Kingdom Hearts 2.8… Here we find ourselves with another snippet of story of Kingdom Hearts as we slowly build towards the eventual end of Sora’s story. Well, at least the end of the Xehanort “Dark Seeker” story line as far as the director sees it. For the uninitiated, Xehanort is the villain that’s been behind the scenes orchestrating the entire series thus far. As with the Emperor in Star Wars, only late in the act had he been revealed as his minions are nothing more than marionettes akin to Darth Vader or Grand Moff Tarkin. Only in KH all the villains you’ve seen are pieces or clones of Xehanort… It’s kind of a thing, don’t worry about the details too much. So what’s under the hood this time, is the extended chapter meaningful, and do we even care? Fans have been eagerly awaiting to conclude the journey they began back in 2002 on a still young PlayStation 2.

The answer is yes. We care. I care. A million times yes.

Kingdom Hearts II.8 Final Chapter Prologue as it’s titled should be looked at as a meal followed by dessert. The 3DS release of Dream Drop Distance is included in the package. It’s been remastered in HD and hosts the bulk of play time in this package. Previously it was the latest point in the Kingdom Hearts timeline in a post Kingdom Hearts 2 setting which is what inspired such a ridiculous title. This is something I recently played through and kind of bypassed for now since it’s so fresh in my mind still. It’s well worth your time if you missed it on 3DS and you’re a fan of the story or it’s characters. The story follows the duo of Sora and Riku taking their trials to become ordained keyblade wielders through the Mark of Mastery. There’s a lot of relationship built in here between Riku, Sora, and Kairi that’s worth at least reading up on if you choose not to play it (ha!). It also gives you the framework for what’s to come in KH3, establishing a few new details for the main hero, Sora, that will no doubt come into play later on.

In traditional Kingdom Hearts fashion though I want to take you back a bit before we go forward any more. When Kingdom Hearts 1.5 came out it in 2013 was the first time I had revisited it since my original playing of it back in 2002/2003. Once I booted up the game I was greeted by the simplistic piano tune of “Dearly Beloved“… Something weird happened then. I left it on that menu screen for at least 15 minutes soaking in the unexpected emotions running over me. I hadn’t played Kingdom Hearts in over a decade, but was dealing with depression and loneliness. I was living alone while my wife was attending grad school and it was starting to wear on me. The chill it gave me was something unreal, sublime, and welcoming. The connection it made with me stopped me then and there as I spiraled into thoughtless feeling. Music has always been one of the strongest ties to video games for me, and the opening of Dearly Beloved is no exception. It’s the same thing has happened with To Zanarkand, Kuon Memories of Waves and Light, or even going back to Celes’ Theme from the SNES era. They’ve all managed to stop me dead in my tracks. There’s nothing quite like that moment when a game centers you so completely. I love to indulge in the sorrow for those times. Because if we aren’t playing video games to feel something, what’s the point? So I embrace it where I can.

Then of course the game opens up with just a bit more energy as Simple and Clean Jpops it’s way into my ears. A crash of waves, a narrator talking of weird dreams, and electric beats layered over melodramatic lyrics loosely hinting around the idea of relationships. Bonds. Friendships. Love. Brotherhood. This ends up being the rally cry of Kingdom Hearts throughout the series as each installment just further reinforces the notion of faith in your friends can conquer any darkness you face, internal or external.

This screen just kept me as the piano played.

Jumping back forward to now – we can return to the matter at hand, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue… or more accurately, Birth By Sleep .02 – A Fragmentary Passage -. Strange name, no? That’s part of the DNA of what makes Kingdom Hearts wonderful. The naming conventions are a sort of poetry by their own right.  Everyone loves to take jabs about how absurd they are, but you never have problems remembering the name as a result. In fact when I told my wife what the subtitle of 2.8 being Final Chapter Prologue she laughed and responded with “OF COURSE IT IS“. This is the only unique piece of game included in the mix, the jewel for which most fans rushed to buy a copy at launch. So let’s break it down, shall we?

Despite anything at this point, I can’t objectively look at any Kingdom Hearts game. It’s untouchable, unquestionable. I am at a total bias from the moment I boot the game, already a 5/5 experience from when I hear that first piano note drop for Dearly Beloved. That same still of emotion that paralyzed me before brings me down like an anchor to the game. Regardless of what comes after that moment I find ways to love it. Kingdom Hearts from a story standpoint is perfect in every way.

“Chris – You’re either trolling or a lunatic.” Neither actually! Bear with me here. I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with the series since playing Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD. Like I mentioned above, I was at a weird place in my life where I was looking for something. Depression was starting to creep into my life. There was a significant lack of presence of humanity at the core if it. My wife was living on the other side of the state deep in her studies and none of my friends or family ever expressed a desire to spend time with me, despite knowing I was just home alone for days on end. KH gave me a glimmer of hope in people when I’d kind of given up on anyone noticing what I was going through. There were two aspects that brought me back around.

