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August 2022

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: March 30, 2021


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PC Review - 'Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 +2.5 ReMIX'

by Cody Medellin on April 28, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is a HD remastered compilation of the expansive KINGDOM HEARTS adventures and packs six beloved adventures on one disc.

The Kingdom Hearts series is now on the PC, and some will argue that it has been a long time coming. Ever since its creation on the PlayStation 2, the series has jumped around to different console and handheld platforms with the common link that they were all made by Japanese companies. Seeing Kingdom Hearts III go to the Xbox One alongside the PS4 gave some players hope that the series was finally starting to broaden its horizons, a sentiment further solidified when the older games also made their way to the Xbox family and its Game Pass service. PC players now have a chance to experience every entry in the long and richly convoluted series, starting with Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix.

Despite what the lengthy title might suggest, this is actually a compilation of six titles from the series. Naturally, it starts with the first title, Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, which was originally released on the PlayStation 2. In a place called Destiny Island, three friends — Kairi, Riku and Sora — build a raft to explore the places beyond the island and find Kairi's home in the process. The night before they leave, a storm hits that threatens to destroy the raft, but when they check on the raft, Sora meets creatures known as the Heartless while Riku tries to get Sora to fall into a door of darkness with him. After escaping to look for Kairi, Sora finds himself in a mysterious town with only a sword known as a keyblade. Meanwhile, King Mickey has gone on a journey to find out why the stars in the sky have been disappearing, tasking Donald and Goofy to go and find the one with the key to help return things to normal.

Although the story of Sora's journey would eventually be engrossing for players, the game's initial hook had to do with the inclusion of Disney properties in more than just quick cameos. Aside from the appearances of mainstays like Chip, Dale, Daisy and Pluto, you can visit some of the animated movie worlds and interact with the characters. One moment, you'll be in Wonderland talking to Alice while the Queen orders for your execution. The next moment, you'll be in Halloweentown with Jack Skellington or battling in the streets of Agrabah alongside Aladdin. You'll also change your appearance to better fit those lands, so while you might take on a more monstrous appearance in Halloweentown, you'll become different sea creatures when visiting Ariel in her underwater home. To sweeten things even further, you get to interact with some of the more notable characters from the Final Fantasy world like Cid, Squall and Yuffie in the non-Disney-related lands.

While the game is classified as an RPG, it leans more toward the action side of the spectrum — something that Square Enix rarely delved into at the time. The action is in real time, so you can jump and turn basic slashing attack into simple combos. You can lock onto enemies to get a better bead on them, but don't expect rolling or dashing to be part of your arsenal. You can cast basic magic spells like thunder, and you can use items to heal yourself, but you can't take the time to pause a menu to select things. You can use basic commands to tell Donald, Goofy, or any of the other Disney characters to target someone, but leaving them to their own devices is good enough, since they're smart and know when to attack or heal. In Final Fantasy fashion, you can call on summons to help you in battle, something that Disney fans will gush over since that means calling on the likes of Dumbo, Genie and Tinkerbell instead of the usual cast.

As strange as the crossover initially seems, it works well in practice. The story takes some twists and turns that will be familiar to anime fans, so while some story beats may seem ridiculous, it works in the context of the genre. The combat seems simple but works well, and it's accessible to the point that you can do rather well without using more than the basic attack button. When compared to later entries in the series, what you're getting here is very basic, but it keeps you interested in what happens next.

The second game is Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, which began life as a Game Boy Advance game before being ported to the PlayStation 2, upon which this version is based. It's set after the events of the first game, and it sees Sora continue his journey with Donald and Goofy to find his friends and King Mickey. Along the way, he seems to be shadowed by a mysterious figure, and the trail leads to Castle Oblivion. While the trio doesn't fall into a typical state of amnesia, they do lose some of their memories, and the trek through the castle sees them trying to regain those memories and uncovering the presence of a group of adversaries known as the Organization. They also learn that Namine, one of Sora's old friends, is being held prisoner. At the same time, Riku is on his own mission to control the darkness within him and discover why his clone exists.

