Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMix is a follow up to last years HD remaster collection 1.5 ReMIX which contained the first Kingdom Hearts, RE: Chain of Memories and a movie length feature comprising of cutscenes that summarised the story of the DS exclusive Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. 2.5 ReMIX continues the trend offering the Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts 2, the Final Mix version of Birth By Sleep and a summarised version of yet another DS game in Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded. Does this new collection manage to retain the magic of the original titles? Read on to find out.
Story – Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix
The story of Kingdom Hearts 2 follows on from the events of Re:Chain of Memories and the first Kingdom Hearts games with lots of subtle and larger call backs to events that took place within those games and others in the series. Flashbacks and journal entries help explain the events of the first two games, however it is recommended to have at least played through KH1 and maybe Chain of Memories to see the story unfold for yourself. You can also play through 358/2 Days before or after which will give you a completely different understanding of Roxas’ character and the events that occurred before he ended up in Twilight Town.
Kingdom Hearts is your basic good versus evil story (more light versus darkness in this case) but many of the characters sport complex personalities and motives which give real depth to this character driven narrative. It’s hard not to be intrigued by the curiosities of Roxas or root for the kindhearted Sora and his lovable sidekicks Donald and Goofy. When these characters have to make tough decisions it worries you how it will affect those involved and that marks the sign of a great story. A strong sense of mystery keeps you playing to find out the next answer and the narrative loves to hide the true identity of characters, particularly the games antagonist group Organization XIII.
Unfortunately Kingdom Hearts 2 has a very slow start and it will take you about 3 hours before you complete the prologue and get to the main part of the adventure. Some of the sections in the prologue are fun such as the struggle tournament and heading into the mansion, however there is also a lot of boring stuff too such as money farming in mundane jobs and tracking down abnormalities in the town. Luckily it’s all uphill from here and when Sora, Donald and Goofy reunite the magic really starts to kick in.
Of course one of the main draws of the franchise is the inclusion of the Disney Worlds, all of which feature a ‘lite’ version of the movie or its sequel that the world is based on. These stories are more or less self contained and have little impact on the overall story, however none of that really matters as the joy of visiting your favourite Disney Worlds and interacting with your favourite characters is just an amazing. It’s also interesting to see how Sora and other characters factor in to the events of these Disney stories, as obviously they were never there in the original movies. If you’re a sucker for nostalgia be prepared to be hit hard here.
Story – Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix
Birth By Sleep is actually the first game in the series timeline, taking place 10 years before the first game. It has a lot of connection with the main story as well as being rather self contained. The story here is actually split into three as near the beginning of the game you choose to take control of Terra, Aqua or Ventus, all who have their own unique journey, personality and abilities. All these stories intertwine to tell different perspectives of the story and also come together in the endgame to create a unified ending.
First you have Terra who is struggling to keep the darkness out of his heart due to his thirst for power, kind of like Riku. Take out the fantasy elements and Terra is easily the most relatable of the three Keyblade wielders. Situations like struggling with moments of weakness, feeling powerless to help and taking the easy way out are all things players will probably be able to relate to and that makes Terra a great character. It is interesting to see how Terra deals with his struggles and how his relationships with characters grow over the course of the game, especially those like Maleficent.
Aqua has a huge desire to protect her friends as well as the balance in the world and takes her position as a newly crowned Keyblade Master very seriously, even if her orders sometimes conflict with her relationships. Aqua responds to situations as you would expect and has a classic goody-goody attitude, very much like Kairi. Her story is still fun to play through but more for the events that take place rather then for the character herself.
If Terra is like Riku and Aqua like Kairi, then Ventus is definitely Sora and that is more than just because of his looks. Ven is curious and fun loving and is often treated like the little kid that always gets told it’s too dangerous and he should head home. Much like the others Ventus wants the protection of his friends above all else and is willing to die for that cause. Following Ventus through the worlds as he easily makes new friends is charming and the impending final showdown between himself and his evil doppelganger Vanitas helps advance the story. Without spoiling anything I want to praise the endings for each character that aren’t as you would expect from a game like this, providing a refreshing change of pace from most RPG endings.
