Combining Final Fantasy, the most popular RPG series of all time, with the wonderful world of Disney may have once sounded like a crazy idea, but with the release of Kingdom Hearts in 2002, the two brands were brought together almost perfectly. Gamers have been anxiously awaiting the release of the next entry with Kingdom Hearts III, but in the meantime, Square Enix has focused on bringing the original lineup of games to the PlayStation 3 through HD collections; allowing gamers to catch up on the events of the past in advance of the conclusion of the epic trilogy. Following last year’s excellent remaster, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX arrives, bringing a few of the most well received and ambitious entries in the franchise back to life while looking better than ever.
Similar to the first HD collection, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX offers two full games, Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, for players to enjoy, along with a full set of completely remastered and updated cutscenes from a third game, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded to be specific. Rather than splitting across a number of discs, this collection holds all three within one Blu-Ray, with all three being able to be accessed with ease. Even better, players can switch between games rather easily and in a matter of seconds.
With the original games coming from PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo DS, Square Enix had a lot of work ahead of them in remastering each one. However, they did not disappoint in the least this time around. In addition to the completely redone background textures, the character models themselves have been reworked in each game. While not having the graphical capabilities of something like PlayStation 4 to work with, Square Enix has done a phenomenal job making a game on the last generation PlayStation 3 not only worth playing, but competitive graphically in its own right.
Similar to the original Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II was compressed heavily to make it onto the PlayStation 2, which is not a problem at all anymore with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX. While the game as a whole looks fantastic here, Timeless River stands out above all with its creative design based on the classic Steamboat Willie, which looks even more refined this time around. Of the group, KHII features a number of FMV cutscenes that look absolutely brilliant in the HD form they were always destined to be viewed in at conception.
After years of visiting many of the same old locations in the spinoff titles, Birth By Sleep offered brand new locations like KHII did, including Enchanted Dominion, Dwarf Woodlands, Deep Space, and more. Thanks to Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, players are finally able to experience these locations on something larger than a tiny PSP screen for the first time, and they look beautiful. From the inside of Cinderella’s Castle to the impressive Dwarf Woodlands, it is fantastic to see the full potential of Birth By Sleep’s previously handheld-exclusive settings.
The visuals are not the only improvements found due to the capabilities of the PlayStation 3, as the sound is as impeccable as ever. From the exquisite score to the opening “Sanctuary” and “Simple & Clean,” the soundtrack is a pure joy to listen to. In addition, the star studded voice cast is back again with an even more improved sound mix on the originals, which is especially important on the transition from the handhelds to the console.
The original Kingdom Hearts had an epic story of its own, but mostly stayed pretty self-contained with the core cast and the Disney related storylines. However, Kingdom Hearts II takes everything to a whole new level by introducing the menacing but mysterious Organization XIII. Setting the future of the franchise in motion, Kingdom Hearts II is very much worth a full replay, even though it has been available on consoles in the past.
While Kingdom Hearts II pushes the story forward drastically, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep acts as a prequel to many other entries in the series. However, this does not mean that the story is lacking, as Birth By Sleep offers arguably the deepest and most heart-wrenching stories in the series. Told in a unique way that has not been done elsewhere in the series, players have the ability to take control of Terra, Ventus, or Aqua in their own separate campaigns, which will all come together at intersecting plot points. This was very unique at the time of the original release and still feels fresh, especially with the ability to play the three campaigns in any order the player wishes.
The HD upgrade of both Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep is one of the largest selling points for US gamers. However, perhaps the most important addition to the collection is the inclusion of the Final Mix variations of both games for the first time in the states. Following the initial release, Final Mix versions of both Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep were released in Japan that added brand new content that Americans never have been able to experience, until now.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is as complete a collection of the included games as one can get
Kingdom Hearts II has plenty of new content offered in its Final Mix form, including new enemies, weapons, and cutscenes. However, they are not quite as apparent as the new content offered in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep. The latter adds a full secret chapter at the end of the game that plays a major role in the continuance of one of the main characters that otherwise players would miss out on completely. This alone makes replaying Birth By Sleep worth it for longtime fans of the franchise that are just dying for that little bit of new story content.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is as complete a collection of the included games as one can get, but sadly one aspect was cut from Birth By Sleep, the multiplayer elements of the Mirage Arena. While not a dealbreaker due to not being all that important, it would have been intriguing to see it reworked to have a larger presence. To make up for it, the single player experience has been enhanced and even made more difficult. In addition, remapping the camera controls to the right analog stick, as in the other games, was a wise choice rather than leaving them to the bumper buttons. This change is most apparent in the various boss battles, including at the Mirage Arena itself.
While Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep are fully playable in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, the previous Nintendo DS release, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded does not get quite the same treatment. Instead of being rebuilt from the ground up, as with Birth By Sleep, Square Enix made the decision to only take the cutscenes from Re:coded and remaster them in full 3D. This was actually a very wise decision, as Re:Coded’s story is pretty uneventful and can become very redundant for anyone that has played the original Kingdom Hearts or even Re:Chain of Memories, as it revisits the same exact set of worlds once again.
Coming in at just under three hours, the fully remastered cutscenes from Re:coded are implemented much more effectively than those found in last year’s Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX. The problem with those taken from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was that rather than feeling like an actual movie that flowed together, it was broken up every few minutes with annoying text that had to be read. Luckily, that is improved upon quite a bit in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, as while there are a few segments with lengthy text, they are much fewer and far between and do not hinder the experience as much.
Also unlike with 358/2 Days, fully voiced HD cutscenes are produced from the worlds that Sora visits in the game, including Wonderland and Agrabah. This is a very nice change that fleshes out the storyline of the game much more, to the point where it feels like it is quite important in the grand scheme of things storywise.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix offers not only two of the best entries in the franchise in full HD glory, but also cutscenes taken from a spinoff that many may have missed the first time. Even better, both Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep bring their Final Mix counterparts to the US for the first time, with a slew of new content in each that will interest even those that beat 100% of the originals. Looking better than ever and only retailing for $39.99, this collection is a must buy for any Kingdom Hearts fan, as well as anyone that may be looking to get into the franchise ahead of Kingdom Hearts III. In tandem, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 and 2.5 are the definitive editions of Kingdom Hearts that should absolutely not be missed.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX
- Available On: PS3
- Published By: Square Enix
- Developed By: Square Enix
- Genre: Action
- US Release Date: December 2nd, 2014
- Reviewed On: PS3
- Quote: "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX showcases Kingdom Hearts at its very best with two of the best stories in the franchise, along with a mini-movie based on a third game, all of which will keep fans busy while they wait for Kingdom Hearts III."