewed on PS4 - Square Enix

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The Independent Tech

To say the Kingdom Hearts franchise is difficult for new players would be a similar understatement to saying: ‘Aren’t people a bit miffed about the EU referendum vote?’

We’ve had: Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts Chains of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts Encoded, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, prequel Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, and more. The plot has become nightmarish to follow for anyone but hardcore fans and the series’ original hook (a game that appeals to as many people as possible thanks to the inclusion of Disney characters) has been lost.

The latest release from Square Enix is the bafflingly named Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. The disc features a high definition remaster of Nintendo 3DS game Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, a new installment (deep breath now) Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage, and a cinematic titled Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, which details events not shown in the original χ game.

So, what story elements do you need to know from the original games? The first Kingdom Hearts followed the series’ main characters - Sora, Riku and Kairi -  along with their friends Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse, as they battled the forces of darkness, led by Dark Master Xehanort. The other characters that are important to be familiar with are Aqua, Venn and Terra, who were introduced in said prequel.

Now, you would be completely forgiven for calling timeout after seeing all those names. However, there are a couple of really good reasons to stick with this latest release.

The most important is the inclusion of Kingdom Hearts 0.2 - this being the first in the series to be made from scratch for a next generation system. The game is a sequel to the prequel Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, and features Keyblade master Aqua. From the Dark Castle of Cinderella to a devilishly fun hall of magic mirrors level, the game’s design is gorgeous. Navigating your way around is easy and fun, although certain platforming can be fairly tricky to coordinate due to the return of the sorely missed “double flight” (double jump) technique. 

It’s at this point that the next generation graphics truly hit you. As you spin and skate along vines through Sleeping Beauty’s forest of Thorns, or leap from rooftop to rooftop, you can’t help but feel this is the benchmark Kingdom Hearts always wanted to reach - it’s just been waiting for the tech to get there.

I won’t give too much away plot wise, but for fans of the series and new players alike, it’s a fun little trip that ties into Kingdom Hearts III in a very exciting way. It’s pure, untapped atmosphere drills down into a part of you brain that makes you remember why you fell in love with the series.

The combat is utterly superb - free flowing and enjoyable. After a few short minutes you’re pulling off a range of physical blade attacks and magic attacks like a pro. The controls are intuitive and the special power ups give you just the right amount of spectacle. After a few hours it could become slightly samey, but this is a JRPG, it comes with the territory. You also get rewards for pulling off certain moves or a certain number of kills - these rewards come in the form of clothing allowing you to customise Aqua as you play.

The real low point is the loading times that really take you out of the action. It’s a small sacrifice for the stunning graphics and action, sure, but there’s only so long you can spend starring at a spinning heart before you consider putting the controller down. Plus, it's only a few hours long, not the sprawling epic III will hopefully be.

When it comes to the HD remaster of Dream Drop there’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said. It was one of the weaker editions in the franchise and - despite the excellent job the studio has done prettying it up - there’s nothing to fix the slightly disjointed pacing and exceedingly difficult to penetrate plot. There are also certain gameplay aspects that were designed for the 3DS’ touchscreen that simply don't translate to a PS4 controller. Playing with your spirits (little monsters that aid you in battle) in order to train them up feels like a chore rather than a quick task, and catapulting barrels around the place just feels clumsy. 

The big question is of course: should I buy Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Prequel Sequel Prologue Epilogue Counter Balance? For you hardcore keyblade wielders out there, or simply fans of the story, then it’s a resounding yes. You’ll possibly enjoy returning to a game you once played on your 3DS and you will most certainly love 0.2’s plot, gameplay and atmosphere. 0.2 is a little sliver of what you’ve been waiting for, and will only make you more excited for III. Casual or first time players of the KH franchise, this one is probably not for you - however, you can take heart (sorry) in knowing that every single Kingdom Hearts game is coming to the PS4 this year. So if you really want to get into the franchise that evaded you all these year, now’s the time!