As a review of re-releases with audiovisual upgrades and new content, this will focus more on the new package as a whole rather than the gameplay of the individual games themselves. For retrospectives on the playable games in Kingdom Hearts II.5 (2.5) HD ReMIX, written recently and based on play of the versions within this PS3 game, check here:
Your reviewer here is a total Kingdom Hearts fan. I can’t retell you the story perfectly and I don’t have Kairi tattooed on my butt anymore, but I’ve loved these games ever since launch day of the very first PS2 title in 2002. While I don’t unconditionally love every KH game, most at least earn my respect.
That said, both playable games included in II.5 HD ReMIX — Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep — were re-released in Japan with additional content, under the label of Final Mix. These versions never reached foreign PS2s or PSPs, so some gamers will be playing brand new content with KH II.5 HD ReMIX.
I initially saw the Final Mix content as interesting, but not enough to justify buying the games again. The same can be said for HD up-ports; I don’t buy them if the only improvements are visuals. But when a re-release includes both, the technical stuff and the new content? And it’s two games, not just one? Now we’re talking.
Eye (and Ear) Candy
The graphic upgrade exposes some goofiness like the sharply rectangular shape of some characters’ fingers, but overall makes Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep look like they were PS3 games from the start. They’re beautiful. KHII is overall the better looking game. It’s most obvious during zoomed-in shots of a character, when there’s a wall close behind that person. You’ll see details on background pieces not quite being as sharp as the KHII counterparts. Perhaps there’s subconscious workings going on here, but Birth by Sleep seems just a small touch behind II in the graphical department, though again, both look great overall and are vastly superior to their original versions.
The only visual downside is a few slight frame-rate drops in Birth by Sleep. Sadly, these show up at a number of key moments, particularly during cutscenes when the camera is panning. You’ll notice just the slightest stutter. There’s one area with waterfalls, and I noticed the camera just taking the slightest stutter every single time I approached one from behind.
Fortunately, it never happens in battle. Even during one particular fight (sorry, for the sake of the review, I have to let out a very mild spoiler — skip this paragraph if you don’t want it), which has all three protagonists in the battle against a boss with multiple moving parts, the game held steady. But right after that fight? The camera panned over our heroes and showed the return of that slight, slight stutter. (End minor spoiler.)
It’s not a huge deal, but one that I couldn’t help but notice all through Birth by Sleep. On the bright side, KHII is free of this.
On PS2, I thought KHII‘s Port Royal looked bad, even for the time. The system just didn’t quite keep up with the details of the Pirates of the Caribbean films; the HD version finally makes those segments look awesome. The upgrade looks good everywhere, but shines most in Port Royal and Halloween Town.
I found Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD‘s rearranged soundtrack to be a step down in quality from the original version, but I was glad to see that in 2.5, things went the opposite way. The songs this time around sound worlds above their original versions.
Final Mixing Like a DJ
Players are often notified of new content. Rather than making one rely on dumb luck, OCD, or a walkthrough, the games simply pop up a notification when something new is available, so that you don’t have to risk committing 30 hours to something only to find out that you missed part you were really excited for.
Final Mix content includes new boss battles, added cutscenes, new dungeons, slight story modifications to bring the games closer together, costumes, music tracks, and lots of smaller tweaks sprinkled throughout.
The additions are great. Hardcore fans who didn’t import these formerly Japan-only Final Mix games will probably eat up the new stuff. After I got my trash kicked like five times by a “forgotten” boss that seemed levels above others, I checked online and yep, it was a new fight specific to Final Mix. The FM versions have modified difficulty, but it’s always still doable; there’s a really good learning curve and balance in these updated versions. There was real euphoria in finally winning that battle, as well as others.
An addition for experts is Critical Difficulty, a step above Proud Mode. This has players gaining only 75% the EXP amount and taking more damage.
The Plea of a Dying Man
What bothered me somewhat about Critical Difficulty was that this level still subjects players to long, drawn-out, unnecessary, frankly boring tutorials. If someone is playing on Critical Difficulty, he/she has presumably beaten the game before, perhaps even multiple times. They know what they’re doing.
