KINGDOM HEARTS -HD 1.5 ReMIX- was revealed last year at the Tokyo Game Show 2012, a surprise to many returning players but not to those who have actively remained in the community for all those years since the series began.
The latter had been expecting it. The secret message found at the end of the series' most recent installment, KINGDOM HEARTS 3D [Dream Drop Distance] had set us up for it.
The past will be reawakened as a new number in never-before-seen detail.
Prepare yourself for the awakening of the next number.
The awakening of the next number without a doubt refers to the recently announced KINGDOM HEARTS III, but the past being reawakened in never-before-seen detail, that was undeniably the remaster. We waited eagerly at the edge of our seats to discover what changes they would make to the familiar titles that would be included; how far would they be willing to go the distance?
However, it was especially important for the former, who had missed out in the series' expansion due to loss of interest, inability to experience the newer titles, or refusal to acknowledge that anything without a roman numeral could ever be of genuine importance to the overall story.
Nevertheless, everyone jumped at the opportunity to relive their younger years, but the introduction of the first HD remaster held more importance than many would realize. It promised to address the apparent issues that came with the constant system jumping it's made since 2009 and bring the community back together in time for the grand finale of the Xehanort Saga.
We would like to thank Square Enix and Disney for giving us the wonderful opportunity to review Kingdom Hearts -HD 1.5 ReMIX-, as well as the readers for sitting through that long introduction. Without further ado, let's get started!
KINGDOM HEARTS FINAL MIX
The one thing players will notice immediately is the visual enhancement. You cannot even begin to compare this title with the quality of the original, and that goes without saying because this is a remaster after all. True to the advertisements, the game has aged incredibly well, easily passing for a new title created entirely from scratch at this point in time. Assets from the original have all been replaced with their updated counterparts from more recent titles, and almost all of those that were not fortunate enough to have the upgrade were tirelessly given great care and precision to make the change. The few that have remained unchanged are few and far between, though that's not to say you won't notice the differences when placed alongside enhanced assets. It is very clear that this was one of, if not the main priority during development - this focus on the visuals above all else.
As such, there are various imperfections that you are likely to come across over the course of the game, primarily the audio glitches and model clipping. That's right, glitches, and for those unfamiliar with the term, "clipping" is used to describe assets that cut into one another when they should have a solid mesh. It is a very widespread issue, present in both cutscenes and battles. The worst offender of this in my opinion would be the Opposite Armor that zooms around the Second District of Traverse Town. At one point, half of its body had disappeared into a wall, and provided the most distracting experience. As for the audio, you may find it cutting out briefly for several seconds, or disappearing completely altogether, causing you to reboot the game or possibly even starting over from scratch.
And then there's the camera. Many players were excited to discover that the camera could now be controlled via the right analog, but was it really worth it? It's convenient and easy to control, but personally, I found that it had actually become worse. It follows you much more closely, but at times it may become a hassle to get it back in control when it veers off course due to quick movements. You'll also find it clipping through the models as well, whether it's a part of the environment (primarily in narrow or cramped areas) or even a party member.
Certain commands were remapped to be initiated with the triangle button rather than scrolling to the option at the bottom of the action menu in the original. This is incredibly convenient especially after 7 years worth of new titles that utilize this function, though it does act as a double-edge sword. In the past, although it was difficult to manage, special attacks were difficult to use due to the control map, but they were clearly set for battle. This time around, you must deal with trying to time the action just right; it's easy to press Triangle, easy to launch the attack, but when you share controls with one that is ordinarily used to command party members, you will find yourself utilizing the wrong move at least once during your playthrough.
Trying to direct Donald and Goofy away from the upcoming onslaught? Whoops, I'm afraid you've just used Ragnarok instead. Now not only are you low on MP, but your friends are still in the path of Maleficent's meteor barrage.
A fairly minor issue, but one that can come back around and bite you if you don't pay much concern to it.
The voice acting has remained unchanged from the original, a sure relief to those who thought they would bring back the actors to record over the lines again for consistency with the more recent titles. This also goes for the additional Final Mix scenes - silent in the original, silent in 1.5 Japanese and silent in 1.5 English. Animations are synced with the English version, though they have not been adjusted at all for the remaster. If you decide to play through Final Mix after Re: Chain of Memories or 358/2 Days, you may notice that the movements are stiffer in comparison, sometimes even awkwardly so.
However, if there's one thing about the series that never disappoints, it's the music, and Yoko Shimomura's rearranged tunes performed by gaQdan is beyond impressive. It really is true that nothing can beat the real deal, and although we'll miss the synths we've grown so familiar with in the past decade, these lovely songs had well deserved their own remaster.
The downside of Final Mix is that although it has the most improvements, it also suffers from the most issues. Hopefully they may be patched somewhere along the line, but if not, let us rejoice that the game that spawned much frustration, agitation and fear from region-exclusive content has finally arrived on western shores, and make the best of it!
KINGDOM HEARTS Re: Chain of Memories
As someone who has experienced the title previously, there honestly isn't very much to say. Of the three titles included in 1.5, Re: Chain of Memories is the most unchanged from its original release. No doubt this doesn't come as a surprise to many; this title was the first to begin utilizing updated assets from previous installments, and those that appeared in newer titles were updated accordingly from these as a foundation.