Story – Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded retells the story of the DS remake of the original mobile title Kingdom Hearts Coded. It does this through newly animated and voiced cutscenes with an occasional voiced text screen. Basically, Jiminy Crickets journal that he wrote down all the events that took place in the first game in have been corrupted by data bugs and the pages are now blank except for a mysterious message. Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Chip and Dale have to try and help repair the journal with help from data versions of Sora and Riku. After that act of that story concludes, another connected yet somewhat separate story also takes place involving Sora going through Castle Oblivion.
Kingdom Hearts makes a much better game than it does a movie and unfortunately only about 30 minutes out of the 3 hour long cutscene compilation, actively engaged my interest, with most of those moments being one of two completely new cutscenes only found in this title and other scenes that connected more to the overarching story of the series. Most of this story is dull and unimportant and has no consequence on the other games. Unfortunately you can’t just watch scenes in any order, so you will have to sit through the entirety of the story before you can browse the chapter selection screen at will.
After seeing the same worlds three to four times now it feels a little tiresome to see them again here. There are also some incredibly boring scenes such as when Sora tries to give Alice her memory back, only so she can lead him to the keyhole, beat the monster their and return to the next world which you knew was going to happen anyway due to the repetitive nature of this task. Their is also a lot of repetition in the dialogue, mostly relating to the whole motif of never giving into darkness or remembering your friends are always with you even when you’re alone. At some point this just becomes annoying and you find yourself saying “O.K. we get it!”.
There are some strong story scenes present in Re:coded that do add to the story, fill in certain mysteries and elude to the events of Kingdom Hearts III, it is just unfortunate you have to sit through a lot of boring and repetitious moments to get to them.
Gameplay – Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix
Kingdom Hearts 2 is an action RPG much like the first game except in the sequel everything is taken to the next level. You still have your basic attacks which seem to come out and combo together a little quicker, you still have your magic which seems a little less overpowered than it was in the first game (some spells are missing all together and some like fire have changed) and items and summons are also back. Then there are new abilities and attacks you can equip, limit attacks between certain characters and the awesome new drive forms that come with a large list of set abilities, change your basic attacks and magic and allow you to wield two key blades at once.
One big addition are reaction commands that require a press of the triangle button to initiate a mini quick-time-event that results in a favourable outcome if you succeed. These look great and are normally unique for each enemy or big boss fight, keeping the battle fresh and adding some great cinematic flare. All the above mentioned combat options are welcome additions and give you a huge arsenal to build your play style around.
However what good would all these attacks be if there were no enemies to defeat? Well luckily both games in this collection feature a huge variety of enemies, from basic Heartless and Nobodies to intense battles involving boss characters that can take your health down to zero in a second. All these enemies have unique attack patterns and tells, forcing you to keep on your toes, learning the best way to react and counterattack to each attack. There are four difficulty options present right from the start and while you might get away with mashing the attack button on easy and normal, you won’t have such luck on the two harder difficulties which provide a great challenge for seasoned players and really show the true depth and potential of this amazing combat system.
While the combat is the star of the show, there is lots of exploration to find chests and stickers, mini games to play and secret bosses to find and defeat. This is a huge game full of variety and any action RPG fan will be thrilled with what they find here, especially as the Final Mix version of the game offers even more content then the original that hasn’t been seen yet in an English release.
Gameplay – Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix
The battle system in Kingdom Hearts BBS is often touted as the best in the series and it is not hard to see why. The variety in attack options is simply stunning. You have your basic attacks which end in special finishers as well as a command deck which you can fully customise with any of the 30+ commands all of which can level up to become stronger. Certain combinations of commands lead you into command styles that completely change your basic moves, movement and damage output. On top of that you have items, D-Links that enable you to adopt another characters command list and shot locks that enable powerful multi-hit attacks on an enemy. All these have a cooldown once used so it is important to mix it up and manage your commands effectively. One of my gaming beliefs is that variety is the foundation for great gameplay and Birth By Sleep has plenty.
All these attacks look great and are fun and satisfying to pull off, making this action RPG one of the top in it’s class. The moves are a lot easier to perform now thanks to being able to use the DualShock 3 as opposed to the original PSP controls which only featured the one analog nub as opposed to two sticks. The camera is now mapped to the right stick as opposed to a single button, nearly eliminating all the issues the camera had in the original game and the additional L2 & R2 buttons help you to cycle through the command list so you don’t have to move your thumb off the left stick to the D-pad which is very handy.