Of all of the games in the series, Re:Chain of Memories is the most different in a few ways. For one, this all takes place in Castle Oblivion with a few peeks of other locales from the first game. This was also where the idea of playing as a different protagonist was introduced, since you can control Riku after beating the game in a campaign that's just as lengthy as Sora's. The biggest change is in the game's focus on cards. You'll still slash at enemies, but you can only do so if you have the cards for it, with both the attack power and attack type being dictated by those cards. You can temporarily run out of cards in your hand, but you'll spend time refilling the hand — tougher since the game adopts a real-time battle system versus the more relaxed pace of other card battling games. You initiate battles by running into or attacking an enemy before getting into the proper fight like Lunar: Silver Star Story or other similar titles, so the system can feel like it was cobbled together. It's functional, and some players enjoy the more strategic approach, but it's evident why this approach was abandoned in subsequent titles.

Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix is the third game in the compilation and is considered by many fans to be the best in the series to date. The game starts you in the role of Roxas, a kid in Twilight Town who's trying to squeeze in some fun before summer vacation ends. In trying to clear his name from a string of robberies that he has nothing to do with, he learns that he can wield a keyblade when he comes face to face with a new type of Heartless. Meanwhile, Donald, Goofy and Sora awaken from their slumber in Castle Oblivion and must find Riku and discover what Organization XIII is up to.

Whereas the first game was a straightforward affair and Re:Chain of Memories was meant to deliver the idea that something bigger is afoot, Final Mix goes big with the lore. The idea of Nobodies, characters born of the remnants of hearts taken over by Darkness, is expanded upon here, as is the idea of character clones. Two other side stories that run alongside the main tale are the power struggle within the Organization Maleficent trying to regain power over all of the worlds. It is plenty to take in, but it sets up the multitude of spin-offs. While the lore dump is massive, the game takes the time to visit both old and new Disney worlds to excite the fans. Animated stuff like The Lion King and Mulan make appearances, but so does some of the studio's live-action stuff, like Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean. There's even a trip to Steamboat Willie, which is more notable because the first game's use of costuming and style is fully on display here, making for some great looks as Sora and friends go from being pirates to being rendered in a black-and-white, bouncy style that's evocative of cartoons of the 1920s.

As for the combat, it retains all of the features and systems of the original, but it also has new features in tow. While parrying was a thing you could do in the first game, it takes on a more active role now as the only means of blocking some enemy attacks. Special attacks called Reaction Attacks are available, so you get a special context-sensitive attack to either deliver increased damage or the killing blow. A new ability called Drive Form is also present, where Sora can bond with party members for a limited time to get more attacks in his arsenal.

The final game is Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Final Mix, which was originally released for the PSP and initially remade for the PlayStation 3. It's set 10 years before the events of the original game, and it has you following the trio of Aqua, Terra and Ventus: Keyblade apprentices who aspire to become masters of their own. After Aqua passes an exam to become a master, their teacher Master Eraqus learns that creatures known as the Unversed are terrorizing the various worlds. Aqua and Terra, with Ventus tagging along against their master's wishes, must stop the Unversed and find Master Xehanort, who disappeared when the Unversed appeared.

The advantage of the game being a prequel is that newcomers can jump in with a rather straightforward story. There are references to characters you'll meet in later games, but there's no need to have any knowledge of the world or other characters. The game still retains the feature of visiting other Disney worlds, and you meet up with other Disney characters outside of specific worlds, like Mickey Mouse, Merlin, and Scrooge McDuck. Don't expect too many Final Fantasy-specific characters, and don't expect any of your heroes to appear in anything other than their normal clothes and combat suits.

The combat system eschews some of the traits of the previous games in favor of something more action-heavy, with a light sprinkling of RPG flavor. Active blocking is now a thing, so you can preemptively get defensive without having to rely on the parry. In lieu of magic, you get special attack techniques that deliver more powerful hits while at the mercy of a cooldown timer. Constant attacks build up a meter that lets you unleash a more powerful attack to finish off enemies. If you have the power for it, you can enter first-person mode to lock on to enemies and deliver projectile attacks. You can also use a technique called D-Link to bring up new moves to use for a limited time, similar to the Drive Gauge system in Kingdom Hearts II. As a whole, this a much deeper system compared to the other titles in the package, and it's more enjoyable as a result.

