By Bryan Smith on December 9, 2014 at 9:39am
The first few “Kingdom Hearts” games, “Kingdom Hearts,” “Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories,” and “Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days” were given the HD treatment with “Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix,” and they felt great going from the PlayStation 2 to the PlayStation 3 (with the exception of “358/2 Days,” as it was only a movie for the collection). In fact, the first game happened to be the “Final Mix” version, which was seen for the first time legally outside of Japan. As a big “Kingdom Hearts” fan, it was fantastic seeing the game in HD and getting the content people couldn’t get outside of Japan. Now it’s “Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix” time.
“Kingdom Hearts 2.5” includes “Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix,” “Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix,” and “Kingdom Hearts Re:coded” (“Re:coded” being movie-only just like “358/2 Day”). Do these games hold up today, or do they start to show stagnation of the series? I’d say more of the former, but sadly some of the latter creeps in to hamper these games. But the good does outweigh the bad in this case.
"KH2:" Sora Is Ready to Kick New Butt
“Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix” follows the events of “Chain of Memories,” where you control first a mysterious blonde-hair boy named Roxas and eventually Sora. The Heartless are up to no good again along with Organization XIII and their new monsters called Nobodies. Sora joins Donald and Goofy again to fight old and new threats.
This game brings in the action to an exhilarating level. Once you get control of Sora, he may not exactly be the most agile and fierce fighter you’ve met. Eventually, Sora grows to become much stronger and ready to take down whatever is in his way. Some of the stuff he takes on includes fighting mountain-sized Heartless, swinging Heartless by the tail, and slicing skyscrapers in one slash.
Since this is the “Final Mix” version, that means everyone outside of Japan can play the new content others couldn’t access (legally). These include new cutscenes scattered throughout the game, different colorations to previous enemies, new enemy types, new weapons, and new bosses. Every single Organization XIII member can be fought, something that couldn’t be done in the original “Kingdom Hearts 2.”
Sora is quite dexterous, with his Drive Forms giving him additional abilities, Limits with his friends, returning/new magic and summons, and swift Reaction Commands that finish enemies quickly. If there were one determent for the combat, I’d say that the controls feel a bit too floaty especially at the beginning, as characters are very bare in terms of abilities. I didn’t exactly feel completely in control until I progressed.
"KH2:" That Prologue Is Still Too Long
A major complaint from the original “Kingdom Hearts 2,” from what I remember and what friends and other people have said, has been the prologue and its length. Sadly, the prologue has not been fixed, nor has it been addressed. It is still far too long. “Kingdom Hearts 2’s” prologue is by far the longest prologue I have ever seen in any game, clocking in over three hours for me in one of my playthroughs.
Comparatively to the first “Kingdom Hearts,” “Kingdom Hearts 2” as a whole, not just the prologue, hand holds you through a lot of the game’s mechanics. The first game felt more natural and less in your face, allowing the player to figure things out with some hints thrown through, where as this game forces a lot of information at you. I feel that “KH2,” and most games following it, don’t treat the players with the amount of respect “Kingdom Hearts” had.
"BBS" The Load Times Are Fixed ... Mostly
“Birth by Sleep” serves as a prequel to the original “Kingdom Hearts,” where you play as Aqua, Terra, and Ventus as they figure out why darkness is acting up across other worlds. You get your choice to play either three but playing as all of them is required to get the whole story experience. Aqua is magic-oriented, Ventus plays just like Sora, and Terra is strength-based.
The one-absolute problem that plagued “BBS” was the loading. These load times are obnoxious. It’s a shame that Square Enix decided to go with the PlayStation Portable because the PSP couldn’t handle what the game required. Sure, the graphics are nice, but the game took forever to load. It doesn’t matter where you were or what you were doing. Going to a different screen took a while. Loading a boss took a while. Even the transition with in-battle mechanics required loading. I could take a nice drink break whenever a Command Style loaded during a battle. Which raises the question: Does having “Birth By Sleep” on the PS3 fix the problem?
Of course it does! Anytime I go into a Command Style, it only took a second to process, and I’d be on my way. The loading is no longer a problem … in most instances. As for the D-Links, this game’s version of summons that lets you copy styles of other characters, they tend to have the loading problems whenever you switch to a new one. Using the same D-Link, however, only takes a second. It’s an odd occurrence but nothing as horrendous as the PSP’s load times.
With the loading (mostly) fixed, “Birth By Sleep” went from a great game plagued by technical problems to a really great game that plays smoothly and interestingly. That doesn’t mean all the problems I had from the original PSP title are gone, though.
"KH2 & BBS:" The Tone Is Off
One of the more surprising and enjoyable parts of the first “Kingdom Hearts” was how mature the tone turned out to be yet it still felt like Disney. The Disney and “Final Fantasy” elements blended so well. All the worlds were given proper treatment, and the vibe felt right. Now the trend of the Disney worlds feeling right somewhat carries over for “Kingdom Hearts 2” and “Birth By Sleep,” but there is a little snag in the transition.
I think someone at Square Enix or Disney said, “Hey, you remember the Winnie the Pooh segments and how they felt cute and fitted right in with the world? How about we take the cute and bubbly feeling and put them in other worlds?” This doesn’t apply to all worlds, as Port Royal from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Space Paranoids from “Tron” are atmospheric and blend in real well. I’m talking about the minigames and menus. I may sound a bit petty with the menus, but they just don’t mesh well. Not the side menu for combat- those I love. I’m talking about whenever a tutorial or an objective menu pops up.
