Square, you've won me over.
For the longest time I didn't like high-def collections, and until today, I never thought I would. When Square Enix announced that they were remastering the original Kingdom Hearts in HD exclusively for PlayStation 3, I was cautiously optimistic. As a huge fan of both PlayStation 2 entries, I was delighted at the news, and yet saddened by the fact that Kingdom Hearts II is noticeably absent from the compilation. Could an HD bundle of the original game, Re:Coded, and a mashup of cutscenes from the DS spin-off possibly be enough to warrant a purchase?
After seeing the game in action with my very own eyes, I can confidently answer that question with a firm "Yes." If there was any game from the PS2 era that deserves to be remastered and re-released, it's Square Enix's Final Fantasy-meets-Disney hybrid.
The section of game that the developer had on-hand to show us at PAX was pulled from Kingdom Hearts 1's The Little Mermaid level. As GR's Anthony Severino and I listened to the nostalgic tones of "Under the Sea," I couldn't help but be transported back in time to all of the fond memories I had with Ariel, fighting against the Heartless. But when I looked at the game on-screen, it was hard to believe this was once a PS2 game. The visuals are downright stunning, thanks to some incredible work in translating the game to HD. The bright blues of the water popped off the screen, and Donald Duck's wriggling octopus arms were more lifelike than ever.
But a whole lot more has been updated than just the graphics. No longer will you be fighting with the camera like you had in the past. Instead of having to spin the camera with the shoulder buttons, your view can be manipulated with the right stick. It sounds like a simple change, but believe me, it makes all the difference in the world. Another handy little tweak is the function of the triangle button. Remember having to scroll all the way down to the bottom option menu just to open a chest or talk to an NPC? Well,now you can do away with the needless shuffling by simply tapping a single button.
Kingdom Hearts 1 is undoubtedly the meat of the package. In fact, it's actually the "Final Mix" version, which was never released in North America, so there are plenty of little extra bonuses to look forward to. But I can't do the contents of the package justice without mentioning the two other titles packed in. While they weren't available for us to view, I did ask about both Re:Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days. As previously confirmed, the ridiculously titled DS spin-off is a collection of just the game's cutscenes, all remastered in HD, which will take you somewhere before 3 and 4 hours to watch. Re:Chain of Memories, however, is a straight-up port of the PS2 version that takes advantage of the high-def format.
To put it simply, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix is a love letter to fans of the franchise. It features a number of tweaks that make the gameplay more enjoyable as well as a number of other little nuggets of added goodness, including a handful of new cutscenes. You're getting new content, beautiful visuals, and most importantly, an excuse to revisit Square and Disney's incredible universe. Let me tell you, the wait for its release this fall is going to be awfully tough to bear.