After finally getting around to Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue as we build up to the long-awaited release of Kingdom Hearts 3, I sat down to watch Back Cover having heard pretty much only bad things. Nonsensical, boring, nothing to do with the Kingdom Hearts familiar to fans. And while yes, it has a lot of problems, I enjoyed this animation quite a bit. But I’m aware that it took very specific circumstances for me to enjoy it.
I really don’t think this would be enjoyable for someone who hasn’t played Kingdom Hearts χ or Kingdom Hearts Union χ, which is a remake of χ but removing its ending and continuing past that point (which is confusing enough as it is – I’ve only played Union χ so to get the full story so far had to go and look up the original ending). There was some suggestion that this animation would retell the story, making playing through Union χ unnecessary, but that’s not true at all. Without knowledge of the Union χ story I seriously doubt that anyone would have more than a vague idea of what’s going on here. This extended cutscene basically retells the story of the Master of Masters and his apprentices, which drives the action of Union χ but is absolutely not its story. I don’t see how anyone who only watches this would understand the Union χ storyline or have any idea who Ephemer is or what he does. It obviously doesn’t continue to the new story Union χ has continued to unfold, with the new Union leaders like Lauriam or Bl…Blay…dammit, ‘Brain’. So basically, it’s a companion piece to Kingdom Hearts χ and it is still absolutely necessary to play it or Union χ through – or watch the cutscenes at least, to understand the Keyblade War and the beginning of the Kingdom Hearts story.
Which is not to say that this part of the story is actually good. It’s pretty poor storytelling, with the kind of annoying prophecy-spurs-action narrative that I really don’t like. The Master of Masters, who wears the cloak later associated with Organization XIII and who actually has a playful personality that is by far the most interesting writing choice in this part of the narrative, can see the future thanks to the eye he implanted in the keyblade ‘No Name’. He knows a great war is coming, so prepares his six apprentices for this cataclysm by giving them specific roles. And then of course it is their attempting to follow his guidance that leads to the war taking place. The storyline intentionally leaves open questions – who is the traitor? What’s in the box? Where did the Master of Masters go, and why did Luxu disappear too? These are interesting issues for those of us invested in this storyline, but not at all for fans who have only followed the main games, and probably mostly bewildering.
As I say, for a hardcore fan who already knew this story, and who is playing the clunky, money-grabbing browser/mobile game, this is great. We get to see in CG what was hitherto only in iffy cut-out animation. We can enjoy vocal performances and get the Foretellers with way more personality. Ava is so sweet, Gula both adorable and suspicious, Invi so much more virtuous than I read them in the game, and for me that really helps differentiate them. Ephemer is also infinitely more likeable and cute as he appears here – and of course it’s fun to see Chirithy nicely-rendered. As the first fully original animation, these impressions belong on my animation blog more than my thoughts on the movie versions of 358/2 Days or Re:Coded, even if part of a video game, and while perhaps everything is a bit overly glossy, with lots of perfectly-laundered unicorn outfits and shiny leather belts, this was a very nicely-made animation that I enjoyed watching.
Not even remotely explanatory for the uninitiated, absolutely not a replacement for playing or watching through the full story of the χ games and almost certainly just a bewildering mess to the uninitiated, for the people it was actually made for – those of us who actually play even the shoddiest spin-offs just to get the full story – this is a highly enjoyable vignette. But I absolutely understand why most people hated it.