Eight years separate us from the original launch of Kingdom Hearts II, the second chapter of the innovative saga created by Disney Interactive and Square Enix. A series that definitely shined on the good old PS2, bringing together what many thought was impossible: the world of the Japanese manga (and of course, characters from Final Fantasy) and the world of Disney.
The experiment was a good one, and throughout the years the game amassed fans from all over the world. And while those same fans are still waiting news about Kingdom Hearts III with the patience of saints, Square Enix are aiming to fill that gap by offering a remastered version of the second episode of the series.
In a similar fashion to last year's Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix will land on PS3 on December 5, rich on content and far from a simple HD port. Has Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix managed to stand the test of time?
As we said at the start, the Kingdom Hearts series has won over a large number of fans over the years, fans who still recognise the value and the immensity of this work as a whole. In addition to the magic created by the perfect mix between two so different animated worlds (Disney and Final Fantasy), the saga has become a vehicle for important themes such as sacrifice and friendship, values that have always been important for both animation cultures. But even if the game is good, can this remix offer the same magical and timeless experience we discovered years ago?
First there's an important obstacle we have to overcome, and it's not only in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix. Whenever we have to tackle a HD remaster, especially with almost a decade weighing on its shoulders, it's necessary to "re-tune" our mindset in terms of some old mechanics and remember the time we played these games for the first time. Even if there's deep affection that binds us to the series and a we were curious to play this second chapter from a new perspective, we had a lot of problems with its slow pacing. The lethargic narrative leads to an experience that's completely different from the frantic experiences that many contemporary games have gotten us used to, and it simply doesn't fit with our new gamer mindset.
While the story continues to be deliciously compelling and intriguing, we can't just stand all those long dialogues and all those dead moments. The sluggish pace is also amplified by the presence of frequent and lengthy loading screens - something that people criticised the first time around the time as well.
In terms of difficulty, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix retains its simplicity in combat - essentially based on fundamental QTEs and on simple attacks - even at the time it failed to set the most loyal among its fans on fire. Square Enix has tried to remedy this, by inserting a new level of difficulty, "Final Mix +" is included in this collection, and it brings extra spice to the mix.
The best part of this new collection is undoubtedly its restyling. Although the graphics are not full HD, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix runs at a smooth 720p, full of vibrant colours and details unthinkable when compared to its PlayStation 2 original. Even if some animations (especially the facial ones) are cumbersome and stiff - especially during the cutscenes - the vibrancy of the colours and the care the devs put into the many characters that populate the game, certainly helps put a smile on your face. After all, this new version is clearly well crafted and it allows fans to experience this adventure in a new light.
As it represents the largest part of the package, Kingdom Hearts II is followed by other interesting additions, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts RE: Coded. The first one - a 2010 game, available on PSP - stands as a prequel to the very first Kingdom Hearts, set ten years before the events where Sora stars as protagonist, and it is focused on the journey of three characters, Terra, Ventus and Aqua, who are searching for Master Xehanort. Compared to the PS2 titles, Birth by Sleep offered a more complex combat system, it was more mature and tactical than its predecessors, offering a new challenging element to the series.
The last part of the collection is Kingdom Hearts RE: Coded, a nice tribute to the devoted fans of the series. Simply put it's a collection of trailers and images, RE: Coded proves an excellent addition to the entire saga, one that allows exploration of the lore behind the complex events. In our opinion, it's an interesting treat that will certainly be of interest to fans of the series.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is a good quality collection, which successfully attempts to fill the gap in the series while we wait on Kingdom Hearts III. Although some of the problems from the original release remain intact and its old age is starting to show, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is still full of the magic that has characterised the series in the past, offering several hours of entertainment and lots of content. In short, it's a collector's item that you shouldn't miss if you want to keep in touch with the series, in the hope that, sooner or later, Kingdom Hearts III will finally see the light of day.