Kingdom Hearts 1.5+2.5 Remix PS4 Review
Nearly 15 years after its original release, the image of Donald Duck and Goofy sharing a conversation with Final Fantasy VII’s heroine Aerith (then voiced by Mandy Moore, to boot) remains one of the most wonderfully bizarre moments ever experienced in a crossover, videogame or otherwise. Indeed, the Kingdom Hearts series itself still feels like an impossible fever dream, or a fanfiction idea that would have garnered ridicule in high school. Even the very conception of Kingdom Hearts comes from the very thinnest of circumstances: a chance encounter between Square and Disney execs sharing an elevator ride, character designer Tetsuya Nomura casually submitting his ideas for the collaboration while overhearing the meeting discussions, and the brief moment in time where Square’s public credibility was at an all-time high while Disney’s was at the opposite end of the spectrum (a wave of ill-conceived direct-to-video sequels to beloved animated classics will do that).
After one numbered sequel and a half-dozen spin-offs, the general gaming public has pretty much grown accustomed to the long-running, highly successful crossover series, where at this point any inclusion from Disney or Square’s character vaults would hardly bat an eye. Even though the bizarre inception of the series has passed, its ongoing narrative remains a memetic puzzle for many players, from characters turning out to be reincarnations of other characters, to prequels doubling the cast with almost every spin-off, to the very foundations of Light vs Darkness, where one side might not be as benevolent or evil as the other.
A good reason for much of the narrative confusion is the fact the way Kingdom Hearts has spread its story across multiple platforms. Not content with just releasing non-canonical spin-offs, Tetsuya Nomura would take every new Kingdom Hearts game, regardless of platform, and make it an unavoidable entry for fans to stay invested in the story. The first, and most notorious example is Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, a side story that immediately followed the first game and featured story details that were directly referenced in Kingdom Hearts II; Anyone who missed out on this game, which at the time was exclusive to the Nintendo Gameboy Advance, would start up the second numbered game with a whole heap of questions. This idea of split narratives would continue as the series continued to bounce across almost every conceivable console out there.
This is why the release of Kingdom Hearts 1.5+2.5 Remix feels long overdue; a collection of the first six games, this collection follows the release of 2.8 (which, despite its nonsensical numbering scheme, is merely the third collection of games, and also the last up-to-date release before the long, long, long overdue Kingdom Hearts III), which makes the PS4 the first ever console to have all the KH games under one roof…as long as you don’t count the mobile exclusive Kingdom Hearts Union X, which is also stated to contain story beats that are integral to KHIII.
Starting from the beginning, Kingdom Hearts tells the story of Sora, a young boy who dreams of one day seeing the world beyond his tiny remote island. Turns out there are a whole bunch of worlds out there, each representing a popular Disney movie: there’s a whole world dedicated to Aladdin, a world for Alice and Wonderland, a world for Tarzan…even the Final Fantasy characters share a world. Due to the ongoing threat of the Heartless, many of these worlds have either been destroyed or under disarray, which is why King Mickey has set off on his own while leaving his trusted retainers Donald and Goofy to assist Sora on his franchise-spanning journey.
While most of the interactions with these worlds tend to be abridged re-enactments of their respective films, there is an undeniable appeal to watching Hercules, Jack Skellington and Winnie the Pooh come to 3D life, most played by their original actors. The same fanservice applies to Final Fantasy, as Kingdom Hearts was the first-time fans were reunited with Cloud, Squall, Aerith and the like before sequels like Advent Children or other crossover spinoffs like Dissidia made their appearances more common. What Kingdom Hearts lacks in depth or character development, it shines with its high quality presentation: the character animations still hold up over a decade later, perfectly capturing the varied art styles and aesthetics of each Disney property, and the voice cast was among the most star-studded list of actors ever put together in a videogame that didn’t involve guns or first person perspectives (including the hilarious misstep of casting Lance Bass as legendary FFVII villain Sephiroth…needless to say, he did not return for future entries).
Despite some revisions and additional mechanics over the years (and not counting the turn-based card collecting experiment with Chain of Memories), the core gameplay of Kingdom Hearts remains virtually identical across each game: a mix of character-action and RPG leveling and customization, players control Sora and, overtime, similar Keyblade-wielding characters across fully 3D areas. When faced with enemy opposition, players must utilize many abilities such as dodging, blocking, spell-casting and plain old button mashing to fend off foes. It was a unique action experience from Square, but still utilized plenty of the RPG mechanics that the company was best known for: experience points levels up character stats, money (called, well, munny) could be used to purchase items and equipment, and new spells and abilities could be mixed and matched to suit player preference. Even AI companions such as Donald and Goofy can be customized to equip certain abilities and spells, resulting in a versatile battle system that is both flashy and intuitive….not to mention punishing. Kingdom Hearts may have the appearance of a kid’s game, but the difficulty can be quite brutal, especially when playing the higher difficulty modes (which are often required to unlock secret movies during each game’s ending).
Covering each game in this collection would make this review as convoluted as the franchise itself, so here is the short run-through: in addition to Kingdom Hearts I and II, this collection includes the PS2 remake of Chain of Memories (which, as stated above, began as a GBA exclusive featuring 2D sprites), the console version of Birth by Sleep (a prequel chapter that was originally on the PSP), and the two movie versions of 358/2 Days and Re: Coded (two more spinoffs that were released on the DS). The last two entries strip away the gameplay of their original games to focus on retelling their respective stories as cutscenes: while this may feel like a short-change, neither of the DS games were anything to write home about, thus allowing fans to experience the additional pieces of stories these side games provided without the incessant grinding.
Without a doubt, Kingdom Hearts 1.5+2.5 Remix is the definitive collection of the landmark crossover series. While the PS4 re-release of these games don’t offer the most substantial upgrades from the PS3 editions (aside from slightly faster load times and 60 frames a second during gameplay…sadly, all cutscenes remain in their original 30 fps rendering), the sheer convenience of having all these games under one collection (not to mention one console) is as tremendous as the value. Old fans and newcomers alike owe themselves to step into this adventure spanning multiple worlds (and games).