Square Enix is well-known for tantalizing fans with teaser trailers at the end of their Kingdom Hearts games. But with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, Square Enix has stepped up their game, turning an entire package into one big teaser trailer for the still-distant Kingdom Hearts 3.
The PlayStation 4-exclusive collection, which launched today in North America and Europe, bundles a remaster of a 3DS game with a new story starring Birth By Sleep's Aqua and an hour-long cinematic. Two of these are effectively teasers for Kingdom Hearts 3, one for the story and one for the tech. Make no mistake: This is for the hardcore fans looking for any sliver of Kingdom Hearts they can possibly get.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 serves to highlight the rather lengthy gap since the last true Kingdom Hearts game, which happens to be the highlight of this package. Since 2012, we've received a surfeit of HD remakes for both the portable and console games, but no original work. Kingdom Hearts 3 is the next chapter in the saga, but there's little indication that it will be out this year, or even the next.
To be sure, it's been a long wait, but fans can at least be content with the knowledge that Kingdom Hearts is accessibly pretty much in its entirety on the PlayStation 3 and 4. That includes Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, the formerly GBA exclusive Chain of Memories, the PSP's Birth by Sleep, and the 3DS's Dream Drop Distance. The only exceptions are 358/2 Days and Re:Coded—lightly-regarded entries that ended up being presented as feature-length cutscenes in their respective versions. So if you haven't played all of the games yet, they're now easily accessible.
All that said, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 is bound to be seen as the least essential of the three compilations, relying on morsels of information about Kingdom Hearts 3 to tempt the faithful. It's an indication of how deep Square Enix is having to dig to keep Kingdom Hearts in the public eye. And with Kingdom Hearts 3 still MIA, one wonders how long it'll be before it falls off the radar entirely.
The games in Kingdom hearts HD 2.8
So let's talk a little about the package itself. As I alluded to earlier, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 consists of an HD update of Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS, a new adventure that follows on from Birth By Sleep, and a feature-length cutscene that further expands upon the lore.
In essence, the collection exists to catch you up on what you missed and get you hyped for the future. Certainly, only hardcore fans will remember Dream Drop Distance, the now five-year-old adventure that came out during the 3DS's wilderness years. Coming at the tail end of a run of portable releases, it ended up suffering a bit from spinoff fatigue, as well as from the fact that action games just weren't that fun to play on the 3DS's then-tiny screen. Fairly or unfairly, it had a hard time distinguishing itself from the 358/2 Days of the world despite being on a more advanced platform.
Freed of the constraints of the 3DS' tiny screen, Dream Drop Distance feels more like... well... a Kingdom Hearts game, which is to say that the action is better suited for console. It also looks quite lovely on the big screen, falling nicely in line with the HD remasters that have come before it. As before, it focuses on series protagonists Sora and Riku as they build their skills in preparation for the return of the villainous Master Xehanort, with characters from Pinocchio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Tron: Legacy all playing roles. Aside from the usual dose of Square and Disney-related fanservice, Dream Drop Distance is meant to lay the foundation for Kingdom Hearts 3, which it hints at heavily in the ending.
The other piece of playable content in the collection is Birth By Sleep — A Fragmentary Passage, which picks up immediately after the events of the PSP game and serves as a kind of demo for Kingdom Hearts 3. It follows Birth by Sleep's Aqua through the Realm of Darkness, the Kingdom Hearts version of hell, and uses technology from the upcoming sequel. For the hardcore faithful, it fills in some of the gaps from the previous games, and also offers a glimpse of the cast in Kingdom Hearts 3, whenever it comes out. Similarly, Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover is also meant to highlight the technology of Kingdom Hearts 3, but via HD cinematics.
Outside of the opportunity to indulge in an unfamiliar Kingdom Hearts adventure in Dream Drop Distance, I suspect few casual fans will care about the contributions Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 makes to the lore. The Kingdom Hearts universe is famously jumbled, resembling that of your typical fanfiction, and it's easy to let all the random story elements just sort of wash over you as you slash away at Heartless and visit various Disney worlds. The fact that it's essentially an extended demo/teaser for Kingdom Hearts 3 is likewise only likely to appeal to hardcore fans. At this point, so little of Kingdom Hearts 3 has been shown that it hardly seems real, making the teases in Kingdom Hearts 2.8 feel empty.
But for those who have been suffering for more than a decade, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 will be a bit of sweet relief and a chance to indulge in a lesser-known adventure in the series. They are the ones this package is meant to reassure, and they are the ones who will keep the faith into another decade of waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3.