Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX Review: Rusty Keyblades

Lowell Bell takes a trip down memory lane to unearth a rusty keyblade.

Okay, hear me out: What if 343 Industries took the Halo universe and crossed it over with James Cameron’s Alien’s movies? Master Chief vs. Predator? Not that great of an idea, you say? Well, maybe you’re right. Not many games are cross over material, and even less games mesh well with universes from different forms of media. In fact, there’s only one successful collaboration between games and films I can think of, and that’s Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series. Square Enix somehow managed to take the rich history of Final Fantasy and blend it with the even richer history of Disney to astounding success.

Now Kingdom Hearts 3 is confirmed to be on the way, so Square Enix has decided to celebrate (or capitalize) by releasing all the Kingdom Hearts games remastered in high definition for the PlayStation 3. The first collection, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX, is out, and while the remaster recaptures the magic of the Final Fantasy and Disney worlds coming together, I hate to say Kingdom Hearts might not be as grand of an adventure as you remember.

The flamboyantly named Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX comprises of two games: Kingdom Hearts Final Mix and Re: Chain of Memories. Final Mix is an upgrade of the original Kingdom Hearts which never made it out of Japan, and Re: Chain of Memories is a PlayStation 2 remake of a Game Boy Advance game which released in 2008. Now, in 1.5 HD ReMIX both games have been remastered again for high definition. If that sounds a tad confusing, that’s because it is. I can hardly keep track of all the remakes and remasters myself. To make matters more confusing, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is also included, but only in the form of remastered cinematic scenes adapted from the Nintendo DS. Square Enix’s cinematic inclusion of 358/2 days will please some fans, but for the most part it is a negligible part of the collection.

If you assumed 1.5 HD ReMIX is the definitive way to play both these games, you’d be right. Both titles look smoothed out and brighter than ever; however, some obvious rough edges show through the HD coat of paint. The most glaring example is how every non-Disney character has a creepy, expressionless face with an awkward, blurry mouth. My complaint sounds petty, but when you see the faces in action, you’ll know what I mean. In fact, Square Enix tried to edit out these awkward faces in promotional screenshots, and I can confirm they are indeed present in the North American version of 1.5 HD ReMIX. Obviously, Square Enix knew they were an issue, cut corners, and tried to brush them under a rug.

Aside from the sketchy graphical upgrade, 1.5 HD ReMIX quickly reminded me that Kingdom Hearts came out 10 years ago. Gaming has come a long way since then. Blatant, unrewarding busywork plagues Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Shameless backtracking and mindless errand running, such as finding six scattered slides in Clayton’s camp to advance the plot, or clearing out all the enemies in each area (that you’ve already visited) made me want to quit and cleanse myself with a more modern RPG. What’s more, the Gummi Ship sections–the boring Star Fox-like mini game necessary to travel between various worlds in Final Mix–wasn’t fun a decade ago, and it still isn’t fun today. I hoped Square Enix might include a way to skip the Gummi Ship altogether, but no dice. Luckily, Re: Chain of Memories does not feature the Gummi Ship at all. Phew.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX  does have some saving graces, of course. For fans and newcomers alike, Sora’s quest to find his friends and stop the Heartless is a nostalgic trip through two game universes, assuming you enjoy both Final Fantasy and Disney. Bumping into Jack Skellington, Cloud, Peter Pan, and Squall almost makes playing through all the archaic game mechanics worth it. While Re: Chain of Memories becomes rather complicated and nonsensical, Final Mix’s tale is one which will draw you in as it introduces more iconic characters. Furthermore, the third-person action battle system holds up well in both games. As a kind of third-person action take on classic Final Fantasy RPG systems, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix can be tedious with as you only control Sora, and he only has a limited set of basic attacks. However, when spells are thrown into the mix, along with summons and two Disney-themed AI companions, battles are engaging enough to keep you interested throughout most of the game. Re: Chain of Memories keeps things fresh between the two games with its unique card-based battle system as well.

As an HD remaster of two games, this is a collection powered by the gripping hands of nostalgia. Your own love of Disney, Final Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts itself will determine whether or not Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX satisfies you. The collection is the best way to play both games; be that as it may, it’s obvious Square Enix cut corners, and more could have been done to assure both games stood the test of time much better. In short, hanging out with Goofy, Donald Duck, and Cloud altogether makes for a unique and memorable experience over two games, but the outdated gameplay mechanics of 10 years ago will make it difficult to revisit all the beloved characters and worlds from your childhood.

Final Verdict

6 out of 10

A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.