Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-
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Aqua: The Dark World

Since its inception in an elevator with a meeting between Square and Disney executives, their Kingdom Hearts series has captivated the world and seen strong sales. However, it would take an odd direction in the fact that alleged “spinoffs” are in fact central to the primary narrative, with the numbered sequels continuing from the so-called “side-games.” Before the release of the third numbered title, Square-Enix released a collection of the previous HD remasters subtitled The Story So Far, with one of the mini-games included alongside Dream Drop Distance in the II.8 subseries being Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-, which is a surprisingly sweet if short side-story.

At the Mysterious Tower, Master Yen Sid informs Riku, Kairi, and King Mickey that they must rescue Terra, Ventus, and Aqua, the last of which Disney’s rodent mascot saw in the Realm of Darkness, and sure enough, in a continuation from prequel game Birth by Sleep, she’s trapped in the bleak world and must find a way out. The story is surprisingly good, with the crossover elements that somewhat mar the narrative kept minimal, with plenty of links to most Kingdom Hearts games that will definitely appeal to hardcore fans of the franchise, and it left me wanting to play the third official numbered game to see how things proceed.

The localization is one of Square-Enix’s stronger efforts, aside from occasional dialogue on hearts and darkness, with the various characters such as those from the Disney realm sounding as they’re supposed to, a lack of spelling and grammar errors, and good lip-syncing for voiced dialogue.

0.2 combines many elements from other Kingdom Hearts titles in the gameplay department, with the series’ signature Keyblade combat back with a vengeance. Protagonist Aqua has HP and MP, the latter allowing her to cast magic accessible from the combat menu or shortcuts, with cure magic consuming all her MP and necessitating its gauge’s recharge before she’s able to cast spells again. She can also string together never-ending combos against enemies with her Keyblade, and the Shotlock command from Birth by Sleep returns as well. The mechanics are generally enjoyable, with camera issues virtually nonexistent, although there are minor issues with platforming during combat.

Control is perhaps 0.2’s weakest aspects, although it definitely has its share of strong points such as the easy menu system and control, not to mention the in-game clock, skippable cutscenes, generous save system, and beatability without the use of a guide. Pretty much the only major issues are those mentioned with platforming and the unskippable cutscene dialogue.

0.2’s soundtrack is mostly good, with plenty original tracks alongside returning themes, the only major issue in the aural presentation being the tonal dissonance the Disney characters sometimes create.

Rather than utilizing the visuals for most of the other HD remasters of the Kingdom Hearts games included with The Story So Far, 0.2 looks far more at home on the PlayStation 4, with photorealistic graphics that contain scarcely any blemishes aside maybe from some rare blurry and pixilated texturing and occasional framerate issues.

Finally, playing time is significantly shorter than other Kingdom Hearts games, with a straightforward playthrough taking somewhere from ninety to a hundred and eighty minutes, the meager length providing plentiful lasting appeal alongside different difficulty settings and achievements within and without the spinoff.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 is what a spinoff game should be, with its game mechanics fusing the best aspects of other entries of the franchise, the control being generally tight, the story being surprisingly enjoyable and providing background to a few other games in the series, and the superb aural and visual presentation. Some may complain about its meager length, although its shortness enhances its lasting appeal, alongside things such as the achievements in and out of the game, with 0.2 very well putting quality above quantity, and providing an excellent prologue to the story of the third numbered Kingdom Hearts game.

This review is based on a playthrough of the version included with The Story So Far.

The Good:
+Refined Keyblade combat.
+Good control.
+Story links to main Kingdom Hearts games.
+Excellent music.
+Nice visuals.
+Short, with plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Minor combat and platforming issues.
-Cutscene dialogue unskippable.
-Some framerate issues.

The Bottom Line:
One of the strongest entries of the Kingdom Hearts series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9.5/10
Controls: 8.0/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 90-180 Minutes

Overall: 9.5/10

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