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Considering my job, you can probably guess that I’m a big fan of video games. However, you might not know that I am equally infatuated with all things Disney. Hell, I think an ice cream bar automatically tastes better just because it’s shaped like Mickey Mouse.
So, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that I love Kingdom Hearts, the action role-playing game series that mixes Disney with Final Fantasy. Now, while we’re all waiting for Kingdom Hearts III on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Square has decided to give some of the older games in the franchise an HD remastering. Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix collects Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix (a special edition of the original that never came to America), Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (which itself was a PlayStation 2 remake of a GameBoy Advance game), and the cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS, all with prettier, higher-res graphics.
It’s hard to believe that the original Kingdom Hearts is over 10 years old, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous to go back to a game I loved so much. What if didn’t hold up? What if I, the ultimate Disney nerd, had to tell the world that Kingdom Hearts really isn’t as good as I remember? Thankfully, this isn’t the case.
What You’ll Like
Everything that was good before
I thought the original Kingdom Hearts, which came out way back in 2002 for the PlayStation 2, was pretty much the greatest thing ever. It weaved together Disney worlds and developer/publisher Square Enix characters into an epic journey where people say words like “light” and “darkness” every other sentence. Sure, it’s a little hokey, but its charming crossovers and satisfying action have helped turn it into one of Square’s biggest franchises.
Kingdom Hearts has a great battle system which requires a thoughtful mastery of offensive, defensive, and magical abilities to succeed. Despite the Disney branding, Kingdom Hearts will kick your ass if you think you’re going to just press the attack button until you win. Combat is a bit slower and more thoughtful than you find in a lot of other action-RPGs, including later entries in Kingdom Hearts series. Mechanically, it’s still one of the most satisfying to play in the genre.
The original “wow” factor of seeing Final Fantasy characters on the same screen as Donald Duck may have dissipated a bit, but the Disney nerd in me still grins like an idiot when he hears Donald calling Jack Skellington’s name as he heals him. Kingdom Hearts has levels based on some of Disney’s most popular animated movies, including Aladdin, Pinocchio, The Little Mermaid, and Peter Pan. The constant change in scenery helps the 30-hour campaign feel like it’s moving along at a blistering pace, and it’s always fun to see what new items and abilities you’ll unlock after beating every world.
Re: Chain of Memories plays similarly to the original Kingdom Hearts, but every action requires that use a card. You make a deck out of all your spells and attacks, which you can then combine for stronger abilities during combat. It’s a bit confusing at first, but the surprisingly deep system allows for a lot of strategy and customization.
Basically, these were both great games, and their HD versions do nothing to change that. The gameplay is still satisfying, the music is still beautiful and occasionally haunting (the score has also seen an orchestral remastering, which sounds great), and it still lets you watch Goofy beat up Cloud with a giant shield.
Well, it’s an HD collection, so of course it’s prettier. Still, I’m impressed by just how nice everything looks. Character models look clean and smooth, and each game runs at a consistently high frame-rate without any instances of slowdown. It’s hard to believe that this is actually the first time we get to see this series in HD, and while it certainly doesn’t look as nice as something built from the ground up for the PlayStation 3 would, I can easily say this is one of the nicest HD conversions I’ve seen.
Of course, some textures look incredibly blurry up close, especially some of the lower-res character faces you see in a lot of cutscenes. The HD sheen also makes some levels, like Alice in Wonderland, look incredibly blocky and simple, like someone made them out of a cheap Lego set or something. Still, this is easily the best these games have looked, and I have to admit it would be a bit hard for me to go back to the originals now.