Kingdom Hearts, being one of the first Action-RPG games I’ve ever played, holds a very dear place in my heart and holds many memories of yesteryear that invoke nothing but feelings of fun and nostalgia. The concept of taking Square Enix characters and Disney characters, and mixing them together seems proactively obscure, but works all too well. And to see this game, as well as a few of its spinoffs, get the HD treatment is actually quite exciting for someone like me. But how does the game do in the quality department? In the same manner as Nintendo’s Wind Waker HD remake on Wii U, Square Enix has opted to remake Kingdom Hearts and two of its spinoff followups in HD to help prep fans for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3. But the important question is this; should you buy it?
Portions of the Kingdom Hearts story have aged well and others have not. The first game provides likable characters and an interesting narrative that guides the player from point A to point B with a clear goal and an easy to understand plot that drives all the characters forward. Unfortunately, as you head into Chain of Memories, the story becomes somewhat convoluted and by 358/2 Days, it becomes almost incomprehensible, not unlike the treatment of writing that was dished out in Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts II (neither of which is included in this particular collection). The main character Sora grows up somewhat in the first game, but it becomes clear that by Chain of Memories his development has become stagnant; he knows his right from wrong and doesn’t have much growing up to do. Characters like Riku on the other hand are a whole other case and are a little more interesting to follow. Being able to do so in both Kingdom Hearts and Re:Chain of Memories is an interesting treat.
The Disney plotlines are abridged from their movie counterparts with subtle changes made to fit into the Kingdom Hearts universe (such as Disney villains interacting with Disney characters not from their respective movie or interacting with the Kingdom Hearts exclusive Heartless enemies). After the first Kingdom Hearts, there is a lack of focus on this as Re:Chain of Memories only offers retreads of the same worlds from the first game and 358/2 Days does not concern Disney characters much, if at all. Overall though, if you are interested in experiencing the full story without buying a Gameboy Advance and a DS to do it, this would be a great way to get that done. Unfortunately though, you will have to wait until HD 2.5 Remix to have Birth By Sleep and play them in canonical order.
The Kingdom Hearts gameplay, “simple and clean” as it were, remains fun but new and improved in the HD iteration. Camera control now belongs to the right thumb stick and some commands can now be utilized with the triangle button (similarly to the new gameplay design in Kingdom Hearts II). A welcome addition to Kingdom Hearts HD is the previously unreleased Final Mix content, which contains new cutscenes, items and even an exclusive super boss fight. Kingdom Hearts has occasionally offered its own form of platforming and unfortunately it works about as well as it used to; not well at all. Furthermore, many battles can be handled with a simple mashing of the X button and require little strategy. The bosses on the other hand will require much skill and strategy. The same applies in Re:Chain of Memories. Bosses force you to think on your feet and react as best as you can to certain situations, completely changing how you play the game. This can be both fun and frustrating depending on what your play style is and which boss you fight. The game allows you to customize your play style in both Kingdom Hearts and Re:Chain of Memories. In the former, you can adjust Keyblades, equipment, items, and other such tools to give yourself an edge. You can even adjust how you level up and what to prioritize in battle at the beginning of the game. In Re:Chain of Memories, it’s more luck based, as you have to obtain high level cards as you play the game, which is easier said than done. Even with these high level cards, victory is not assured due to the player being required to approach boss battles very differently from the more common Heartless battles.
Kingdom Hearts allows you to play in real-time combat alongside Disney companions for the better portion of the game. Having Donald, Goofy and the likes of Aladdin or Jack Skellington by your side makes for an uncannily fun and strategic experience, especially if you are a Disney fan. Fans who are more Final Fantasy inclined will be very pleased to see the likes of Cloud, Sephiroth, Squall and other such characters from that universe more intertwined with the main story. For the most part, the Square characters will fight against you rather than alongside you. The game balances this well for the most part and doesn’t force you to do much grinding. The optional super bosses on the other hand are a different story. Another welcome addition is the ability to skip any cutscene at any time with a simple press of the start button and selecting the option.