Apart from combat you will also be melding commands to create new ones, exploring new Disney Worlds some of which are presented in Kingdom Hearts for the first time such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, finding treasure chests, racing on your Keyblade hoverjet and more. All of it is a good time apart from a few mini games you are forced to repeat multiple times to collect everything, but if you’re not a completionist you can just ignore all that and focus on the main story and combat which are the heart of this game.
The other area you might be spending a bit of time in within Birth By Sleep is the Command Board mini game, which is kind of like Monopoly only Kingdom Hearts-ified. This lets you gain new abilities and level up your current commands and is pretty fun unless you really want a command exclusive to a board and can’t manage to land on it. Unfortunately there is no multiplayer for this mode which is a shame as it would be a lot more fun then friends then against the CPU but if you love board games and love Kingdom Hearts you will easily love the command board as it offers a great mix of random elements and strategy to create a great standalone mini game.
Just like the first collection, HD 2.5 ReMIX lives up to it’s title featuring remastered graphics and textures that make the worlds and characters look as good as new. All the blurriness found in the original games due to standard definition is gone, replaced by sharp and clean looking models and textures. Models do look a little blocky and sometimes textures do look a little blurry at times (such as Sora’s hair or gloves), however for the most part this is a very nice looking game. Special effects like beams of light and sparkles were already impressive on the PS2 hardware and now they shine even brighter on the PS3.
The graphics and performance do fair a little rougher in Birth By Sleep, even though the game has been updated greatly from it’s PSP origins. This is most noticeable with the menu presentations and the way the game saves. Models also tend to be a little less detailed than in other areas of the compilation with environments more so, but I must stress the word little here. What will slightly hamper your fun in BBS is some small performance issues. The framerate does drop randomly in places you wouldn’t expect, most of the time being in cutscenes. Luckily I do not recall having any battles that suffered from frame rate drops, but on a whole the game does feel less ‘fluid’ than the smoothness of KH2 and Re:coded.
A big highlight of the visuals is definitely the facial animations. The story could probably be told without a word from these characters as their is just so much expression and charm to be found through their animations, from Sora’s cheeky grin to an expression of sadness from Roxas, these characters look like they really feel their emotions and it’s a joy watching cutscenes play out. Unfortunately this high level animation can’t be found throughout the entire game (except for Re:coded), with about half the scenes resorting to using a basic texture for mouth and eye movements which looks much, much worse.
One last note on performance that effects both Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix is the load times for entering drive forms and D-link have been noticeably extended. It will take about 3-4 seconds each time you want to establish a D-link and the game is practically frozen while it loads the new move set. It’s not a game breaker but as these games have pretty fast paced combat it is annoying to wait while the forms load and you don’t really want to see any steps taken backwards in a HD remaster.
Simply put, amazing. From the rearranged original orchestral tracks to the Disney classics such as The Beauty and the Beast theme and the Pirates of the Carribean theme the soundtrack across each game is epic, diverse and really drives emotion into those listening. All the battle tracks are also fantastic and will get you ready to kick some heartless/nobodies/unversed butt and most of the world background music is very catchy as well (I can’t stop humming the theme from Enchanted Dominion). A special mention goes to the games two main themes in Sanctuary and Simple and Clean for being great vocal songs that accompany the intros perfectly.
The voice work also scores highly, with all character reprising their roles, even those from the big Disney films (except for Genie who still sounds great in KH2 but pretty bad in Re:coded and Alice in Re:coded). Sora’s new adult voice may be a bit jarring at first but you do get used to it quickly. Apart from a few awkwardly delivered lines from the main cast I can’t fault the voice actors work across any of the three titles in this collection and a special mention to Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame who plays the villainous Master Xehanort perfectly. Sound effects are also spot on, with all the magic beams, chest openings and Keyblade strikes being satisfying to the ears and bringing more life to this magical universe.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is a great remastering of two already fantastic titles and the inclusion of a story that while having some shining moments is unfortunately 75% uninteresting. 2.5 ReMIX provides some of the best action RPG combat ever mixed in with an epic overarching story with interesting and recognisable characters and settings. All of this is presented brilliantly through remastered visuals and audio and there is no doubt some songs will get stuck in your head as the soundtrack is nothing short of excellent. Considering the game is available at a lower price point and contains three times more content than most other titles, you have yourself an awesome, great value collection that is well worth your money and shelf space.
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