Square-Enix (then Squaresoft) released the original Kingdom Hearts in Mar 2002, less than a year after their smash hit Final Fantasy X. The unlikely partnership between Square and Disney blending the melodramatic saviors of Final Fantasy with the whimsical, childlike innocence that permeates every inch of Disney’s properties came as a surprise to many. It did, however, please both Disney and Square fans alike and created a story line that did its job to tie each of the worlds into a single universe, while allowing plenty of fanfare on the periphery. Just over a decade later, the inevitable Square re-release is here with plenty of added value, including content that was never released in the States. Does Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix steal your heart again or should it have faded into the darkness?
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix follows Sora, who is on a quest to find his friends and to rid the Heartless from the various worlds they have infected, while aided by Goofy, Donald and the Gummi Ship. American gamers will see the new cutscenes that were added to help smooth out the story telling, but the story itself remains unchanged and holds up well. Some of the voice acting should have been retouched, but with the caliber of the cast members and budgetary reasons, it is easy to see why Square-Enix would opt not to record new lines. Kingdom Hearts is a Final Fantasy savior story mixed with a Disney nostalgia road trip.
In Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, players follow Sora and friends as they ascend Castle Oblivion. Along the way, they encounter many members of “The Organization” in hopes of regaining their abilities and memories. The story takes some good turns and deals much more with memories and personal identity than the previous title, offering a good balance between new and old themes. It also serves as a good bridge between the two major games and introduces a large amount of important characters.
As another in-betweener, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days bridges the gap between Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II and focuses on Roxas and the other members of Organization XIII. It portrays the inner workings of the Organization and their struggles, both within the group and within themselves. The movie collection is a great companion piece to the series and adds a great deal of backstory and motivation to some of the most interesting characters these games have to offer.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix will contain plenty of changes for those who played the original release over a decade ago. While the visuals have been overhauled and most of the cutscenes look great for the age, the differences would be hard to spot unless you had recently played and memorized every inch of the game. Changes include newly skinned enemies, some new enemy types, Gummi Ship missions, new weapons, abilities, synthesis recipes, control schemes, and the Final Mix difficulty levels.
The camera is still hit or miss. This was always an issue with Kingdom Hearts and even the manual camera is stubborn in some areas and becomes easily confused in tight spaces. An adjustable distance would have aided greatly in some battle environments, but it is easy enough to waggle the analog stick or use the lock on feature. Late-game battles can become a mashy grindfest when not being challenged by a particular set of enemies, but the Coliseum and later environments offer plenty of infuriatingly difficult groups. Even with its temperamental camera, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix is the best of this bunch and an easy recommendation to both JRPG and Disney lovers, alike.
Originally a GameBoy Advance game and then remade for the PS2, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories’ gameplay still holds true. The card collecting mixed with a fast-action card battle system is as fun today as it was on the Nintendo handheld, albeit much better looking. The control scheme take some getting used to, but it offers a unique twist on the action RPG by turning every action into cards that must be put into play. It also offers players the ability to play as the other main character. Playing as the other character gives players their own unique set of attacks and animations, which adds a unique feel to the combat between story segments. Strategy comes not only in battle, choosing to use some cards early and reshuffle or to play it conservatively, but also in the deck-building. Having a few unique cards can be the difference between an easy victory or certain death. Chain of Memories is a fun card-based action RPG with plenty of depth, whose only flaw comes from its sparsely populated environments during exploration segments.
Final Mix looks great and the characters animate better than ever. That is not to say it’s perfect. Certain character models animate in such a way that the low polygon count becomes unmistakable and some of the more realistically textured environments don’t look as if they have been remastered at all. This is much more apparent during the cinematics than exploration or battles, but seeing unnecessarily pixelated assets in an HD version touting fully reworked visuals was disappointing. It is easy to see why the smooth textures and pre-rendered shadows that make up the majority of the game would hold up much better than some text and dungeon textures, but when they make up entire worlds, it becomes more difficult to ignore.
Chain of Memories looks fantastic. The upgrades are evident and it seems to use the Kingdom Hearts II engine. The character faces and cutscenes add much more life to the already great story and look amazing in high definition. Cards and effect benefit greatly from the upgrade and battles look better than ever. Some assets look a little plain, mostly props in the already sparse environments, but they don’t take anything away. It is still a great looking visual upgrade to a game that was well worth the investment long ago.
The theater holds the newly remastered cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days contains a wealthy amount of content to watch. Most of the options are well-animated dialogue between the major characters, telling the story of the game from the Nintendo DS release, while book-ending them with text overlays to explain the events prior and afterward. Some scenes are better than others, with awkward switching between fully animated models and pre-rendered, which can have some humorous effects. A specific scene led to having a character’s hood switch from on to off several times within a few minutes. Still, the collection offers hours of story adding to the Kingdom Hearts mythos and adding more backstory to the major players in Kingdom Hearts II.
The few shortcomings within Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix are easy to spot, but only because the rest of the package is near perfect and had great content to begin with. A decade after its initial release, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix offers the same great story for newcomers with enough new features to entice long-time fans for another play through. Re: Chain of Memories is a great upgrade from the handheld and PS2 versions and offers a great change of pace to the traditional Kingdom Hearts battle system. While 358/2 Days lacks any gameplay, it still offers plenty of characterization and plot to further realize the more mysterious characters from the series. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is a great package with tons of value and even more heart.