In 2002, the idea of a Square (now Square-Enix) developed Action RPG featuring a crossover between Final Fantasy and Disney characters was certainly a surprise. However, it was a highly enjoyable and successful one as Kingdom Hearts has gone on to spawn a numbered sequel and a whole host of canonical spin-offs. With so many Kingdom Hearts games out there, some of them not even reaching Europe, it can be difficult to find a suitable diving-in point to the series. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is that elusive entry point: a welcome remastered compilation that has something new for everyone – even if you’re a Kingdom Hearts super-fan. But for those who aren’t versed in things such as Keyblades, Gummi Ships and Heartless, allow me to set the scene.
Three friends (Sora, Kairi and Riku) live on Destiny Island, along with Selphie (from Final Fantasy VIII), Tidus and Wakke (both from Final Fantasy X). These three friends long for adventure and believe in the possibility of other worlds, so they conceive a plan to build a raft and sail to discover new adventures – but a race of shadowy beings known as the Heartless invade Destiny Island before their plan can come to fruition, opening up portals that separate the three friends from one another.
Meanwhile, in another world, King Mickey (Mouse) has left the comfort of his castle to investigate the Heartless that have invaded his own world, leaving instructions for Donald Duck and Goofy to find a “key” that can help save the universe. After meeting up with Sora, the one chosen to wield the Keyblade, Donald and Goofy travel to a variety of locations based on a host of Disney animated features, meeting characters from both Final Fantasy and various Disney franchises, to find Mickey and rid the universe of the Heartless.
This HD compilation contains the once Japanese-only Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts, Re: Chain of Memories (originally a GBA game, later given a fully polygonal port on PlayStation 2, which never reached Europe), and an adaptation of the Nintendo DS’s 358/2 Days. This adaptation is akin to a movie, using updated versions of the game’s cinematics, interspersed with text instead of the original gameplay.
The version of Kingdom Hearts in this collection is vastly improved over the original. While keeping the same action-based combat of the original, where previously you had to navigate a command menu with the D-Pad to examine items or talk to NPCs, here these functions are permanently mapped to Triangle, which now acts as a context-sensitive function button. In addition, camera controls have now been mapped to the right analog stick (instead of the L2 and R2 buttons). However, the game defaults to an Auto- Camera setting, which can be quite unwieldy to deal with at times. In fact, turning this off improves things immensely.
I also found jumping between platforms quite fiddly, but this proved to be more of a mild annoyance than a real problem. The Final Mix edition also adds a number of new items, enemies, abilities, cutscenes and more – including an all new Beginner difficulty, which gives you some extra items from the start, plus a tougher “Proud” difficulty, which experts of the original game should enjoy.
Over a decade later, this is a game that still holds up as an incredibly enjoyable and engrossing RPG. There’s something so great about revisiting the classic Disney movies and characters, and seeing them interact with the post-VII era of Final Fantasy characters.
Re: Chain of Memories is similar to the previous game, mainly because it takes place in environments taken from Sora’s memories of the original Kingdom Hearts. You’ll be exploring areas you’ve seen before, but the twist here is that most of the actions you perform in the game are card-based. While combat is still action-orientated, you are given a deck of cards with different numbered values on, which act as your attack, magic and item commands. A level of strategy is required to ensure that you pick the right card to beat the hand of whatever enemy you’re attacking and, in addition, it’s also possible to chain multiple cards together for combos (also called “sleights”). Having to flick through your deck of cards in the midst of battle will take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it (and start creating your own custom decks), it becomes very enjoyable
Also, world navigation is dealt with on a room by room basis, with some rooms requiring specific cards to enter, which can also affect the contents of these rooms, depending on the type. These new mechanics can initially feel confusing, but practice makes for a very unique experience; however, those who move onto Re:Chain of Memories immediately after finishing the original Kingdom Hearts may tire of the reused locales.
358/2 Days is the oddity of this collection. As mentioned previously, it’s a collection of updated cinematics from the original Nintendo DS game and, as such, it’s best to see this as a nice little bonus feature instead of a game (although like the other two titles in this collection, Trophies are available for watching the entirety of this film, as well as for reading all of the accompanying text and additional reports). While I would have preferred to see a port of the actual game, I can appreciate and understand that this would have taken more time and effort than necessary. What we have here is more than adequate, especially as it ensures that the 1.5 ReMIX is a complete collection of pre-Kingdom Hearts II content (barring the Kingdom Hearts prequel, Birth By Sleep).
There’s no doubt that all three of these games are gorgeous. They looked great before on the PlayStation 2 (especially using a component cable), but they look fantastic now. Colours are vibrant and magical, while characters really pop on screen. Everything looks so sharp and crisp (including textures), plus all three games are in a widescreen aspect ratio; these titles have never looked so good. The same goes for the FMV cutscenes, while have been sharpened up very well.
The original voice acting and soundtrack is still intact and, while not every piece of dialogue is spoken, it’s still great to hear so many Disney and Final Fantasy characters talk (even if the script can get incredibly angsty at times). While the 1.5 ReMIX features a large array of A-list acting talent for voiceovers, some are worse than others. Buffy/Angel star David Boreanaz, for example, sounds absolutely bored in his role as Final Fantasy VIII’s Squall/Leon.
VERDICT: The games that make up Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX have been respectfully updated, making them the definitive editions, and there’s a whole lot of content here: two great RPGs and a film that runs at nearly three hours, plus a ton of Trophies that will add a large amount of replay value as well as some PlayStation 3 Theme unlocks as well. This anthology is worth picking up for Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix alone – the other items herein are delicious cherries on top of a massive sundae of RPG goodness, sprinkled with Disney magic.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.