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Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Hands-on – Where’s all the Disney?

by Ron Duwell | September 16, 2016September 16, 2016 12:00 pm PDT

I’m about a decade removed from Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series. When I last played it, it was a fun little mashup between Final Fantasy and Disney characters that charmed us all, not to forget surprised us with its unusual level of quality for what a lesser company would see as a cash-in. Since then, Kingdom Hearts has taken a pretentious turn to try and be something bigger that stands on its own.

Don’t think it’s pretentious? Any series with a creator that looks for a deeper meaning into a title like Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is bleeding with self-importance. Heck, even calling a game that is a dead giveaway!

This bundle for the PlayStation 4 scrambles together the last little bit of the Kingdom Hearts franchise that hasn’t been given an HD overhaul yet. At Tokyo Game Show, two of the included games are available for play, the Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD remaster and the bundle’s original short story, Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep–A Fragmentary Passage. I played both.

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD is exactly what you should expect from a Nintendo 3DS game making a leap to the PlayStation 4. It’s a simple game that runs with pristine performance on the vastly superior hardware. I remember having Donald and Goofy in my party as a youngster, but here, I had a lion and a pig. Again, no Disney! What gives?

In the demo, I fought a lot of Heartless while stumbling through a circus, looking for a lost cat. Afterwards, a boss showed up, and I whooped him something fierce. That’s it. It played exactly like I remember Kingdom Hearts playing back in 2002, so while I can’t say it has evolved much, the familiarity was at least much appreciated.

And the Birth by Sleep original chapter felt the same, like a game from two generations ago. While this was a far prettier experience, it still used the hack ‘n slash, slightly menu-based combat Kingdom Hearts has been using since the early days of the PlayStation 2.

In this chapter, I controlled a girl who maybe the fans know. I didn’t. She had to rebuild a castle bridge by resetting time, and to do that, she had to turn over every corner of a town looking for gears to smack with her keyblade. Again, no sign of Disney, unless that was Cinderella’s castle she was breaking into.

The girl had a few unique attack methods, like the lock-on magic barrage and her air dash. Those were fun, but outside of combat, the game itself felt stiff. Little interaction with the world, nothing but combat to push the game forward. If this was modeled after a PSP game, it really felt like it.

That’s what you’re getting though with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. The whole purpose of these remasters is to remind players of the story for when Kingdom Hearts III finally comes out. It feels like a franchise out of time, because that’s, in fact, what it is. It’s so desperate to move forward, I can feel it through the controller!

This is a bundle for fans and those looking to catch up on this ridiculous universe. I’d like to play Kingdom Hearts III without worrying about all these subchapters, but something tells me that is not possible. The canon has become so twisted in the decade since Kingdom Hearts II that these smaller entries feel like they have taken over as the main show.

Best pick it up and start studying.

Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...