For many, the original Kingdom Hearts represents the height of a golden age of Japanese RPGs. Bolstered by the incredible success of the PS2 and a post-FFVII Squaresoft that was still on a roll, Kingdom Hearts was an explosive hit that became a series that even threatened to potentially eclipse its cousin Final Fantasy.
It’s strange, then, that it feels like we’ve had to wait so long for a ‘proper’ new Kingdom Hearts game. There have been spin-off handheld titles, sure enough, but the series has as good as skipped this entire console generation, with the newly announced Kingdom Hearts III heading to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
PS3 users do get some late-generation love from Square Enix, though – in the form of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, a high definition visual remaster of the original seminal game. Also included are story sequences from 358/2 days and the fully playable PS2 version of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories; it’s a value package.
It was an easy decision for me to drop the cash on the Japanese version after Square Enix made clear that the Western release would lag some six months behind the Japanese one. Now I’m approaching the end of my play through, I can offer some thoughts – and while it’s still the game at first glance, it really is worth noting that there’s quite a bit past that first glance that sets it apart from your typical HD upgrade.
The result of the resolution upgrade is simply stunning – a true testament to Square Enix’s visual design work. They’ve gone and updated many of the original textures, character models and even remastered and re-recorded the entire soundtrack. The gameplay systems – while mostly identical – have been revised to be a little more like Kingdom Hearts II with the camera now mapped to the right analog stick instead of the original’s R2/L2 placement.
The game runs at 720p at 4xMSAA, an impressive generational jump that pairs with a new widescreen presentation to give the game a truly modern sheen.
The only graphics not directly upgraded in a real sense are the merely cleaned-up CGI FMV sequences – and they still look great ten years on. Everything looks stunning and quite honestly could visually pass for a PS3 title on its own thanks to Kingdom Hearts’ unique art style scaling comfortably into HD.
The original Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts released in Japan with English voice acting intact, but this Japanese release only features Japanese voice over work. There was much confusion ahead of release following reports of dual audio inclusion, but unfortunately that is not the case.
That’s not to say the Japanese voice cast is bad by any means; I just prefer the familiar English Disney flair. The English language voice cast remains a reason for me to be excited about the Western release come September even having completed this version.
As mentioned previously, the game’s soundtrack has seen a complete overhaul. Shimomura and team really went the extra mile to fine-tune all the classic themes, which really helps differentiate this from your typical HD port, which is usually a simple texture and resolution upgrade. The user interface has also been completely redone – not simply upscaled and stretched out. There’s no pixelated menus here!
The title’s signature gameplay is relatively untouched outside of a few tweaks here and there. The combat menu is scaled down to three options – Attack, Magic, and Item – and reaction commands from KHII appear as a Triangle command over enemies in order to execute certain abilities.
Some gripes still remain, however, such as slight input delays, the occasional camera hiccup and some encounters that really require nothing more than hammering on X repeatedly.
Like any repurposed PS2 game, KH 1.5 will include trophies – three sets, including two Platinums. Those who complete each game will also gain access to special Kingdom Hearts PS3 themes. They’re nothing special, but still a nice gesture from Square Enix to fans who trek through Sora’s adventures once again.
Of course, the biggest draw to this release is the chance for western fans to play Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix for the first time. Not only does this release include an extra boss, but new cutscenes and a new difficulty as well.
European fans will also get their hands on Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories for the first time, the original outing having skipped that region originally when it made its way westward in 2008. Rounding out the bundle is the inclusion of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, adapted into a nearly three hour cinematic experience – useful to stay on top of the series’ twisting-and-turning plot.
Despite being games of the past, Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories have both never looked better – and it’s a fact you can’t help but notice in gameplay. Square Enix has clearly put a great amount of care into this remaster and despite a few frustrations with controls, both titles hold up rather well. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is one of the best HD remasters to date; it’s simply a shame Western fans are having to wait so long to experience it.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 HD ReMIX arrives in Europe and North America in September and is available for pre-order now. The Japanese version is available now via import, but features no English Language options.