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Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX Hands-On Preview

August 19, 2013 Written by Heath Hindman

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This hands-on preview is written by a Kingdom Hearts fan since day one, so reader beware, I’m seeing everything with lenses of nostalgia that are 11 years thick.

The original Kingdom Hearts, to me, still might be the best of the bunch. For my money, Birth by Sleep took the best overall game crown, but in terms of which one is most memorable, you gotta give credit to the one that started it all. That first game came out of nowhere and combined Disney, Final Fantasy, and original creations with better results than most of us expected. We were all interested, many of us optimistic, but at that time, no one was talking about this becoming the massive series that it has. And yet here we are.

“Meh,” I scoffed at the news of an HD re-release, “I’ve played it.” I hadn’t played it like this, though. The visuals, as expected, really are a huge improvement. Traverse Town, Deep Jungle, Wonderland, and all the other beautiful worlds of Kingdom Hearts have been new experiences again with Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX.

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The only times when things look goofy (not to be confused with Goofy) is when characters are talking in cutscenes. You’ll notice some very strange mouth movements happening. When the camera is focused on a speaking character, it appears as though that character’s lips are moving, but not the jaw. One might compare it to cutting a hole in the mouth part of a photograph and then putting your face behind it to do funny impressions. Other than this little quirk, everything in this reprint will be visually satisfying.

I could be crazy, but I seem to be having a little bit more trouble in the platforming than I did on PS2. I’m not going to retrieve my old PS2 version from across the ocean to confirm, so you might take this as the rambling of an old man if you want, but Sora seems have just a tiny bit less response in this version than he did in the original. His actions seem to come just this tiny fraction of a second slower than they ought to. Similarly, there’s this invisible barrier just an inch above most platforms. Sora’s legs will clearly be in the air, above the platform, but instead of landing on it, he will either face it while making a mid-air circle around the platform (lol @ physics), or just hover in mid air for a half-second before deciding to fall down. Maybe this happened in the first game, but I don’t remember it as much? Memories are fallible things, so take that as you will.

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Also, turn off the auto camera. Use manual. Just trust me. That is all.

On Chain of Memories:

While Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance had a great many interesting RPGs, but Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories wasn’t one of them.The battle system and room generation weren’t doing it for me, and the story, while good, wasn’t enough to entice me to keep that game in my system instead of Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, Boktai, Riviera, or Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. I bailed out of Chain, about midway through, unable to make it to the Reverse Rebirth mode that a friend of mine highly praised (I’m talking about you, Cortney!).

Of course, the PS3 has developed a mighty library of its own, and the HD version faces stiff competition as well. The difference now, though, is that it puts forward a stronger case for your time.

I skipped the PS2 remake of this game, but I imagine a lot of what I’m about to say can apply to that as well as this PS3 upgrade.

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The console version helped it feel more like Kingdom Hearts to me. I’m the furthest thing from a graphics whore that there is; I once awarded Lunar 2 a very high graphics rank because, hey, the sprites were beautiful, even on a system that was pumping out much more technically wow-inducing visuals. “Bad” or “outdated” or “low-res” visuals don’t mean much to me, 99% of the time. But with the move from PS2 to GBA, I found that Chain of Memories lacked a certain magic. The battle system had been dumbed down, the towns that looked so gorgeous on PS2 were now a pixelated mess by comparison, and the GBA’s sound equipment did the music no favors.

New technology made the game look and feel a lot more, well, Kingdom Hearts. The move to HD, naturally, is another step even above what the PS2 remake did for Chain of Memories. This is a case where improved visuals have helped the overall experience greatly. It still only packs a small amount of voice acting in comparison to other Kingdom Hearts games, but generally succeeds in keeping the story interesting.

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Some of this beauty is only skin-deep, however. Improved polygons and all that technical jazz is great, but the fact remains that this game was designed first on Game Boy Advance. Its environments are therefore considerably shaved down, looking nice to the eyes, but having extremely little in the way of actual content. Exploration is one of the more fun aspects of Kingdom Hearts, but that’s not an area in which Chain of Memories delivers. Environments are reduced to pretty, yet empty, blocky representations of bigger worlds we once enjoyed.

The battle system does still take some getting used to; this was especially true for me, going back and forth between the original KH and Chain of Memories. On the surface, they can at times appear very similar—a problem created by the new technology rather than alleviated. It appears to be a real-time action battle system, but cards are still running the show. The number of rules and “but ifs” might turn off some first-time players as well, as this KH game takes some hours of getting used to, whereas the others were simple to pick up and play.

On the whole, I do still find CoM vastly inferior to the other Kingdom Hearts games, but at with HD ReMIX, it has at least become more tolerable.

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Also falling under “more tolerable” is Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, a so-so game that takes like 12 hours to start getting good. In this HD repack, the game’s cutscenes are included, but not the game itself —an excellent decision. Hopefully RE: Coded is given the same treatment in the inevitable HD 2.5 ReMIX, making Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and Birth by Sleep the playable titles.

Big Kingdom Hearts fans, as well as series first-timers, would probably do well to give the HD 1.5 ReMIX a look when it comes out in North America on September 10th, and Europe on September 13th. The price will probably drop like a rock during winter sales, so if you’re a little more patient, you’ll probably be rewarded with a large percentage of savings. It’s not like the stock of this game is going anywhere. Now that I’m done being a total Scrooge, post your purchase plans or non-plans in the comments section.