In commemoration of the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3 (it's about time Tetsuya Nomura), Square-Enix has released Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, a compilation pack of the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories. Remix is supposed to help you “relive the series’ origins” with updated graphics, controls, and extra content and, to be fair, it does just that. However, it runs into two major problems: All this “extra content” has already been experienced by most Kingdom Hearts fans, and the series’ origins haven’t held up all that well.
So what does that mean? Well, let’s look at the remake of the original Kingdom Hearts first. The version that we are getting this time around is Final Mix, an updated version with more items, weapons, bosses, and even story cutscenes that previously only seen in the Japan version. That’s good! Unfortunately, any Kindgom Hearts fan worth their salt has already heard of Final Mix. They already know who the mysterious hooded figure is, they’ve seen all the extra scenes and movies on Youtube, and the extra items and weapons don’t really matter to anyone who isn’t shooting for a 100% completion rate. Even if you haven’t heard of Final Mix, a lot that this game has to offer in terms of story has kind of already been spoiled by Kingdom Hearts 2.
Of course, if you have buried your head in the sand or specifically prevented yourself from seeking out spoilers all these years, the Final Mix additions will please you to an extent, but the gameplay itself hasn’t really held up over the years. While we were all dazzled by the fantastic story and the bizarre marriage of Final Fantasy and Disney characters when Kingdom Hearts first came out, 11 assorted titles including spin-offs and handheld releases have removed the rose colored glasses from our eyes. Most of the combat is very linear, consisting of nothing more than “mash X to not die.” Square has put a lot of care into making the combat system better, totally reworking the fidgety menu and allowing the camera to be controlled by the right stick instead of the shoulder buttons, but even then the whole control scheme feels dry and dated. You might describe it as, “simple and clean…” Get it?
Chain of Memories holds up a little better than the original. The card based battle system, though a little gimmicky, certainly feels more interactive and interesting than the original’s button mashy keyblade fest. Boss enemies take a bit more to defeat than pattern recognition and, unlike Kingdom Hearts 1, Chain of Memories doesn’t feature many frustrating platforming segments that feel out of place in an action RPG. Putting together a deck of attacks that can combo into each other also adds an additional element to “raising” your character so-to speak. Finally, the ability to alter the treasure and enemy makeup of areas using cards keeps each play through feeling fresh. It’s certainly the title that is more fun to actually play.
Unfortunately, Chain of Memories’ story is where the patented Kingdom Hearts convolution started to kick in. Most of the story itself is a dry affair, consisting of little other than revisiting the exact same worlds you visited in Kingdom Hearts 1 and reliving the exact same plots you experienced in Kingdom Hearts 1. Frankly, there are times when this feels too much like a “copy/paste” job and that can be off putting, especially if you just finished Kingdom Hearts 1. There’s a greater metaplot involving Organization XIII, but once again if you have played Kingdom Hearts 2, the original Chain of Memories, or even Re: Chain of Memories when it first came out on the PS2, you already know how it ends.
The final part of the package is a compilation of all the cutscenes from the DS game 358/2 days. These movies tell the story of Roxas’s time in Organization XIII, his interaction with Axel and Xion, and the actions he took which led him to the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2. The cutscenes take three hours to watch, no fooling! It’s essentially like a little mini-movie about Roxas, with a few unfortunately in-gameplay scenes missing. You can read Roxas’s diary for some more insight on the story and there are a few still shots filling in for in game missions, but it’s not the same as actually playing the game. Overall, it’s a nice addition, but it’s a bit disappointing that Square didn’t go whole hog and just include 358/2 Days in its entirety. Its battle system was incredibly fun and a good portion of the Kingdom Hearts fanbase was not exposed to it due to it being a DS exclusive title.
Of course, you can’t talk about any HD remake without talking about graphics, and the graphics in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix are… OK. The graphics were ahead of their time when they came out on the PS2 so that helps. However, that also makes it harder to spot actual improvements. Remix’s graphics are noticeably not on par with current generation graphics, and unless you play the original and the remake back to back the differences aren’t all that noticeable. Granted, the graphics are still dazzling and impressive, but it feels as though it’s because the original was already so good.
Remix will most appeal to people who somehow missed these games’ original release. For $40, getting two games and a three hour movie recapping the events of another game is a fantastic deal. There are actually a lot of Kingdom Hearts fans that entered the series at Kingdom Hearts 2 and probably don’t know Sora and Riku’s backstory. For these fans, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is the perfect game.
However, it’s debatable how well Remix prepares you for Kingdom Hearts 3. If anything, it does a better job of preparing you for Kingdom Hearts 2, which is already out. It also omits other important pieces of backstory, like Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, which took place even further in the past, and games like Re: Coded and Dream Drop Distance, which tell you what Sora and Riku are up to prior to the events of Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is a great game that is hard to recommend. The story is phenomenal. The graphics are astounding. The voice acting is perfect. Despite some serious flaws with the original, the games are still fun to play. But Remix just doesn’t offer much that the originals didn’t already. If you are missing either Kingdom Hearts 1 or Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, then by all means pick up Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix. However, if your PS2 is still in working order and you have both Kingdom Hearts 1 and Re: Chain of Memories handy, you might as well go back and play the originals while watching 358/2 Days’ cutscenes on Youtube.
This review was based on a publisher supplied copy of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix for the PS3.