As the agonizing wait for Kingdom Hearts III continues to drag on, the folks at Square Enix have at least had the courtesy to let us pass the time by re-living the series in two easy installments: last year's Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix and this year's Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix. These two discs capture six full Kingdom Hearts experiences, leaving out only 2012's Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance for 3DS.
Last year's HD remake impressed but seemed to lack anything new and interesting enough to coax those with working PlayStation 2s over to the PlayStation 3 version. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix seems to fall into the same trap, but this time the lack of major additions is a bit more forgivable. That's because the two full games in this compilation, Kingdom Hearts II and KH: Birth By Sleep, are the Final Mix versions and include canonical updates formerly available only to the Japanese and those who import. Basically, this HD remake completes the series' storyline for the Western world, and that alone should be enough to coax series veterans to try it out.
Let's start with the most obvious upgrade: these HD upgrades are beautiful. The already colorful worlds pop with even more vibrancy after their enhancements, really pleasing my eyes as I played through. Birth by Sleep's graphics are especially pretty, considering it being ported from the PSP handheld instead of another home console like KH2. I found myself oohing and aahing at different points throughout each game, and I'd bet they were the same places I oohed and ahhed the first time I played each game a handful of years ago.
Of the three games included on this disc, the previously mentioned Birth By Sleep is by far the most impressive port. Playing through it in this compilation made me forget that it was ever on a handheld device to begin with, as it assimilates into the console format with ease. Controlling Aqua, Terra, and Ventus feels natural with the updated controls, fixing my biggest problem with the original version on the PSP, and little visual cues I missed before now stick out to where it's impossible to not see them. I'm very happy with Square's decision to revamp Birth By Sleep, as this new PS3 edition has given me the impetus to finish what I started on the PSP. If only my save file transferred over.
Kingdom Hearts II is another faithful port, but its impact definitely falls short of what BBS accomplishes. I assume this is because KH2 was originally a console game, so most of the major changes made to the game are aesthetic. While the game looks incredible as I'd expect, it plays very much like the original version of the game back on the PS2. KH2 falls victim to the "too much of the same thing" bug of last year's KH HD 1.5 Remix more so than the other two titles, but don't mistake that as a total detriment. I've played this game before, sure, but it's still just as fun as the first time I played it... with the exception of one area.
When I think about other HD remakes, last year's Wind Waker HD instantly comes to mind. The game mostly remained faithful to the original Gamecube version, but Nintendo made tweaks to the game's progression, taking out some of the mundane tasks that worked in 2003 but wouldn't fly in 2013 to create a more streamlined experience (I'm looking at you, buried Triforce pieces). The prologue to Kingdom Hearts II with Roxas in Twilight Town could have used this same streamlining, getting rid of the "perform these tasks to earn munny" moments, and only making us play the truly story-relevant parts of those moments, butnope, Square Enix sided with authenticity. While this means I get the full experience as it was on PS2, it also means that I get the full boring prologue that ticked me off in 2006 and still ticks me off now eight years later. Back then I said that KH2 would be a damn-near perfect game without Five Nights at Twilight, and the HD remake only solidifies that notion.
I would mention the Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded portion of the game, but it's merely a three-hour long movie made out of that game's cutscenes. In the time it takes me to watch one 'Lord of the Rings' feature, I have to sit through all of Re:Coded's weird story beats, with the only ones relevant to the main story arc coming at the very end. That's like someone saying they have a surprise for me, making me wait the whole day, then giving me a candy bar. It's cool, but it's not enough to justify the long wait.
As this is the first time that Western players can experience the "full" KH2 and Birth By Sleep storylines, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is essential playing for the hardcore Kingdom Hearts faithful. It also serves as the perfect second-half for those who experienced the series for the first time with last year's HD remake and want the rest of the story. However, anyone who was fortunate to port the Final Mix versions of each game beforehand or anyone who doesn't mind reading a wiki page to fill in story holes won't see any added benefit in taking the plunge here. Of course, all of this is just the opening act before Kingdom Hearts III finally comes our way, so the best thing about this HD remix releasing is that Nomura and company no longer have anything standing in the way of KHIII. In the meantime, KH HD 2.5 Remix will serve as adequate KH sustenance... but I'll still be hungry, Square. Remember that.
This review was completed using a retail copy of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix provided by the publisher for PlayStation 3.