The game also does a few other things differently from the series. For starters, you're encouraged to experience the storylines for all three of the heroes, as you can switch between them at almost any time, not only when it's necessary for the narrative. It makes the story a bit fragmented, but it also makes it feel longer than expected — in a good way. Although you still get help from some Disney characters along the way, you're mostly fighting solo, so you can't rely on the AI to save you at critical moments. While the multiplayer itself is missing from this release, the modes are still available but tuned for solo play, so you won't feel like you're missing out on content.

If there's a benefit to the compilation aside from gathering the titles in one place, it would be the accomplishment of making the series' narrative a little more comprehensible. The story isn't told in a straightforward manner. Beyond the first game, the tale gets convoluted with the introduction of different adversarial groups and non-Disney allies suddenly appearing and becoming important. The inclusion of the Disney worlds is fan service, since the important parts of the tale occur in Square Enix's original worlds. The focus on the new protagonists adds more content to the side games, but the overall series needs a compendium to track all of the twists and changes. Fans of this kind of storytelling will love it, and having all of the games together makes it easier to follow since the fragmentation of the series across platforms and long stretches of time gave the series a reputation of being too messy to properly explain to anyone.

The last two titles in the package get a much more scaled-down treatment. Originally released as a Nintendo DS game, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days focuses on Roxas from his inclusion into Organization XIII to his eventual defection and how he's connected with Sora. Also released on the Nintendo DS but originally developed as a mobile game, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is more of a retelling of the first two games and Chain of Memories with a few cut scenes added or modified.

The former is more essential than the latter, especially since you're not gaining anything of real importance from Re:coded, but both games have been presented in movie format with all of the cut scenes stitched together and text expositions filling in some of the gameplay segments. The ability to select scenes works best for most players because the movie format doesn't work that well. The attempt at making it a movie is appreciated, but the format doesn't flow very well and makes things feel more complicated, solidifying the sense that the series' story is too bloated and convoluted.

The PC version has a few benefits over the other console iterations. While it doesn't have support for ultrawide resolutions, it does support uncapped frame rates, so those who have high refresh monitors or TVs can take advantage of something that's still not on the console ports, even after the PS5 and Xbox Series X were released. The unlimited frame rate doesn't apply to the cut scenes, though, which creates a disconnect since the game's lack of substantial loading times means lots of frame rate shifts as the title switches between gameplay to movie to gameplay.

Keyboard and mouse controls are available, and while the title still feels more natural with a gamepad, you now have full customization over every key. Those benefits are nice, but one flaw is that the game can't seem to hold on to the full-screen option when switching between titles. Go from the launcher to Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix, back to the launcher and then to Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain of Memories, and you'll be sent to windowed mode with every game switch. With the options only accessible via the keyboard with the ESC button, those wanting to replicate a console experience with a more powerful kit will find this to be an annoyance. The only time this doesn't occur is when you watch either of the games-turned-movies.

The presentation wowed people when the games were originally released, and it can be argued that time has been kind in this regard. The music remains a huge highlight, as both the original compositions and the remakes of recognizable Disney tunes set the right mood and fire off waves of nostalgia. The voice acting is also clean throughout thanks to the performances, which do a great job of selling a scene even if some of the dialogue isn't always great. Graphically, this is still a port of a remaster from a generation ago, so there are lingering issues like textures being blurry or rounded objects looking like they need more polygons. The art style looks timeless, and the whole thing is done in widescreen, so there aren't issues with shifting between widescreen to pillarbox and back again.

In the end, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix is very good. From a value perspective, having four large RPGs ensures that it'll take newcomers a very long time before they exhaust everything. The gameplay and presentation remain as solid as ever, even though some may not appreciate the constant combat shifts between titles, and the story is more palatable now that you aren't waiting several years between releases. For those willing to jump into Square Enix's action RPG series, this is an excellent starting point.

Score: 8.5/10

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