Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is the newest in a long line of last-generation titles being remastered for the current generation of HD consoles. Like many of these remasters, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is a collection of several games -- in this case, Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories.
It also comes with a compilation movie using a remastered version of the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (which we covered earlier this week). But while most HD collections feature only visual updates, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix goes one step beyond to add in gameplay tweaks as well as new content never seen before outside of Japan to make this the definitive version of these games.
Good -- A Great HD Remaster
Despite being done by only two people, this is a beautiful remaster. Both Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix and Re:Chain of Memories look much smoother and more detailed than they did previously on the PlayStation 2. Sure, the backgrounds still have the same polygon count as always, but the textures are all well re-done in HD. But don't take my word for it; check out our comparison video between the old version and the new.
Good -- Modern Control Updates
Most major changes to gameplay come in the Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix portion of this collection. First off is the camera. Previously relegated to the L2 and R2 buttons, the camera can now be controlled via the right thumbstick (like in Kingdom Hearts II). And while after my first play of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix at Jump Festa late last year I complained that it felt like I was fighting the camera, I have found that turning off the auto camera in the options menu fixes this perceived problem handily.
The other big gameplay change involves interacting with objects outside of battle. Instead of having to cycle through the command menu every time you want to open a box, the triangle button now serves as the all-purpose, context-sensitive button. Again, this serves to make the game play more like the subsequent games in the series and is thus a very welcome change.
Good -- Another Shot at all the Extra Goodies You May Have Missed
As mentioned above, the version of the first Kingdom Hearts that is in the collection is not the original release but is rather the Japan-only Final Mix. This version of the game includes new cutscenes, conversations, and bosses that weren't available in the original international release.
And while the other game in the collection, Re:Chain of Memories, was released on the PS2 back in 2008, many have probably never played it because of having played the original GBA version of the game years before or simply because they had moved on to the next generation of consoles by 2008. Of course, if you are a PAL gamer, this was never even released in your territory. So if you have never played Re:Chain of Memories for whatever reason, this is the perfect chance to give it a try.
Mixed -- Still Feels a Little Dated
But even with the controls and camera updated, it still feels dated in how it plays. The jumping is imprecise and floaty, and the automatic edge grabbing is iffy at best. And considering some boss battles and many platforming sections rely on this mechanic, it can be more than a bit frustrating. Similarly, conversations that would be voiced today are left silent, and the combat is nowhere nearly as fast and flashy as more recent iterations in the series. But all that said, these are just natural effects of the game being over a decade old, and undoubtedly fans will be able to overlook these flaws.
There is no doubt that the versions of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories found in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix are the best versions of the games in existence. They look better, play better, and even have content that will be new to the vast majority of English-speaking Kingdom Hearts players. And while you can definitely feel the game's age, it's easier than ever to see the charm that has made this series so popular.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix was released in Japan on March 14, 2013, for the PlayStation 3. It is scheduled for a Western release sometime later this year.