Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep 0.2- a fragmentary passage is a really interesting title for a number of reasons. Besides being the first console game in the series since Kingdom Hearts II, it also serves as our first glimpse into how Kingdom Hearts III will look and play. But what intrigues me the most about Kingdom Hearts 0.2, is the fact that it seems to have both inherited the good traits from previous games, and corrected their mistakes. Today, I’d like to touch on a few main elements, as well as how Kingdom Hearts 0.2 goes about utilizing them.
For starters, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 really nails world traversal, something that it picked up from Dream Drop Distance. Series director Tetsuya Nomura’s main goal for Dream Drop Distance was dynamic action, which is why the development staff came up with the idea of Flowmotion. Flowmotion gave Sora and Riku the ability to zip and dash off of walls, rails and flag poles, allowing them to cross that game’s rather large maps in no time.
While Aqua doesn’t have full access to Flowmotion in 0.2 (Sora will have many more Flowmotion options in Kingdom Hearts III), the spirit of traversal remains unchanged, and this is due to both Aqua’s overall control, and the level design itself. Aqua just feels really good to control in this game. She’s way less floaty than her original Birth By Sleep counterpart (something that could be said about 0.2 as a whole), and it helps that you have access to moves like High Jump, Air Slide and Doubleflight really early on. In addition, Aqua can slide down slopes, and automatically run and jump across specifically marked obstacles, two tricks we’ve seen Sora do himself in trailers for Kingdom Hearts III.
Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep have been criticized for having really flat level design with very obvious arenas, and I can’t completely disagree. Dream Drop Distance was the first game to really open up the map (though I should say that the Cavern of Remembrance area in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix did so as well). Kingdom Hearts 0.2 continues this trend. While there are still plenty of flat and open arenas to fight Heartless in, the level design is much more varied and interesting overall, something I noticed as early as the game’s Castle Town area. Castle Town puts you in fights against Heartless on the rooftops, around the water fountain and in underground caverns, and it’s only the first level of the game.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2’s level terrain is much more interesting because it isn’t designed with rooms that are a linear path from one end to the other. During my time with the game, I had to go left right, up, down and even upside down a few times to make my way across the Realm of Darkness. Environments are big enough that you’ll have plenty of fun exploring to find treasure chests and hidden secrets, but never so big and complicated that you’ll ever get lost.
To briefly circle back to Aqua’s control, it’s, once again, something that Kingdom Hearts 0.2 gets very right. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 is supposed to play like a mix of the original Birth By Sleep, and Kingdom Hearts III. While I obviously haven’t played Kingdom Hearts III, I can definitely say that 0.2 feels like Birth By Sleep mashed up with elements of Kingdom Hearts II. To quote Youtuber Soraalam1, “it feels like they took Aqua, and placed her in a Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix like environment”. As I said before, Aqua’s movement and control is much more fluid this time around. While she’s not quite as fast as Sora in Kingdom Hearts II, she still plays much smoother than her original self, and I’d be fine with Kingdom Hearts III controlling similarly to 0.2.
The original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II were developed by Square Enix’s Tokyo Team. After production wrapped on Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, the Tokyo Team was tasked with developing Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which eventually became Final Fantasy XV, and this kept them busy for a while. Since the original Kingdom Hearts team was busy, Square Enix’s Osaka Team became the primary developers for Kingdom Hearts games. In addition to being responsible for Kingdom Hearts 0.2 and the eventual Kingdom Hearts III, the Osaka team created Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance.
The biggest point of contention with these two games is the boss design, and this is for a number of reasons. These games gave players a large variety of combat options, but there were only ever a handful that were ever really useful against bosses. While Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II let you take on bosses with your own strategy to a certain extent, Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance made it so that there was really no reason to ever use anything besides the one effective plan of attack against them.
Many players favorite thing about Kingdom Hearts II is the challenge that comes from that game’s human sized bosses. While Kingdom Hearts II’s bosses rewarded players that payed close attention to their patterns of attack, and how to exploit them, Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance outright punish you for doing so, especially Vanitas from Birth By Sleep. I’ve said for years now that he would make for an amazing boss in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, but he’s just kind of a mess in Birth By Sleep.
He has a decently large number of attacks at his disposal, each requiring a certain degree of skill to avoid. He can teleport, attack with Thunder and Blizzard magic and even ride a wave of Keyblades. He should be a ton of fun, but he’s not. Skillful players should be able to find holes in his attack pattern and retaliate, but Vanitas can break out at random intervals. At times, you’ll be able to hit him with a full combo, while at others he’ll teleport away after the first hit. This is a subject that has been discussed at length before, so I won’t belabor the point here. But, I will say that the Osaka team has come a long way from the days of Vanitas.
A phantom version of Aqua is one of the bosses that is fought in 0.2, and not to jump the gun or anything, but she is amazing, and feels like she was pulled straight from Kingdom Hearts II. I’ll admit, as soon as I saw her teleporting all over the place during my first encounter with her, I had instant Vanitas flashbacks. But as the fight went on, and I eventually played the postgame encounter against her, I was genuinely surprised by how well she was designed.
I was observing patterns, improving my timing, learning how to avoid attacks, learning when I could counterattack and being rewarded for doing so in an effective manner. Slowly but surely, I was getting better at the fight, and I never felt frustrated because every death along the way felt like it was my fault. I got to use actual boss strategy in a Kingdom Hearts game again!
I’ll say it once more, Phantom Aqua is a smartly designed boss that feels like she was lifted directly from Kingdom Hearts II. She’s tough but fair. She has a discernible movement and attack pattern, as well as the Revenge Value feature from Kingdom Hearts II. This fight was easily my favorite part of Kingdom Hearts 0.2, and I really hope Kingdom Hearts III’s bosses are designed like this (I really need secret boss fights against the Foretellers by the way).
The Osaka team was also responsible for the HD collections on the PS3, and they said that they were going to be paying close attention to the design of those games, as they continued development of Kingdom Hearts III. While I could see traces of this statement in certain Kingdom Hearts III trailers (combo finishers, tech points etc), I was never really convinced it was true. As of the release of Kingdom Hearts 0.2, I am more than happy to take back all of my initial misgivings.
While 0.2 is still lacking in many ways that made Kingdom Hearts II my favorite game of all time, it honestly got as close as I can reasonably expect, all while implementing it’s own new features such as Situation Commands, costume customization and revamped Command Styles. From a gameplay design perspective, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 has given me a lot of hope for Kingdom Hearts III.
While my dream version of Kingdom Hearts III would be a bigger, more exciting and more dynamic version of Kingdom Hearts II, I know that that’s somewhat of an unrealistic prospect. Kingdom Hearts II is over 10 years old, and was designed by a completely different team than the one creating current Kingdom Hearts titles. But I’m honestly impressed with just how much they learned from Kingdom Hearts II, and as I said before, 0.2 is as close to that game as I could reasonably expect. If Kingdom Hearts III is going to play like 0.2, utilize Phantom Aqua styled boss design and give us access to Keyblade transformations, revamped Drive Forms, Attraction Flow and Flowmotion, then I’m even more excited for it than I already was.