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Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage Hands-on Preview – Return of the King…dom Hearts (PS4)

October 1, 2016 Written by Heath Hindman

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Aqua was just minding her own business and thinking about where to get a good donut after all this Heartless business was settled, when suddenly time jumped forward five hours. The road out of town was also suddenly destroyed, and it soon became clear that Aqua’s goal was to turn back time in order to remake the road and get the hell out of Dodge.

My job in the Tokyo Game Show demo of Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – a Fragmentary Passage (whew) was to take Aqua around the shattered remains of a town, platforming when necessary and otherwise defeating Heartless in action RPG combat, then striking clock gears to wind back the clock and rebuild one section of the road at a time.

…That is to say, my job was to, you know, play Kingdom Hearts. (Forgive me if this town is an actual Kingdom Hearts town that I can’t put my finger on. The aesthetic felt very Traverse Town-ish, but it wasn’t. I feel like it was new, but no one at Square Enix had any idea, when I asked, because that’s how helpful any given┬ácompany’s own employees are at TGS. Update: I’ve been told it’s outside of the Castle of Dreams. Thank you.)

(The above screenshots include all games from the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Bundle. This preview is only of 0.2 Birth by Sleep – a Fragmentary Passage. Screens #4 and #5 apply. I played Dream Drop Distance HD and found it kinda meh. I liked it on 3DS but don’t need a replay. Sorry for this long parenthetical. That is all.)

Environmental beauty has long been an underrated aspect of Kingdom Hearts. We all hear talk of how well the series recreates Disney environments — as we should, because those are incredibly well done — but I think that sometimes masks or overshadows the original areas. Walking around in Fragmentary Passage wasn’t as great as it was because of Disney or Final Fantasy nostalgia, but because it was simply a damn fine-looking environment created by game developers who are good at what they do. Making a destroyed town is one thing, but the stage for this demo brought back feels I haven’t experienced since the original Kingdom Hearts. I found something to appreciate in every visual detail.

While new-generation graphics no doubt have some hand in the aforementioned visual splendor, credit also needs to go to good old tender loving care. This town was frozen in time, meaning building blocks are suspended in mid air, the central fountain has stopped flowing and shows water particles hanging motionless, and everything about it indicates this is way more than a simple hack job. This took time and skill, and the payoff is an explorable environment that could have given me chills, had I not been surrounded by the overwhelming body odor, vocaloid techno, and strobe lights of the TGS show floor.

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During Aqua’s cog-smashing tour of this time-forsaken village, her classic abilities from Birth by Sleep made gradual reappearances. She came equipped with several familiar magic spells from the start, then got a few more, including Shot Lock and some style transformations. With “Magic Wish” style, I was able to stick my blade out and spin around with all the speed of a lawn mower and all the ferocity of a bigger, stronger lawn mower.

Fragmentary Passage being a follow-up to the best Kingdom Hearts game, it was nice to see that battles felt very much like a continuation of Birth by Sleep. Controls felt tight and responsive; enemy movements as well as Aqua’s own looked smooth and natural.

The one thing that bothered me was Aqua’s jump. It felt at little bit like watching Tracer, for those of you who’ve played Overwatch. It was like she started jumping at one speed, and then suddenly — for just a a few one-hundredths of a second — sped way the hell up. I can’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong, but something was up with it. It wasn’t a huge issue, but general platforming here, while fine overall, didn’t feel quite as good as some previous KH games.

What also worries me is the game length. I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to just be an hour or two. I’m OK with it being short, but I’m hoping for at least the length of a Birth by Sleep chapter.

Square Enix is going to take a lot of (probably deserved) flack for Kingdom Hearts milking schemes and long development cycles and such, but fun games like Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep A Fragmentary Passage have me wondering if the way things have unfolded is really that bad. Look for this one in January.

…Oh and I never noticed that the top over Aqua’s outfit is a little more sheer than the bottom. Thanks, PlayStation 4!