Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
As we close the curtains on this generation of video games, it’s hard not to notice how prevalent HD ports of existing franchises have become. Some of those ports have been excellent rebirths, with titles like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, while others are best forgotten like the poorly executed Silent Hill Collection from Konami. I think most fans will find that Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is one of the better compilations out there, both in overall value with two full games included, and in general quality.
This collection includes the original Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, which marks the first time Final Mix has been made available in North America. Think of this as a director’s cut of sorts for the first game, featuring small content changes across the board. Oddly enough Final Mix, previously a Japanese only release, brought over some content from the original North American release of Kingdom Hearts that wasn’t found in the Japanese version of the game, so now we’ve essentially come full circle with this HD port.
The other two titles featured here consist of Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. Of these two, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is the more straight forward port, offering up an HD skinned version of the PS2 release, which was a remake of the Game Boy Advance original. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is more of an oddity here, opting to not port the game from the DS version, but instead whittling down the experience into a series of strung together cutscenes that tell the story found in 358/2 Day into a sort of elongated film.
The two playable titles here both shine in their HD trappings. I was really amazed with how great the original game looks, despite the wooden animations and lackluster voice acting. The character models in Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix HD stand out in particular, with a makeover that really pops out in HD, full of vibrant colors that help sell you on Tetsuya Nomura’s eclectic character designs more than ever.
Still there are issues that continue to plague the original game, especially when directly compared to later releases like Birth By Sleep or the more recent Dream Drop Distance. The biggest offender continues to be the poor camera control, hamstrung by levels that are too enclosed which in turn send the camera into a stubborn fit more often than not. You’ll see frustration start to lay in with one of the earliest worlds in the game, Alice in Wonderland, and it never seems to improve as you continue on. It’s not as frustrating when it comes to combat, since the ability to hard lock or soft lock onto targets is easy enough to perform. But any sort of platforming exercise featured in Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix tends to become overly annoying, and really bogs down an otherwise enjoyable experience.
I think most will agree that Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories ends up being the better experience between the two. Chain of Memories has always been a personal favorite of mine anyways, so I might be a bit biased here to begin with. But it certainly benefits from coming later in the franchise, released for PS2 after Kingdom Hearts II as a standalone entry in North America and as part of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix in Japan. There’s certainly design lessons learned when it comes to character movement, combat, and camera control that make for a better overall experience here.
But the biggest thing about Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories that continues to stand out is its superb battle system. Whereas the majority of the Kingdom Hearts titles are straight forward, button mashing action RPG’s, Chain of Memories took a more unique card battle approach. You’ll still run around a 3D space and have the ability to directly attack or dodge enemies, but attacks are dictated by a deck of cards that become fully customizable as you advance.
You’ll start off with a set number of cards, but quickly gain new cards to outfit your deck with, starting with simple attack cards and later earning summoning cards featuring classic Disney characters, and other magic cards with various effects. Most cards feature a number of some sort, and the concept here is to overpower your opponent’s card with a higher numbered card, breaking through their defense or attack and pummeling them into submission. It makes for a more strategic combat system than the rest of the series tends to have, none of which is lost with this HD port.
Being one of the later games in the series makes the HD rendition stand out even more with Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories. While I was certainly impressed with what Square Enix managed to accomplish with the original Kingdom Hearts in this compilation, no amount of HD work was going to improve some of the environmental effects or animations. With Chain of Memories those deficiencies are less apparent, making for a better overall look than Kingdom Hearts Final Mix.
The only outlier here is the inclusion of 358/2 Days, and while I can understand its inclusion as an effort to bridge the story gap between this and what I’d imagine will be a Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX down the line, it still stands out as odd. The “movie” of 358/2 Days clocks in at a little over 2 hours, and quite frankly is a little less interesting without any actual gameplay to accompany it. Square Enix does a solid enough job stringing together the cutscenes into a cohesive tale, but I’m not sure that most will have the patience to sit through it, outside of the hardcore Kingdom Hearts devotees.
All together though, this is a pretty great package for Kingdom Hearts fans. And if you’ve never had the opportunity to play any of the PS2 originals, there’s no better place to start than this compilation. While the original Kingdom Hearts still shows its age despite the HD paint job, I honestly think the excellent Chain of Memories port featured is worth the asking price all by itself. So if you’re even partially interested in seeing what all the fuss is about, you should definitely give this HD compilation from Square Enix a shot.