  • First off was the fierce loyalty of friendship pouring out from Sora. His world was destroyed, his friends washed away, and one of them actively working against him… yet all he wants to do is reunite with them. At several points Sora sacrificed himself to protect each of his friends, and that inspired selfless acts on their behalf as well. The game concludes with the strength of their bonds allowing them to close the door to Kingdom Hearts as the previously corrupt Riku’s heart grew three sizes that day, sacrificing himself in order to save Sora as a thanks for never giving up hope in him. This outpouring of love and brotherhood was exactly what I needed to remind me people can get lost along the way, but someone is always there to help you out. It’s the Sora Effect- an adherence to encouraging the very best of from inside of people. It’s beautiful.
  • Second point that I really couldn’t place until this time was why I was okay with all this strangeness. Being frank, KH is non-stop illogical nonsense. As someone that strictly adheres to the black and white nature of reality it was always weird to me how I’ve latched onto the series. Digging in I realized it works for me because KH is visual poetry. Nothing is meant to be taken literal. It’s a constant stream of symbolism; layers upon layers of imagery putting emotional language before reason. If you try to lay everything out to figure out how to piece together the puzzle that is Sora’s journey you’ll be left with significant gaps. The human element is letting your feelings guide what’s implied instead of factually displaying what’s there. It’s poetry; it’s art; it’s communicating visually emotions and themes instead of detailing what they are. Kingdom Hearts outclasses nearly any other game I’ve played when it comes to creating these implied scenarios through heavy use of symbols and open concepts begging for personal interpretations.

There’s no star-shaped paopu fruit here, but you see it, don’t you? This is implied shapes at work.

Being the first native HD experience for Kingdom Hearts, I’d be remissed if I didn’t acknowledge how stunning A Momentary Passage is. From a technical aspect it’s everything you could ever hope in an 8th gen release. Slick movement, rich flowing 60 frames per second, and snazzy Unreal Engine models in ridiculously high detail. If this is any glimpse at what Kingdom Hearts 3 is going to be like we’re in for a real treat. I’m not saying it’s flawless though. Occasionally during story moments in cutscenes there was a slowdown or stutter that broke the moment a bit. It’s nice that it never occurred during game play, but I hope this is something that can be patched out in the future to remove the tiny blemishes of this single chapter story. There’s plenty of reason to replay it with a slew of accomplishments to tick off like an internal trophy system, and the combat is just as fun as it’s ever been. A combination of button masher and strategic timing to dodge, block, or cast spells with the ebb and flow battle. From all technical aspects it’s an incredibly sound experience.

…but we, the fans of the series, did not grab this to just demo the tech ahead of Kingdom Hearts 3 – which may or may not actually exist as a game released to the public at some point. We’re all here to advance the story even if it’s just a smidgen.

Rolling it back one last time, a week before the release of the game I found out the opening cinematic was online for viewing. The series has always offered strong openings… From the first, to the second, to Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance – It’s become one of the hallmarks of each entry. Managing to both rehash the story so far with a flurry of visual interpretations along with setting the stage for events that take place in the game they lead to – 2.8’s Fragmentary Passage owned this without pause. It recalled the themes of friendship, selflessness, loss, camaraderie, confusion, loneliness, and abandonment of hope that we experienced with Aqua during Birth by Sleep. Without any exaggeration this opening video had me welling up with anticipation of what’s to come. Reading into the story that unfolded in that digest I couldn’t help but get choked up as after sacrificing herself to save her friends Ventus and Terra she’d given herself up for dead… until a familiar glove reaches through to grab her hand…

Can’t fight the feelings at this point. I don’t want to.

Going into this I knew it’d be an emotional journey. I don’t know how to put it other than Aqua and her crew have the most heartbreaking stories inside of Kingdom Hearts. Constantly pitted against each other by dark forces, while trying to save each other, resisting external conflicts and trying to conquer their own inner demons. Birth By Sleep ended with Ventus in a coma without a (non-literal) heart, Terra being killed except for his lingering will possessing the last armor he wore before death, and Aqua cast into the eternal darkness never to escape. This story picks up where that left off as you learn of her journey unfolding up to the events that concluded the first Kingdom Hearts (where I mentioned Riku sealing the door to darkness).

Oh. My. God.

Just like Crisis Core and knowing how Zack’s tale ended from Final Fantasy 7 didn’t soften the blow, I felt the swell of emotions for Aqua as her fate was sealed with me at the helm. I caught myself guarding my emotions at that point since my wife was just walking in and I didn’t want to be that blubbering idiot crying over a video game. Last time I did that I bawled through the entirety of the credits for Crisis Core and she just wondered what was wrong with me. With KH though there’s always levity. It alternates between having you smile and cry. Shortly after Aqua’s conclusion had me at the lowest emotional valley, I was laughing as Riku and Kairi were shown in a separate scene following. Just some light dialog at the expense of how Sora’esque Riku had become, but it was a genuine smile that it summoned from me. Beyond that they finally close out the game with the original trio of Sora, Donald, and Goofy in front of Yen Sid to prep them for Kingdom Hearts 3. I felt invigorated, joyful, and drunk on happiness. I’m ready for another adventure with this group of friends for what looks to be their final outing.

That final tale is going to be heartbreak and bliss. There’s going to be tears, laughter, frustration, and love. This is why Kingdom Hearts means so much to me. Unlike any clever shooter or David Cage ‘thing’, it creates genuine emotions. Simple and clean.

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