Back in 2002, Square Enix released a little game called Kingdom Hearts on the PlayStation 2. By all accounts, it shouldn’t have worked. The game was a mash-up of beloved Disney properties and Square’s legendary Final Fantasy series. Crazy, right? An idea like that probably should have been relegated to the annals of history with the other weird (but very good) Final Fantasy spin-offs like Ehergiz and the Chocobo series. But then the strangest thing happened: it caught on. Kingdom Hearts would go on to become the third major pillar in Square’s diverse library, spawning a number of sequels and spin-offs over a whole host of platforms.
For a time, everything was sunshine and rainbows in the Kingdom Hearts world. Then, the series began to lose sight of what it was. The story, which had started out as a pretty simple affair, became impossible to follow for all but the most dedicated of fans. To make matters worse, games in the franchise released on every possible system: the PlayStation 2, the GameBoy Advance, the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 3DS, and even mobile phones. Following Kingdom Hearts suddenly required an awful lot of work and even more money, and many people gradually began to lose interest in all of the spin-offs and sequels. All we really wanted, after all, was Kingdom Hearts III.
"The core of this package is Kingdom Hearts II. Like most of Square Enix’s HD collections, HD 2.5 ReMIX isn’t just a resolution upgrade. Square has made a number of graphical enhancements, updating character models and in-game textures, and ensuring that every game in the package runs in glorious 1080p.
It took a long time, but Square Enix finally caught on. In 2013, a little more than 10 years after the release of the original Kingdom Hearts, Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, a compilation that bundled remastered versions of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories Final Mix, and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. I won’t delve too much into how good HD 1.5 ReMIX is; Pramath has already done that very well. After HD 1.5 ReMIX’s success, however, a sequel collecting the second half of the series was inevitable, which brings us to HD 2.5 ReMIX.
If HD 1.5 ReMIX was the story of the time when Kingdom Hearts was a simple, charming series, revisited, then HD 2.5 ReMIX is the story of how Kingdom Hearts went off the rails. This collection includes the Final Mixes of Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (which were never previously released outside of Japan), and a semi-interactive version of Kingdom Hearts Re: coded cut together as one long cinematic.
The core of this package is Kingdom Hearts II. Like most of Square Enix’s HD collections, HD 2.5 ReMIX isn’t just a resolution upgrade. Square has made a number of graphical enhancements, updating character models and in-game textures, and ensuring that every game in the package runs in glorious 1080p. The biggest and best additions, however, are those that come from Kingdom Hearts II’s Final Mix.
"There are a number of fairly substantial additions as well, including around 20 new boss fights, new abilities, a new Drive form, new areas, including a new dungeon, new weapons, and a new difficulty mode, and these changes make the Final Mix version a substantially better game.
Most of the changes are fairly minor, and many, such as the placement of various chests, the items that they contain, and the addition of a few minor scenes, won’t be noticed by anyone outside of the franchise’s diehard fans. But there are a number of fairly substantial additions as well, including around 20 new boss fights, new abilities, a new Drive form, new areas, including a new dungeon, new weapons, and a new difficulty mode, and these changes make the Final Mix version a substantially better game.
What’s most important, however, is that Kingdom Hearts II more or less holds up. Sure, the story takes itself way too seriously and is nigh incomprehensible if you haven’t played the other games (and if you haven’t, you really should get on that), but the core gameplay remains engaging, and the game’s art design still impresses more than ten years later. The vast majority of the soundtrack has also been re-recorded by The Video Game Orchestra, and the results are nothing short of stunning. Kingdom Hearts has always boasted a fantastic soundtrack, but the work that has been done here ensures that every piece sounds better than it ever has.
By comparison, the Final Mix for Birth by Sleep is a little more humble, but there are a number of new optional bosses and a new chapter that serves as an epilogue, and all are welcome additions. Visually, the game is less of a looker, which isn’t too surprising given its handheld origins. No, what Birth by Sleep benefits most from is the jump to a controller (specifically, a second analog stick for controlling the camera), and an increased field of view. These upgrades, in addition to the obvious graphical enhancements, the resolution bump, the rock solid framerate, and the musical enhancements (which are not quite as extensive as the ones in Kingdom Hearts II but still noticeable), make this the definitive version of one of the franchise’s finest titles.
