Great ghost of Mickey Mouse, does no one understand how searching and word of mouth works at Square Enix? Kingdom Hearts 2.8 has the moronic, confusing tagline of “Final Chapter Prologue”, instantly rolling the eyes of everyone that sees it line a Vegas kickline. To have convolution splayed so brazenly is as brave as it is tiring.
Going to the tapes, Kingdom Hearts has been a really good series in the past. The first two games had their issues with pacing and enough joy and friendship to imprint rainbows onto your eyes. Yet, Heartless and Nobodies became fascinating creatures of hopelessness that really helped offset my urge to kill Donald and Goofy. The series’ largest weakness, by a full Sephiroth sword, is the simple fact that there’s been no sequel for 14 years. Oddly, we’ve been spoonfed, I heart-sh*ting kid you not, 12 spinoffs or prequels in that wake.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD Final Chapter F*cking Prologue, this side of making fans sweat that there will be a 2.9, has done its best to setup – finally – Kingdom Hearts 3’s release. As the last boards of that long bridge, all of the players are here in increasingly odd form. Dream Drop Distance serves as your setup for Sora, Riku, and Kairi and as your main dose of gameplay. Also including is Chi Back Cover (your movie experience) and 0.2, which features Aqua and rises well above the other two.
Dream Drop Distance has Sora and Riku taking their Keyblade Master examinations to stave-wait, hold the hell on. They’re not Keyblade Masters yet? After all…sorry, convolution pill, must swallow. Sora and Riku are taking arms against Dream Eaters while taking their usual path around the Disney-verse to various properties. You’ll hit some familiar worlds, almost all of which have to do with the Kingdom Hearts series itself. Disney properties feel different or remixed to a fashion that slaps away any worries of repetition on that level.
No, no, repetition just sets in with gameplay as you’re basically playing the same game twice. Riku and Sora run through congruent adventures while running into the cast from The World Ends With You as a mostly useless bit of cameo appearances. That means you’ll use standard attacks through the same environments twice, just as in KH2 but not with the weight of that story. This feels spread thin to push you to find the last step before Kingdom Hearts 3, and to fight an enemy that is never given any real context in the series as a whole.
While I won’t focus on the story too much due to its spoiler-y nature, it stands as the strongest and weakest of the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD trio. Dream Drop Distance is certainly the only piece of the chain that’s absolutely necessary to understand the context of KH3, which is its strength. As a wretchedly dramatic piece of irony though, it stands as the most drawn out of the three. There’s a lot of characters to get to know, but very little actual story – a symptom of a series spread into a very thin bridge.
Keyblade spinning feels watered down to boot. A lot of focus is on attacking with your Dream Eater buddies that you craft from dropped Nightmare parts. I wish there wasn’t. Attacking with them feels slower and less pronounced in a series that’s never been subtle about any damn thing. These should’ve been more aking to spiced-up Chaos from Sonic Adventure – think fun but not as necessary. That, to me, would’ve heightened their elements instead of slowing down the entire experience.
The second morsel features Aqua in a situation that the series direly, ravenously needs more of: depression. Udder-snatching Xehanort, is the 2-3 hour package of Kingdom Hearts 0.2 exactly the turn key I needed to rev my engine for the series again. The first KH was an unbridled piece of trite slock about friendship and the power of love for a full three-fourths of the experience. Everything was overcome, the enemies didn’t pose much of a threat, and the main story always felt far off. Then, Square Enix turned you down a sad route, suddenly making you pay for taking all that light for granted. That’s the brilliance that Aqua’s small journey beams with here.
Her combat is flowing and wide, taking full advantage of arenas instead of just the ground. She can smack down Heartless with multiple attacks at distance or close. Even the attacks on her come with increased veracity to outdo themselves from each and every prior game. The diamond at the center of Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD isn’t the 20+ hour Dream Drop nor the original Chi movie. In a rare move I’d love to see more of, Square Enix embraces depression and actual bravery to highlight gameplay and story, reinvigorating my attraction for the long-awaited series end.
As I mentioned, there’s also a 60 minute movie about Care Bears trying to invent modern technology. Snuggles and Sniffles have plenty of fights, but still end up getting drunk on raspberry schnapps as a nightly peace offering. Foreboding Bear remains foreboding and the kingdom prepares for the yearly snack cake harvest. The musical near the end is moving.
Okay, jk. There is a movie full of pacing problems and too much dialogue dealing with the very origin of this whole big story. As you might expect, there’s not really many answers to come out of it and not even any great characters. Everyone is faceless except for their given animals of their group of blade wielders form the detached mobile game. Everything has a bloated feeling to where even the leader of the group (we’ll just call him Not-A-Nort) doesn’t come off as charming as he should considering his effort and actions. Anyone curious about the Chi-Blade will likely find something here to like, but it just paled and disengaged after playing 0.2.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD, as you may have picked up on, is a tiny staircase leading to a single door. In fact, the last 14 years of content has been just that, winding and verging on directionless. That nickel is undoubtedly spent now, but thanks to 0.2 and some other tidbits, there is plenty of love to wring still. I’m looking forward to Kingdom Hearts 3, all the more now that the team has reminded me that they’re willing to speak to both sides of the heart.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD Score: