Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix - A Great Place To Start

With the announcement of Kingdom Hearts III at E3 2013, my passion for the Kingdom Hearts franchise became wholly renewed. I felt the time was right to jump back into the series, especially with the news that an HD collection would be on its way as well. In preparation, I replayed both the original Kingdom Hearts and the PS2 version of Chain of Memories titled Re:Chain of Memories. After getting the Limited Edition of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (stylized as Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX) on the day it came out, I began playing it, but was unable to finish it until recently due to college getting in the way. Since completing it, I found this collection to be very good, but overall a mixed bag.

The first game on the collection is a full HD remaster of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. This is a truly momentous occasion, as it marks the first time this version of Kingdom Hearts saw a release in North America. Going through Final Mix is well worth it, as there are new cutscenes to watch, new keyblades to earn, new (and recolored) Heartless to fight and all new challenges to face. Playing this version in HD is also a step up from the original version, as the camera system is better, now being bound to the right stick rather than the shoulder buttons, the menu system is improved thanks to summons having a dedicated spot on the menu and introducing Reaction Commands from Kingdom Hearts II eases battle and world interaction. Overall, playing the game is less awkward, which makes it a lot more fun this time around. On top of that, the graphics are much nicer to look at, as they are more appealing to the eye than the original PS2 era graphics; this is due to the fact that they somehow lost the game, so they painstakingly recreated the graphics from the ground up and in the end there is no noticeable difference in the way characters move, they are just nicer looking. However, it is unfortunate that they couldn’t update the face textures during certain cutscenes, which makes it a bit distracting to see something like that so out of place with the rest of the animations. What makes up for this a bit is the new orchestral score for the game, which sounds more pleasant to the ear than the original version, which was created on a tone generator.

Pictured: The improved menu system and vastly improved graphics.

Next up is a port of Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories. While playing, I noticed some minor improvements, such as being able to collect all of the cards from the Japanese version and fixing a previous translation error, so now the Lethal Frame Sleight is spelled properly (however, they did manage to misspell “totaling” as “totalling”, so go figure). Even then, there are no graphical enhancements to speak of and the card battle system is still as annoying as it was before. The only incentive to replay this game here is to learn the story and see the introduction of Organization XIII, which is very essential to understanding later games in the series.

Lastly, we have (most of) the cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (read as Three Five Eight Days Over Two). These cutscenes combined are nearly three hours in length and are good for reminding people who have played the game of what happens, as well as see new content, without actually having to replay the game. As someone who was experiencing this story for the first time, I’m glad that I was able to fill in a gap of Kingdom Hearts knowledge by seeing what happens without having to buy the game, though I am aware that some context is lost in the simplification of certain scenes as text summaries which scroll by. Also, they look fantastic since they have the same visual quality as Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, but the story gets a little aggravating when the same three characters (Axel, Roxas and Xion) constantly go to the top of a clock tower to eat Sea Salt ice cream.

Axel in glorious HD!

Overall, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is a very good package. Kingdom Hearts has never looked or played better than in this collection and is the quintessential way to play the first game in the series. Re:Chain of Memories is a little annoying for returning players though and 358/2 Days is an essential story that unfortunately feels robbed of some important context. If you are a veteran of Kingdom Hearts, pick up this collection to at least play Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. If you are a newcomer however, this is the perfect way to start getting into the series.

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