"There's this girl here--her name is Cinderella. She made me realize how powerful it is just to believe. No matter how impossible things seem...a powerful enough dream will always be enough to light the darkness." --Terra
So the latest release from Square Enix is a collection of roughly the first two-thirds of their long-running action role-playing Kingdom Hearts series, "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" which, when combined with their recent compilation of the last one-third "Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue" (of which I wrote here) should get you up to speed on the current state of the Dark Seeker Saga.
So for those of us late to the Kingdom Hearts game, there was no way to play the whole thing on the Playstation 4. The games had all come out originally on multiple earlier systems, and the big HD collections 1.5 and 2.5 were only playable on the PS3. Finally, 2.8 came out for the PS4, but as I found out in my earlier review, the plot was hard going without any knowledge of the first six games.
But finally! The new "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" collection has all of the previous games represented and remastered for the PS4. It has six parts: "KINGDOM HEARTS FINAL MIX"--the original Kingdom Hearts game with additional scenes, updated menus, and camera movement; "KINGDOM HEARTS Re:Chain of Memories"--a remake of a Game Boy Advance offering that features a card-based battle system; "KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days"--an adaptation of the original Nintendo DS game into a two-plus hour cinematic; "KINGDOM HEARTS II FINAL MIX"--"Kingdom Hearts 2" changed to HD with remixed audio; "KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep Final MIX"--a prequel to the first Kingdom Hearts; and "KINGDOM HEARTS Re:coded"--a three hour cinematic based on the Nintendo DS game with around two hours of new content to tie Re:coded and the next game "Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance" (on the 2.8 collection) together.
Storywise, the games continue to weave a complicated path. Japanese storytelling is a little different from Western storytelling, and in my experience, less linear and not as dependent on creating definitive interpretations and conclusions. The tale (referred to as the Dark Seeker Saga) begins with three youngsters: Sora, Riku, and Kairi. Their idyllic life in the Destiny Islands is fragmented by a great storm that separates the friends and takes Sora, our initial protagonist, to Traverse Town, which ends up being the initial entry point to the majority of the games. Throughout the next few games, Sora will endeavor to find his old friends as well as some new ones, accompanied by familiar faces such as Donald and Goofy.
Unfortunately, Sora may discover that to find a friend is sometimes easier than to hold onto one, and more than one game may pass before everyone is back where they belong.
In the shadows of the larger plot machinations lie some familiar Disney villains and some less-familiar creatures with obscure motives and origins. A mysterious Organization XIII is introduced, along with one of our other protagonists, Roxas who is in some way connected to Sora.
"Birth by Sleep" is the only game that stands apart from the regular timeline of events, as it precedes "Kingdom Hearts" by ten years and tells the stories of three other Keyblade wielders in three different perspectives.
In the few hours I was able to play of each one, I can say that all of the games look very good. While the animation does improve (as you'd expect) with each game outing, the HD rendering gives the whole series a consistent appearance.
Gameplay-wise, going through them sequentially is a little like taking a trip through video game evolution. There are a lot of things that make life easier for the non-skilled gamer such as myself that only start appearing in the later games--there is no autosave feature until "Kingdom Hearts 2," and no onscreen map until "Birth by Sleep." The lack of autosave is a particular pain, as you can only manually save at specific designated points in each area...which are harder to keep track of, since for the most part, you have no map. The camera controls in the first game were pretty tough for me to work since even though they were reworked to fit the same controls as KH2, you are still much more restricted in their movement than in the rest of them. This was particularly challenging when trying to finish some of the big platforming sequences, as you'd sometimes find yourself abruptly unable to look in the direction you wanted to jump.
As the series goes on, the controls get a lot smoother and they introduce an enormous amount of customization and variation to the combat system. By the time you get to "Birth by Sleep," the pages of different combinations you can make for various forms of attacks start looking like the spreadsheets for air traffic controllers. You can utilize a variety of physical attacks, aided by different types of keyblades, and combine those with magical attacks and also the powers of various people you meet along the way with whom you can link.
For those who are on the "suck" skill level of combat, such as myself, there are mercifully beginner levels on all the games. In a blow for meritocracy however, there are apparently secret endings and cinematics that the game will tell you outright you will not be able to see unless you beat it at one of the higher levels.
Probably my favorite out of the group (again, having only played a few hours of each,) was "Birth by Sleep" as the "Rashomon"-esque story structure really gives each part a unique take. Because each of the three protagonists are so different in physicality and psychology, the distinct variations in their combat animations are easy to see and well-matched.
Conversely, my least favorite aspect was how similar Sora, Roxas, and Ventus look to me. There may end up being some reason for their similarity that I haven't uncovered yet in the game, but it initially took me a good couple of minutes to figure out that it was a different short spiky-brown-haired boy this time.
The big appeal of the series, at least for me, is seeing how well-integrated this fantasy world is with all our various familiar Disney universes. Each "planet" has its own distinctive art style, from the square Eyvind Earle trees around Sleeping Beauty's castle, to the geometric neon of TRON, to the black-and-white Ub Iwerks era.
Up next for the series in April 2017, is the relaunching of the mobile game "KINGDOM HEARTS Unchained X" as "KINGDOM HEARTS Union X." This game is set early on in the history of Kingdom Hearts, before the Keyblade Wars, and will feature a multiplayer mode.
Down the road of course, lies what will probably be the final chapter of the Dark Seeker Saga, "KINGDOM HEARTS III." While still in development, we know that it will feature the worlds of "Tangled" and "Big Hero 6," and potentially involve evil forces gaining control over the lovable robot Baymax. It is currently planned to be released for the PS4 and XBox One.
If you enjoy action RPGs and Disney, I think this series is well worth checking out. It celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this month and during its lifespan has shipped over 22 million units. I think it's got legs.
"KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" is available now at the Square Enix online store for $49.99. Kingdom Hearts is a series of action role-playing games developed and published by SQUARE ENIX under the direction of Tetsuya Nomura. The series is a collaboration between SQUARE ENIX and Disney.
*A copy of "KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX" was provided to me for the purposes of review without restrictions on expressed thoughts or opinions.*
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