"Unlike 358/2 Days, however, there is no redeeming quality to be found in Re: coded’s storyline. It is perhaps thirty minutes of plot dragged out over a three hour (or more, at some point I began blocking it out to avoid further pain) period, and most of what happens is either nonsensical or has no bearing on the overall plot of the series.
In short, Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep look, sound, and play the way you remember them looking, sounding, and playing, and that’s a heck of a lot better than being forced to remove your nostalgia goggles and actually play a PlayStation 2 or PSP game. The downside is that the remasters feature some technical issues not found in the original releases. Both Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep suffer from some serious load times. There are moments in both titles where the game will freeze or cut to a black screen for a significant period of time while the game loads a new area or transitions from gameplay to a cutscene, or vice versa. There is also occasionally a delay when opening the menu. By far the most problematic load times, however, are the ones that come with form changes.
Whether you’re changing Drive forms as Sora in Kingdom Hearts II, or D-linking with another character in Birth by Sleep, you’ll almost always be treated to a several seconds of your character floating motionlessly in mid-air while the game loads. Thankfully, you’re invincible while this happens, so it doesn’t break the game by any means, but the delay can make certain battles more difficult than they would be otherwise, and it is rather annoying in 2014 to be waiting on something that worked almost instantly in 2004 and 2010. It’s a very noticeable blemish on what is otherwise a near-flawless remaster, and it’s a shame Square Enix couldn’t iron out these issues before release.
Much like HD 1.5 ReMIX did with 358/2 Days, HD 2.5 ReMIX also includes a semi-interactive version of Kingdom Hearts Re: coded, polished up and cut together into long one cinematic. Unlike 358/2 Days, however, there is no redeeming quality to be found in Re: coded’s storyline. It is perhaps thirty minutes of plot dragged out over a three hour (or more, at some point I began blocking it out to avoid further pain) period, and most of what happens is either nonsensical or has no bearing on the overall plot of the series. The game’s cell phone routes are glaringly obvious, and no amount of production wizardry can cover up the fact that this is a game that didn’t need to be made and this story has next to no bearing on the franchise at large. A couple nods to the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III keep this from being a total wash, but all save the most diehard fans (and self-identified masochists) will find very little of value here.
"HD 2.5 ReMIX is a loving tribute that contains two of the best games in the Kingdom Hearts series.
Still, the fact that Re: coded is kind of worthless to anyone who isn’t a completionist does little to alter the fact that HD 2.5 ReMIX is a loving tribute that contains two of the best games in the Kingdom Hearts series. After so many years of spin-offs and remakes with no sign of Kingdom Hearts III, you’d be forgiven for wondering if Kingdom Hearts was still relevant, if the series still had anything left to offer in a console generation that was startlingly different than the one that spawned it.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX doesn’t answer that question. It can’t, and perhaps that’s unfair to ask of it. What is does do, however, is remind us why Kingdom Hearts was great in the first place, even when it was weighed down by too many platforms, spin-offs, and a nonsensical plot. It also reminds us of just how much the series has grown, and of how much it grew up, often alongside us. Kingdom Hearts III has to force the series to do that again, to grow up. It has, for many, to bridge a ten year gap and make lapsed fans fall in love again. Those are big shoes to fill. It might succeed. It might not. But for the first time in a long, long time, I’m excited about Kingdom Hearts, and Kingdom Hearts III, again. And just like the series’ best games, that is something worth celebrating.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Two of the best Kingdom Hearts games at the best they’ve ever been, with a lot of new content and audio and visual upgrades. Both Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep hold up extremely well. The Final Mixes are just the right balance of old and new. The series still retains its charm.
Kingdom Hearts Re: coded exists, and is included. Long load times in Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is a great remastering of two of the series’ best games, and includes Re: coded for completionists. These games retain their charm, whether it is your first adventure with Sora and co. or your fortieth, and hold up well. More importantly, they give us a reason to be excited about Kingdom Hearts III again. And that, just like the series’ best games, is something worth celebrating.
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