A Fragmentary Passage: A Promising Preview of Kingdom Hearts III
By Ethan McIntyre
The final Kingdom Hearts compilation, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD ReMIX Final Chapter Prologue, released last week exclusively on the PlayStation 4. The compilation included a PlayStation port of the 3DS game Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, an hour-long animated feature based on the cell-phone game Kingdom Hearts Unchained X [chi], and - most enticingly - an entirely new gaming experience.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage (yes, the names in this franchise have gotten way out of hand) is a totally new entry into the franchise, focusing on the character Aqua and her journeys in the Realm of Darkness. It takes place at roughly the same time as the first Kingdom Hearts game.
The story fills in some blanks in the story of KH; for instance, we see how Mickey Mouse gained the Kingdom Key D, a powerful and unique keyblade, and get a bit of information about what he was up to while Sora was fighting Heartless in the first game. Most of the major story beats happen near the end, though, and until then the plot concerns itself with Aqua attempting to deal with her current predicament, both emotionally and physically.
Aside from giving a bit of backstory, the game also sets up some plot points for Kingdom Hearts III: Mickey and Riku are setting out to save Aqua from the Realm of Darkness, while Sora heads off to Olympus Coliseum to train and recoup the powers he lost as a result of the events of Dream Drop Distance.
Overall, the plot is serviceable, but not extraordinary; the game is only around three hours long, so there isn’t much time to develop a strong narrative. However, it’s clear that A Fragmentary Passage’s primary goal wasn’t to convey important story info; it was to give players a preview of KH3’s mechanics.
As a long-time fan of the franchise, I feel comfortable saying that A Fragmentary Passage is the best Kingdom Heart’s combat has ever felt. After several games’ worth of the ‘Command Deck’ combat system - in which a player assigned a variety of commands, such as attacks, magic, and items to the triangle button and could cycle through their option with the d-pad - the series combat is returning to its original format, which allows players to scroll through Magic and Item tabs without having to assign specific commands.
While I didn’t hate the Command Deck system, I am glad to see it go; I think it was a fine idea for creating a shortcut for magic and items, but I disliked having to assign special attacks to it. I’d rather earn new combos and attacks through leveling up and the like than by simply finding the command in a treasure chest somewhere.
Not everything from recent games was scrapped, however. Style changes return, with the player able to assume a new combat style (or perform a special move) based on the attacks they’ve used recently. For instance, if Aqua gets a large enough combo with her regular attacks, she can access the Spellweaver Combat Style; if instead she uses the spell Fire a lot, she can cast an advanced form called Firaja. Styles each feature their own set of combos, as well as a powerful finishing move once enough hits have been landed.
It appears that party members can also influence your combat style; towards the end of the game, Aqua meets up with Mickey, and while the two journey together the player gains access to the Wayfinder combat style. This appears to take the place of D-Linking from the last few games.
A brand new addition to the franchise is Objectives. These are optional goals that unlock cosmetic rewards. An example: one objective is to defeat a certain number of Shadows (the most basic enemy type in the game). Once this is done, the player gains equippable cat ears that Aqua can wear. Various other accessories and clothing patterns can also be unlocked. While the accessories themselves didn’t hold a lot of interest for me, I did enjoy having some extra goals to accomplish, and I feel that they add a layer of replayability to the game.
Overall, A Fragmentary Passage - though short - is a blast. If its goal was to get players excited for KH3 (and I’m sure it was), then mission accomplished - the gameplay is fun, the controls are sharp, and the visuals are great. Kingdom Hearts III has been a long time coming, but based on this preview, it will have been worth the wait.