Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix

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Release Date: 13/09/2013

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix on PlayStation 3

Final fantasia

One of gaming’s most surprising collaborations, Kingdom Hearts was originally conceived by Square as a rival to Nintendo’s Mario. Wanting to capture the success of the popular plumber, the publisher realized only Disney characters could match Mario’s popularity, and so an unusual idea began to take shape.

In 2002, this unlikely marriage of Disney magic and Final Fantasy grandeur was finally released, wowing PS2 owners and sparking what would become an enduring franchise. Eleven years on, the original Kingdom Hearts is back, and remastered in HD.

It may be a little different to how you remember it, however, and that’s not only down to the sharper resolution. The version here is based on the Japanese-only Final Mix version of the original, which featured additional content and story elements. Alongside it are Re:Chain of Memories, an HD revamp of the PS2 remake of the Game Boy Advance spin-off, and DS title 358/2 Days.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix on PlayStation 3

What’s the story?

In truth, this final part of the package is a little disappointing, being nothing more than a collection of cutscenes, with memos filling in the playable gaps. It adds a little colour to the Kingdom Hearts lore, but it’s best considered as a pleasant bonus rather than an essential part of the package.

Even so, that leaves us with two full games, and Re:Chain of Memories proves to be a very worthwhile addition. Its card-based battling system makes for an interesting counterpoint to the original game, and means that while you’ll visit many of the same places and see the same characters, the combat keeps things fresh.

Yet that’s not what most fans are here for, which is the chance to play through the original Kingdom Hearts in high definition for the first time. It tells the story of Sora, a typically spiky-haired hero who dreams of escaping his home along with friends Kairi and Riku. He manages to do so, of course, albeit not quite as planned, as he’s separated from his friends and dragged into the mysterious Traverse Town, a world between worlds.

There, he encounters Donald Duck and Goofy, who are also looking for an absent friend: Mickey Mouse has disappeared while investigating the mystery behind an encroaching evil. The three form an unlikely alliance, as Sora gains a keyblade with the power to seal the keyholes of the worlds he visits, while battling dark creatures known as the Heartless.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix on PlayStation 3

Better the devil you know

What follows is an episodic adventure through a series of lovingly rendered Disney worlds from the animation studio’s cinematic output. You’ll meet everyone from Aladdin to Ariel, swing and slide through Tarzan’s jungle and explore Winnie The Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. Square assembled an expensive cast for the English language version – many of them returning to voice characters they played in the films, like James Woods’ brilliant Hades – so while you can skip the cutscenes this time, the quality of the performances is such that you won’t really want to.

The story pulls you along whenever the action struggles to keep up. There’s quite a bit of backtracking involved, particularly in the early stages, while Sora’s jump remains as awkward and unresponsive as it ever was, a problem exacerbated by tricky platforming sections and a wayward camera that in places seems actively unhelpful.

Yet after a particularly sluggish opening, the game opens up, offering a choice of locations to visit, optional quests to tackle and minigames to try. As Sora’s moveset develops, so the combat blossoms, growing more fluid and entertaining as the game progresses. While your AI-controlled allies occasionally get themselves in a muddle they’re usually capable of looking after themselves, and at their best are able assistants. Special summons from Bambi to Tinkerbell are harder to come by, but they’re worth the effort of locating as they’re extremely useful, not least when you’re facing some of the optional bosses – including some Final Fantasy acolytes will recognize - which are fearsomely difficult to beat.

Magic Kingdom

It’s a varied and substantial quest that gains momentum the further you get, introducing new elements at regular intervals. Visually, it’s aged well – though basic textures betray its PS2 origins, its environments and characters benefit from Square’s trademark visual opulence. Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack makes for a beautiful accompaniment, tapping into the story’s undercurrent of melancholy, as Sora’s journey explores deeper and more complex themes.

While we can’t help but wish that the superior Kingdom Hearts 2 had been part of this package, few would argue that you’re getting good value for your money. A remix of a PS2 favourite, and an inventive and enjoyable spin-off updated to match offer dozens of hours of action-RPG fun, while those interested in the lore get a non-interactive story that adds some useful background on the world and its characters. It’s a shame Square Enix hasn’t made the combat a little more fluid to bring it in line with recent entries like the PSP’s excellent Birth by Sleep or 3DS’s Dream Drop Distance, but otherwise this is an engaging adventure sprinkled with Disney magic.

GAME's Verdict

The Good:

  • Two very good action-RPGs that look splendid in HD
  • A world brought to life with an excellent cast and a stirring soundtrack
  • Hours upon hours of entertainment, particularly if you seek out the optional extras

The Bad:

  • Kingdom Hearts has a very slow opening that some may find off-putting
  • Camera is awful in places, and Sora’s jump is sluggish
  • 358/2 Days section isn’t playable – what a shame
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Pegi Rating:

Suitable for people aged and over.

Genre

RPG

Customer Rating:

No rating yet

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