Serving as a collaboration title between Square Enix and Disney Interactive, the Kingdom Hearts series has long been a successful video game franchise that brought director Tetsuya Nomura (Of Final Fantasy XV acclaim) to the public eye. After the disputable decision to release several of the non-numbered installments on numerous different portable consoles (Playstation Portable, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS) and not releasing enhanced editions such as Final Mix and Re:Chain of Memories internationally, we are finally getting the chance to play the original games in HD from the comfort of our couches and television screens.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX contains three of the earlier installments in the franchise set to contain everything you need to jump into Kingdom Hearts II which has yet to receive a HD port. This collection includes the Final Mix edition of Kingdom Hearts (PS2), the enhanced-PS2 edition of Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories (Formerly a GBA exclusive title) and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days which rather than porting over has been downsized to a 3-hourish long feature film.
We have three games from the classic Kingdom Hearts vault on a single disc…. so how does it fare more than ten years after the series first graced our TV screens.
Kingdom Hearts begins on Destiny Island, where the three main KH-exclusive characters Sora, Riku and Kairi reside who reside on Destiny Islands alongside Selphie (FF VIII), Tidus (FF X) and a younger version of Wakka (FF X) with what seemed to be a complete lack of parental supervision. One night the three of them have their lives changed as Sora comes into possession of the Keyblade, Riku and Kairi’s whereabouts are unknown and he himself finds himself in a whole new world. Meeting up with both Donald (Duck) and Goofy who had been sent to find him by King Mickey, the trio set off to stop the darkness from overflowing a number of worlds based on Disney franchises and discover where Riku and Kairi ended up. While there are references to Final Fantasy characters across the board, there are no worlds based on specific games (Wouldn’t surprise me if they threw one in for Kingdom Hearts III).
The ideas behind the Kingdom Hearts storyline itself is simple however is utilized well to encompass a broader aged market (I could see this being a good “introduction to the RPG genre” for younger gamers) and the Disney elements added to the storyline. The biggest issue I do have with the game however are the Disney worlds themselves. The twists they gave to the Disney villains role in the story was creative, however as each world is based on the events of a Disney feature film I couldn’t help but feel they lacked much of the “Disney Magic” I had grown up watching. They don’t usually stray too far from the overall events from the films however are often heavily rewritten and felt short with smaller worlds and a direct-approach to the events.
Take the example of the 1992 film Aladdin, one of my personal favorites growing up and still an enjoyable watch today. By the time Sora arrives in Agrabah: Aladdin has already found Genie’s Lamp, Jafar is already on the look-out to capture Jasmine and the world eventually comes down to running around a smaller version of the town a few times and a trip into the Cave of Wonders. Sure the ending is the same but the comical vibe was not present (Focusing more on the Genie’s eccentric nature) and there was no singing (While Robin Williams doesn’t voice Genie, Dan Castellaneta had already proven he can sing pretty well in the Direct-to-Video sequel The Return of Jafar). Still, this is a game produced more than ten years ago now, so I would be interested to see how they handle the Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts III.
While they might not be considered as important installments in the series, both Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days, both released on Nintendo consoles originally do play a role in understanding the events that take place in Kingdom Hearts II – essentially serving as an intermediary between the two. Chain of Memories finds the trio trapped in Castle Oblivion, where through the use of cards Sora makes his way through many of the same worlds which are based on distorted memories. The game also introduces the members of Organization XIII. It was pretty interesting and offered enough to not feel like a rehash of events already seen in its predecessor.
While Square Enix did a GBA to PS2 port of Chain of Memories back in the day (Although in Japan only), it doesn’t seem like they wanted to give 358/2 Days the same treatment. Instead the formerly Nintendo DS exclusive title has had all gameplay content removed and is replaced by a compendium of animated HD cutscenes with a few other little features to go along with it. The title follows the history of Roxas, a character introduced in Chain of Memories and has a link to Sora I will let you discover if you don’t already know. This might be considered the less impressive of the three installments, but was still quite enjoyable despite the lack of gameplay.
As this is a HD collection, the visuals across all three titles have been given a considerable boost in quality to look decent on HDTV’s, with poor visual quality on new TV’s being a limitation that all sixth generation consoles other than the Gamecube seem to share. Taking into consideration the age and origin console for these titles, the job they did was of solid quality. The standard game visuals look great while still retaining the bright and vibrant colour pallette that it always did.
Of course taking into consideration its age, some of the game worlds do come across as bland and lacking the charm you might expect them to be able to handle in later generations (For example, Wonderland). The mouth movements were also quite temperamental, and there was at times no pattern on if a character would move their mouth or speak through their teeth. The quality of some scenes in 358/2 days also seemed less optimized than either other installments.
