8Bit Heroes Reviews: Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (PS3)
Written by: Derek Smith
October 21, 2013
Growing up, I absolutely cherished the Kingdom Hearts franchise. When the production team behind Final Fantasy known as Square Enix (Formerly known as “Square”) collaborates with Disney Interactive Studios to bring you a crossover game that not only gives you nostalgia overload, but is also intertwined with deep storytelling from Tetsuya Nomura, Kingdom Hearts easily established itself into my top 5 favorite franchises of all time. Not only does this game allow you to dive into Disney-themed levels based on several of their classic cartoon movies, the game is also filled with many Final Fantasy cameos.
The first game of the series, Kingdom Hearts (or in this collaboration, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix) follows a young boy names Sora who is torn from his friends, Riku and Kairi, as well as his home when it is destroyed by shadowy creatures known as the Heartless. At the time of this attack, he is bestowed with a mysterious “Keyblade” which he learns has power against the darkness. After crashing on a new world, he must find his friends who have gone missing. In the process, he teams up with Donald Duck and Goofy, who are in search of their king, King Mickey. As they progress through different Disney-themed worlds, they find that this darkness is a much greater threat than they originally imagined.
Kingdom hearts HD 1.5 Remix is a digital remastery of the original game’s “Final Mix” which is basically an extended addition with extra hidden bosses and weapons, along with other content. Along with this game, you get another remastered edition of Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories, a bridge game taking place between KH 1&2 that was originally released for the Gameboy Advance in 2004, then released to Playstation 2 a few years later in 2008. Lastly, the package comes with nearly 3 hours of remastered cinematics from the Nintendo DS Game Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, a side story game about Roxas, one of the central characters in Kingdom Hearts 2.
KH HD 1.5 Remix was a smart release by Square Enix. With Kingdom Hearts 3 recently being announced for PS4, the issue was present that it had been since March of 2006 since Kingdom Hearts 2 (PS2) had been released. That makes over 6 years to date with still more time between sequels. Most sequels go usually 2-3 years while Kingdom Hearts has gone an entire console generation without a direct sequel. Since KH2, we’ve seen cross platform titles like Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts Coded, all which haven’t progressed the story until this past year when Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance was released for the Nintendo 3DS.
Now that KH HD 1.5 Remix has gotten a strong reception, there has already been a green light to go ahead and produce KH HD 2.5 Remix, which includes Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, and remastered cinematics of Kingdom Hearts RE: Coded. We can expect KH 2.5 sometime in the fall of 2014. In doing this, all Kingdom Hearts fans can catch up with the current storyline, while giving an opportunity for new fans to get familiar with the franchise.
In KH 1.5, this is the first time we’ve seen KH Final Mix in North America since it was originally released exclusively in Japan. The upgrades were immediately noticeable for me. The character designs were much sharper than its PS2 predecessor. What’s interesting is that Square Enix had lost most of the original assets used to make the original game, so they had to work some magic in recreating the game. Nomura was quoted by saying that they had to dig out a lot from the actual game to recreate everything for HD.
I also found that most of the soundtrack was completely redone with a live orchestra, really bringing the music to life in a completely new way. The sound quality from background music to action sounds was very well balanced and obviously revamped. I got to play KH on my PS2 before purchasing KH 1.5 and another thing I noticed is that the color is much shaper with the HD upgrade.
SCREENSHOT OF KH FINAL MIX
On the downside of that, there were still a few things I noticed where I wish that they could’ve done better. I remember playing through the Tarzan level, and noticing that the forest area in the background still looked like cardboard. I don’t know if they simply forgot to upgrade this, or simply didn’t have the time to go through and recreate these portions of the game.
The controls are almost exactly the same as what you would remember playing the game. However, the only change that has been made is that the camera control has been moved from the R1/R2 buttons to the right analog stick. This makes movement much more natural with what many gamers are familiar with. Although, the camera control wasn’t as firm as what I would’ve liked it to be. I would let go, expecting the camera to stop immediately, and the camera would still turn just a little more before stopping. It wasn’t critical to gauging my enjoyment of the game, but hindered it at first until I got used to it.
Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories is probably the biggest gem in this game compilation. It shows the largest visual improvement with sharp gameplay. The cutscenes were a little rough at times but everything else was very well done. What I enjoyed about Chain of Memories is that combat is more strategic than any other KH title, being based in “combat cards” that is more restricted the longer you are in battle. The original Kingdom Hearts could seem like “button-mashing” in comparison to this game. It’s difficult at first, but when you get used to the flow of gameplay, it’s actually enjoyable, while being challenging. This game is not for the faint-of-heart gamer, because it can be frustrating if you let it. That’s one thing I admire about the Kingdom Hearts series, especially with Chain of Memories, is that it’s challenging. Many games nowadays aren’t as challenging as they used to be.
SCREENSHOT OF KH RE: CHAIN OF MEMORIES
And lastly, the remastered cinematics of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days were truly enjoyable. At first, I was unsure if the cinematics were going to be anything special, but Square Enix did a great job of flowing everything together. Each cut scene was intermediated with a short summary of the events that took place in between where gameplay would have originally been. The summaries were short, but still informative. This helped fill in the blanks for me, as I had only played through the first portion of the original game. It is definitely worth the time for any KH fan, as it explains a lot of who Roxas is, and how it leads into KH2.
I truly admire the Kingdom Hearts franchise, not only for their storytelling, but sturdy gameplay that gives gamers a challenge. Being both a Final Fantasy fan while growing up on Disney movies, this franchise grew very dear to me in my later years in junior high. Despite a couple flaws, this game is a must-have for any fan of the franchise, as well as any gamer who enjoys great storytelling or a general fan of the Disney universe.
I give Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix an 8.5/10