Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX Review
Kingdom Hearts III is still a ways off but as a consolation, Square Enix has delivered another ReMIX compilation. It’s a must for fans of the franchise, even if there are few lingering drawbacks in the older games. Featuring Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix (a PS2 production previously only available in Japan), Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Final Mix (a PSP title exclusive to Japan), and Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, this attractive package is bursting with content. Rife with color and nostalgia, the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is just too good to miss.
The visual update these titles have received is indeed impressive. In fact, if you’re seeing them for the first time, you might believe they were originally developed for the PlayStation 3. Not so much with Birth by Sleep as the limitations of the PSP remain obvious, but Kingdom Hearts II has never looked better. There are a few graphical inconsistencies that are telltale signs of aging but really, those aren’t crippling. Actually, one could argue that such eccentricities add to the nostalgia value; if the presentations were completely overhauled, they wouldn’t look or feel like good ol’ KH, now would they?
The sound has always been a huge highlight of the franchise and that hasn’t changed. While I’m still not a huge fan of all the voice acting (never did like Sora much), most performances are professionally acted and well-choreographed. The music is fantastic, as always, and the effects reflect the light, bouncy nature of each game. Kingdom Hearts is one of those games where I’d know it immediately by sound alone. The gorgeous music selections, fitting and even unique combat effects, and that patented Disney influence shine through. It’s hard to tell if the audio has been remastered or revamped but such improvements weren’t necessary in the first place.
Okay, so technically, we’re only talking about two games. The third title, Re:coded, is a a movie and unfortunately, not a very good one. This mediocre piece of animation is the only reason the package doesn’t nail down a solid 9. Firstly, it doesn’t really add to the overall available content because it’s not interactive. That’s what gamers care about, yes? Secondly, because it’s barely average, it drags the entire production down. I don’t know why Square Enix and other Japanese publishers insist on such contrivances; perhaps the hardcore fans appreciate them but for most gamers, these movies are just unnecessary.
Moving past that, however, we get two excellent Kingdom Hearts games. KHII was an instant classic when it released and surprisingly, it stands the test of time exceedingly well. An action/RPG in just about every sense of the term, fighting plays out in real-time and you can pause the action to assess and issue new commands. Sora, Donald and Goofy comprise the main party and each has a distinct set of skills, along with character-specific strengths and weaknesses. Same goes for each of the great Disney characters you meet during your intrepid quest, although it always bugged me that I couldn’t keep any of them in my party after completing their world.
The best part is that Square Enix actually tweaked the gameplay in addition to the visuals, so KHII feels like a true upgrade. It’s not just a minor cosmetic update; there are several significant improvements that make an already fantastic experience even better. The Final Mix content makes it downright irresistible, because fans get new cut-scenes, weapons, equipment and even new bosses to fight. They may also spot those aforementioned tweaks. Combat is, in general, more streamlined than ever and even more rewarding, and you’ll appreciate the new challenges. Fresh foes are ready to put these cheerful adventurers to the test!
Of course, the game itself hasn’t really changed, so we’re still subject to old flaws. For instance, the pacing was never quite right in KHII; it started slow and didn’t really get going for a few hours. On top of which, if you played the 1.5 ReMIX last year, you’re going to be irritated that you have to see a lot of the same content again. However, it’s important to note that RPGs in those days, especially JRPGs, sported a heftier learning curve and a slower starting point. See, that’s how writers produce introductions for cohesive, entertaining stories, which the gaming community is starting to care about less and less.
As for the PSP title Birth by Sleep, it too looks excellent and the gameplay is much more appealing thanks to the standard controller. Using the PSP’s buttons always felt awkward to me. The controller is all the more important because the combat is a bit deeper and more diverse as compared to KHII. And again, the Final Mix content tosses in new enemies, equipment, and even an entirely new level, which you’ll encounter at the end of the game. Yeah, there are a few plot holes but at least there is a pretty involving plot, and it’ll build upon the KH lore and overarching story if you’re behind. Even if you’re not behind, you might not remember everything, right?
Birth by Sleep does suffer from some slowdown issues, though, which is unfortunate. Furthermore, the multiplayer has been removed but I seriously doubt fans will be broken-hearted. Honestly, I don’t know anyone who played multiplayer in this PSP iteration although I’m sure someone somewhere did. And besides, the Mirage Arena is still available for solo play, so the multiplayer lacking is hardly a big problem. At the very least, those who never got a chance to play this one on the PSP can enjoy a significantly updated iteration. It isn’t perfect but the good greatly outweighs the bad and in such a compilation, that’s what you want.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is another gem to add to your collection. The movie is just a throwaway piece of content that doesn’t do anyone any favors, and the updated PSP title can still feel old. That being said, the rest is pure Kingdom Hearts gold, and that’s precisely what the ardent fans desire. The visual updating is great, the audio is still a gigantic selling point, the gameplay tweaks make a big difference (veteran followers will definitely notice), and the magical Disney aura permeates every nook and cranny. It makes zero sense if you’re not an established KH fan but if you are, a purchase makes perfect sense.
The Good: Great visual updating throughout. Top-notch effects and musical score. Gameplay tweaks are much appreciated. Classic action/RPG structure brings a tear to the eye. Colorful and hugely nostalgic. The two games in question offer a huge amount of content.
The Bad: Birth by Sleep can chug at times. Camera isn’t perfect. Pacing will clash with modern tastes. Re:coded is just a bad movie.
The Ugly: “Nothing about this beloved series has ever been ‘ugly.’”
12/3/2014 Ben Dutka