Kingdom Hearts Retrospective, Episode II.8: Keeping the Door Open

[Warning: Due to the nature of this package, and how it covers several parts of the series chronology, spoilers are practically unavoidable. Proceed at your own risk.]

If the spoiler warning didn’t make things clear, HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue marks the point where Kingdom Hearts gets more twisted and full of holes than the bowl of pretzels and Swiss cheese on M. Night Shyamalan’s writing desk.  The two playable games here, Dream Drop Distance and Birth by Sleep 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage feature engaging combat systems with gratifying visuals to match, but the stories can be exhausting—even painful—to sit through. It feels less like a promising sign of things to come and more of an existential nightmare.

In the case of Dream Drop Distance, that goes literally. Originally released on the 3DS in 2012, this HD update follows Sora and Riku on their Mark of Mastery exams, training under Yen Sid in preparation for the possible return of series antagonist Xehanort. What begins as a simple and clean plot device slowly reaches a point of impenetrability.

Kingdom Hearts Art

The main problem is the over-reliance on continuity. It’s a convoluted dumpster fire, relying too much on plot points established from prior games and moving too fast without stopping to explain just what the hell is going on. Even the big twist at the end defies common logic with retcons that make the plot even more incomprehensible. Other than well-executed cameos from the cast of The World Ends With You and a subversive romp through the music of Fantasia, playing through the Mark of Mastery exam feels like a tedious slog, even if the combat has a lot of good ideas.

Dream Drop Distance stands out from the rest of the series with three big ideas:

  • Feeding Dream Eaters
  • Managing the Drop mechanic
  • Covering a large Distance with FlowMotion

Dream Eaters fight alongside you as support critters with stat boosts and can be used for powered-up attacks. It sounds like a burden, but the system for feeding and caring for Dream Eaters with the PS4 touchpad is remarkably easy, so long as you do basic upkeep on a regular basis. More problematic is the Drop mechanic. This timer forces you to switch between characters at set intervals, even in the middle of a boss fight, adding an extra layer of time management reminiscent of the three-day system from Majora’s Mask. It made a certain sense on the 3DS, since handheld games are often played in short bursts, but comes off as arbitrary on a bigger screen. Battles do benefit from a faster pace with FlowMotion, allowing Sora and Riku to move quickly to compensate, but the system is so easy to abuse with its context-sensitive attacks that it almost breaks the entire game.

Dream Drop Distance represents the best and worst of the series in equal measure, rather appropriately for a 10th anniversary franchise entry. What makes it easier to stomach on II.8, apart from the improvements, is the addition of the real highlight: Birth by Sleep 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage.

Kingdom Hearts

That mess of a title needs to be unpacked: Passage follows up on the ending of Birth by Sleep before leading directly into the opening of Kingdom Hearts III and appropriately feels like an amalgam of the series. Following Aqua provides a tantalizing glimpse of the future, with smooth, responsive combat that combines the best elements of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and Birth by Sleep. Despite suffering from some of the continuity problems of Dream Drop Distance and only lasting a scant few hours, it makes enough of a positive impression to justify the package for longtime fans.

Only Back Cover fails to live up to its potential, despite having the best overall production values of all the movie recaps. Essentially an abridged recap of the free-to-play Unchained mobile game, the prequel movie tells the story of the distrust brewing among the Foretellers and how it ultimately leads to the tragic Keyblade War. It’s decent enough with some great voice acting, but the finale leaves more questions than III might be able to answer.

Kingdom Hearts character

Now, here we are: 5.2 games and three abridged movies later, less than a week away from one of the most heavily anticipated sequels of the last 15 years, in any medium. One guaranteed to be a crushing disappointment to some and a colorful delight to others. It stands to reason it won’t be a cure-all for everyone, and as such, III will be reviewed as objectively and comprehensively as possible, closing the door on the Darkseeker Saga, one last time.

To be concluded in Kingdom Hearts Retrospective, Episode III: Closing the Door.

If you missed the first two entries in this retrospective series, check them out here:

Kingdom Hearts quote

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