Kingdom Hearts just became fun again

Commentary: If years of Kingdom Hearts spin-offs and semi sequels have tired you out, 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue will rope you right back in.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
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Daniel Van Boom
3 min read

OK, let's get this out of the way. The name for the latest Kingdom Hearts remaster package is ridiculous.

Released Tuesday for the PS4, it's called Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue. It includes the freaky-named Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage and a HD version of 3DS game Dream Drop Distance. Plus, a movie called "Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover" is also thrown in. What are those names even?

But hidden in that chaos is a reason for Kingdom Hearts fans to be excited. Really, truly excited.

0.2: Birth By Sleep is the first Kingdom Hearts game specifically developed for a home console since 2006. In essence, it's a two-and-a-half hour preview of the elusive Kingdom Hearts III.

And it's so, so good.

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Kingdom Hearts III was officially announced in 2013. 0.2 Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage is our best reminder that the game actually exists.

For Kingdom Hearts players, III has been a mirage. We knew Kingdom Hearts II wasn't the end, and it was seven years of spin-off titles before Kingdom Hearts III was officially announced in 2013. But four years later, that announcement seems a faint, distant memory, as we still don't really know much about the game. The most concrete news we've heard about Kingdom Hearts III came earlier this month -- when director Tetsuya Nomura said development of the game still had "some way to go."

So when you dive into 0.2 and see Kingdom Hearts rendered with current-gen gaming power, when you see the Kingdom Hearts we've been dreaming of since the PS3 was announced, you'll get your first wave of excitement for the franchise's future.

The original Kingdom Hearts came out back in 2002, and in that time the series' story has become impossible to encapsulate with any precision in one sentence. It follows Sora, Riku and Kairi as they battle dark Master Xehanort, who shows up in a few different forms. Thankfully, Disney's Donald, Goofy and Mickey Mouse have your back. Later, three new friends, Terra, Aqua and Ven were introduced in a prequel, and they're really important too.

0.2, a sequel to that prequel, follows Keyblade master Aqua as she wanders through the world of darkness. I've felt the plot of the franchise, despite being complex, was followable up until Dream Drop Distance, which was a bit of a mess. I won't reveal any details, but 0.2 succeeds at simplifying everything and giving Kingdom Hearts III a clear direction.

But the joy of 0.2 isn't watching its story unfold. The joy is in the game, in feeling Kingdom Hearts III for the first time.

0.2 has the best combat in the franchise. It's the traditional real-time Kingdom Hearts combat you know, but improved by a nice variety of attack types and a series-first system where you're rewarded with clothing for completing combat goals ("Defeat 50 enemies with Lightning magic," for instance). This gives you some direction during combat, and the new element of character customisation is a fresh touch.

This is also where PS4-grade graphics hit you. Battling scores of evil Heartless creatures is spectacular thanks to the aforementioned variation in attacks and especially due to the magic. Clearing rooms of enemies with Thundaja never stopped being awesome, nor did using Blizzaga outside of battle to form ice rails for Aqua to skate on. The movement is great even while not gliding on Keyblade ice, as running and jumping feels smoother than before.

I keep going to that word. Feel. That's because 0.2, despite being strong in both combat and storytelling, is all about something bigger than itself. It's a Kingdom Hearts III demo in everything but name, and the fact that it feels like one of this generation's most long-awaited games will mean everything to fans.

Despite the strong praise I have for the game, the question of "Should I buy 2.8?" is a little complicated. Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance, in my estimation, is the weakest "main" game in the franchise. "χ Back Cover," the movie that comes with the package, isn't exactly captivating. The star of 2.8 is undoubtedly 0.2, which clocks in at just over two hours.

If you've played every Kingdom Hearts game, it'll be worth the $60, AU$80 or £40 to experience 0.2. For more casual Keyblade wielders, 0.2 isn't a must-play -- but just know, when the time finally comes, Kingdom Hearts III is worth getting excited over.

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