It is always a tricky proposition to review a re-release. It’s difficult to tell what you’re supposed to talk about. Do you just review the games as they are? Do you review the graphical updates? Or do you just try to talk about the package as a whole? The problem is compounded by the fact that this is not only Kingdom Hearts, one of gaming’s most fanatically beloved series, but it is the first time that almost all of the games in the series have been available in one neat package. Combine this with the recent release of Kingdom Hearts II.8: Final Chapter Prologue, and it is now entirely possible to play every single game in the series on a single console.
For those of you who don’t know, Kingdom Hearts is a series which combines characters from some of the most famous Disney animation classics with characters from the Final Fantasy series in one of the most strangely successful mash-ups of all time. The story partially concerns the adventures of 3 friends from a small island who decide they want to see the different worlds in the universe, but it actually concerns an ancient war, secret societies and numerous convoluted character creation and identity stories.
If you thought that the series is very complex, then congratulations, you’ve just made the understatement of the century. This is one of the major bonuses to all these games being playable not only on the same system but purchasable in a single package. For the first time, it is entirely possible to play through all the games and understand (maybe) the whole story in one go. It is probably due to the imminent release of Kingdom Hearts III that we have finally been presented with this complete package, and it makes a lot of sense to allow people to either get the backstory or simply refresh their knowledge of the whole series.
An issue that was present in the previous releases of these games has thankfully been fixed, and that is the boss physics. The upgrade to 60FPS did something strange to some of the boss fights on the PS3 release of these compilations, making some harder and some near enough impossible to finish. Luckily, the PS4 version of the game was patched on day one, removing the issue from this newer version.
These games look beautiful in full HD, and the frame-rate is a lot more consistent now that it’s on the newer console, although the graphics themselves aren’t improved much, if at all. Other than that, the games aren’t different from their PS3 counterparts, they’ve retained all of the things that made the series good, and they’re all presented in a very well-produced package.
Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix
The first game in the series tells the story of Sora and his two friends, Riku and Kairi, as they try to escape the confines of their small home-world to explore the universe. Disaster strikes as the trio are separated, so Sora must journey with his new friends, Donald and Goofy, to try and find them. Along the way they uncover the plot to sink the world into darkness and must save each world they come across as they meet with characters from across Final Fantasy and Disney history.
Being the first game in the series, the mechanics are at their most simple and unpolished, but this shouldn’t necessarily be considered a bad thing. Even when in an unpolished state, the game’s mechanics make for a fun experience. Like the other games in the series, Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix is an action RPG, with the combat being driven by a combination of single button presses and the classic Final Fantasy-style, menu-driven combat.
The simplicity is the saving grace of the combat in this instance. All basic attack combos are performed by using the cross button, meaning that all you need to worry about during combat is keeping an eye on your enemy, dodging attacks when they come and wailing on the enemy with the best combo you have. The main thing that affects your basic attack combos are either your Keyblade choice or any special abilities that you might have equipped at the time. It can be important to remember how many attacks there are in a combo sequence, so as not to leave yourself open to retaliation.
The menu-driven parts of the combat can be a little hard to deal with, sometimes leaving yourself open to savage attacks while trying to navigate a busy menu screen. This does end up with a weird situation where the opening hours of the game can be harder than the later parts of the game due to a lack of ability to map items to the quick select button. The quick select button is L1, and holding it while pressing one of the face buttons activates a magic attack. Until you gain the cure option, this means that you have to navigate the menus to heal yourself, so the boss fights become significantly easier after that point.
As you go about your journey, you unlock various different abilities that are separated into two categories: combat and passive abilities. Combat abilities do just what they sound like, they affect some elements of combat, be that your combo length, attack damage or other special combat features. The passive abilities can do a great variety of things, from giving you a new way to explore the overworld to increasing how much ‘munny’ or experience you can earn from battles.
There is also an insane number of things to do in the game aside from the main storyline and quests. There are several different tournaments to compete in, which provide different rewards, and a fair few secret or hidden bosses of varying different difficulties to try your hand against. There are also several different powerful weapons that you can only get by using the game’s synthetization system, requiring you to scour the universe for rare crafting parts.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
This version of the game is the most different from its original form. Chain of Memories was originally a Game Boy Advance title that bridged the gap between the ending of the first Kingdom Hearts and the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II. The game was a 2D sprite animated RPG which used cards to activate different abilities from attacking to magic and team combos.
When the game was ported from a handheld console released in 2001 to more modern systems, the game made the dramatic shift from a 2D perspective to a 3D one, while making the radical decision to keep the game basically exactly the same as it was. The most dramatic change, other than the one from 2D to 3D, is adopting the basic control scheme of the other games in the series.
The game works on a routine of gaining cards for defeating monsters or opening treasure chests, then using those same cards to randomly create new rooms to fight your way through. Occasionally, you’ll also need a special card which generates room to advance the storyline. Most of the game functions like any other in the series, with the slight caveat that you have to use cards for each action you have to take in battle.
Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix
Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix is in many ways very similar to Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix. They’re both action RPGs that use menu-driven combat. They both follow the story of the main character, Sora, on his journey to save his friends and the universe at large, and they both contain various Disney and Final Fantasy characters.
The story here picks up directly after Chain of Memories. Sora has been in a strange form of hibernation for nearly two years in Castle Oblivion, and a strange alternate reality has been created for the Nobody created when he lost his heart in the first game. As the game starts, you play as that Nobody, who realizes his true origins and goes to wake up the main hero. Once awakened, Sora continues his journey with Donald and Goofy to save all the worlds and defeat the Heartless.
While the combat bears a lot of similarities to the combat from the first game, there are a few key differences that have helped to improve it immeasurably. Firstly, as well as menu-driven abilities and your basic one button combat, you can perform reaction commands with the triangle button. These commands vary depending on the situation, often being unique to a certain enemy type or even to a certain location. The triangle button is also now used to open chests and perform other in-world actions, meaning that you don’t necessarily need to be out of combat to do things.
There is also a new system that adds variety to combat called the drive system. Basically, as well as being able to summon various characters as you play through the game, you can also change into different combat forms. There are forms that enhance your physical strength, forms that enhance your magical strength and eventually perfect forms that make you an unstoppable force of light. These drive forms work very similarly to summons, in that your two friends disappear to change drive forms, the only difference is that your own form changes instead of another companion being summoned.
Obviously, due to this game being able to build on the mechanics of the first game, it has a lot more polish. The combat feels a lot smoother, especially when you’re wielding dual Keyblades. As you unlock more and more combos, you spend much more time in the air; even with ground combos you float just off the floor.
Just as with the previous title, there is plenty to do in this game, with even more secret bosses to fight, a new batch of tournaments, and once again, secret Keyblades to discover and synthesize. On top of that, there is also an optional drive form that can be unlocked by using the drive form often enough.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep- Final Mix
The final playable part of the package is Birth by Sleep- Final Mix, originally a PSP title released in 2010 which detailed a previously unknown element of the Kingdom Hearts storyline: the main character’s origins…sort of.
The storyline actually follows the adventures of 3 Keyblade users who are still in training as they try to wrestle with the darkness present in their own hearts. Because there are 3 protagonists, the game has 3 full campaigns, meaning that you have to play through the game 3 different times, experiencing different things and fighting with different playstyles.
The game has been given a graphical upgrade since its days on the PSP, although it looks little different from the version available on PS3. It’s also nice to have the extra buttons on the controller at your disposal, which gives you a much easier way of both controlling the camera and switching between different special attacks and abilities.
Birth by Sleep is also the game in series that introduced the command system, replacing the slower, more menu-driven combat systems from the first Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. This command system has been an issue in some form in each game that has been released in the series since 2010 (not including Coded). This system allows the player to assemble a ‘deck’ of commands which they can utilize in battle by simply pressing the triangle button. This means that you can quickly attack and then unleash a special attack within seconds of each other.
Considering that this game was released originally for a handheld system, there is almost certainly as much to do here than in any of the other games, perhaps more. The three separate campaigns need to be completed so that you can experience the real ending of the game, and there is a slew of other things you can do in the game world to truly experience all the game’s content.
Kingdom Hearts: 365/2 Days & Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
These two games are the part of the package that are non-playable. In their original forms, they were a DS-based ARPG and a phone-based action RPG puzzle game, respectively. They’ve been turned into movies for the PS4 release, however, which are made up of cutscenes from the original games, as well as additional content which is used to make the games into fully cohesive narratives.
Obviously, in the case of Re:Coded , this meant adding quite a lot of new content, with some reports putting it at over 2 hours of new cutscenes made just so that the story of this game could be included in the overall package.
These movies are a nice inclusion to ensure that the entire storyline can be divined from this release without needing to seek out other games on other systems. However, these movies clock in some pretty impressive run times, with 365/2 Days totalling over 3 hours on its own, meaning that it can feel like a bit of a chore to get through the entire thing.
These storylines are better experienced in their original forms, if at all possible, although these are fitting substitutes if you either can’t be bothered to find these original games or just want to experience the non-playable versions.
Overall, there are a many reasons why you should get this collection of games if you’ve never experienced the series in its entirety before. It’s a great way to either learn the story of the series or of refreshing your memory ahead of the next game’s release. The addition of the FPS issue being fixed means that this collection is an attractive option for people who want to try and beat these games on their hardest difficulty settings and had trouble with the PS3 releases, as well as for those who just want the best damn versions of the games that are available. There’s also the factor that it’s now possible to own the entire series on a single console, which is nice for completionists. However, if you’re a hardcore fan who already bought Kingdom Hearts I.5 and II.5 when they were released on PS3, there’s not much reason to buy this collection too, excluding the previously mentioned FPS fixes.
Kingdom Hearts I.5 + II.5 Remix is an attractive package for anyone who wants to own the entire Kingdom Hearts series on a single console. Many of the games included still stand up over a decade after their releases, and the inclusion of the entire series’ convoluted storyline in one place means that even more people can get involved in the KH storyline.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 31st March 2017