Almost a whole console generation has elapsed since the release of the latest official numbered entry of Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts franchise, Kingdom Hearts II on the Sony PlayStation 2, and to tide players over until the following official entry, the developer has been content with putting out spinoff titles taking place in between or in some cases during the main numbered titles. In 2013, Square-Enix announced a collection of remakes for the PlayStation 3 entitled Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, which for the most part provides a solid experience in spite of some flaws here and there.
For the first time in North America, the collection includes an HD version of the director’s cut of the original Kingdom Hearts, entitled Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, which has some additional features not present in the original North American release. A menu-based hack-and-slash battle system largely drives the game, with combat generally being fast and fluid, although there are some shortcomings such as occasional frustrating platforming in enemy-infested areas that may occasionally cause players to fall over ledges, retrace their steps, and fight the same foes again. A “wait” mode similar to the active-time battle systems of the Final Fantasy titles would have been nice as well since it can be tricky to navigate the battle menu in the middle of combat to do things like use items, and shortcuts are only available for magic spells (although the player does gain a healing spell that upgrades twice throughout the game).
For the second time in North America is the three-dimensional remake of the GameBoy Advance title Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, entitled Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, where fights are generally more strategic given the card-based gameplay, and since fights occur in restricted arenas, the player mercifully doesn’t need to worry about falling from ledges in the middle of combat. There are, however, again some flaws such as the schizophrenic boss difficulty that may necessitate some grinding and fights against some of the same bosses over and over, but fights are generally more enjoyable in Riku’s mode, Reverse/Rebirth, where battles flow more fluidly in spite of some grinding necessary in that particular mode as well.
Also present in the collection is high-definition versions of the cutscenes from the Nintendo DS entry Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (pronounced “three-five-eight days over two”), where the story is perhaps strongest, given the focus on the original characters comprising Organization XIII and limited interaction with the various characters of Disney-themed worlds that the group’s members visit (with text summaries occasionally appearing). The plots Final Mix and Re:Chain of Memories, though, leaves something to desire, given the former title’s distraction of the Disney-themed worlds and lack of humor despite the presence of comically-voiced characters such as Donald and Goofy, and the repetition of worlds in the latter title, although Reverse/Rebirth generally tells a better story.
In the end, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is for the most part a solid collection of titles that hits many of the right notes with regards to aspects such as their gameplay, although that particular area too leaves some room for improvement, given things such as inconsistent boss difficulty. The narrative is much the same way, although it’s strongest in Reverse/Rebirth in Re:Chain of Memories and the HD cutscenes of 358/2 Days. Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack across all the titles, alongside the voice acting, are well above average, as well, and the HD graphics only have some minor blemishes such as pixelated textures on the scenery when seen close-up. Those who have yet to experience any of the titles comprising the collection will certainly find it to be a good diving board into the franchise.