Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue is a collection designed around filling in the missing pieces. Its primary focus is Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, the stepping stone between on Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, while also going through the series’ roots with the Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover video. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage- has been promoted as an Aqua-centric story focused on the missing Keyblade Master introduced in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. But, it’s more than that. It works to help us understand what everyone is going through.
Note: there are spoilers for Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage- in this story.
Of course, Aqua is Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage-‘s primary focus. It takes place ten years after Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, following her as she wanders through the realm of darkness. It’s a nightmarish sort of piece. We see fallen worlds, like Cinderella’s castle and Snow White’s woods and mines. Every step of the way, we see how being constantly exposed to the darkness influences someone unprotected. Aqua is constantly doubting herself, subjected to taunting visions and endless waves of opponents. Many of the areas involve repeating spaces, making it feel like you’re making no progress in your quest to go forward.
It helps show Aqua’s strength and vulnerability. This is one of the few playable characters who has managed to become a Keyblade Master. She’s a pinnacle and shining beacon of light. She’s strong enough to survive in the darkness for so many years, constantly fighting. She’s kind and compassionate enough to prioritize the good of the world, sacrificing herself further to get the keyblade of darkness needed to seal the Door to Darkness for Mickey and Riku. Yet, even for all these amazing qualities, the fact that she does doubt herself and here these mocking voices shows her humanity. We see that she’s not some perfect heroine capable of accomplishing everything, but rather a strong woman who’s willing to do what she has to for the greater good.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage- gives us a good look at other characters too, even though they appear briefly. When Mickey comes to the darkness, he acts as a guide. He shows his own authority, intelligence, and skill as a Keyblade Master. We see that, even though he couldn’t save her at the time, he never forgot about her. That the moment Riku, now a Keyblade Master, is ready, the two of them set off to go rescue her. Mickey and Yen Sid even explain that Sora’s nature would have meant that, at the time, he would have tried to help Aqua before he was ready, showing the need to wait before heading into the darkness.
Sora makes important strides forward in Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage- too. Though, it’s more to send him to his next destination, rather than personal development. His power lost after his encounter with Xehanort and still a student, rather than a master, he needs to better prepare himself for the gathering of the Guardians of Light. He heads off to Olympus Coliseum with Donald and Goofy to train with Hercules, using his Keyblade to guide the way to a world after the Gummi Ship highways were cut off.
Even Kairi is remembered in this segment. She’s shown standing alongside Riku as Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage- begins. She’s addressed as a fellow Keyblade wielder, rather than someone who might still need to be protected. As this brief story ends, she’s sent to go train with Lea, formerly Axel, to learn how to manage their weapons and become an asset in the war to come. Even this young woman who previously wasn’t given the same attention as Sora and Riku is remembered and moved into a position where she may be able to provide aid in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage-‘s gameplay isn’t what makes it important. There’s nothing really new or revolutionary introduced here. If anything, it reminds us how annoying attempting to cycle through action options while moving our character to dodge attacks is. It’s critical to the series because it shows us exactly what happened to Aqua during her absence from the world of light. We see what influence she wielded in the world of darkness. And then, we get to discover exactly where all the other important players are right now and get a convenient explanation for why Sora won’t be at his best when Kingdom Hearts 3 begins. What we learn about everyone else is as important as the details about Aqua and her situation.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue is available for the PlayStation 4.