As I have mentioned early about “KH2” not respecting the player’s intelligence fully, these menus state the obvious. “Defeat the enemies.” “Don’t let X get killed.” It’s the problems that have plagued modern gaming in terms of telling the player too much. I am smart enough to say, “Oh look - the boss. I should defeat him.” Most people aren’t going to think that the gruesome Heartless with sharp blades looming down at you wants a simple handshake.
Then there are the minigames. They really don’t fit in well. The music is far too cartoony most of the time, and that’s not counting the Timeless River world. Why the “Tarzan” minigames felt more at home in “Kingdom Hearts” was the tone meshed great. It felt like I was surfing down the vines epically. Putting posters on walls in Twilight Town and stacking ice cream in Disney Town doesn’t exactly bolster excitement.
I absolutely loathed the Atlantica and Disney Town worlds since the minigames feel too childish and out of place for “Kingdom Hearts.” There are Heartless and Unversed running about, yet we play minigames instead. In the case with “Birth By Sleep,” we even play minigames with the Unversed. With Atlantica, they ditched the chance to make the combat better from the first game and put in quick-time event minigames. The swimming around is still in the game; why can’t we fight Heartless? excuse the “Winnie the Pooh” games, because they still feel at home, and I honestly don’t expect Pooh to harm a fly.
"KH2 & BBS:" The Waiting Game
I’ll be frank here: “Kingdom Hearts” magic system had the best magic system. It offered a risk-for-reward system for attacking enemies to get back magic. It truly felt like magic that you could control. If casting a Cure spell didn’t work, there could be some magic left to fix the mistake before a secret boss decides your time has come. That isn’t the case with any game following it. “KH2” continues to have the magic bar, but instead of it filling up again with attacks and damage, it remains at whatever level it was used until completely depleting, which causes the bar to have a cooldown. Once the cool down is done, the magic is at its maximum again. This feels like a step down. Since the Cure spell is a lifeline in this game, players are going to use this spell almost every battle. The Cure spell costs the entire magic bar, regardless of the magic usage prior.
Problem is, Cure only works once and the bar cools down again. The cool down turns the battle into a runaway fest until the magic is back. I call this The Waiting Game, that one moment to safely cure can be wasted by a potshot from an enemy off-screen. Even if you used Cure, a boss can strike you down easily and put you back in the position of death in another hit. Sure, using Drive Form and limited amount of items can help this, but those shouldn’t be a crutch for using magic.
This problem is even worse with pretty much any game that adds Command Decks. Instead of a magic bar, your character is limited to a select number of abilities at any given moment, which usually don’t go up anymore than ten at the most (some of which are large and take up other slots). Once an ability is used, it automatically goes into a cool down. The Waiting Game is even more noticeable because you don’t have all the magic and skills at hand, as one would with in “Kingdom Hearts & 2.” That isn’t how magic works. I can’t see a magician casting a spell that heals all wounds and looking at a watch to see when the magic “magically” returns. Consumable items don’t even get their own slot as they take up a command slot to begin with.
"Re:coded" Shows How Unimportant It Was
“Kingdom Hearts Re:coded” follows almost right near the end of “Kingdom Hearts 2,” where King Mickey is trying to figure out what a message left in Jiminy Cricket’s journal means. On the one hand, I feel that it was a smart idea to leave out “Kingdom Hearts Re:coded” as a playable game and only have it in as a movie. The original game from the Nintendo DS was barely decent. If people thought “Chain of Memories” was “Kingdom Hearts” Lite, then “Re:coded” is “Kingdom Hearts” Diet Lite. At the very least, “Chain of Memories” added some new depth and strategy to the overall gameplay. “Re:coded” didn’t. The most it added were very brief segments that offered variations of the core hack and slash and debugging segments that weren’t all that interesting.
On the other hand, having “Re:coded” as a movie just shows how painfully forgettable and unnecessary it was to begin with. Re-watching it, most of the movie is Data-Sora, this game’s protagonist, reliving Sora’s adventures from the first game. It really feels pointless. What little new information for the overall “Kingdom Hearts” story is presented at the end, which could have easily been added to “Kingdom Hearts 2’s” ending. The fact that it feels so pointless makes me sad as this time and effort could have been given to something else, like a certain game that’s still in development.
If there is one thing I can praise this movie for is that most of it (though not all of it) uses the better mouth animation, something that “Kingdom Hearts 2” and “Birth By Sleep” are still very guilty of. Certain characters are permanently stuck with it since their models in “Kingdom Hearts” didn’t have better mouth animations at all, but Sora, Mickey, Riku, and the other main characters are able to emote. Even the cutscenes that were put in place of boss battles have characters emote and have Sora fight with his game model, which I think is a good sign for “Kingdom Hearts 3.”
Still Two Great Games and a Movie, but the Flaws Show
Despite the many gripes with these games, I can’t help but feel that the good does outshine the bad here a lot. Seeing the Disney worlds is always charming. I truly enjoy the characters, as they are some of my favorite characters in video games. The music is so heartbreakingly beautiful (when it isn’t the minigames) that I’d argue these pieces of work are some of the best in video game history. The combat is really good, if not quite as tight and fast as the first “Kingdom Hearts.” It’s just some of the design choices are baffling, whether it’s the obnoxiously long prologue or the minigames that feel like they should have been in a different game.
For the “Kingdom Hearts” fans, go get and support this collection. You probably already did. It’s the same great games we’ve loved before with a few tweaks and some old problems still in there. If “Kingdom Hearts,” the hack-and-slash genre, or Disney/”Final Fantasy” isn’t your thing, this collection probably isn’t for you.