Not much more can be said of the venerable role-playing series born of two media giants and now more talked about for its mythical third instalment (it's coming guys, it has to be). Over the course of the last few years, Square Enix has retooled and repackaged the entire Kingdom Hearts canon, bundling the games into HD remixes with names as elaborate as the series' convoluted narrative. This latest package, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix, mashes together content from previously released collections and feels like a satisfyingly complete offering, the last big push before the next iteration of the saga.
For the uninitiated, Kingdom Hearts titles are action RPGs that chart the adventures of Sora, a young boy taken from his island paradise and thrown into a multiverse populated by Square and Disney characters. Sora joins up with Donald Duck and Goofy and sets out to save his friends. The strange blend of dual-franchise lore is the series' key selling point. These are games in which you can chill with Yuffie from Final Fantasy VII and get scolded by Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. You can head to the Olympus Colosseum and fight Sephiroth (still one of the hardest boss battles in gaming), using Simba from Lion King as a tide-turning summon.
On original release, these games offered an unrivalled marriage of licenses perhaps only matched now by the Travellers Tales' LEGO games. As Sora's journey progresses and the story kicks into high gear, that familiar Square Enix world building threatens to get out of control. The narrative in Kingdom Hearts II, in particular, is all over the place at times, but the the Disney IP always acts as a welcome counterbalance. The fairy-tale feel of Walt's creations mesh perfectly with the labyrinthine Square Enix tapestry. It's an intoxicating universe to inhabit.
Gameplay-wise, keyblade combat still feels relatively solid and for anyone that's recently been hanging with Noctis and the crew, there's a familiarity to be found here. Final Fantasy XV shares a lot of DNA with Kingdom Hearts, not least in the combat and overlying themes of friendship.
Outside of the usual RPG grind, there's a myriad diversions that branch off from the main games; the aforementioned Colosseum fights, assembling your own spaceship out of gummi parts, reuniting Pooh and friends in the Hundred Acre Wood and playing Birth by Sleep's addictive command board. There's a lot to do and the additional games and modes never feel overwhelming or shoehorned in like a lot of big budget RPGs are tending to do now.
But what of the content itself? There's a hell of a lot in here so let's take a deep breath and dive right in. We have the "Final Mix" of both mainline games, complete versions of two enduring genre classics. Chain of Memories covers a lot of the story set up for KHII, including the introduction of Organisation XIII and an explanation for Sora being in hibernation after the events of the first game. 358/2 Days is an episodic tale that fleshes out the backstory of Roxas. Then there's RE: CODED and Birth By Sleep: the former is the series' most oddball and disposable title and the latter more of a full adventure than a spin-off.
The Final Mix games are obviously the largest slice of content and are presented here in complete and polished form. They've aged surprisingly well and offer hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Birth by Sleep is arguably the most accessible game in the franchise and features a wealth of new content. A true prequel to the events of the entire series, this PSP title was a fantastic distillation of everything the games had done up to that point. It also introduces Aqua, the star of 0.2 Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage (see what we mean about those names?) which is a teaser of sorts for Kingdom Hearts III. These three main titles will satisfy series veterans and appeal to newcomers alike.
Elsewhere, Nintendo DS title Chain Of Memories is fully playable and is worth a spin for both the story and the card shuffling system, a fun and tactical variation on combat. The two "movies" are more focused on character and theme than actual story exposition, with only 358/2 Days offering any sort of insight into the events of the main games. 3DS title Dream Drop Distance is notable by it's absence as it feels like an integral part of the main story, but it is available on PS4 in the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection.
All of the games run surprisingly well given some are more than ten years old now. The package promises 60 frames-per-second for every title and despite some frame drops in the older games, this seems to hold true.
Disney's aesthetic never really gets stale, those bright primary colours pop on PS4 and the charming character design – which melds Square Enix's fantasy iconography with the mouse house's art style – gives the games a timeless feel.
There are gripes, mostly carried over from the original releases. The combat still feels a bit cumbersome and always at odds with a wonky camera (particularly in Birth by Sleep). Final Fantasy XV recently showed us that real-time, squad-based melee combat can work well; Kingdom Hearts demonstrates the awkward teething phases of that system.
Overall, this might be the most robust "remaster" collection ever released, with hundreds of hours of gameplay and the (mostly) full scope of the Kingdom Hearts legacy in one place.
There is nothing quite like Kingdom Hearts. A wish fulfillment universe populated by a roster of endearing characters both new and established. This collection pulls together smooth running and visually impressive transfers of both the main games, as well as the fantastic Birth by Sleep and three other titles that will appeal to fans and completionists. There is more than enough here to tide you over until the fabled release of Kingdom Hearts III.