E3 2016: Kingdom Hearts 2.8 is the Perfect Taste of a Modern KH Game

kh 2.8 aqua

The Birth By Sleep story continues.

Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue comes in three parts: a port of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Birth By Sleep: Fragmentary Passage, and a brand new short movie. I had a choice between Kingdom Hearts 3D and Fragmentary Passage, so naturally, I picked the latter to get a first look at all of the new content.

Birth By Sleep: Fragmentary Passage continues Aqua’s story as she seeks a way out of the Realm of Darkness. Right off the bat, it was easy to tell the difference between a last-gen Kingdom Hearts game and a current gen one. Fragmentary Passage offers us a glimpse of what a new Kingdom Hearts game feels like on the PS4, and it most certainly is very impressive. The demo started me off in a derelict, broken down town. In order to repair the broken path that led to the Castle of Dreams, I had to find five clock gears and destroy them. Starting with the graphics and the overall look of the game, a lot of attention has gone into the minuscule details and design of the area, and everything has a smooth shine to it. Aqua herself looks great in HD, and you can most certainly see the difference between this new character model and the HD-fied one we saw in Birth By Sleep’s Kingdom Hearts 2.5 version.

The town itself was large and sprawling, and it’s worth noting that the areas weren’t segmented off by any loading screens. It was easy to get lost and, much to my surprise, there’s a lot of verticality in this one area too. The gears were hidden in reclusive spots, and I was forced to rely on Aqua’s jumping and gliding abilities to get through a few platforming sections. It’s pretty amazing to see such a large explorable area in Kingdom Hearts, especially when you consider that past games have always had to cordon off places with loading screens due to technical constraints.

The real improvement lies in the combat. As usual, you lock on to your enemies with R1, and you hit the X button to execute whatever you have highlighted in your command menu. The action combat feels as smooth as ever, though you still have to be smart about chaining your attacks and know when to end a combo early. If you ever thought the magic usage in past Kingdom Hearts games was slow and often left you vulnerable, here’s some good news: Aqua can now perform magic while on the move, even with a cure spell. You still have to scroll down your command menu and select your magic, but at least you’re able to retain your mobility when you’re casting a spell. If you’re locked on to an enemy, you can quickly cast Firaga and keep moving, and the spell will still home in on the target rather reliably.

kingdom hearts 2.8 aqua boss

Aqua also has a good variety of abilities at her disposal: she can double jump, glide, and even use her lock shot from Birth By Sleep. After locating all five gears, the path to the Castle of Dreams was repaired, and I was able to proceed before a boss showed up. It was essentially a large hive being made up of hundreds of the basic shadow enemies, but it had the ability to disperse and converge to swarm you. The lock shot came in particularly useful here, and nothing beats hearing the satisfying consecutive dings while targeting the swarm of enemies. If you deal enough damage within a certain amount of time, you’ll unlock Aqua’s Spellweaver command style (another Birth By Sleep classic) and this will boost your attacks and combo chains.

Overall, combat remains just as fast-paced as you remember from past games, and the ability to move while casting magic speeds it up even more. It’s pretty awesome.

After beating the boss, I got treated to a cutscene where Aqua reflects on her time in the Realm of Darkness, as well as her feelings towards her best friends, Terra and Ventus. Of course, I didn’t get to see much of the story, but if Fragmentary Passage’s opening moments are any indication, it’s going to be a real treat for fans who enjoyed Birth By Sleep.

Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is set to be released for the PS4 this winter.

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