It was a memorable, entertaining, game experience. Since then, a lot has happened. The series has been extended by a further seven titles on console and handheld through the years.
It's easy to see how newcomers can get lost. With Kingdom Hearts III on the horizon, Kingdom Hearts HD Remix 1.5 offers the perfect opportunity to join the series and experience the story from the very beginning. Veterans will still be satisfied thanks to new details, extensions and improvements.
First, the obvious: Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix is a package consisting of three titles. In addition to the complete overhaul of the original game, we also find icons for both Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days available on the title screen.
Small drawback: only the first two titles are actually playable. The third addition, Kingdom Hearts 358/2, is nothing more than a theatre mode, letting us watch that game's cinematics, intermixed with plain text blocks to fill in the gameplay gaps.
As you can guess, that is not exactly thrilling. But at least the title has a lot of background information on the events between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 - and is thus of particular interest to lovers of detail, and is a lot more fun than checking Wikipedia. So, focus is on the revised version of the original Kingdom Hearts.
After the immediately familiar intro, we accompany Sora, who lives on an island with his friends Kairi and Riku, as his home is attacked by the Heartless and Sora is separated from his friends and pulled into space.
What pans out of that is an adventure in which we travel to distant worlds, search for his missing friends and - obviously - end up saving the universe.
To do so, we travel to different worlds, populated by various Disney characters. There's no fundamental changes in the story, but it has been expanded to include some explanatory cutscenes. With these and the HD visual update - and compared to other HD updates of titles to this generation - Kingdom Hearts Final Mix is less revision, much more an evolution of the Playstation 2 version.
Along with the aforementioned new sequences, we also get new enemy types, items, combat options and refined gameplay. In particular, the previously oh-so-stubborn camera work has benefited from refinements - and this alone makes 1.5 worth the purchase for series veterans.
Graphically Kingdom Hearts belongs to that collection of titles that age gracefully, thanks to its comic style presentation. In addition, the characters and worlds are overhauled and therefore still look amazing. The impression of a much smoother gaming experience offers much value for fans.
Originally released for the Gameboy Advance, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories is a direct sequel to the debut of the series - at least story-wise. In Castle Oblivion, Sora , Goofy and Donald are robbed of their memories and must fight floor by floor through the castle to discover its secrets and the organisation that have lured them there. Because the story is based on Sora's memories however, most of the worlds from the original are recycled.
If you play both titles sequentially then, you'll find little incentive to discover the next world in Chain of Memories. While the story translates smoothly to a new generation of console, the gameplay is a harder sell, as the combat system is completely different, and makes Chain of Memories somewhat inaccessible compared to its predecessor.
While Kingdom Hearts plays itself without acclimatization, we find ourselves sitting with the successor for several hours before the card battle system that's at the heart of combat finally clicks. Instead of straight-forward fighting, attacks are transferred to a card deck, with each card representing a attack value.
Unfortunately, switching the cards is cumbersome and sometimes we don't know how we're supposed to look on the battle ahead and develop a card-attack-strategy at the same time. After a time ( a long, long time) the system is fun, though it's never quite as immediate as the first game.
The many refinements and adjustments make Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix a great compilation, that is worthwhile not only for beginners but also for long-time fans. Because the action is no longer blocked by annoying camera issues, we focus more on the beautiful story, which has lost nothing of its charm after ten years.
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