Kingdom Hearts is a title that genuinely piqued my interest, despite my initial disdain for the silly “kiddy” title. The idea of a Disney game that melded elements of the Final Fantasy series into the game’s narrative was too interesting to pass up, even if these elements were cameos at best. And despite the game’s flaws, I had a great time playing the game — so much so that I felt it deserved a place among the PS2′s top ten games.
Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX is a high-definition re-release of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.
Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix was a Japanese-exclusive re-release of Kingdom Hearts that corrected many of the smaller issues that the original release suffered from, and introduced new content for Japanese audiences. These changes included:
- The ability to skip cutscenes
- A higher difficulty level
- New Gummi blocks and Gummi Ship missions in-between levels
- New combat and support abilities for Sora
- Modified AP requirements for many abilities
- Modified weapon stats, and two new weapons for Sora, Donald, and Goofy
- Reworked Moogle synthesis, with all new accessories added
- All new enemies, and many previous enemies were recolored
- Modified rewards from chests and side quests
- New cutscenes
- A new optional boss, called the “Unknown.” (Technically, Final Mix gave Japanese players four new optional bosses, as the Ice Titan, Kurt Zisa and Sephiroth battles were not included in the original Japanese release of Kingdom Hearts).
Many of the additions listed above, particularly the new enemies and boss, made Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix well-worth repurchasing for fans of the original (myself included). Sadly, Square-Enix opted not to release the Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts in the West. This holds true for all Final Mix versions of the Kingdom Hearts games. Sadly, because the PS2 was region-locked, it was impossible to play the game legitimately in the West. Fans desperate enough to play it would be required to import the Japanese game, modify their PS2 (or use Swap Magic) to run it, and follow a guide to make sense of the menus.
With Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, Western players will finally get their hands on the Final Mix version of the first Kingdom Hearts title, officially localized and improved by Square-Enix. The 1.5 HD ReMIX version of Final Mix comes with a few improvements of its own that sets it apart from the original Final Mix release. These changes include:
- Camera control re-mapped to the Right Analog stick. Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix had camera control mapped to the shoulder buttons (L2/R2). This new change should make manipulating the camera during hectic combat much easier.
- Triangle-button interactions. Since the release of Kingdom Hearts 2, all Kingdom Hearts titles have mapped environmental interaction to the Triangle button. Kingdom Hearts: HD 1.5 ReMIX follows suit. Lifting objects, manipulating switches, opening chests, etc. are all performed with the Triangle button now.
- Triangle-button special attacks. The original Kingdom Hearts was an experimental title in that it combined menu-based attack selection with real-time, action-heavy combat. Using many of Sora’s abilities during combat required menu-surfing to find them, and the results were clunky at best. To compound this, many of Sora’s attacks were also context-sensitive. Abilities like “Ragnarok” or “Sonic Impact” required that enemy targets be at a certain range or height relative to Sora, before the attack should be selected. With Kingdom Hearts HD, these special attacks can be selected with the Triangle button during combat. A green special attack prompt will appear above the command menu, notifying players that the targeted enemy can be hit with said attack. A quick press of the Triangle button will initiate it. No fussing or menu-wrestling required.
- Remixed/enhanced soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura and the Kingdom Hearts HD sound team re-recorded many of the wonderful and memorable soundtracks of the original Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days with live instruments. The few tracks I’ve listened to sound cleaner and subtly more subdued than the synthesized originals, but every bit as nostalgic.
- Two new abilities. “EXP Zero” is a challenge-oriented ability that prevents Sora from earning experience, and thus, earning levels. Introduced in Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+, it was only available on “Critical Mode” difficulty, the highest difficulty in that game. In that same vein, EXP Zero is exclusive to “Proud Mode” in Kingdom Hearts HD, and has the same effect. The second new ability is “Combo Master.” Also originating in Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+, it allowed Sora to continue his combo even if he missed his attack. Combo finishers in the Kingdom Hearts series are extremely powerful, and having your combo die before you can use it is very frustrating — especially since Sora’s targeting in the original game was sporadic at times. Combo Master allows him to bring his combo to completion even if his attacks aren’t connecting.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories is the second game in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX. It is also getting the high-def treatment, as well as a few enhanced music tracks. Re:Chain of Memories is a PS2 remake of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which was originally released for the Game Boy Advance back in 2004. Re:Chain of Memories was released as part of the Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+ compilation in Japan. While the Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts II never made it to the West, Square-Enix localized Re:Chain of Memories and released it as a standalone game back in 2008.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories is an interquel. It bridged the story between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II and greatly expanded the scope of the Kingdom Hearts universe. It is in Re:Chain of Memories that Sora is introduced to the Organization and intrigue that revolves around them, Ansem, and the Darkness. Rather than using straightforward hack-and-slash combat like the first Kingdom Hearts game, Re:Chain of Memories utilized cards and deck building to enrich fighting. Attack cards were assigned varying values, as were enemy cards. Players were required to counter enemy attack cards with attack or defense cards of higher value in order to get their attacks in and avoid taking damage.
The last title included in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Also an interquel between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, it tells the story of Roxas and his relationship with the Organization. Unlike Kingdom Hearts and Re:Chain of Memories, however, the Days portion of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX will not feature gameplay — only enhanced cinematics. It boasts several hours-worth of scenes and story notes, as well as re-recorded voice work.
During PAX East, Square-Enix had a short (hands-off) demo of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX to present to select media. The demo was limited to Atlantica, where Sora, Donald and Goofy fought off aquatic Heartless as they made their way to King Triton’s palace. I immediately noticed that the jellyfish-like Sea Neon and Search Ghost Heartless enemies were re-colored. Sea Neons were bright yellow rather than blue/grey and the Search Ghosts had an orange head and light-blue tattered shirt, rather than the grey and purple of the original. Sadly, there wasn’t much else to the demo aside from whacking a few Heartless as the demo pilot made progress, but I did make note of a few things:
- Magic shortcuts are limited to three buttons. Kingdom Hearts allows players to map several magic spells to the face-buttons on their controller for easy access and on-the-fly casting during combat. The original game allowed for three shortcuts (mapped to Square, X, Triangle), while Kingdom Hearts II allowed four shortcuts (Square, X, Triangle and Circle). I would have loved being able to use four shortcuts, but Kingdom Hearts still limits you to only three.
- No control customization. You cannot re-map controls to your liking in the options screen. Not a big deal, but it would have been a welcome addition.
After our time in Atlantica, we pestered the demo pilot to show off some Re:Chain of Memories gameplay, but the PS3 didn’t have any save data to accommodate our request. So we jumped into Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and watched a few cutscenes. The first scene we watched presented the familiar scene of a Roxas approaching Xemnas on the beach at the Edge of Darkness, with the two of them engaging in a cryptic discussion about names, their origin and their true selves. This particular scene utilized high-quality models, and looked fantastic in HD. The second scene had Saix and Xemnas standing over an unconscious Roxas as they discussed his condition. This scene featured lower quality, “in-game” models of Saix and Xemnas. Rather than having animated expressions and lip movement, the characters models opened and closed their painted-on mouths like awkward fish as they spoke, which stood in stark contrast to the scene that came before it. I appreciate that the lower-quality models have been redone with higher-resolution textures, but they still look odd and unfinished when compared to the higher-quality models. And considering Days is nothing but cutscenes, I would have liked to see them all presented with the higher-quality models.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is scheduled to release later this fall on the PS3. There is no official word from Square-Enix as to whether or not the HD ReMIX will be released on the PS Vita, or any other console.