As a fan of both Disney and Final Fantasy, the Kingdom Hearts series was perfect for 10 year-old me. After all, mixing and blending anime-style characters with the classic Disney icons we all know and love was a pretty novel idea and it didn’t take long for the series to build up such a dedicated fanbase over the years. Square Enix reintroduced us to the magic of the series with Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX last year, and they’ve continued the legacy this year with the release of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX. While the original Kingdom Hearts looked great in HD and did a fantastic job of invoking nostalgic childhood memories, I found myself a lot more excited for Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX simply because two of the games in this second collection are a lot stronger than those in the first one.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix picks up right from where we left Sora and his crew in Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories. Well, almost. We do still have to play through that three hour slogfest of a tutorial/prologue in which we take control of Roxas in Twilight Town and do banal tasks like swatting bees and putting up posters to raise munny. But trust me, once you get past that painfully slow and boring prologue, the game opens up and throws you back into the familiar Kingdom Hearts gameplay we’ve become so used to.
Not unlike the original Kingdom Hearts, you’ll find that the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix still holds up really well today. Chaining your attacks and blasting enemies with magic spells looks great with the HD facelift and it’s hard not to appreciate how gorgeous the game looks running on the PS3. This installment also introduces reaction commands where you can tap the triangle button when prompted to execute special attacks against the Heartless and Nobodies. It’s a small addition, but still adds just that little bit more depth to the gameplay.
Tight gameplay and pretty graphics aren’t the only things that Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix brings to the table, though. The Final Mix version of this game was originally announced way back in 2006 for Japan and it never found its way to the west. With Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, us English-speaking fans will finally get a chance to check out all the additions and improvements that were previously exclusive to Japan: new bosses, a new drive form for Sora, as well as additional cutscenes which I am sure will only help to confuse you even more. The new cutscenes and boss battles alone are enough for even veterans to take another dive into the world of Kingdom Hearts II.
Of course, Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix isn’t without its flaws. The game does a pitiful job of explaining its hot mess of a plot to anyone who hasn’t played Re:Chain of Memories. You see, most people make the mistake of assuming that the handheld Kingdom Hearts games were either non-canon or had little bearing on the main story. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. With the Kingdom Hearts series, every game is canon and missing out on Re:Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days will leave you lost when you jump into Kingdom Hearts II.
Speaking of flaws, some of the problems present on the original PS2 release of the game have also carried over to the HD port. The Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix all look great, with the exception of the Pirates of the Caribbean world – none of the actors from the original cast were able to reprise their roles, the lip-syncing is still pretty bad, and the realistic-looking character models just look weird when placed next to Sora, Donald, and Goofy.
The second game in this HD collection is Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix, and also my personal favorite title in the entire series. Originally released on the PlayStation Portable, Birth By Sleep is arguably the strongest game in this collection. Not only have the graphics received a massive improvement from its jaggy PSP days, Birth By Sleep also tells a much darker story than we’re used to from the other Kingdom Hearts games.
The three protagonists in Birth By Sleep, Terra, Ventus, and Aqua, have also been written quite well as all three of them undergo significant character development as you progress through the game. Along with the formidable Master Xehanort and Vanitas, who act as the primary antagonists of this installment, Birth By Sleep adds even more depth to the overarching story and lore of Kingdom Hearts and tells a pretty compelling story that stands well on its own.
Just like the Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts II, Birth By Sleep Final Mix also comes with a new playable level, new keyblades, and additional cutscenes. Even the gameplay of Birth By Sleep is a lot more engaging than that of the previous titles. Birth By Sleep introduces the Command Deck system where you can equip a certain number of actions, magic spells, and items to take with you into the field. For instance, if you want to use a Fire spell in battle, you’ll have to actively equip it to one of your command slots to make it available. Your commands will also have a cooldown period after executing them, so strategy plays a much more vital role this time around. Abilities can also be leveled up and then melded with other abilities to create new ones.
The Command Board minigame introduced in Birth By Sleep allows players to level up their abilities and gain new ones without engaging in actual combat. The Command Board plays a lot like a modified version of Monopoly where you have to buy spaces on the board and gain more points than your opponents by the time you get to the end of the rounds. You’ll collect different playing boards and opponents to compete against each time you clear a Disney world, adding some variety to the minigame. Command Board remains as one of the best and most addictive minigames in Kingdom Hearts and getting to play it on your TV makes it better than ever.
The final title in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded. Instead of remaking the game, Square Enix has opted to present the story in the form of a 3-hour movie, just like they did with 358/2 Days in Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX. The scenes have been put together quite seamlessly, and the voice acting is great as always, but Re: Coded still tells the most useless and pointless story in the series. There aren’t any significant developments in the main story and it really only serves the purpose of setting up the plot for Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance and the much-awaited Kingdom Hearts III.
Even so, there’s no denying that Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX is a great compilation. Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and Birth By Sleep Final Mix are two of the strongest games in the series and make this compilation well worth the price of admission. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX offers up a plethora of new content, along with beautiful audio and visual upgrades, making it a shining example of what HD collections should be like.