[Note: This review was written in August 2015]
Since Christmas of last year, I had spent a lot of time playing through the second HD collection of Kingdom Hearts games, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix. Going to the launch event at Disney Studios definitely piqued my interest in the collection, though of course I would’ve tried to get my hands on it anyway (I got the Limited Edtion with the pin). Since finishing it, I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts on it and while it’s not perfect, it’s certainly worth the purchase. As an additional note, this playthrough was done entirely on Critical Mode.
The first game in the collection is an HD version of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix. This version of the game came out in Japan many years ago, but only now came to American shores, fulfilling the dreams of many Kingdom Hearts fans. Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix not only features new cutscenes, tying it in better with the events of other installments, it also comes with new features and improvements. It is now possible to access a new Drive Form, Limit Form, which resembles Sora’s costume from the original Kingdom Hearts and allows the player to tap into some of his best abilities from that game, including Dodge Roll as its Growth ability. It’s also possible to fight all of the members from Organization XIII from Chain of Memories, but with new moves and gimmicks to keep players on their toes. Also new is a secret area in Hollow Bastion which allows players to fight all 13 members of Organization XIII again, but with more aggressive moves, as well as the ability to fight Lingering Will, a boss originally introduced as further foreshadowing to Birth by Sleep. Apart from collecting puzzle pieces which are now scattered across the worlds, one can also find and satisfy a new Heartless group known as the Mushroom XIII. Completing three tasks in this version, satisfying the Mushroom XIII and defeating both the Data Organization XIII and Lingering Will, not only gives you special bonuses, but also a visual reward in the form of a crown that Sora permanently wears on his head (colored Copper, Silver or Gold depending on how many of these tasks are completed).
While the game does look a bit better and the combat system is just as good as ever, there are a couple of issues. One minor issue is that one of the Heartless, the Rapid Thruster, now drops HP balls instead of MP balls. While this doesn’t affect regular gameplay all that much, it does prevent one from level grinding in the Pride Lands as easily, so one must find another route. The other issue is a little more major, as it does affect the gameplay more greatly. During the final battle with Xehanort, one of his moves fires a series of black thorns at Sora and Riku, requiring one to use a Reaction Command to dodge them and land a blow. However, there is a small glitch where the final use of the command may not work correctly, resulting in damage. Since I played on Critical Mode (it grants the player 30 AP and AP is gained in intervals of 3, but EXP gains and HP/MP increases are halved), it resulted in me dying more often than necessary, so I was forced to work Riku’s Limit into my strategy more liberally.
The next game is an HD remaster of Birth by Sleep Final Mix. While this version is largely unchanged, the enhanced visuals are much more appealing to look at and there are more noticeable improvements than Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix. For one thing, the camera is now mapped to the right analog stick, which makes looking around the battlefield much easier. In addition, Shotlock commands now only require one shoulder button and one can now more easily lock onto Unversed enemies. There are also Unversed challenges placed around the worlds, which can award the player special bonuses as they are ranked. The biggest changes, however, are in the Mirage Arena and story. The Mirage Arena is no longer able to do multiplayer, but it has been rebalanced somewhat to better accommodate a single player, which is a very valuable trade-off. As for the story, Americans can now access a Secret Episode, unlocked after beating the Final Episode. This Secret Episode continues directly from where the Final Episode left off and is fully playable, also including a new array of chests to find and a unique and difficult boss to defeat at the end. Finishing this leads to new footage related to the main storyline of the franchise, although the final message is unnecessarily cryptic. Still, it’s good to finally be able to see it away from the internet.
Lastly, the collection includes HD cutscenes from Re:coded, a DS remaster of coded, originally released as a cell phone game in Japan. Watching it all takes over two hours, but while I’m satisfied in my knowledge of what it is, it doesn’t seem to have any real connection to the rest of the games. The plot renders itself nearly pointless by the end and the only purpose it seems to serve is to address one minor plot point in Kingdom Hearts II, wherein Jiminy’s Journal (post-Chain of Memories) simply says “Thank Naminé.” In the end, you could probably just skip it and not miss anything, but watching it will also give you trophies and an unlockable PS3 wallpaper, so there’s that.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is worth playing. The graphical improvements are one thing, but accessing content previously exclusive to Japanese players, as well as various improvements to both gameplay and replay value, really help it stand out. While there are some small hiccups here and there, people who’ve been waiting to play the games on a single system, or fans who just want more out of the games that they love, should definitely buy this collection.