Rocket Chainsaw were lucky enough to preview the latest Kingdom Hearts offering this week and, while it wasn’t the final build, we were able to get a good idea of what to expect from Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix.
… and yes, that is its full name.
KHHD1.5R is a collection of three titles: Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chains of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (pronounced “three five eight over two”). The first two are fully playable with upgraded HD visuals, remastered soundtracks and a few control tweaks to fit comfortably on the PS3. The latter is a collection of cut scenes, also in HD, compiled together to tell the story of KH352/2 – but we’ll come back to that.
From the hour or so we played of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix , it became very clear that this was the same game that defined the series over 10 years ago. Our demo began with main character Sora falling from the sky… or the water, only to wind up on a beach watching himself fall from the sky into the water. This is the standard KH opening scene, a crazy dream sequence tracked to an intense JPOP title that screams “FINAL FANTASY WITH CLOWN SHOES!”. The intro was always beautiful, even on the PS2, but now with its smooth edges and higher pixel content it felt at home on the PS3.
The cut scene ends with an evocative tutorial sequence, in which Sora finds himself navigating a series of platforms through a black abyss, each adorned with various Disney princess vignettes. The original level design here is brilliant, but the HD visuals make its vibrant colours pop against the black backdrop and a re-rendered Sora is sharp and detailed. This can especially be seen through the almost crazy attention given to his eyes – forming a rich gradient of dark to light blues.
Skip ahead through the beach sequence, where the main players live on an island like an eternally young Swiss Family Robinson (sans monkey butlers), and we get to the end of our demo, finishing just as the Heartless invade. This final scene confirmed that the original Kingdom Hearts “strategic hack and slash” style combat is largely unchanged with the small addition of manual camera control via the right thumb stick. Though it may seem trivial, we found this gave us a distinct advantage over the battlefield – no longer relying solely on “lock-ons” to sort through swarms of baddies.
Throughout this period we found the gameplay, story and soundtrack all retained their original charm despite being remastered, yet there are still a few signs pointing to its PS2 origins. The movement in cut scenes, for example, where legs move faster than the bodies they propel, the occasional blocky edges on terrain and the glassy look of NPCs during gameplay all hinted at its last-gen origins, but not enough to make the game feel clunky or out of place.
The next demo took us through KH Re: Chains of Memories, and it seemed to follow in the same strain graphically: with visuals looking clean and crisp but still hinting at humble beginnings, which in this case was the Gameboy Advance. We found our heroes working their way through the rooms of ‘Castle Oblivion’, a place that builds itself around the memories of those who enter, but the levels we progressed through were much smaller and confined than the previous title. On top of this, the combat had changed from hack and slash to a game of cards – where battles are activated by single enemy encounters spawning a restricted fight sequence.
The “strategic hack and slash” element is still present, but this time more emphasis was placed on strategy. Entering a battle would cause a line of cards to appear in the corner of the screen, which could be activated by pushing X – but we quickly found that button mashing wasn’t an option as the only thing it achieved was an empty deck. Instead, you need to pick your battles, think about when to strike and what cards to use. Disney pals now come in card form too, which Sora can use to summon help on the battlefield. Doing so causes the selected character to appear for a short time and perform a special move, but didn’t seem as fun as fighting alongside the cartoony critters.
As we progressed through the demo it became evident that dialogue was more text focused, with little voice acting to be found within the first hour outside of the opening cut scene. When our demo ended we couldn’t help but feel that the archaic return to text paired with the smaller level design made the title feel a bit awkward on the PS3. It looked and sounded great, but its Gameboy Advance origins made KHRe:CoM pale in comparison to KH Final Mix.
The final (and may we say strangest) piece of our demo was KH 358/2, a DS title whose events run parallel to that of Chain of Memories. The game gives further insight to the mysterious group known as Organisation XIII, but as a complete remake from its DS original seemed extreme, Square Enix have combined the cut scenes from the original game, remastered the graphics and filled the gameplay gaps with text and new voice acting. Don’t be confused, this isn’t an attempt at a new Advent Children, but it works as a great way to get up to speed for those who skipped the original. Unfortunately, it’s still not a movie – as gaps for gameplay are filled with interactive text, voice overs and images. But from the first half hour we were shown (of an almost three hour epic) it provides a great fan service, following Roxas through his time with Organisation XIII, a group oddly reminiscent of Bleach’s Shinigami.
From what we’ve seen so far, KHHD1.5R does what all good HD remakes should do: it recreates the feeling of the original games, upgrading the graphics and remastering the sound to provide the experience gamers remember, not the blocky reality we tend to forget. For newcomers its a great place to start, with the new controls adapting the game to a modern audience as well as providing the titles in their proper order, an incredible feat in itself. Kingdom Hearts HD1.5 Remix will hit Australian shelves September 12 but for now check out the HD comparison video below!