I have been a fan of Kingdom Hearts for almost twelve years, roughly the entire lifetime of the series. While I wasn’t a day one adopter, I can recall eagerly awaiting Kingdom Hearts II, which I did get right away, satiating my hunger on the Game Boy Advance entry Chain of Memories. I vividly remember being shocked and awed when I finally did play Kingdom Hearts II, from its heartbreaking, four hour introduction to the point where I 100% completed it. I played Re:Chain of Memories, and then Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days on the DS, I even bought a used PSP almost exclusively to play Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. Since then I’ve added KH Re:Coded, KH 3D: Dream Drop Distance, and 1.5 Remix to my shelves and experiences, and have 2.5 Remix in my sights. In short, I am a hardcore Kingdom Hearts fan and have bared with the game through all of the progressively crazier names, spin-offs, and side stories Square Enix has thrown at me. With the announcement of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue for PS4 (that’s not satire, that’s the game’s actual full title), or KH 2.8 for short, however, I can’t help but feel marginally slighted. While it’s easy to get excited for even more keyblades, worlds to visit, and days to save, KH 2.8 highlights the absence of the long, long awaited proper sequel, Kingdom Hearts III, the series’ tendency to feed fans nothing but filler content, and the gradual delineation of a franchise once so elegantly simple into a franchise nothing shy of convoluted. In short, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 might be too much too late.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, falls, as the title suggests, between KH 2.5 Remix and KH III, and, as the title promises, is the conclusion of the series’ HD remaster series and the penultimate entry in the “Dark Seeker Saga,” of Kingdom Hearts. The game is set to include an HD remaster of KH 3D, the previously unreleased Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover, which is composed of HD cinematics disclosing some of the untold history of the franchise from before the Keyblade War (before any of the games take place), and Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep- A Fragmentary Passage, which sees players controlling the character Aqua once more after her imprisonment in Kingdom Hearts in Birth by Sleep. Consequently, you might say that 2.8 is the now necessary plot hole plug filling players in on the holes left by the needless filler material overcomplicating the franchise to begin with. Whew.
The first fundamental flaw with 2.8 is its content. Like the other two HD collections, 2.8 includes two playable entries, and cutscenes from a third. Instead of two remastered titles, it only includes one, KH 3D, one of the most fun, but ultimately unnecessary games in the entire series. While 3D might be worth a play through based on its impeccable gameplay alone, the story can be reduced to a promise that there is a Kingdom Heart III on the way, and the continued devaluation of Sora, the main series’ protagonist. Whether the four year timespan between the original and 2.8 warrants a remaster is an entirely different issue. The remaster is probably more for the benefit of those who never owned a 3DS, the rest of the franchise being primarily playable on Sony devices, but this in and of itself generates other issues. More on that later. As mentioned, X Back Cover, outside of being a particularly unclear and un-clever title (its name ties into a Japanese exclusive, PC tie-in ), is nothing but cutscenes from the sounds of it, relevant only because of the villain’s intentions of recreating the Keyblade War and fleshing out his motives. Finally, 0.2 operates as an immediate sequel to Kingdom Hearts’ prequel game, Birth by Sleep, which will explain what one of the characters has been up to in the time span between BBS and KH I. It’s unclear how much content this portion of the game will provide, but hopefully it will be enough to justify its existence over a brief summary at the beginning of KH III. But, if a potentially unnecessary remake and superfluous background information are your thing, than this is the game for you!
The second strike against KH 2.8 is that it is coming out for the PS4 exclusively. There are a number of issues with this. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that by delaying KH III so long, and relying on remakes, spin-offs, and filler, Square Enix has managed to miss an entire generation of consoles. The only KH titles on PS3 are remakes, with no original or new material appearing on the console. In consideration of the fact that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had some of the longest life cycles ever, each lasting a good seven years, this is plainly ridiculous. Sure, Square Enix fell on some hard times during that period, but maybe if they would have released the games people want to play they could have made some of that money back. Maybe more frustrating is the fact that Kingdom Hearts III is slated for release on both the PS4 and the Xbox One. Why would Square Enix not take the opportunity to catch Xbox players up on the entire franchise, which, again, has been primarily released on Sony devices, by releasing all prior entries on the Xbox One, including this one? Admittedly, there is still time for Square Enix to bundle every Kingdom Hearts game on an Xbox One game before the release of KH III, and maybe there is an issue with property rights. All the same, it seems like easy money re-releasing everything on the Xbox One as well. I know I would probably buy it all again if I could play it all on one console. But with no mention of the HD remaster series coming to Xbox One, and the lack of backwards compatibility on the PS4, playing through all of the Kingdom Hearts franchise will require at least two consoles.
The third and final fight I’d like to pick with KH 2.8, though I’m sure there are many, many more issues to be raised, is that 2.8 is not Kingdom Hearts III. This seems like an obvious statement, and it is, but for whatever reason it’s not obvious to Square Enix that KH III is the game we want. Kingdom Hearts came out in 2002, with its proper follow up, KH II, releasing in 2005. That’s the perfect amount of time between entries. Now, eleven years later, we’re left with nothing but the promise that KH III is in development and that there’ll be another filler entry to entertain us in 2016, and not a word has been given on when to expect KH III. This wouldn’t be as bad if Square Enix didn’t keep teasing us with footage for this game that probably won’t release for another eleven years at the pace they’ve been going. This goes without mentioning the fact that KH II could have been the happy conclusion of Sora and company’s story except that it included a secret video at the very end, again another promise that there’d be more to come. Had some one warned me that the narrative of KH III would be completely dependent on a prequel, a sequel to the prequel, and a filler title in between two and three (who knew the title to KH I‘s theme song, “Simple and Clean”, by Utada would be so ironic years later?), maybe I would have closed the door to Kingdom Hearts. Instead, I’m so invested at this point I feel like I have no choice but to see it through.
Will I still buy Kingdom Hearts 2.8 despite all of these things? Maybe. But as Kingdom Hearts grows more baffling with each entry, managing in fourteen years a level of convolution that took Final Fantasy nearly thirty years to achieve, and each and every year bringing no resolution, I fear I am falling further and further out of love with Kingdom Hearts. Perhaps the best and only thing for me now is closure, a closure that Square Enix seems all to resistant to provide. Might there be new beginnings for this franchise and myself down the line? Possibly. But all too often kingdoms are reduced to nothing by time itself, and that includes the thrones we build up in our hearts.