Review: Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX (PS3)

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Title: Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Department
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is exclusive to PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 3 disc based version was used for this review.

Gameplay:
In anticipation for the eventual release of Kingdom Hearts 3, Square Enix has begun to release HD versions of the previous games in the franchise by putting those games into two collections which puts the various entries in the franchise in a correctly ordered timeline. The first collection includes Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.

Kingdom Hearts Final Mix follows the story of Sora, the chosen one to wield the Keyblade, and his quest to be reunited with his friends Riku and Kairi who he was separated from when Heartless attacked their home. In the chaos of the attack Sora somehow finds himself in Traverse Town where he crosses paths with Leon (Final Fantasy) as well as Donald Duck and Goofy. Donald Duck and Goofy are looking for the “key holder” (aka Sora) because King Mickey (Mouse) had left them instructions to find that individual before he went missing to find out the motives of the evil consuming the universe.

Once together, Sora, Donald, and Goofy set out to find their missing friends and travel from planet to planet which happen to all be based on popular Disney franchises like Alice and Wonderland and Aladdin for example. These worlds have their own issues that are tied to the evil forces that King Mickey set out to stop. It’s difficult to explain further details of the story as while it’s a charming story it is also very, very convoluted.

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Kingdom Hearts Final Mix is a third person action role player in which the player takes control of Sora and his Keyblade. The controls for fighting are pretty basic Cross to jump, Circle to attack, Square to roll and R2 to target enemies  There is a Magic system as well that you select during combat like Fire and Blizzard elements. Overall the combat flows nicely and gives a satisfying feel when taking out a room of enemies or knocking out a big boss. You also have two players in your party with the two slots usually being occupied by Donald and Goofy except for when the main protagonist from the Disney world you are currently in joins your party.

For the most part, party members are not a big help when it comes to battle as they tend to only take out a few enemies and during Boss Battles are nothing more than cannon fodder. There are some RPG elements in the game such as leveling up Sora’s abilities as well as managing items that, when equipped, improve your various abilities. While not the deepest RPG system it does the job.

Now while the action-combat is fun, the game does run into some issues with the camera from time to time as it suffers from poor angles or wild movement. This tends to be a problem for a lot of games from that era, Kingdom Hearts was released over 10 years ago, so it is understandable, but still can be frustrating.

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One element of the game that doesn’t hold up are the Gummi Ship parts. These are travel sections where the player controls a space ship and flies from world to world while shooting enemy ships.  These sections are about surviving to the end and they are just poorly done and not fun at all as they have aged horribly.

The combat feels flat and traversing the elements is annoying due to it being hard to get a good perspective on if your ship will hit something. You will have to do one of these sections between each world and they are very much a chore, but luckily each section does not last a long time.  All in all Kingdom Hearts Final Mix holds up and is sill a fun and engaging game despite some of these flaws.

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories on the other hand is another beast. In this game we find Sora, Donald, and Goofy in Castle Oblivion though they do not know why they are there. The Castle has the ability to transform itself into other worlds that Sora has visited. Now the story in this game isn’t too deep, so much so that at one point the characters talk about everything being too confusing and they should just fight Heartless ’til they get somewhere… yeah, so that happens.

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The combat is different in this game as it relies on a card combat system. The player is given a deck of cards that contain fight cards, potion cards, and summon cards. The fight cards are numbered 0-9 which is the card’s strength, the higher the card the more damage it does, but if the enemy has a higher number they can break the attack. The potion cards give health and the summon cards summon an ally for Sora. When Sora runs out of cards you can replenish your deck by holding down the Cross button, but every time you do this the time to replenish grows longer.

This card system really slows down the combat and while it is not a terrible system it just really is not an engaging system. Any time you physically bump into an enemy you are warped into a small arena where the battles take place. This can be frustrating when you need to backtrack and accidentally bump into an enemy as you are immediately taken to an arena and forced into battle. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories relies on a combat system that is lackluster and a story that while it can fill in some gaps doesn’t feel like it matters in the grand scheme of things.

There is third part of this collection and that is Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days which are the cutscenes from the Nintendo DS game. There is nothing playable in this, but it is nicely presented and fills in the gaps on the Kingdom Hearts story and universe, but to avoid spoilers I will not go into the storyline.

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Visuals:
In terms of overall look, Kingdom Hearts has never looked better as Square Enix has done a wonderful job at updating the game’s visuals to the standards of the many other “HD update” games to release over the last couple of years. Kingdom Hearts Final Mix looks great with only the up-close shots on character models showing the game’s age.

Each world, most of which are based on various Disney franchises, maintain their own aesthetic and stand out from each other giving the game a wide variety of looks that keep it all fresh. There appears to be a great level of care and detail given to each world that should please the Disney fans as it really helps the player get lost in the different worlds.

The same can be said of Re: Chain of Memories as it of course draws on what was previously built though it does feel smaller overall, but that works for the game as its story can explain that smaller feel. But overall the art and visual style is top notch.

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Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days looks great as it is made from a more recently released game. Despite being originally released on the Nintendo DS, the cinematics from the game are very pleasing on the eyes and it just looks like you’re watching any 3D animated film, which is exactly what you are doing since there is no gameplay involved with the 358/2 Days part of this collection.

Audio:
The Kingdom Hearts franchise is well known for its music and the music has proven to be timeless as it still hits the nostalgia parts of your brain, bringing you back into the Kingdom Hearts universe once again. Utada’s “Simple and Clean” is the song from the opening cinematic for Kingdom Hearts Final Mix and is reused for many other games in this franchise because of its catchiness and is probably the song people most associate with the franchise.

The original score for the game is also strong as it is a perfect blending of music from Disney and and a Final Fantasy style. Each world has its own distinct sound as it draws from the Disney franchise it is based on and never sounds out of place or forced. So if you have a particular Disney franchise you adore and it’s included in one of these games, Square Enix nails the sound from that Franchise and captures some of that Disney magic.

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Now we can’t talk about the audio without mentioning the voice acting work of these famous Disney characters like Donald, Goofy and countless other iconic figures. This franchise has always done a wonderful job getting the proper voice actor for each of these characters making sure no character feels out of place or wrongly cast. They are all, for the most part, done exceptionally well.

The voice actors for the other characters in the game from the original characters to the Final Fantasy characters is also well thought out. The sound design for these games help make this crazy Kingdom Hearts universe work so well and stay in the minds of the people that play these games.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

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Conclusion:
Kingdom Hearts is a beloved franchise that is full of whimsy and charm that is being kept fresh with this HD restoration. The games in this collection have never looked better and despite some gameplay issues, the series holds up well. This is especially true when taking into account the fact that Kingdom Hearts is over 10 years old and most games from that time period suffered from similar issues due to technical limitations of the hardware they were made for.

The review score for Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is mostly a reflection of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, which is the more entertaining and complete game of the two games featured in this collection. While Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain of Memories is an okay game with its fair share of shortcomings it cannot drag down the main reason to pick up this collection and that reason being Kingdom Hearts Final Mix.

For what is basically two full games and a movie, this is a nice package for longtime fans of the series and a great introduction to new fans that have been wondering why people have been demanding a proper sequel to this franchise for a long, long time. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is worth picking up especially with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5  ReMIX confirmed for later this year and Kingdom Hearts 3 in active development for the  PlayStation 4.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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