The most notable changes are the new cards that you can obtain upon completing Kingdom Hearts Final Mix and 358/2 Days, as well as revamped user interface and the visual upgrade. However, these cards only apply to the titles within the remaster, and feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity as they could have included characters from later installments while remaining true to the underlying theme of the game as well as the concept of cards created from memories.
It would have also been a nice little promotion for the second remaster, if new players come across these different characters and aren't sure why they would appear on these cards, encouraging them to continue playing to learn more.
The scenes are still synced with the Japanese voices, and little of the music exclusive to Re:CoM have been lucky enough to receive a new arrangement and recording, which is a little jarring when mixed together with the updated tracks. The distance between synths and real instruments becomes quite clear once you have been exposed to it.
I'm sure that fans in European and PAL regions will definitely enjoy the title, or maybe they won't if they were not partial to the card system all those years ago either. You have been more than patient in the past 4 years, so I hope your experiences will be nothing but pleasant. For North American fans, although there is little change from the 2008 release, perhaps you'll enjoy giving it another go. And if not, please look forward to what's to come from the team who had originally developed this title in less than a year, all that time ago.
KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days
I imagine this is where most players will begin after they obtain the game. If you enjoyed the original on the Nintendo DS, you will probably enjoy this as well. If you didn't, it wouldn't hurt to watch the scenes first before making your final decision.
358/2 Days takes place in the year that elapses since Sora frees Kairi's heart in Hollow Bastion to the very beginning of Kingdom Hearts II, focusing on Roxas's time in Organization XIII. Ideally, Days was meant to be completely remade and playable in the remaster, but considering the time constraints and the realization that players would rather have a brand new title altogether instead of a remake, they opted for nearly 3 hours of remade scenes instead.
However, 3 hours worth of cutscenes should not be synonymous with the word "movie." You should not expect a seamless video covering every detail and event that took place. Days follows a chapter-based system; certain events are taken from select days throughout the game and reimagined for the viewer, who posesses the option to view them individually or all at once. However, these scenes primarily focus on the three main characters: Roxas, Axel and Xion.
In the original title, Roxas would be able to interact with other members of the Organization as well as various Disney characters he would happen to meet during his missions. Almost all of these moments have been reduced to stand-still journal entries with a visual in the background. Many important events and pieces of dialogue have also been cut, such as Saix trying to prevent Roxas from defecting from the Organization and Xemnas alluding to Ventus' slumber.
Of course it goes without saying that there is a huge improvement over the original. The textures are clean and detailed while still remaining true to the series' unique art style, and the careful attention to subtle movements, gestures and expressions is always present. Models are still, on occasion, plagued by the infamous "fish face" - low poly models with animated facial textures. It's not as jarring as it's been in the past, but every now and then you'd find a character or two staring out into space even when they are the focus of the scene. Also, because the scenes have remained synced with the original Japanese dub, in English, characters do fall prey to the awkward pauses during dialogue.
What actually surprised me most about the Days theater was the vast improvement in regards to the acting! Not that actors performed poorly in the past, mind you, but there were a few that had cause for concern as we either haven't been exposed to in several years or merely haven't appeared enough to be able to properly judge. I was very pleased to discover that it was just about on point all across the board, though you may have difficulty adjusting to certain characters since it has been several years since we last saw them. The voices they create for the characters in some cases are no longer the same as that from their original appearance.
Two actors in particular that I want to talk about are Jesse McCartney and Alyson Stoner. Jesse McCartney's perfomance is just about flawless; it's a real treat to be able to witness the growth of the Roxas he gives life to; from Roxas joining the Organization just after his birth to his most traumatic and emotionally-strained experiences. Alyson Stoner's Xion is pleasing to the ears; her perfomance is calming, easy to listen to. She starts off rather awkward, and it's understandable as Xion only begins to break out of her shell, speaking as though it is unfamiliar and her mouth doesn't know what to do. Like Roxas, she begins to speak more confidently as time goes by, and balances well with him.
I'm afraid the script leaves something to be desired in comparison to the original, as they were very limited in having to accomodate for the lip syncing. As such, we had to sacrifice such gems as "Do you always have to stare at me like I just drowned your goldfish?" The liberties that were taken with localization are gone, though I suppose the script is now closer to that of the Japanese version, which some players may appreciate.
All in all, it definitely doesn't grant the player the same information as they would have from playing through on the DS, but it makes due with what they have. 358/2 Days is a treasure trove of information, and they were still able to cram in the bulk of the important content, albeit sacrificing development for certain characters and the flow of the plot. However, their efforts were not made in vain, and fans of the series or characters may be able to sit back and enjoy these three hours, no matter how broken the experience may appear to be.
Overall, I'm sure we can agree that there are certain things that can be improved, had they been given enough time and resources to make it happen. That's not to say the remaster is "bad;" in fact when you compare it to others it probably ranks among the very top. It's when you evaluate the issues that were addressed in order to obtain the the final product that you realize just where things happened to fall flat. However, the team of staff made things work with what they had, and still managed to come up on top with a superb remaster. There were some hit and misses, but if perfection did exist, I can't imagine why we'd be interested in it. The flaws give us something to look forward to in the future, and we'll eagerly await to see what they've learned with this experience that can be applied to their future projects.
KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 ReMIX: 7/10
©2012 KHInsider. KINGDOM HEARTS official artwork, trailers, characters, merchandise, and music is copyrighted to Square Enix and Disney.
Original material is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution.