It’s been eight years since the release of Kingdom Hearts II. An entire generation has come and (almost) gone without another incarnation of the series appearing on home consoles. At E3 2013, Kingdom Hearts III finally became more than a promise – we got a teaser trailer.
The release of Kingdom Hearts III poses a very specific problem for Square Enix: while it’s the third numbered game, it will actually be the eighth in the series (provided there are no surprise releases between now and III). With each handheld title, the series’ mythology has grown deeper and its plot more complex – now, there’s a very real danger of Kingdom Hearts III making absolutely no sense to people who haven’t played the seven preceding games.
Enter Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, which along with the as-yet-unannounced-but-basically-a-given Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, will prime gamers for the next numbered instalment.
We had a chance to sit down with the preview build of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 earlier in the month, and while it’s no Kingdom Hearts III, consider our appetites whetted. Kingdom Hearts 1.5 includes Kingdom Hearts Final Mix (a Japan-only ‘remix’ of the original game), Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories (a PS2 remake of the GBA game previously unavailable in Europe and Australia), and the cut-scenes from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (a Nintendo DS title) – all updated with shiny HD graphics.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix takes the original game and makes subtle improvements (new abilities, items, weapons and additional enemies, as well as two new difficulty settings). For its PS3 re-release, the changes weren’t just cosmetic – Final Mix now boasts a tweaked menu and camera system to bring the game more in-line with its successor.
Even with the changes, the game still plays as it did a decade ago. Yes, it’s been 11 years. It doesn’t feel like it, especially with the polished new visuals, and it wasn’t until I walked into an invisible wall that I was reminded just how far the industry had come since the original’s release. Controlling Sora still feels a little more awkward than it should (don’t get me started on the ‘floaty’ way he jumps), but gripes aside, this is very much the game I fell in love with as a teenager. The mix of Final Fantasy, Disney and action-adventure RPG just doesn’t get old.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories has to be the most attractive part of this set for Australian gamers. I never played the GBA version, and always looked at the other territories that received the PS2 remake with envy. Re:Chain of Memories takes the top-down portable game, retains its card-based battle system, but rebuilds it to better resemble the console incarnations, adding voice acting and new cut-scenes. Oh, and it all plays out in a 3D environment. No biggie.
It’s a game that looks very much like Kingdom Hearts, but plays very differently. That’s enough to cause some confusion, especially coming off the back of Final Mix, but that initial confusion was nothing compared my giddiness to finally be playing it. By the time the giddiness subsided, I had wrapped my head around the battle system and the way the game worked, and I was actually really enjoying myself.
It may look like a PS2 game (props to Square Enix), this is still very much a GBA game. There is a huge gap between the sorts of environments we’re used to seeing in the console Kingdom Hearts games and the limited, sparsely populated ones to explore here.
The package also includes the cut-scenes from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days adapted into an almost-three-hour-long movie. It’s hard to play Re:Chain of Memories and not wish 358/2 Days got the same treatment, but getting the cut-scenes better than nothing. Now fans who didn’t play the Nintendo DS version get to experience all the portable game added to the Kingdom Hearts story (with trophy support).
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX does everything you’d want a good re-release to do – it presents the best versions of the originals, with upgrades that boost the experience rather than hinder it (there’s no Greedo-shoots-first moment). There’s enough here for fans who have missed playing Kingdom Hearts on their consoles, and it’s the perfect introduction to the franchise for those that missed it the first time around.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is released locally on September 12 for PlayStation 3.