Hardcore gamers may sneer at its Disney origins and roll their eyes at its corny dialogue, but I love Kingdom Hearts so much that I would still clutch it to my chest like Beauty and the Beast’s Belle would with a good book. It was one of those games that I loved so much that I loaned it - and my PlayStation 2 - to anyone who’d give it a go, because I wanted them to feel what I what I felt when I first played it. It was almost perfect, to me: the incredible soundtrack, the beautiful use of colour, the flawless ability to toe the line between childhood and something more mature.
Kingdom Hearts may be all about light and darkness, but in the end light always wins. There’s a joy to the series, and even though Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix may be seen as a cheap cash grab by Square Enix - understandably so - a lot of work has gone into freshening up an old franchise.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix actually consists of three parts - there’s Kingdom Hearts Remix, which is like a director’s cut of the original game, a reboot of Game Boy Advance game Chain of Memories called Re:Chain of Memories, and a theatre mode for the terribly-named DS title Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.
Square’s intention - aside from making money - is clear. Kingdom Hearts III has been announced, and the company wants to make sure you’re all caught up on the storyline. Given that the storyline is rather convoluted, that’s nice.
Most of the changes to the remixed original game are subtle. Sure, it’s in HD, that much is clear from the beginning. But there are also changes to voices and to controls. Some of those changes make sense - the voices are changed for consistency - but some of them don’t. Why the X axis was inverted by default (but arbitrarily labelled as ‘normal’), I’ll never know. For the most part, though, the control scheme is altered to make Remix more like Kingdom Hearts II, which can only be good.
When you boot up Re:Chain of Memories, the real changes become apparent. For one, Chain of Memories was a low-res, 2D card-based game - that’s all the Game Boy Advance could do. Re:Chain of Memories is that game completely overhauled in high resolution with 3D graphics. Everything is in 3D, whether you’re wandering around the world or in combat.
You might think that completely overhauling how the game works might have the unintended side effect of making it less enjoyable. But exploring and combat in Re:Chain of Memories are both slick, fun experiences. You still use cards in combat, and have to pit your cards against your enemies to land hits and drive that HP bar down, and you use cards for exploration as well.
The only disappointment is a simple one, and one that new players won’t feel: Re:Chain does lose some of that old-school 2D charm it once had. But the voice acting, HD, 3D animation, and reworked battle system make up for it.
Theatre mode for 358/2 Days is fairly unexciting, but might be a good feature if you haven’t played the game. It’s essentially a movie pieced together from the different cutscenes in the DS game. Unfortunately, that movie didn’t make much more sense than 358/2 Days did when I played it the first time around. Kingdom Hearts’ story, as a series, has become nothing if not confused. I’m not even sure the writers understand it anymore.
Still, the full package is a great deal if you’d like to replay just one of the RPGs on the disc, let alone two. It’s a good stop-gap while you’re waiting for Kingdom Hearts III, and might help to clarify some story points, if not all of them. Besides, the games hold up - Disney seems to be timeless, and so is its partner in crime, Final Fantasy.
If you've never played Kingdom Hearts before, then Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is the best possible starting point.