Square Enix may not know how to do release dates, press conferences, or reasonable haircuts, but it's an expert at HD Collections. The firm's Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster was at least half a masterpiece, and the original Kingdom Hearts collection has become the only proper way to start the franchise. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX collects the two best titles in the long running franchise – but does it do them justice?
Perhaps the biggest selling point of this set is the new content. Birth by Sleep is making the jump to console for the very first time and it, along with Kingdom Hearts II, has hours of new fights, scenes, and items, all originally added to the Japanese exclusive Final Mix re-releases. Sure, both games look better than they used to and the convenience of playing on the PlayStation 3 can’t be understated, but the real reason to buy is so that diehard fans can finally see the full versions of both titles.
And the quality of the additions is good. New scenes bring the franchise closer together, filling some of the inevitable plot holes that come about when the writer pretty much makes up the story from scratch every time that a new title is released. Meanwhile, extra bosses are a real challenge, but beating them is infinitely rewarding. This, on top of the already fantastic content in the original games, makes this a must-have purchase for Sora-holics.
What is it that makes Kingdom Hearts so spot-on, then? The story, while convoluted and not always especially well written, is timeless in so many ways. The characters – many of whom you’ll already recognise from either blockbuster animation or classic video games – are endearing in ways that other games don’t approach; you'll care about what happens, even if you don’t always entirely understand why.
This is a franchise that’s frequently corny, but not off-putting. If you built a drinking game around the use of the words ‘hearts’ or ‘friend’, you’d be dead within a minute, but you’d die feeling both awkwardly cheerful and incredibly drunk.
Like most action RPGs, the idea is to fight your way through hordes of enemies towards the next cut-scene. Bonus items, side quests, and a level system keep you occupied when you’re not knocking seven bells out of Heartless. The battle system in Kingdom Hearts II is improved over the already near-perfect attempt in the first game, and new types of enemies keep you on your toes.
Birth by Sleep, originally released for the PlayStation Portable, feels much better for the second analogue stick – a significant update that makes battles that much more focused. Moving the camera around is something that is so easy to take for granted in this age of share buttons, online multiplayer, and voice commands, but replaying the former handheld release is a reminder that sometimes the basics can be enough to boost a game’s quality.
Both titles are mostly excellent, with a few pacing issues here and there. The first three hours of Kingdom Hearts II are interesting enough to read about as a single paragraph on the Internet, but aren’t especially fun to play. This will be more annoying again if you played 1.5 ReMIX in the last year, as much of it is just a retread of previous titles. But it’s still worth working your way through these slower spots, because the twists and turns are really that good. Kingdom Hearts II contains some of the most epic moments ever seen on the PS2, and they still more than stand up in the PS4 era.
On top of making sure that the games themselves are as well preserved as possible, the visual update they’ve received is incredible. Both titles look like they could have been natively developed for the PS3, an achievement that few other HD collections have managed to pull off. Kingdom Hearts II looks the best, although only by a slither. There are occasional telltale signs that perhaps things are a little older than they appear – conversations not properly lip-synced or chunky hands with painted fingers – but these are few and far between, and never annoy.
Sadly, Birth by Sleep suffers from occasional slowdown, which can stick out rather unpleasantly. This, oddly enough, is never when there are dozens of things happening in a battle, and so it won’t get in the way of you pulling off awesome moves, but it’s still something of a sore point when everything else is done so well.
Multiplayer is missing from the PSP remaster as well, although how much of an issue that will be depends almost entirely on if you played the original and if you particularly care about playing Kingdom Hearts with your friends. It’s by no means a positive point, but with the Mirage Arena still accessible when playing alone, the amount of users actively upset about this move are likely to be in the minority.
Sound has been improved, too. The score is beautiful, with rich, quality backing in each location. It’s impossible to mention Kingdom Hearts without bringing up the voice cast either, which is about as strong and varied as you can expect; an endless list of official Disney voices, as well as the likes of Christopher Lee, Haley Joel Osment, Hayden Panettiere, Zach Braff, Angela Lansbury, and dozens of others, it’s the sort of smash up that happens nowhere else but in video games, and it’s glorious.
Re:Coded has been tacked on as well, in a way. Originally a mobile game, then a DS port, there’s very little in it that stands out as important to the franchise – and yet, for the sake of completion, here it is. Like 358/2 Days in the original set, but without the nice additions to the backstory, this is a good bonus feature but not a selling point for the collection.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is an amazing collection, perfectly combining new content with upgraded visuals. The soppiness of the series and Disney background won’t be for everyone, but newcomers and old fans alike will appreciate the effort that’s gone into bringing these characters back to life.