What's new this time around?Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix brings together three key parts of Sora's story in one package: Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, previously only available in Japan; Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, the console version of the Gameboy Advance game; and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (as a set of cutscenes). The Limited Edition pre-order package also includes a well-made art book, complete with sketch overlays, as a small treat for series aficionados.
All three pieces of the set have been given HD makeovers. The character models were always well-crafted even on the PlayStation 2, so seeing the textures revised and given a widescreen presentation makes them look nicely crisp. It may not stand toe-to-toe with the current generation, but it's closer than we tend to see from most HD revisions.
boasts new story sequences and a revamp of the controls – most notably to the camera. Rather than being relegated to the L2 and R2 buttons, you're given free camera movement on the right stick. This not only brings it in line with the standard controls you might expect from a third-person action game, but also makes it feel more like Re:Chain of Memories
. Other minor control changes come to a more easily accessible contextual command prompt, and the placement of Summons in the fourth slot instead of being squirreled in the Magic menu.
Though 358/2 Days
might be marked on the tin, be warned that it's not playable. Instead, it appears only as a collection of cutscenes. These are lengthy, and all together take about three hours to watch. They are as nicely produced as the other pieces – complete with HD makeover – and you can watch it all as a single movie or stop and remember your place. A Chapter menu lets you choose between the various cutscenes, and you can read Roxas' Diary to gain more insight to the proceedings.
In the complex Kingdom Hearts chronology, it's notable that 1.5 HD Remix
includes all of the earliest stories except for one: Birth by Sleep
. The PSP prequel took place long before Sora's adventures, so sequentially it may have made sense as an inclusion. But given that it relies heavily on mythology established by the later games and helps establish plot necessary for KH3
, it would likely be more at home in the presumptive Kingdom Hearts 2.5
.How does it hold up?
Sora's adventure begins as he finds himself as the sole wielder of a magical weapon called the Keyblade, which has the power to unlock doors as well as hearts. This skill puts him on a collision course with the Heartless, fiendish dark beings that are stealing hearts from various Disney worlds for some nefarious purpose. Mickey Mouse, naturally the King of the Disney realm, sends Donald and Goofy to find the Keyblade master and help him on his journey, hopping between familiar film worlds to put them right again.
Sora dispatches the Heartless through a suite of real-time melee attacks from his Keyblade, magic, and the assorted jumps and dodge-rolls you might expect from a third-person action title. Special commands like Magic fall under their own menu item, and the faithfulness to Square Enix RPG mainstays means you'll often have to use this menu to select magic during combat.
Thanks to this complex task management, the original Kingdom Hearts
fielded some complaints in its day for awkward combat. Despite the minor control tweaks, that much hasn't changed. While the adjustments do help it feel more like a cohesive whole, frustrations with elements like locking on to the right target or sluggish attacks persist. It's much nicer to have full control over the camera, but it has a tendency to swing low to the ground and requires some babysitting. Kingdom Hearts has been and is still very much an action game with a menu-based RPG running under the hood. That made it less-than-ideal in its day, and the silky-smooth third-person action games released over the last ten years make the difference even more pronounced. Flipping through cards in Re:Chain of Memories
while attempting to juggle combat duties still feels like a tougher bit of multitasking than Square Enix probably intended.
The plot of the Kingdom Hearts series has often been criticized for being overcomplicated, but the placement of these stories in this order actually helps make it read much more clearly. For this, I can only credit the nature of a compilation. The three games were staggered over the course of years, with integral parts of the plot only teased and filled in later, so seeing them in sequential order gave me a much better idea of how each piece fits. It's only too bad that 358/2 Days
was reduced to cutscenes. I appreciated the story elements, but if the ultimate goal is to make a few compilations that collect the entire franchise history, that piece is half-missing.
The charm of the series lives on though. The Disney worlds represented are part of its animation golden age, well before Pixar became known as the most prestigious arm of the movie giant. Kingdom Hearts has a knack for finding ways to tie Sora's interaction with Disney characters, visiting Aladdin's Agrabah or crossing paths with Simba along the way. The adventure threads these characters through Sora's story while still acknowledging their own respective touchstones. Seeing how each one plays a part is enjoyable, even if those stories remain largely the same when you retread them in Re:Chain of Memories
. The voice work and animation were tightly produced and felt high-caliber in their day, and the HD revamp breathes new life into them. Environments are bright and colorful, even if a bit sparse. And, though perhaps I shouldn't admit this this publicly, even the J-pop song "Simple and Clean" that served as an anthem for those early games remains kind of catchy.Kingdom Hearts
was always a quirky experiment, blending disparate parts of franchises and its own sometimes convoluted mythology. Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix
captures that early era of the franchise at its purest simplicity. It's a trip down memory lane for long-term fans, while the visual overhaul and back-to-beginnings story should make it a welcoming entry point for newcomers.
This review is based on a retail copy of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix, provided by Square-Enix.
Steve Watts is a freelancer living in the Baltimore-Washington area. He has written for 1UP, Shacknews, The Escapist, and GamePro. The keyhole to his Twitter can be found @sporkyreeve.