Couldn’t tutorial sections have been treated like cutscenes, with the option to skip? I could be in my grave any minute! A van could come flying through my wall and send me to the big PlayStation in the sky, and I’m just here trying to play a fun video game, and I’ve got to waste my time being told how to play a game I’ve already beaten! I ain’t got time to spare! It’s a bummer to spend money on these games, clear them, spend money on them again, select Critical Difficulty, and still have to be very slowly told which button is jump, how targeting works, and that Aqua is faster than Terra.
Kingdom Hearts II
doesn’t even allow you to change your camera’s axis inversion until after several of the painfully dull tutorial battles, so you need to acquaint yourself with a control scheme you may deplore before actually getting into the game you thought you bought. For a re-re-release, this really should have been changed. Some people are buying this for the third time; let them decide how they play it.
At least Birth by Sleep does let players skip the lengthy opening tutorial section if they’ve already got a save file with one character who is beyond that point. That’s a player-friendly setup right there. We need more considerations like that, especially when we’re on the third release of a game. New players can elect to do this stuff if they want, but those of us who are buying this for the second or third time? Nah. I’d like the option to save my time.
2 Hearts That Beat as One
Birth by Sleep is the real star of the show, as it makes its first appearance on TV screens. Sadly, a lot of people might have passed over the best game in the series due to it being a PSP exclusive. Thanks to a second stick, the PS3 offers enhanced camera control, so there’s not as much jumping or dodging on blind hope just because you can’t see enemies.
Even though I enjoyed Kingdom Hearts II and had a longer gap since I first handled it, Birth by Sleep proved harder to put down, even in this HD re-release. Its magic crafting system is super addictive, its story is well told, and its combat is my favorite in the whole franchise.
Multiplayer was unfortunately removed from KH: Birth by Sleep for this new version. It still has its arena, its board game, and other distractions, but those hoping to repeat the multiplayer fun from the PSP game with a potentially bigger audience will be left disappointed.
Kingdom Hearts II is also, despite all this time gone by, a worthwhile game for action RPG fans. The opening hours of stretched-out tutorial and exposition dump will be a chore for some, and the story detaches itself from Disney and Final Fantasy more than I’d have liked, but the game as a whole provides dozens of hours (or more) of quality gaming. Seeing it now in higher detail and hearing the beautifully remastered soundtrack make it plenty deserving of a look, be it by new fans or old.
In addition to the two playable games, Kingdom Hearts II.5 HD ReMIX adds the Nintendo DS-exclusive Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded as a movie. It’s a nice inclusion, but not one that I particularly cared for. Re: Coded started as a cellphone game before getting its DS port, so it understandably lacks a lot of the polish (and importance) of most other Kingdom Hearts games. In particular, its story wasn’t a strong point. Therefore, its presence in a form in which you can only watch the story without any of the puzzle-solving gameplay to break it up adds very little, if anything, to this bundle.
HD is the New Black
Though I adored Birth by Sleep on the PSP and Kingdom Hearts II is often brought up as a favorite PS2 game, it might be tough to go back after playing HD ReMIX. Bringing these games up to the current visual standard is one thing, but the amazing musical enhancements boost them even more. Even with audiovisual upgrades, I don’t usually get into re-releases, but when this, much like the FFX/X-2 HD Remaster, includes a bunch of content that wasn’t previously available, then I consider it worth my attention.
Kingdom Hearts II.5 HD ReMIX bundles two great games into one package whose strength is much more than the tech enhancements.
Review copy purchased by reviewer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.
- Two great action-RPGs on one disc
- Birth by Sleep finally available to the non-portable crowd
- KH2 finally available to a newer generation
- Remastered music is amazing
- Final Mix content never seen outside Japan
- HD graphic upgrade
- Modernized controls
- Improved load times (BbS)
- BbS and KH2 specifically compliment each other, story-wise
- Multiplayer removed (BbS)
- Occasional frame-rate drops (BbS)
- Veterans can't skip tutorials
- Twilight Town and a few other gameplay segments haven't aged well (KH2)