Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX: New Year catch-up review

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX features three titles: Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, which is actually just the cinematics of that game remastered in HD.

Kingdom Hearts Final Mix

Released for the first time outside of Japan, Final Mix is a more refined version of the original 2002 game with additional content – a “Director’s Cut” with a fancy name. Kingdom Hearts won the adoration of millions with its eclectic mix of Disney and Final Fantasy, joining two worlds that each carried a great deal of nostalgia to create a vibrant backdrop for the game to flourish upon.

Sora’s journey from a teenager to saviour of the multiverse is jam-packed with everything you want: Joy, heartbreak, adventure, tragedy, and ultimately hope. The plot’s delivery is fantastic, showing enough restraint to ensure that when the brilliantly animated and voice-acted scenes come, they hit hard and bring a tear to the eyes of even the stoniest of men.

A large aspect of the story being so well told is Sora himself. When the game was originally released, JRPGs were plagued with overly moody protagonists with really bad hair. The always cheerful and optimistic Sora was as refreshing then as he is in a time when most lead characters are gruff manly men with really big guns.

The Kingdom Hearts soundtrack is a joy, its sweeping melodies practically weaving a story by itself. It accentuates the mood of the game remarkably well, swelling each emotion that is being conveyed whether it is a dangerous or uplifting one to nigh-overwhelming levels.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is showing its age. Combat can be an absolute nightmare at some points, refinements that have come in later games not existing at the time of its original release. One example is the awful targeting: enemies that are not at certain vertical levels just can’t be hit more than once.

It’s also not very satisfying to hit those enemies, the damage you inflict suffering from a real lack of impact. This is negated somewhat when you begin using abilities which are a lot more visually and mechanically entertaining, except for when they miss seemingly easy foes thanks to those pesky targeting issues.

There is also far too much backtracking during the main portion of the game; though going back to previous worlds to explore post-game is a lot of fun, new mechanics giving light to some incredibly clever level design.

In spite of outdated mechanics, it’s really hard not to love this game. All of the pieces come together to form something beautiful, yet slightly faulted, that is definitely worth playing.

Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories

Chain of Memories bridged the gap between Kingdom Hearts and its sequel, setting the precedent for spin-off portable games when it was released on the Gameboy Advance. The game was later remade for the Playstation 2 as part of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+, this time with the “Re:” thrown in. It is this version of the game that appears here at a higher resolution.

Re:Chain of Memories features the return of Sora, fresh from saving the multiverse as he stumbles upon a mysterious castle that is being populated with his memories. While the story may seem complicated on the surface, the oft-used complaint of being overly so are unfair. With a little constructive thinking and the willingness to abandon reality-based logic or physics, the story is easy enough to follow.

Characters are key to any story, and Axel plays a big part in making this one enjoyable. The cocky pyromaniac’s maniacal yet calculated personality is flawlessly delivered, another impeccable performance from Quinton Flynn. The voice acting as a whole is mostly great with the sole exception of the stumbling delivery of Donald Duck.

The game may use its predecessor’s engine, but the combat is a lot more interesting. The real-time action has been combined with a more meticulous card-based system. There’s a lot of potential for a deep system to challenge your brain here, but it mostly comes down to your deck-building.

You’re able to construct decks from a variety of cards, opening up a ton of options to suit your own play-style. There are attack, spell, and summon cards; the only limitation the sum of the cards’ value. It’s great to see some depth added here though it isn’t executed as well as could be.

Boss fights are okay until the later parts of the game where they fall into the trap of being frustrating rather than challenging. The player’s willingness to beat their head against certain mechanics – such as an inescapable animation loop while being hit over and over until being forced to restart – is tested far more than their execution of the simple solution.

Level design is notably weak; the worlds consisting of little more than a series of square rooms to walk through, plotting your way from cutscene to cutscene. Using cards to unlock the next room is a decent idea, but it doesn’t add a whole lot of value to the game.

While it lacks narrative depth despite fantastic performances and doesn’t execute on certain mechanics as well as it could, Re:Chain of Memories is fine for its originally intended purpose: A side-story designed to be consumed in shorter chunks.

It’s a shame that further steps weren’t taken to ensure these two ports transitioned over into a 2013 release as the dated mechanics really hurt it. With a few simple tweaks – such as the awful targeting – it could have been flawless. Even so, it features one of the best stories told in the medium and is almost worth considering a historical document; the foundation of a beloved series that will remain in gamers’ hearts for a long time.

critical score 6

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Written by Adam S

Hailing from Parts Unknown, Adam grew up with a passion for three things: Videogames, anime, and writing. Unfortunately his attempts to combine the three have yet to form Captain Planet, but they have produced some good byproducts.

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