Supposing Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix was on your radar, you know exactly what?s in store with HD 2.5 Remix. And if it wasn?t, well, then right now you?re in Fundamentals of Disney/Square Enix Mashups when you probably want to be in Principles of Far Cry or something.
Suffice to say, this year?s follow-up Remix is, like last year?s bundle, a bargain for series fans looking to re-experience Tetsuya Nomura?s dizzying tale of Disney kingdoms, Keyblades, and Heartless and the most efficient way for interested passersby to immerse themselves in the lore leading up to Kingdom Hearts III?but without the need for multiple systems to do so.
Just like its predecessor did a little over a year ago, HD 2.5 Remix packs three different Kingdom Hearts experiences onto one disc: 2006?s PS2 release Kingdom Hearts II, 2010?s PSP release Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, and 2011?s Re:coded for Nintendo DS. I use the term ?experiences,? of course, because just like last year?s trio of HD re-releases, one among this new wave is not a full-fledged game. Square Enix gutted Re:coded?s gameplay like 358/2?s before it, leaving only the HD-updated and expanded cinematics to view passively.
As established 14 months ago, the series? Disney animation?inspired aesthetic lends itself well to a high-def facelift, shrinking the time-based and technological gaps that might otherwise cause these re-releases to show their age. Sure, there?s a certain flatness to some of the environment objects and textures, but in a trio of games defined more by their interconnected narrative and action-RPG mechanics, these things largely go unnoticed.
Kingdom Hearts II remains the most solid entry in the franchise, at least in terms of combat and exploration. The former builds off the original?s solid blend of real-time action and Final Fantasy?style command menu with Reaction Command prompts to add a cinematic flair, particularly during some of the boss fights, and the Drive Gauge to give Sora a short burst of additional power. Exploration, naturally, is granted more breadth by the inclusion of several new Disney worlds, including the Land of Dragons (Mulan), Port Royal (Pirates of the Caribbean), Timeless River (Steamboat Willie), Pride Lands (Lion King), and Space Paranoids (Tron).
Unfortunately, while still very fun, Kingdom Hearts II is when the series jumps Bruce the great white shark?and as many of his friends as can be rounded up. Trying to describe the various relationships characters have to one another, to other versions of themselves, and the factions at play or being set up is akin to writing ?Who?s on First?? in prose. Quite honestly, narrative explanations are better left to visual charts (and even then still remain convoluted and confusing). It?s easier to view Kingdom Hearts II less as a compelling, cohesive narrative and more like a collection of cool, fan-servicing moments that see Final Fantasy favorites joining up to fight back-to-back, or cutely come out of their shells to interact with Disney stars.
Birth by Sleep, meanwhile, suffers from the one-two punch that is anime-inspired characters with about as much depth as a cardboard cutout (you know, the kind that don?t so much talk to one another like human beings as trade abstract, existential musings like freshman philosophy majors) and the attempt to jazz up a perfectly suitable combat system (as new releases seem required to do) by piling on mechanics in the backend. In this case, the Command System, in which players create CCG-style ability ?decks? to swap between, editing existing ones with new abilities and merging abilities to create more powerful ones. These abilities, mapped to the face buttons, are juggled together to build up to different Finish commands depending on what deck is active and what abilities are combined. As a result, you?ll spend far more time glancing repeatedly to the bottom-left corner of the UI to keep an eye on each ability?s ever-filling bar than giving the actual combat itself your full attention. Of course this means when trying to keep a bead on an enemy, it oftentimes feels like you?re trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time?a task some can perform with ease, and others find baffling difficult (and so, unenjoyable).
As for Re:coded, well, there?s not much to do but sit back, relax, and keep the controller nearby to page through prompts and keep things moving. If you?re really invested in the fiction of Kingdom Hearts, the lobotomized Re:coded makes for a less time-consuming way to experience one aspect of the greater tale. On the other hand, without any gameplay to serve as a reward for suffering the banalities and bad writing, it could easily be viewed as a three-hour punishment of insipidness and insufferable characters. This, of course, wholly depends on your tolerance of modern anime, a medium I personally believe is poisoning the JRPG scene with its influence.
Without a doubt, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is a steal. Forty bucks for three games? worth of content?two playable?with the lot made prettier to accommodate 16:9 widescreen modernity is a hard bargain to find fault in. Then again, it?s a bargain that will only ever appeal to a very specific subset of people?those who are already mouse-ears deep in the lore and jonesing for the long-awaited third proper entry, and any curious parties who missed the proverbial boat two PlayStation consoles ago.
But for those who, like me, enjoyed Kingdom Hearts well enough a decade ago, HD 2.5 Remix is largely a reminder how the franchise was better off as just one anomalous collaboration between two seemingly disparate companies. Perhaps I?ve simply outgrown the franchise. More likely, my attitudes about what constitutes good fiction, good storytelling, and good characters is just wildly different a decade later in life. The passage of time often does that.
Still, regardless of whether you find the fiction a mess of idea-driven plot that sacrifices strong characters for complication or, somehow, think it wonderful, one constant remains appreciable to both parties: Kingdom Hearts is still a series of solid action-RPGs.
|Developer: Square Enix ? Publisher: Square Enix ? ESRB: E10+ ? Release Date: 12.02.2014|
Like the 1.5 Remix before it, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is a great deal for franchise fans looking to consolidate the platform-spanning series under one roof?and on as few discs as possible. The narrative quality is questionable, at least when viewed through a modern lens, but the charm and novelty still ring true, as does the series? pioneering action-RPG combat.
|The Good||More Kingdom Hearts than you can shake a stick at.|
|The Bad||The needless backend mechanics crammed into Birth by Sleep?s battle system.|
|The Ugly||Three hours of Re:coded cutscenes feels more like torture than a treat.|
|Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is available exclusively on PlayStation 3. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.|