Let’s get this out of the way: I love Kingdom Hearts.
If I kept a list of my nerd accomplishments, my two 100 percent playthroughs of the original PS2 game would be on there. Given said nerd cred, it seemed inevitable that I would pick up the HD remaster.
And what a remaster it is. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX adds a bunch of new stuff to two great games, spruces up the visuals and throws in a “movie” for players to enjoy. Unsurprisingly, the package is pretty solid.
The main attraction here is Kingdom Hearts Final Mix which adds new abilities, monsters and weapons to the original and was only available in Japan until now. To a Kingdom Hearts veteran, these things are welcome additions to the already awesome storyline and gameplay. Given the seamless integration of these additions, it’s safe to say that creator Tetsuya Nomura and the rest of Square Enix worked hard.
One of the best things? The ability to control the camera with your right analog stick, which completely solves one of the main problems with the original. As a result, combat feels even better than before, especially with the new abilities you get.
The updated graphics are a noticeable improvement as well. It’s easy to tell that this was once a PS2 title but the world and characters of Kingdom Hearts look unmistakeably better in HD. Unfortunately, as with other HD remakes, the old CGI movies look out of place. I have such fond memories of the final cinematic of Kingdom Hearts and watching it after completing this version didn’t invoke the same feelings it once did.
Despite the clunky CGI, the music is just as breathtaking as it was in 2002. The most impressive thing about the work of composer Yoko Shimomura is the breadth of emotions featured throughout the game’s score. It starts with the calming nostalgia of “Traverse Town,” the hub world of the game and continues to change and impress with each world you visit.
And you can’t talk about the music without mentioning “Simple and Clean,” the incredibly catchy and illuminating song from the likes of Utada Hikaru. It manages to stand out from an extraordinary score as the song of Kingdom Hearts.
Also of note is the quality of voice acting in the game, which features tons of notable actors and actresses. Haley Joel Osment still stands out as the voice of Sora and so does David Boreanaz, who does a great job as Squall from Final Fantasy VIII and David Gallagher, who manages to capture the many sides of the complex character of Riku. The voices aren’t all great, unfortunately, as Sean Astin’s Hercules and Dan Castellaneta’s Genie sound a bit off when compared to the rest of the cast.
The next piece of the package is Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories, which is a bit of a departure from the rest of the series. It features a modified battle system that relies entirely on special cards that perform various attacks. The system becomes quite interesting but can be difficult to grasp until you get several hours into the game. This theme bleeds over into the storyline as well, which has Sora and his friends using cards to create their path through simulated Disney worlds inside Castle Oblivion, which is owned by Organization XIII. Looking back, completely changing the battle system and feel of such a successful game was pretty bold. Nomura and crew still manage to make it work, though it does take a bit getting used to.
Finally, we have the HD remastered cinematics from the 2009 DS game Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. When it was announced that this would be included, I thought it was odd. Obviously porting the game to PS3 would’ve been a big undertaking but I was concerned that the complicated story of the series would be hard to convey with just cinematics. Thankfully, everything is covered quite well, thanks to nearly three hours of cutscenes. The excellent voice acting of Jesse McCartney as Roxas, Quinton Flynn as Axel and Alyson Stoner as Xion helps the trio become likable characters and makes it much easier to follow along. It might be a bit daunting to sit down and watch what is effectively a movie made of video game cutscenes but it’s quite enjoyable.
Kingdom Hearts embodies the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” In this age of gaming, people are obsessed with realism and a Mature rating. Yet Kingdom Hearts manages to use the world and characters of Disney and the expertise of Square Enix to create a deep, engrossing RPG series that appeals to players on every level. This is a fantastic package with hundreds of hours of gameplay that is great for veterans and new players alike.