Besides going after Microsoft in front of the PlayStation faithful, the Kingdom Hearts 3 announcement at Sony’s E3 press conference drew some of the loudest cheers. Though the game isn’t going to be a Sony exclusive, the series was born on Sony’s system and, regardless, the announcement was a hit with the Los Angeles audience. Unfortunately, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a ways off. In the meantime though, fans of the series have been thrown a bone in the form of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix. The release includes HD remakes of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories along with the cinematics from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.
There is no shortage of HD remakes these days. That’s the additional price we gamers pay with console makers deciding to ditch backwards compatibility in the latest home consoles. Though easily one of Square Enix’s most popular franchises, fans of Kingdom Hearts have had to wait quite awhile for a current-gen treatment of Sora’s adventures. Nearly every other franchise that Square Enix owns, from Hitman to Final Fantasy, received the HD treatment first. Unfortunately, these classic games have only just made the transition on the eve of the launch of the next console generation.
Delays aside, there are plenty of gamers, myself included, looking forward to reliving their experiences with Kingdom Hearts. Since, the meat of the offering is the remake of the original Kingdom Hearts game, I’ll tackle that first. It is worth noting that this isn’t the game most of us North American players played so long ago. Square Enix has included a HD version of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix which was previously only released in Japan. The Final Mix includes some new weapons, enemies, and abilities, along with some new recipes and additional Gummi ship missions.
The HD remakes these days aren’t all equal efforts and some of them certainly aren’t worth the asking price. I find Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix a valiant effort, but certainly not without its flaws. Some of the problems with the game were there from the original version, and it is only with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia that many of us have forgotten about them. The most frustrating issue that I didn’t forget about, are the random trigger points that were essential to move the story forward. The big one that had faded from my memory is the atrocious camera. Granted, Square Enix did try to address the issue and even offers two options to rectify it, but both fall well short of what is expected these days in a third person camera system.
Discounting the frustrating camera system, Kingdom Hearts HD looks great. No, the game doesn’t look like its cutscenes throughou,t and the character models still have relatively low polycounts, but the textures are sharp. The facial features have been slightly improve and even the background textures have been updated in this version. The end result of the graphics update is a sharper looking rendition of what you probably remember, though some of the areas are a bit sparse compared to more modern game environments. The same applies to the companion offerings, though their handheld origins are pretty evident in comparison.
The graphics and camera systems aren’t the only upgrades for the original Kingdom Hearts game in the remix. As the word “remix” implies, there are audio upgrades as well. Much of the background music and audio has been overhauled for the three offerings and some of the cutscenes have been rerecorded. Additionally, the controls have been tweaked, making the controls more similar to Kingdom Hearts II and a little less unwieldy. The special commands and menus have been mapped to the triangle button and the camera can be moved with the right analog stick. That being said, the platforming elements are still unnecessarily difficult in Kingdom Hearts.
It does bear repeating that the game Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is not included in the package. Only the cutscenes, Roxas’ Diary, Secret Reports and character database are included. This means you can view those short movies either individually or sit for a couple of hours while you play them all. That is really unfortunate since the other included game, Re: Chain of Memories is similar to the original game, despite the card based actions, and not something many will want to play after completing the main course.
Kingdom Hearts has no shortage of fans and it deserves its iconic place in gaming history, but this action RPG still shows its age in this HD Remix. The overall value is debatable, but there is no question that this is the best version of Kingdom Hearts available.
Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence.