September 29, 2013
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix is now over ten years old and has aged surprisingly well even without the new enhancements. The story of Sora, Donald, and Goofy searching for their friends has a slow start, but by the end you’ll remember why you feel in love with the series all these years ago. The simple concept of mixing elements from Final Fantasy games and Disney films is sure to make you nostalgic at some point playing this game.
The original Kingdom Hearts was a fun and challenging Action RPG with a couple of issues holding the gameplay back. Many of these issues have since been address, such as how the camera is controlled. The command system has also been updated so that instead of having the interact/special ability command at the bottom of the list, all you have to do is press Triangle. The last command is now assigned to summons, which makes it much easier to execute them as before it was buried in the magic command.
These changes are all very welcome, but don’t always mix well with the original game’s design. The camera for example, will get stuck in tight corridors or during platforming. The Triangle button is also still used to call on allies to attack your locked on target, this can sometime result in you using a special ability when you didn’t mean to in battle. Outside of these very minor issues the control changes really help to stop the game feeling dated.
Final Mix also comes with quite a lot of new features such as an expanded offering of Keyblades, Heartless, ecret boss fight and cutscenes. Getting the definitive version after all of these years is great to have for anyone who felt disappointed that this version never released overseas. If that wasn’t enough new content for you Final Mix, also has two exclusive abilities in 1.5 Remix. You can now use the helpful Combo Master ability and for the masochistic, you can equip Zero XP at the beginning of any Proud Mode playthrough. Sadly Zero XP is absent from any other difficulty.
Final Mix has also received the most TLC with its presentation. Many of the game’s textures have been updated and the music has now been replaced with orchestrated versions of each track. Sora, Riku, and Ansem are also using their character models from Dream Drop Distance, which makes them look much sharper; they stand out a lot more compared to the rest of the characters. Since not all of the character models have been updated, whenever you notice the jagged edges on someone it does make it a bit more apparent. Dark Riku is the best example as his outfit still looks very pixelated, whereas his face is incredibly smooth.
The music being completely orchestrated sounds great on paper and is far from bad, it’s just these tracks were not originally composed to be orchestrated. This leads to some tracks not really hitting as they did originally on the PS2, but certain tracks such as Monstro and Hollow Bastion are fantastic to hear with real instruments. Having the ability to switch between soundtracks would have been a better way to go opposed to forcing you listen to the newer versions.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories is on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of added content and even updated graphics. That doesn’t diminish the fact that Chain of Memories is one of the most decisive games in the series. Sora, Donald, and Goofy pick up after the events of Kingdom Hearts and are still on the search for Riku and King Mickey. This leads them to Castle Oblivion where we meet Organization XIII for the first time and begin a story filled with finding friends, true memories, and betrayal. Add a bonus story where you get to play as Riku for the first time and it is obvious why Chain of Memories is something all fans of the series need to experience.
The game looks just like Kingdom Hearts, with almost every world from the original game appearing again. The difference is that Chain of Memories plays nothing like an Action RPG. Instead the game introduces a real time card battle system. The card battles take a bit of getting use to, even if you have played the original Game Boy Advance version of the game. Most people who play Chain of Memories either love this battle system or hate it. However, if you can get used to the incredibly unique battle system, you will experience one the deepest battle systems in the Kingdom Hearts series.
The only new gameplay changes present in this version of the game are that the Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix cards have been replaced with cards related to 358/2 days. This isn’t that much of a bit deal though, as all of the cards have the same effect as the cards they replace in the original version of the game. It is a shame no new cards that introduced a new summon, spell, or even sleight could have been added. Comparing all the work that went into Final Mix, Re:Chain of Memories didn’t get as much attention, but that doesn’t take away from how good the game is on its own merits.
Presentation for Chain of Memories is a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from amazing and underwhelming. The game’s story inside of Castle Oblivion is great with all of its brand new cutscenes as you exit and enter a floor. But this is sadly the place where you will get most of the game’s cut scenes. In each world you visit there, are only text based cutscenes which really takes away a lot of the appeal.
The textures have also only been updated slightly, but with it being a much more recent release not as much smoothing really needed to be done. The GBA opening still remains in the opening of this version and passed with a basic upgrade to the PS2, but on HD TVs it really looks dated compared to the rest of the game. Finally, anyone hoping for updated songs will be disappointed as the only orchestrated track is the song that plays during the final fight when playing as Sora.
The last “game” in this collection is without a doubt the most interesting. Obviously remaking 358/2 Days would have taken a tremendous amount of effort and time, so all we get in this collection is a bunch of new and old cutscenes now in HD. These retell many of the major plot points from the game, but please take not that this is not a movie! These cutscenes will not explain most of the story in the game and if you have not played the game, the story ends up going all over the place.
358/2 Days tells the story of Roxas after he joins Organization XIII leading up to Kingdom Hearts II. The story in Days is actually a heart wrenching tale about friendship. Roxas becomes best friends with the fan favorite Axel and XIVth member Xion. The three spend a lot of the story just sitting around eating ice cream, but what they do in between these ice cream meet-ups is what make this tale one worth retelling.
The entire story is not explained in these remastered cutscenes, instead leaving parts behind bland text walls. It’s far from a perfect solution, but it’s somewhat understandable given that Square Enix didn’t want to remake the entire game. Almost every battle in the game is practically skipped over and this might leave you wanting more of the memorable fights you wanted to see remade. With all that being said, there is almost three hours worth of content in this portion of the collection alone, but watching it all at once is not recommended due to the story’s slow structure.
The engine Square Enix used to make the cutscenes in 358/2 Days will not blow you away. The shadows from most objects in just about every cutscene looks very sloppy as it’s essentially just an HD version of the DS cutscenes. However, there are some new cutscenes and these get graced with voice acting from some of the best members in the Organization we haven’t heard in many years.
The voice acting is top quality, as expected. Quinton Flynn in particular steals the show with whatever scene he is in. Also hearing the game’s beautiful soundtrack with surround sound is one of the small additions that really help make watching these cutscenes even better. However, unless you have already experienced the story it is hard to say you will watch these cutscenes 358/2 Days fully enjoy it.
1.5 Remix has a large focus on presentation and for the most part it does deliver what most fans could ask for. However, there are some rather apparent that have carried over from the Japanese version. A random audio bug has been hampering some owners and there is a freezing bug that happens to players who stay on the PS3’s XMB for too long. Square has no plans to fix these issues in the future, which is a shame.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is a collection that’s brimming with content. It’s pleasing to say that these games still hold up even after all of these years, no matter if you are a long time fan or trying the series for the first time. There are some issues with presentation and the collection isn’t without its share of bugs, but the new additions more than make up for this.
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