It has been eleven years since the first Kingdom Hearts was released on the PS2. Since then, a number of spin off titles have been released for the series along with one numbered sequel. With Kingdom Hearts III looming in the very distant don’t-expect-to-see-it-anytime-soon future, Square decided to release an HD version of the original Kingdom Hearts. They packaged it with the HD version of Re: Chain of Memories and all the cutscenes from 358/2 Days and called it Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix.
Kingdom Hearts follows the adventures of Sora, a young boy who comes across a mysterious weapon known as a Keyblade that he uses to fight dark creatures called the Heartless. While fighting the Heartless, Sora travels to countless worlds with Donald and Goofy as he searches for his lost friends Riku and Kairi. Chain of Memories takes place immediately after the events of Kingdom Hearts, with our trio coming across Castle Oblivion and unknowingly falling into the machinations of Organization XIII. Then finally 358/2 Days tells the story of Sora’s Nobody known as Roxas and his time spent as a member of Organization XIII and how he would ultimately end up having the worst summer vacation ever at the start of Kingdom Hearts II.
So let’s take a look at Kingdom Hearts first. First off, this is not the original Kingdom Hearts but is actually Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. What does this mean? Awhile after the first Kingdom Hearts came out, Square re-released it in Japan under the name Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Final Mix added in bosses from the American version like Sephiroth, Ice Titan, etc. Then it added many new items, cutscenes, new enemies, one new boss, Proud Mode difficulty, a new secret ending, and made a variety of changes and tweaks to the gameplay. This version never made it anywhere else outside of Japan though, until now. If I’m totally honest, Final Mix is the best version of the first Kingdom Hearts. I played it on my PS2 several years back, and I had a blast with it. The gameplay has aged very well, and it is still just as fun as it was when I first played Kingdom Hearts back in 2004.
Some changes have been made to Kingdom Hearts Final Mix in this HD version. First off, all contextual commands like opening a chest, door, or activating a save point are now all handled by pressing the Triangle button like in Kingdom Hearts II. This is a welcome change, as reaction commands were one of the best features added into Kingdom Hearts II. The camera can now be controlled with the right stick like it is in Kingdom Hearts II. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much to improve the camera so it is still just as clunky as it was in the original.
Of the two games, Re: Chain of Memories adds nothing new or interesting for players that have already played the PS2 or GBA version beyond better graphics. It still has the awkward and frustrating card combat system that plagued the original GBA version along with its PS2 remake. It is a great feature for customizing the layout of rooms but beyond that it took away the skill that Kingdom Hearts required and replaced it with a more tactical approach. Although if you have never played Chain of Memories before, then you will finally get a chance to check it out even if it is just for the story.
Since 358/2 Days was originally a Nintendo DS game, Square Enix decided it would be better and more time efficient to just retell the entire story through text and HD cutscenes rather than remaking the entire game. In addition, players can read the various diary entries and reports that were featured in the game. Words cannot express how grateful I am to Square for doing this, as 358/2 Days is my least favorite Kingdom Hearts game with its terrible controls and odd grid system.
So players get to watch nearly three hours worth of cutscenes to bridge the gap between Chain of Memories and the start of Kingdom Hearts II. While some players may be disappointed by this there is a bright side: the time they saved by doing this means they can focus more on other projects like Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III. Although it can get a little slow and boring to sit there and watch cutscenes when it feels like you should be involved with the action, it is a video game after all. Still, this was the best option for 358/2 Days and I can’t blame Square for their decision.
As far as graphics go, it is great to see Kingdom Hearts receive an HD coat of paint. The character models look fantastic, and the animations are crisp and flawless. Sadly the HD update does show how old the games are, especially with Final Mix. In many instances, you can notice that some textures or skyboxes look pixelated and low quality which detracts from what is otherwise perfect visuals. Updating the visuals to high definition can only do so much for a game that was made in the early 2000s, but I’m impressed with what Square was able to do with it. Especially with 358/2 Days, it is clear that some of those assets were never intended to be used anywhere but the Nintendo DS hardware, and they found a way to make it look decent enough in HD that you can ignore how low res they look.
So is Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix worth getting? For the price tag of 39.99, absolutely. There is a lot of value here, especially if you have never played Kingdom Hearts Final Mix or Chain of Memories. With 358/2 Days on the disk, it is great for people who are trying to catch up with the story while they wait for Kingdom Hearts III. I may not be the biggest fan of Chain of Memories or 358/2 Days, but having them there is great for players that are new to the series along with people who may have only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Now if they did an HD compilation of Birth By Sleep, Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and maybe the cutscenes of Dream Drop Distance that would be wonderful. Although if Square preferred to focus on Kingdom Hearts III instead I’d be fine with that.
So regardless of if you are a veteran of the Kingdom Hearts series or a new comer, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix has a lot to offer at a much cheaper price tag. You’ll get more hours of entertainment from Kingdom Hearts 1.5 than you’ll get from most games these days that cost 59.99. Getting to play Kingdom Hearts with tweaked controls and better graphics was certainly a fun nostalgia trip that was worth every single cent. You owe it to yourself to check out Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix, even if it is only for Kingdom Hearts Final Mix.