Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (PS3), Review

This Kingdom Hearts HD reboot pleases all of the senses and hopefully prepares us for a Kingdom Hearts 3...

I posted on my Twitter account over the weekend that I had received my advance review copy of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix and was about to dig in. One follower was not impressed and replied with something along the lines of, “So what, it’s just the same game in HD.”  I can’t blame the guy for thinking that. We’ve been treated to numerous other HD upgrades of Playstation 2 or older titles in recent years that don’t seem to add much value to the game other than prettier pixels.

But that is not what Square Enix did with this game. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix does offer upgraded graphics in spades. But there are plenty of other refinements, including entirely new ways to experience the classic three games included in this package. Not every new addition works as well as intended, but there’s still enough magic here to recommend a day one purchase for every fan of the franchise.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix Is a collection of three titles from throughout the series. The main event is the release of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix for the first time in North America. Final Mix was previously only available in Japan and features new content such as extra boss fights, a remixed soundtrack and new cut scenes. Next, Square Enix took Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories, the Playstation 2 re-release of the 2004 Game Boy Advance game and upgraded the graphics to match those of Final Mix HD. Finally, the developer has included all of the cutscenes from the Nintendo DS title, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, re-mastered in HD and playable as one long movie.

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All three titles are presented in a cohesive package on one disc and come with trophy support. Completing certain requirements will unlock a new theme for your PS3.

You would expect a game with “HD” right in the title to look pretty good and this one does not disappoint. As I watched Sora run around the opening tutorial sequence in Final Mix, I was actually taken aback at just how vibrant everything looked. You can tell Square Enix definitely took the time to make this look like a Playstation 3 game and not just an upgraded Playstation 2 title. The attention to detail is there across all three titles.

While playing, I did manage to find some older looking textures in certain spots, but that’s only because it’s my job to be annoyingly picky. The graphics will be a delight for the average gamer and Disney fan. Remember that awesome feeling you got back in 2002 when you were allowed to run around Wonderland for the first time? The upgraded artwork really gives you that feeling of being inside your favorite Disney world all over again.

As was mentioned earlier, this is more than just a pretty face on an old game. The biggest change is the camera. You won’t have to push the shoulder buttons to keep the camera behind you anymore. Camera control is now remapped to the right thumbstick, just like every other 3D adventure game you’ve played in recent years. One thing to note, however, is that by default the camera is on auto-follow. You have to go into the settings to switch it over to manual control. You’ll want to do this as soon as you get control of Sora. The camera wasn’t one of the game’s strong points in 2002 and it feels like even more of a burden today if you leave it to its own devices. I frequently found the camera’s auto feature getting in my way whenever I tried to make a sequence of precise jumps or when I had to quickly turn and run in the other direction. But keep your other thumb on that right stick and you should be fine. Yes, this can be an annoyance in 2013, but the effort put into mapping the controls to the right stick is appreciated.

There are other, smaller quality of life improvements as well. When talking to a character in the original game, you had to scroll down to a talk option on the menu. Now, a contextual triangle shows up on the screen whenever you run within range. Bringing out a summons in Final Mix is also significantly easier thanks to its new placement on the menu.

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The game also features a new Proud difficulty mode for the two playable titles. Enemies hit harder and there are certain trophies tied into completing the game on the harder difficulty.

My one disappointment with the gameplay is not with any one particular title but with the combined feel of having both Final Mix and Re: Chain of Memories in one package.

RE: Chain of Memories may be a 3D game now using the same textures as Final Mix, but it still feels very much like the 2D card game that it is at heart. Each of the worlds in the game is a smaller version of what’s in Final Mix. Yes, you can run around in 3D but the freedom to go anywhere is removed. Perhaps it was just because I had to play both games in quick succession for this review, but going from the freedom of Final Mix to the closed off world of Re: Chain of Memories was a bit of a claustrophobic let down. On its own however, Re: Chain of Memories still offers the same cerebral gameplay of its two previous versions. It just takes some time to mentally adjust to the slower gameplay if you just jumped over from Final Mix.

If you truly care about the sometimes convoluted story of Kingdom Hearts, then it’s nice to have the videos from 358/2 Days included here. There are secrets and trophies to unlock from watching the videos. Unless you’re really into the story though, it can get a bit dull after a while. Still, Square Enix did a good job trying to fill in the gaps of what happened in between cutscenes for those who didn’t play the DS title.

All of the Disney tunes and original songs you love are still here but with a twist. The soundtrack was remastered for Final Mix and there are remixes of many old favorites featuring live orchestral arrangements. As the music started upon entering Traverse Town for the first time, the feelings of nostalgia were immediate. The voice acting is excellent but still as campy as you remember. (Gawrsh, Donald!)

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There’s a drop off again when you switch to Re: Chain of Memories, as long segments can go by without voice acting that can feel a bit jarring when considered within the whole package. But overall, the audio is one of the stronger aspects of the game.

If you want to, you can easily play Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix well into 2014. There are 110 trophies to earn across all titles and multiple difficulty settings to explore. The Cup tournaments add dozens of hours of gameplay and that’s not even counting the added content from Final Mix. Some of the new boss battles will have you grinding experience for a while. “Not long enough” has never been a critique of any Square Enix RPG and this game certainly follows suit.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is a must-own title for any serious fan of the series. As gamers look ahead to the upcoming release of Kingdom Hearts 3 (coming soon, right Square Enix?) this title is a nostalgic nod to the franchise’s roots. The game does show its age in some spots but it’s also the best way for the uninitiated to get acquainted with the world of Sora, Riku and Kairi.

Graphics: 9Gameplay: 8Soundtrack: 9Replay Value: 10Story: 9

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