Sometimes you can just hop into a series and get settled in right away! Gears of War is a great example; how much of the plot do you really need in order to know that the robots or bug-men who are trying to kill you are the bad guys? Final Fantasy is another, since all of those games are disconnected. That’s definitely not the case with Kingdom Hearts, though, which features a sprawling and convoluted story that requires some serious brainpower to get a handle on, and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is a great example of a collection intended for a hardcore audience.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue – which we’ll just call 2.8 in the future – contains a remastered version of the previously 3DS-exclusive Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, a new playable section starring Birth by Sleep’s Aqua and Back Cover, a video featuring content from Kingdom Hearts X (Chi). It’s a pretty sizable amount of content, but, well…
So let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: you’re not really getting the cream of the crop when it comes to remastered games here. Dream Drop Distance isn’t generally considered to be one of the Kingdom Hearts series’ high points; it incorporated a lot of gimmicky touch screen stuff and didn’t feel like it advanced the series’ labyrinthine plot in many significant ways. The overall consensus seems to be “Hey, at least it’s not 358/2 Days,” referring to the oft-maligned 3DS spinoff starring dark horse hero Roxas.
A quick rundown: Sora and Riku, the hero and anti-hero that the plot revolves around, are learning how to become Keyblade masters, even though they already were, because they originally learned the wrong way…or something. It’s an excuse to go to a lot of Disney worlds and do a lot of Disney things. There’s new not-Heartless enemies called Dream Eaters, and you’re able to convert them to fight on your side as Spirits. Also, the characters from The World Ends With You, a fantastic Square-Enix portable title, show up as cameos, which is cute.
2.8’s version of the game does help 3D a little bit, namely by turning a lot of the gimmicky touch screen nonsense into gimmicky controller nonsense instead. The game’s worlds also feel a lot less cramped and the game’s framerate doesn’t chug like it used to, which is to be expected given the more powerful system it’s running on. That doesn’t save the game from feeling like a goofy soup of half-ideas, like forcing you to unwillingly switch between the two protagonists or incorporating a bizarre virtual pet/crafting system, but at least the issues are conceptual rather than technical at this point.
There’s also the elephant in the room: for a game that, at its core, is about Final Fantasy and Disney characters teaming up to fight bad guys, Kingdom Hearts’ plot is basically incomprehensible if you haven’t been playing since the first game, if you didn’t already get that from the existence of a game called Kingdom Hearts X (Chi). Dream Drop Distance in particular relies on you having at least a basic idea of what’s going on in order to make any sense at all. Unless you’re a hardcore Kingdom Hearts fan, you probably won’t have that basic idea, and the game doesn’t really go out of its way to help. Expect to spend some time on Wikia (or, I suppose, Fandom by Wiki as it’s now known) if you’re just now stepping back into the series – and Mickey help you if this is your first Kingdom Hearts game.
The same can be said for the rest of this collection as well; Back Cover relies on you knowing enough about the lore to be interested in Kingdom Hearts Chi, while the new stage starring Aqua isn’t going to do much for you if you haven’t been on top of the plot since Birth By Sleep. It’s not bad, per se, but this collection is much more focused on the hardcore Kingdom Hearts-loving demographic than 2014’s Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix, which included the vastly more accessible Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep.
That pretty much boils this collection down, actually: hardcore fans need only apply with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. It’s a technically capable collection that does its job, but it requires significant familiarity with the series to appreciate it. Others are probably better off waiting for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 Remix, which will include the first and second games as well as plenty of other content goodies. This isn’t a bad collection by any stretch, but to anyone but a hardcore fan, it’ll feel like walking into a movie halfway through.