Monday, 23 July 2018

Review No. 143 Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage - PS4 (12+)

Strong Points:
Beautiful graphics
An interesting development on Aqua's character
Smooth and fluid gameplay
Good pacing
Brilliant soundtrack
Helps to explain odd plot holes from the previous games
And sets up Kingdom Hearts 3 nicely
Customisation surprisingly works
Good voice acting
The animation in cutscenes is top notch
You can straight away see Aqua's power

Weak Points:
Some gameplay elements such as the clock gears were little more than gimmicks
Yearned for more
Ice ramps aren't properly explained and a slight change in environment will affect them

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
Japan: January 12th, 2017
World Wide: January 24th, 2017


Well, I don't know what I was expecting with 0.2 but it certainly wasn't this. Now, yes, I knew that the game would be roughly the same size as a Kingdom Hearts 2 world and we'd be playing as Aqua. I also knew that the game was meant to act as a sort of taster for Kingdom Hearts 3. What I didn't expect was the rush of sheer joy I had from playing such a new Kingdom Hearts experience. I also didn't expect the range of emotions the story gave me, which I won't go into too much in this review due to the spoiler territory. What I will say though, is it seems to prove that Nomura has had a full plan all along.

In case you didn't know, 0.2 takes place just after the secret episode of Birth By Sleep, with Aqua exploring the Realm of Darkness. The outside worlds have just started falling to darkness and as Aqua moves through empty shells of worlds she'd seen before, she starts to question herself. What follows is an almost Life is Strange Episode 5-esque exploration into the psyche of Aqua. If you haven't played Life is Strange, what I mean is - demons and doubt. So get ready to feel.

The use of Unreal Engine 4 and the 'new' generation of consoles really helps to propel the story to new heights. The graphics are gorgeous, with added lighting, reflections and a general Unreal Engine 4 makeover while still not losing the feel of a Kingdom Hearts world. The story clips no longer judder between being fully and half animated, and the faces are full of more expression than ever before.

A bit which hit home just how far the animation has come along was the realisation that we could watch a character grab another character and hold him. This, rather than a black screen appearing when they interacted to avoid the animation and awkward contact. I know that in a world of Uncharted and The Last of Us (so, Naughty Dog) this might not come as much of a massive improvement, but in an RPG this type of animation is practically unheard of. If they can keep it up for the larger Kingdom Hearts 3, then it should look astounding.

As previous entries in the series have gone to great lengths to explain why your character (normally Sora) starts at level 1 again even after going on long adventures, it was nice to see that 0.2 kept up with that thinking. As Aqua's been in the Realm of Darkness for a long time, destroying Heartless and training, she doesn't start at level 1. Instead, you start at level 50, with the most powerful versions of the elemental magic's at hand as well. While this doesn't affect gameplay too much as the Heartless are also more powerful, it helps to hammer in the fact that you are playing as a Master of the Keyblade.

The combat itself is enjoyable and much more fluid than previous entries. You fly around the screen, chaining combos together, even mid-jump (a problem I found in the previous entries). The removal of a Command Deck system focuses the gameplay slightly but doesn't reduce its complexity. Even though this is only a taste of Kingdom Hearts 3's systems, there's still so much to do from Magic to Command Styles and Finishers. I was worried that the game would start feeling Dynasty Warrior's-esque with large special attacks being huge in style only, but this is thankfully not the case. Each attack has an impact and there's strategy involved with picking the correct attack or command at the right time.

The length of the game is roughly 3-5+ hours depending on the difficulty chosen and how much you focus on the optional objectives. It was nice having this short experience, with the pacing akin to The Last of Us: Left Behind, although, just like with Left Behind. I finished yearning for more. The optional objectives help to add replayability, and the customisation of Aqua's wardrobe was another unexpected success. Besides the slight suspension of disbelief which needs to occur (how do the clothes get to Aqua in the Realm of Darkness?), it was a nice addition which allowed you to make Aqua your own while still allowing the storytellers to tell their set story.

Being a snippet of Kingdom Hearts 3 means that lots of gameplay mechanics are shown as quick showcases rather in-depth abilities. Take the clock gimmick from the first level whereby you find clocks to rewind time in Cinderella's kingdom. Or the mirror gimmick from the Snow White mines. Both (especially the mirror gimmick) were clever and original, with the game leaving you to figure out what to do (again, especially for the mirror gimmick). But just as you are getting into the various mechanics the game moves on. While I appreciated the pace as the game could have easily been one, dense room and I preferred the journey instead, I do hope these gimmicks make a reappearance in Kingdom Hearts 3 or beyond.

The music is brilliantly scored, instantly allowing you to feel the darkness around these Disney worlds which are normally filled with light. It was nice, after moving to this game on the back of Birth By Sleep that there were plenty of references to BBS in the soundtrack as well, helping the continuous flow of the game series. I'm going to end on a final bit of praise for Willa Holland, who voices Aqua. Compared with BBS, Aqua is now full of emotion (helped by the animation) and gives me hope that a similar improvement has been made for Terra and Ventus, if and when they appear in Kingdom Hearts 3.

Conclusion: overall, Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage is a nice taster for Kingdom Hearts 3. It suddenly made me remember we hadn't actually had a new title in the series since 2012's Dream Drop Distance, and how much games as a whole have progressed since then. And now, just like Aqua, we wait.

Rating: 90%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.


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