Re:Chain of Memories handles this differently. While grinding can be done by simply encountering and battling every Heartless you find, this can become incredibly tedious and lead to little reward. This is made all the more frustrating by fairly stiff controls and a wonky battle system. As someone who played the Gameboy Advance original version, I can say that even with the more advanced controls thanks to the PS3 DualShock controller, Re:Chain of Memories is actually not quite as good as the GBA game. The gameplay was made overly complex and even confusing; for example, when you wanted to “stock” three cards together for a combo, you did so in the GBA game by pressing the shoulder buttons together (the shoulder buttons are individually used to cycle through your deck). In Re:Chain of Memories, this is mapped to the triangle button and the shoulder buttons seem to be reversed by default (hitting R1 cycles left and hitting R2 cycles right) and there is no way to switch the order. The most frustrating thing is that you lose the ability to move when you need to recharge your deck, which is obviously not the case in Chain of Memories for the GBA. All in all, minus these gripes of mine, Re:Chain of Memories is still fun, just not as much as the first game which makes up for its shortcomings.
Why have I not mentioned 358/2 Days? Because if you do not yet know, there is no game there. It is basically a several hour movie that sums up everything that happens in 358/2 Days, splicing cutscenes with small text screens that abridge the parts that used to have gameplay. While it is a shame that you cannot play 358/2 Days, having played the original on DS, I can say it was not a very fun experience and I would prefer not to go through its tedious design again, even with improved controls (which may not have even happened if Re:Chain of Memories was anything to go by).
The visuals in every game in this collection are absolutely gorgeous. The developers, originally only using PS2 tech, were very much ahead of their time. Bloom and particle effects are fairly abundant and the art style is cute in a Disney way, but also stylish in a Final Fantasy way. While the anti-aliasing could have been better in the collection, the games look stunning in HD. A minor gripe I have is that during some cutscenes, even during the 358/2 Days cinematics, some characters are given a “paper” like face with a flat expressionless texture that just flaps its lips out of sync with the dialogue. This feels distracting, especially whenever there is meant to be emotion between the characters conveyed to the player. It most certainly does not take away from the look of the experience, but if anyone expected the cutscenes to be remade to look better, you may be disappointed.
Re:Chain of Memories is very on-off in this manner. There are brand new fully voice-acted cutscenes whenever the characters are in Castle Oblivion. But once you enter a Disney world or using a World Card, all bets are off and the dialogue is told strictly with the “paper face” models and talk bubbles. It feels strung together and I would have preferred cutscenes for any moment in the game where I am not meant to play, but to watch.
358/2 Days, while also somewhat guilty of this, handles it better than either of the first two. All the cutscenes are very well animated and acted, with few noticeable instances of “paper face” and the gameplay being summarized with text walls akin to Metal Gear Solid 2’s extra Snake missions, but less tedious read. Visually, the story holds up excellently and the design has not lost any of its charm.
The music and voice acting in Kingdom Hearts, Re:Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days is absolutely brilliant. From Utada Hikaru’s magnificent voice handling the songs “Simple and Clean” and “My Sanctuary,” to Haley Joel Osment’s innocent voice work as the hero Sora, there is not a sound in this collection that isn’t wonderful. The soundtracks, while apparently completely redone, sound beautifully mixed in with the gameplay. The sound effects, particularly in the first Kingdom Hearts, are imaginative and fluent, immersing the player into this colorful world. If there was any gripe to be made here, it’s whenever there is a cutscene without music. Watching the characters can be fun, but it helps the mood to also have a subtle score help keep the player engaged, especially if he or she is expected to sit through a lengthy cutscene.
This carries over into both Re:Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days as both their sound effects and music sound brilliant (though this is a given in the former’s case as much of its assets are recycled from the first Kingdom Hearts). Re:Chain of Memories does have some new assets of course, but most of the in combat audio is recycled from the first game. Is this bad? Absolutely not. 358/2 Days on the other hand (and yes, I AM getting sick of typing out that ludicrous title) is mostly new assets and only uses the main theme from Kingdom Hearts II, Utada Hikaru’s brilliant “My Sanctuary.”
Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is not necessarily perfect, but for a Kingdom Hearts fan, it is a fantastic way to get a brand new look at the series and revisit older stories and prep up for the upcoming third (well, more like eighth) installment to the series. And if you are not a fan? This is great for you too! This is an excellent time for fans to jump in, get two full games and a movie version of the one installment that is often deemed to not be fun to play, and experience the story in time to get the next biggest installment next year. If you own a PS3, I cannot recommend this enough in spite of its minor flaws. Go out and get it.
+ Improved gameplay in first game
+ Looks fantastic in HD
+ Music and voice acting are superb
+ Great way to experience the story
+ Two games and a movie for $40
- Re:Chain of Memories controls are flawed
- “Paper face” cutscenes
Copy purchased by reviewer and tested on the PS3.
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