Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
Kingdom Hearts is a franchise that has enraptured gamers since the release of the first title 11 years ago. Now we’re in 2013, on the verge of having passed two generations since the original Kingdom Hearts was released, and Square Enix have released a collection of 2 of the original titles in the franchise, and an additional title in cutscene and storyboard form. These titles are: Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
The original Kingdom Hearts is obviously a sweet memory in the mind of a KH fan, but the Kingdom Hearts Final Mix edition was never made available to the public outside of Japan. While this edition is largely the same as the PS2 edition that the US, EU, and other regions received, there is extra content included. This content comes in the form of new weapons, abilities, cutscenes and gameplay tweaks that many players may not have experienced in their original forays into the Kingdom Hearts franchise.
The narrative begins on a world called Destiny Islands, where its inhabitants are building a raft to sail away from the island and find new land. Once their preparations are complete, however, the island is invaded by the Heartless, a race intent on destruction and Sora, the title’s protagonist, obtains the Keyblade (a sword effective against the Heartless). The world of Destiny Islands is promptly destroyed and Sora is separated from his friends, Kairi and Riku.
Soon afterwards, we’re introduced to Final Fantasy and Disney characters, some of whom make persistent appearances throughout the entire game, such as Donald Duck and Goofy. As you progress further and are introduced to the closely intertwined Disney and Kingdom Hearts worlds, you can immediately see why Kingdom Hearts became such a cult classic. Progressing through Sora’s often convoluted story may be a little confusing at times, but the experience is one to savor; especially if you’re a first-time player.
Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories (GBA), or Re:Chain of Memories (the PS2 adaptation of the original Gameboy Advance title) is one of the 2 titles which bridges the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. The Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX marks the first time that the Re:Chain of Memories is available in Europe and Australia without the aid of direct imports, and therefore marks the first time that it is available in South Africa too.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories takes place directly after the ending of Kingdom Hearts, and deals with two storylines in the form of Sora and Riku traversing the Castle Oblivion at different points in time. Their stories later diverge to form important background stories for later iterations in the series. Once again, the title is filled to the brim with Disney-pioneered characters, such as Mickey Mouse (or King Mickey) and the recurring character of Jack Skellington, of The Nightmare Before Christmas fame.
What Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories also introduced was the card battle system and Room Synthesis to the franchise. The real-time card battle system, which was both praised and criticised at the game’s original release, was undoubtedly a step away from the original title’s action/adventure-cross-RPG pacing and combat, requiring a far more tactical approach to the battles. The Room Synthesis feature, which requires the use of Map cards picked up from enemies to determine the strength of enemies, rarity of loot and properties of the room (such as save points and chests), was also a strongly contested feature in terms of praise and criticism, but all-in-all the game made it work, netting largely positive reviews.
Chronologically placed parallel to and later after Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and before Kingdom Hearts 2, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days follows the story of Roxas, the enigmatic “Nobody” of former protagonist Sora, formed at the end of Kingdom Hearts, who retains no memories of his original self. The narrative then follows him as he is recruited by the mysterious Organisation and befriends another “Nobody” by the name of Xion, who then sparks the story into motion.
The former Nintendo DS game has not been ported to PS3 like Re:Chain of Memories, but has rather been remade into 3 hours of cutscenes and storyboarding, which is divided into a gargantuan 107 chapters. Somehow, the title still gained trophy support, despite the fact that it is effectively a 3 hour-long movie.
However, 358/2 Days is undoubtedly the weakest part of the HD collection, purely because of the lack of playable content. That’s not to say it’s not worth sitting through the many scenes to catch up with the story, because it is worth it, but players buying the HD collection to play three games will be sorely disappointed to discover that only two of the titles are playable.
358/2 Days inclusion in the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is an odd design choice by Square Enix, considering that in the Kingdom Hearts timeline, Birth by Sleep is the prequel to the original Kingdom Hearts. Considering that an HD 2.5 ReMIX has been announced – Birth by Sleep included – it seems strange that the developers would have chosen not to include the prequel when the rest of the collection is in perfect chronological order.
Certain gameplay tweaks were made in the Final Mix edition of Kingdom Hearts, and in the PS2 version of Re:Chain of Memories (from the GBA version). These changes have therefore carried over to the HD collection. Other, subtle gameplay tweaks have been made so that the game flows fairly well in comparison to more modern adventure titles, such as the streamlining of the lock-on feature and the improved responsiveness of the controls. The only major detraction from the gameplay has to be the horrible camera – which, alas, is a series mainstay.
Visually, the titles are incredibly impressive considering that Kingdom Hearts was released 11 years ago, Re: Chain of Memories was released 6 years ago, having been ported from a Gameboy Advance game to PS2 and 358/2 Days was released 4 years for the Nintendo DS. The textures in-game are much improved, the animations are smooth and consistent and the cutscenes look superb.
That’s not to say that the titles don’t show their age at any point. The most prominent example of this is in the environments and their animations, where certain textures don’t look quite up to scratch with the rest of the visuals, and the animations, specifically of water and objects affected by wind, look markedly dated in their movement. Nevertheless, considering what the base template was, the collection looks absolutely fantastic; and to be honest, that’s exactly what an HD collection is for.
The sound in the collection has been completely redone, mostly due to many of the former assets having been completely lost. As such, the music, sound effects and voice acting sound fantastic – at least on par with modern titles. As a new player, or an old veteran of Kingdom Hearts, the HD 1.5 ReMIX gives you a lot of content to get immersed in, and supports it wonderfully with the brilliantly overhauled graphics and the excellently redone sound.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX will delight seasoned fans and new entrants alike, as it allows both demographics to experience the original hook of the Kingdom Hearts franchise; now just in HD. The gameplay has been tweaked excellently to offer a slightly more familiar experience to players of more contemporary action/adventure games, the only downfall being the unwieldy camera. Graphically, the collection has been given a fitting facelift, and it’s incredibly difficult to tell that the first Kingdom Hearts title was released eleven years ago. While the animations may give the age away slightly, and the environments seem restricted by their original formats, the HD performance is simply fantastic.
The collection isn’t without its problems, unfortunately. The lack of gameplay in 358/2 Days isn’t irredeemable, but will be incredibly frustrating if you were hoping to play it, and the design choice to include it is slightly odd, to say the least. However, the problems I faced in the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX were largely superficial and should not have any major effect on your enjoyment of the collection. The Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is perfect for old fans looking to rekindle their nostalgia towards one of Square Enix’s longest running franchises, and as ideal for new players looking to have their first experience with the Disney-laden series.
Lasting Appeal: 8/10