Dive Into the Heart.
Kingdom Hearts is an Action/RPG released for PlayStation 2 in 2002. Developed by Square-Enix, they remastered the title as Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX for PS3, and later PS4. The game is famous for combining the storytelling and characters of Final Fantasy with the classic movie worlds and characters of Disney. Featuring an original protagonist, Sora, and his friends, Riku and Kairi, they embark on an epic adventure when their world gets sucked into Darkness.
Kairi and Riku go missing, while Sora is thrust into a new world inhabited by Disney and Final Fantasy characters. Upon befriending Donald Duck and Goofy, looking for King Mickey, they set out on an epic journey spanning many worlds in search of their friends.
With Kingdom Hearts III looming around the horizon, I decided to play Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 HD ReMIX. Despite being a 16-year-old game, I feel Kingdom Hearts held up well in many aspects. As a wide-eyed teenager, it became my absolute obsession throughout high school. However, this playthrough also taught me that the game isn’t perfect either. That said, I invite you to come and join me on this retrospective through Kingdom Hearts and how it holds up as we near the era of Kingdom Hearts III.
In Kingdom Hearts, your protagonist, Sora, fights with a Keyblade. A hybrid of a sword, yet shaped like a key, it’s meant to both do battle and seal away doors to prevent the Heartless from entering and destroying these worlds. The Heartless are black, shadowy monsters who possess no heart. The Keyblade is the key weapon of the series, yet it chose Sora. That said, his abilities include fast-paced sword fighting.
Hitting X lets him do combos, while holding down a shoulder button changes the menu. You can select the menu commands with the D-Pad, while you control the character with your analog stick. It makes for fast-paced fighting on the run, selecting commands in an RPG while fighting at the same time. Think 3D Zelda in a way. You have a target lock, an attack button, the ability to roll, and several commands at your disposal.
In addition, Kingdom Hearts also features platforming action. Sora can jump high into the air and hop across platforms. As Super Mario 64 was a major inspiration for the title, platforming plays a major part in the level design. Not only that, but Sora can also attack skyborne enemies and reach those much larger than him. Accompanied by Donald and Goofy, they attack as A.I. units.
Similarly to Secret of Mana or a Tales title, they’re at your side for most of the game. You can give them minute adjustments in A.I., equip their gear, and even give them items to use when necessary. Or when not necessary. Sadly, they’re not the smartest party members and end up staying dead for the harder battles in the game.
Kingdom Hearts boss battles largely include two categories – Heartless and Disney bosses. Notorious villains, such as Jafar, Ursula, Oogie Boogie, Captain Hook, and Maleficent will challenge you in battle. If you’re familiar with Disney movies, you’ll be fighting their strongest forms as well. In other cases, you’ll fight Heartless, which take various forms. Many of them are gigantic. That being said, Kingdom Hearts follows a formula of baiting out attack patterns, dodging, and stunning your enemy to go in for the kill. However, many of their hits have massive range, which will cause you to rely heavily on healing.
While many of these boss battles are exciting, some of them can be frustrating or formulaic. That is, to say, a linear strategy. Some of these require a patient strategy which involves holding your ground, grinding for magic, or even casting Stop on a clock tower. While the more frustrating ones are, thankfully, optional, it doesn’t change the fact that it would be more enjoyable if they were fought with more flexible strategies. For instance, Ice Titan forces you to reflect and guard ice shards. Meanwhile Kurt Zisa has you chasing him around in a barrier and bashing it for magic orbs to cast on him instead. While I reward the creativity, I feel the execution makes some of these sluggish. Add the 5+ lifebars stacked to them, and you’ll be happy never to fight them again.
You’ll traverse through a myriad of worlds in the game. Starting with the tutorial area of Destiny Islands, you’re warped to Traverse Town, a starting hub. Utilizing the Gummi Ship to travel between worlds, you’ll enter a Star Fox-like rail shooting mini-game to get to your next destination. Unfortunately, the controls are stiff. Plus the garage is convoluted, and hardly necessary. You never have to customize the Gummi Ship. Finally, you’ll end up traversing the same stages several times early in the game, which becomes repetitive.
While some of the game’s worlds are conventional platform stages, like Wonderland, Agrabah, and Deep Jungle, others have their own gimmicks. For instance, Atlantica takes place entirely underwater. You’ll spend the duration of the stage swimming. Luckily, these controls are actually good. In addition, the swim controls are later tweaked for speed in Neverland. You’ll be flying in the latter portion of that stage. Other stages, such as Halloween Town, dress your team up in themed gear. You will also fight gauntlet matches in the Olympus Coliseum!
As mentioned before, however, Kingdom Hearts isn’t perfect. Finding the Third District of Traverse Town involves taking either one building and going through the other side, or an obscure hole close to a fountain. Agrabah has little sense of direction due to each part of the map looking almost exactly the same. Certain directions just aren’t made clear to the player. And while it’s a game that encourages exploration for finding treasure, it also involves pointless backtracking. Finally, the platforming elements aren’t amazing. Fighting the Trickster involves hopping on the ledge of a table, which can be missed and require several tries. Some leapss are also fairly hard to make, occasionally forcing the player to repeat the process.