Music / Voice Acting
All three games in the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX collection draw upon their source material well, and in cases like the worlds based off Winnie the Pooh, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Little Mermaid feature remixed songs taken from the films/series themselves. The music backing works well at keeping the intended vibe – whether light and cheery when necessitated or a bit more intense for the moments of battle. Once again, I would like to see how they handle the music in Kingdom Hearts III.
The collection features an English dub across all three titles. Sora voiced by Haley Joel Osment and Riku by David Gallagher both retain their voice roles across all titles and do a strong performance of their characters even if there are noticable differences as the voice actors themselves became older. Most Disney characters have had their voice actors (or alternate voice actors for roles outside the main film) return and for the most part do a strong performance, while only a few Final Fantasy characters retained their voice actors/actresses.
While there are a number of similarities between the original Kingdom Hearts game and Re:Chain of Memories, both games handle quite differently. Unlike other Final Fantasy games of its time, Kingdom Hearts comes with a non-random encounter, action oriented battle system that requires you to mash the attack button, determine magic attacks on the run and become inundated with swarms of Heartless almost everytime you. This is actually one of the real hinders with gameplay, in that a fair portion of your time will be spent dealing with the random enemy mobs even when you just want to get to the next boss. Despite the few differences in mechanics, a number of classic Final Fantasy additions such as Magic Types, (Disney) summons and item usage are included in the battle system.
During the game you have three primary party members – Sora (Owning the Keyblade), Donald (As a staff wielding mage) and Goofy (Who wields and attacks with a shield in battle). They are also joined by a fourth “character of the world” in many instances, but rather than simply being a fourth wheel you can only use them if you replace either Donald of Goofy in your battle party. Customizing the party members also differ, with limited options for guest characters, purchasable equipment for Donald/Goofy and exclusively unlockable Keyblades for Sora. Depending on your options in the “Dive to the Heart” and the start of the game, Sora’s stats and growth can also be slightly altered.
Asides from the battle system, the game features a world-travelling system which makes use of Gummi Ships, which can be edited and are used in brief space-shooting mini-games. Outside this each world generally involves making your way through standard puzzles and going from point A –> B to complete the world.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories on the other hand is evidently built on the original games system however has many alterations in order to cater for the original GBA release’s gameplay changes. Due to a convenient plot twist at the start of the game, upon entering Castle Oblivion – Sora, Donald and Goofy lost all memory of how to perform their skills. Instead Sora is given the ability to command cards which allow him to attack with his keyblade, perform magic and summon his other party members briefly into battle – as only he can exist in the worlds based off memories.
While Heartless do appear in each of the areas he visits, they are all encounter-based, so attacking or running into one enemy will send you to the battle system where more will attack. Battles require players to put together a deck of attack, skill and item cards and carefully use them in battle, the goal being to have a greater value of cards (Up to three at a time) than your opponent in order to initiate powerful attacks. While Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix should be familiar territory to most RPG gamers, Chain of Memories offered something different and even on the standard difficulty you may find yourself getting a Game Over screen a few times even in the early stages – especially against some rather challenging bosses. Due to the card-based system, you don’t need to worry about equipment or items, as everything you need is based in card forms that don’t expire after a single-use in battle.
Navigating the game world also differs due to the pseudo-reality aspect of them. At the end of each battle you will acquire an additional non-attack card which can be used on doors scattered around each area. Every card has a different property which when used on the door will lead you to an area with that specific property. Want a room where only a few heartless appear? Try the “Tranquil Darkness” card. Want a room where you can boost your cards to “Premium” versions? Try the “Premium Room” card. Just want to save your game? A “Moment’s Reprieve” is what you need! There are quite a few Map Cards that offer different rooms, layouts and potential cards for the taking.
Finally there is 358/2 Days, which Square Enix decided was not worth porting over in its entirety and reducing it to a cutscene-only release. Given that the HD collection should be a definitive edition of the original Kingdom Hearts video game releases, it was disappointing to see that none of the gameplay was included. But if you are in it for the storyline alone, the omission of gameplay may suit you better. Given there were several additional installments in the franchise on portable consoles, it makes me wonder if an eventual HD collection for Kingdom Hearts II will comprise of the one game and several titles worth of cutscenes.
Final Words on Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX
While there were several elements of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX that frustrated me on a second playthrough, for its reasonable price it could quite easily offer you 30-40 hours plus of gameplay across all three titles. An interesting main storyline that works alongside the “Disney” elements well is bolstered by a strong soundtrack and some rather challenging gameplay from both Final Mix and Re:Chain of Memories. On the other hand if you are wanting to play the collection exclusively for the Disney elements, you will more likely get more enjoyment watching the actual films.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is worth picking up for nostalgia’s sake or if the recent announcement of Kingdom Hearts III piqued your interest.