Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX Review: Same great experience with a brand-new look
For a year while attending UCF, I worked at Disney World; it was one of the better jobs I held throughout college. This is why I have a special place in my heart for all things Disney, including Kingdom Hearts. It's also why I have a particularly hard time removing my rose-colored glasses for a game I've been tremendously excited to replay since its announcement.
I know most of you are excited for Kingdom Hearts 3 on PS4 and Xbox One, but to hold us over, Square Enix have given fans who may not have played some of the older games in the franchise a chance to relive them. As such, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is a collection of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix (a special edition of the original game that was previously only available in Japan), Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (a PlayStation 2 remake of a GameBoy Advance game), and all of the cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (playable on the Nintendo DS). All of these have been remade with prettier, high-resolution graphics.
It's hard to believe it's already been 10 years since the initial release of the original Kingdom Hearts. Well, it has been, and though we're getting upgraded visuals with Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, there's always the question as to whether the story and gameplay have withstood the test of time.
They have. For the most part.
Story has always been an issue in the Kingdom Hearts series. It's hard enough to keep up with seven games in a franchise, but it was made even more difficult when installments started releasing on exclusive platforms that you may not have owned at the time. When you consider the fact that the games didn't release in chronological order of the Kingdom Hearts plot, things become really complex. So let's start with one of the best things about Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX: It neatly bundles three individual games that, although released years apart, are ordered chronologically according to the overall Kingdom Hearts story.
Kingdom Hearts is the first game in the series, seeing three friends -- Sora, Riku, and Kairi -- separated when a group of dark beings known as the Heartless invade their world. The basic gist of it is that Sora, Donald, and Goofy embark on an epic adventure to find their friends (and King Mickey) while uncovering a greater evil plot involving the Heartless. Replaying the game 10 years later, it's impossible to overlook the campiness of the game's story. But childhood nostalgia coupled with the charm of Disney mixed with Final Fantasy more than make up for the awkward voiceovers and dialogue.
Gameplay design, while true to the original game, feels somewhat outdated now. Exploring each world can be particularly frustrating as there's very little direction guiding you where to go next. After a cutscene you're simply left to hunt for the next one, forced to fight through waves of enemies that repeatedly spawn every time you enter an area. When I was younger, I was infatuated with the worlds so didn't mind this as much, but now it seems like more of an annoyance.
Combat in Kingdom Hearts was always more than what initially meets the eye. Despite the hack n' slash format, there's actually an incredible layer of depth that revolves around hacking, dodging, and magical casting. I don't particularly remember struggling through some of the fighting sequences, but Kingdom Hearts HD ReMIX definitely pushed me to the limit at times. What I do remember, however, is how incredibly inept your party members are. The AI for Goofy and Donald (or whatever third companion you choose from that particular world) is frustrating, to say the least. They rapidly burn through MP (mana) and any potions you may give them as an extra crutch.
Of course, the "wow" factor in Kingdom Hearts was never really the combat but seeing your favorite Disney characters on the same screen as Final Fantasy characters. Now, with a glorious HD remake, they look better than ever. Character models are smoother, and while textures -- particularly during close-ups -- aren't as crisp as I would've liked, it's still a very pretty game.
Technically, this is also the Kingdom Hearts Final Mix version of the game, which was never released in America. As such, we are treated to a few extra story sequences and revamped controls -- most notably the camera, since you now have free reign of camera movement using the right stick. There were still a few times I was caught with an awkward angled view, but it's a much needed upgrade and brings the gameplay more in line with today's third-person action titles.
It may seem like the majority of this review is focused on Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. That's because Re: Chain of Memories, an HD remake of the 2008 PS2 game, which was actually a remake of the Game Boy Advance game from 2004, still mostly feels like a retread. With all of the levels based on the ones from the original Kingdom Hearts, you'll be traveling to the exact same worlds -- only this time they are even more abridged versions of the same plots you already experienced. They do, however, look much nicer than the original PS2 version thanks to the upgraded visuals of the 1.5 HD ReMIX.
What makes this experience different, though, is the combat, which is based on a card game mechanic that sees you construct a deck of cards representing different actions. Combining your spells and attacks can result in stronger abilities.
There is a downside to this though: Flipping through the cards while attempting to pay attention to the combat on screen requires a bit of multitasking and can feel a bit overwhelming. It can require a little getting used to before you're able to appreciate the in-depth strategy and customization it brings to the combat.
The last game included in the 1.5 HD ReMIX, which is actually more of a cinematic movie, is 358/2 Days. Rather than a recreation of the DS game, Square Enix has ditched all of the gameplay and instead spliced all of the cinematic cutscenes into a two-hour and 50 minute movie. After playing through two games, I found it nice to just sit back and watch it all unfold, because it is an intriguing story that helps clear up some of the confusion.
While upgraded visuals and enhanced gameplay are certainly appreciated in the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, the best part about this collection is that you don't have to wait years to play the games. Upon finishing Kingdom Hearts Final Mix you can just dive right into Re: Chain of Memories with the plot fresh in your mind. And from there, you can watch 358/2, which runs parallel to the events of the original Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories, both of which ultimately lead up to Kingdom Hearts 2 (which you can bet Square Enix will inevitably release as part of the 2.5 HD ReMIX).
The release of these three games as a collection, in chronological order, solves one of Kingdom Hearts' biggest faults -- the complexity of its story.