I can’t say enough good things about the game’s score. Composed by Yoko Shimomura, she previously composed for many games for Square-Enix and even Capcom. These include Street Fighter II, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, and Legend of Mana. Her style takes on many genres, but all delivering a catchy or epic score nonetheless. Kingdom Hearts brings out the best in her talent. Beautiful battle music, piano, dire boss themes, and worlds fit perfectly with her style. There is power and emotion in every theme you hear.
Moreover, Shimomura even recreated several classic Disney themes for stage music. These include “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid and “This is Halloween” in the eponymous Halloween Town. For fans of her music, Shimomura also composed Mario & Luigi and Radiant Historia later in her career. You can hear the signatures of her Kingdom Hearts work in those titles, as well. But in particular, I’m fond of themes like, “The Deep End,” “Hollow Bastion,” and “Scherzo Di Notte.” There’s a song for every world, a jingle for all your rewards, and plenty of catchy and memorable sound effects for treasure and battle. While I mentioned Kingdom Hearts isn’t perfect, the soundtrack is a grand exception. Lastly, every song in Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix was rearranged with live instruments.
Kingdom Hearts HD Remix in retrospect.
For a 2002 title, the Kingdom Hearts HD Remix upgrade did the original game justice. It restored the beautiful visuals and even added 60 FPS to the PS4 version, making it run smoother than ever before. Some quality of life improvements came from controlling the camera with the right analog stick. Most importantly, you can now skip cutscenes! I feel they could have still improved more, like another button mapped to magic, which started with KH2. Even a mini-map would have been nice. On the bright side, you do get the Final Mix content that was previously exclusive to the Japanese version.
Kingdom Hearts II evolved on heavily on combat. The Drive Forms added more variety and style to your play, whether you prefer melee or distance attacks with magic. In addition, new abilities meant new combos. Kingdom Hearts was never the deepest game when it came to combat. This is especially true when compared to the likes of Devil May Cry or games later released, such as Dark Souls, Bayoneta, or Ninja Gaiden. However, it’s a fun experience that relies heavily on your dodging skill and magic management. Preparation still plays a heavy part in victory, and those who seek a challenge can try the Proud Mode. Doing so unlocks more rewards. In addition to a Trophy for PS3/PS4 users, you can also view the secret ending with less requirements fulfilled.
The series made multiple strides in combat and level design as it evolved. As the foundation however, Kingdom Hearts aged magnificently. From the beginning, it had flaws that more or less stayed with the game after the remaster. By the way, HD Remix was more or less rebuilt from the ground up. While it’s not a traditional remake, most of the assets had to be redesigned.
The Future is Bright.
Kingdom Hearts III comes out in January 2019. As the foundation of the series, you can play this title on the PS4 HD Remix collection. Featuring several more titles to accompany it, as well as unlockable PSN themes, it’s most certainly the best way to catch up to the story. Whether you’re new to Kingdom Hearts or need a refresher, there’s over half a year to cover the story and rich lore within the series.
The series evolved in several ways. Ultimately, though, the original two games were the best in the series. Some of the later games began to experiment with certain tools. In some cases, they turned out less than expected. Kingdom Hearts is a polished title that delivered well on nearly every front, succeeded only by its sequel. What’s unique to the original title is its bright-eyed story. Before Organization XIII, before stages featuring less platforming elements, and before the side-stories, there was Kingdom Hearts.
A story of three kids searching for the light in the darkness and meeting Disney characters. It succeeded as a beautiful game for all ages. Players remember it well to this very day. Playing the HD Remix reaffirmed to me why it’s still coveted and deserves the title of classic. That said, I look forward to Kingdom Hearts III. With larger-than-life bosses, such as the Rock Titan, and its evolved combat system, I want to see what influenced Kingdom Hearts III to raise the bar of today’s standards.
I enjoyed staying up till 6 AM beating this game. Consequently, I look forward to playing through the rest of the series as the release of Kingdom Hearts III draws closer. I’ll likely continue on, however, finishing off the secret boss battles and exploring content exclusive to Final Mix. I finished the story in just under 20 hours. But given the time it takes to level up to fight boss battles and craft the Ultima Weapon, it could very well come closer to 30 or even 40 hours when it’s all said and done.
Kingdom Hearts isn’t a game that overstays its welcome. It’s sweet, to the point, and just the right length. Veteran players can now skip cutscenes, which is a vast improvement over the original. Anyone who played the PS2 version may very well remember the dialogue, verbatim, for several difficult boss battles. Therefore, I strongly recommend picking up Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 HD Remix for PS4. Relive the classic and prepare for the future!
Thank you for reading our review of Kingdom Hearts HD Remix! What did you think of the original game? Are you new to the series? Let us know in the comments below!