Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX PS3 Review

Publisher: Square Enix  Developer: Square Enix  Genre: Action RPG  Players: 1 

Age Rating: 12+  Other console/handheld formats: N/A

Before Kingdom Hearts came along, square Enix and Disney weren’t exactly what you would think of as a perfect match. You’d never think the contrasting styles of the two companies would work in perfect harmony with one another, but Square Enix and Disney mash up Kingdom Hearts proved us all wrong and, years later, the series is lots of entries in and still going strong.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is a collection featuring spruced up versions of two of the series’ earliest entries: Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories, both of which themselves are upgraded incarnations of earlier games that were previously never released in Europe, which of course means that most players on these shores will experience their fresh content for the first time. Also included are HD cut scenes from DS game Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, which given that the story, while not without its strengths, is really quite nonsensical, and is easily the weakest area of the package.

Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix might well be the instigator of the series, but it’s still one of the strongest in amongst the now numerous entries of the series. It introduces the primary series hero Sora, a 14 year old boy that ends up in an unfamiliar world, meets primary party members Donald Duck and Goofy and obtains the Keyblade, a sword shaped like a key, and unlike most RPG protagonists that has to just cope with being the saviour of one world, Sora has the grand task of saving multiple from annihilation.

It’s as good a premise as any to bring such disparate universes together, and Square deserves praise for making it work, to the point that it’s magical seeing Disney and Square’s own personalities mingling with one another, and is more natural than it has any right to be. The Disney characters mannerisms are superbly captured and their voice acting is done by many of the original actors, which will be pleasing to fans of the iconic films.

The worlds largely come in the form of Disney universes, pulled from some of the companies most famous properties including Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, and these all look stunning in HD, thanks largely to the games lovely, timeless bright and bold art style. The excellent soundtrack from Yoko Shimomura has also had a seeing to and sounds more crisp than ever.

Gameplay is most often focussed on fighting and adventuring, but is often changed in interesting ways in each world, for instance The Little Mermaid’s brings swimming and Tarzan’s sees you swinging through trees. In Metroidvania like fashion, Sora picks up new abilities along the way and is able to return to earlier explored worlds to get to previously out of reach areas.

Combat plays out in real time and starts out rudimentary and limited, but as you level up, Sora will be granted fresh abilities that adds some welcome variation and allows for some truly dazzling and hugely enjoyable encounters. Since combat is by far the thing you mostly do in the game, it’s a good thing that the combat system remains strong enough throughout to carry it. It isn’t without its problems though: items are used during battle via a menu and doing so doesn’t pause the action, resulting in some frustrating moments. Throughout the game, Sora will gain plenty of magical spells, but only three of these can be shortcut at a time, which brings further problems.

As for length, the game is around 30 hours, though this can be increased significantly by exploring the heavy abundance of side quests that the game has to offer. There are 99 Dalmatians to find, a fighting tournament to partake in and pages to find, amongst other things.

The sequel Kingdom Hearts: RE Chain of Memories was originally a Game Boy Advance game, but was also strangely a direct sequel to the first game that introduced key plot points that have been an important part of the series ever since. It is also easily one of the most unique entries in the series, featuring a card based battle system and exploration.

You’ll revisit all of the worlds featured in the original game, so it lacks much of the sense of wonder of that game. Exploring works differently, with doors requiring cards to unlock and they require certain criteria, so for instance one door might need a card of a certain value and another might need a card of a certain colour. In a further twist, you’re able to have an effect on what the rooms that lie behind doors contain, allowing you to choose the amount of enemies, or have a rest from all the fighting altogether by using a Moogle shop card, a treasure card and such.

The combat still plays out in real time, though all your attacks are carried out by using cards, which is unusual for a non turn based system and means that not everyone that enjoys the first game will necessarily have the same positive experience with this one. Using all your cards in your deck will require you to reload them, which can leave you vulnerable, and the more you reload them, the longer the process takes.

Adding some risk and reward is the fact that three cards can also be stacked, creating combos, certain combinations of cards result in special abilities called sleights, for instance three fire cards together will produce a more powerful Firaga spell. Stacking comes at the cost of the first card in the combo, which disappears from your deck until the battle reaches its conclusion.

The game can be completed in as little as 15 to 20 hours, which is slight in RPG terms, though it unlocks a new story starring another character, which brings the game closer to true RPG length and is more challenging than Sora’s half and really highlights the strategy of the system.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMIX is a strong collection featuring two very different games that are both very good at what they do, though the star attraction is easily the enchanting Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, which, even with its problems, still ranks as one of the finest action RPG’s ever. The collection as a whole serves as a great introduction to the series and a nostalgic trip for fans of the original releases, with the advantage of experiencing them in HD with new content making them all the more enticing.