If you thought the titles for Kingdom Hearts games couldn’t get any more obtuse, this game comes out. Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage is the next stop on my Kingdom Hearts marathon, but since I knew that this game was so short I decided against even doing a Progressive Looks and just jump straight into it. KH0.2 is available only on the PS4 as a part of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection, along with Dream Drop Distance HD which I’ve already covered here and here. I kind of consider this a review, so I’ll be using a loose version of my review format for KH0.2.
KH0.2 picks up some time after the events of Birth by Sleep, and follows Keyblade Master Aqua while she’s trapped in the Realm of Darkness. Wandering in the darkness by herself for quite some time (we know this to be 10 years), she begins to lose hope along with her grip on reality. We control Aqua for a very short jaunt through the Realm of Darkness that’s meant to function as a tech demo for Kingdom Hearts 3. My playthrough clocked in at just under two and a half hours and gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect for KH3.
KH0.2 is very pretty compared to the rest of the Kingdom Hearts series. This is to be expected since director Tetsuya Nomura opted to develop KH3 (and KH0.2) on Unreal Engine 4, one of the current industry standard tools. It renders pretty nicely on my base model PS4; environments are super detailed and combat particle effects look amazing now. There were some issues with framerate unfortunately, with the game running at a somewhat unstable 30fps for me. I had some pretty rough frame drops in more hectic fights, especially on the final boss fight, and can really interrupt the flow of combat sometimes. The music in KH0.2 is top notch as always, and I’m now probably going to listen to the final boss theme on repeat for the next week.
KH0.2 sheds the Command Deck battle system and returns to the more familiar system from the other numbered Kingdom Hearts titles. You have your basic attacks, your magic that uses MP instead of a command slot, your item menu, and shortcuts for those things. There’s a few extra additions to KH0.2’s combat inspired by the spinoff titles however, like Birth by Sleep’s Shotlocks and Command Styles, and a diluted version of Dream Drop Distance’s Flowmotion. Shotlocks feel just as powerful as they did in Birth by Sleep, and Command Styles feel a lot more versatile since you’re not forced to use them. This leads me to the new Situation Command system introduced in KH0.2 that will also be used in KH3. After fighting for some time you’ll charge up a Situation Command, which is bound to Triangle, that you can choose to use within 20-30 seconds. The commands that get queued are supposed to be based on your general fighting style, and it seemed to work that way as far as I could tell. If I fought with a lot of Fire spells, for example, I would queue up a much more powerful Firaja spell, or if I fought with a lot of melee attacks and some magic I would queue up the Spellweaver Command Style. It’s all very flashy and fun to watch unfold, but there’s some worry in the Kingdom Hearts community that the flashy nature of the combat will take priority over tight controls and balance. The combat feels much better than it games like Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance and I really enjoyed it despite those concerns. You’re able to freely weave between physical attacks and magic just like in KH1 and KH2, and it’s even possible to combo into and out of the big Situation Commands. I think with some refinement, Kingdom Hearts 3 could really be something special.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage was something I really enjoyed from start to finish. It leaves me with high hopes that Kingdom Hearts 3 will be an amazing experience as long as I keep my expectations in check. I’m worried that KH3 will really suffer if the framerate stability isn’t addressed, but it’s a tech demo so I expect there to be improvements. However having said all that, I’d have to say that for the 2.8 HD collection as a whole, if you were on the fence about KH0.2 and weren’t really a big fan of Dream Drop Distance, don’t get the collection just for KH0.2. It’s just not worth it for the short two-and-a-half hour game. Watch the story cutscenes on YouTube, or just wait for the inevitable recap to come in Kingdom Hearts 3.