As noted philosopher and forward-thinker Tom Petty once sang, "the waiting is the hardest part" - and despite writing the song some 36 years before, we think he was probably lamenting the long wait for the next instalment of his favourite game, Kingdom Hearts. But alas, poor Tommy, for it seems Kingdom Hearts III, the exceedingly long-awaited threequel to the Disney-themed role-playing game series, is still a long way off. With no release date in sight, developers Square Enix are doing everything they can to keep the series fresh in people's minds, with a near constant stream of remakes, remasters and glorified demos hitting consoles over the past few years. Following on from the remaster-cum-teaser of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 - Final Chapter Prologue -, which included a short, never-before-seen chapter done in the style of the upcoming game, comes yet another remake collection, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix. Combining the two previous remaster collections from the Playstation 3 onto one Playstation 4 disc (are you keeping up?), you can now play through six of the past Kingdom Hearts games all over again on the PlayStation 4.
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If you haven't played a Kingdom Hearts game before (and if you haven't, this game really is a great place to start), the series is perhaps best summed up as being the love child of role-playing game behemoth Final Fantasy and your average Disney-themed action game. Starring the plucky young lad Sora (mostly), who's searching for a way to reunite with his lost friends whilst ridding the world of the evil 'darkness', you'll set off on a journey into myriad worlds based on popular Disney franchises with Donald and Goofy at your side. From oldies like Snow White and Cinderella to the more recent Hercules, Nightmare Before Christmas and Lilo and Stitch - as well as the game's bizarre obsession with TRON, which they seem to think is way more popular than it actually is - Kingdom Hearts is a Disney fan's dream, wrapping favourite faces in a light-hearted adventure game of epic proportions. This bundle contains four games, and two rather lengthy cutscenes for you to enjoy - and here's what we thought of them all.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
The game where it all began, Kingdom Hearts follows Sora, a plucky young guy who's searching for his missing friends, Riku and Kairi. Following an attack on their home island by a group of shadowy beings known as the Heartless, Sora mysteriously gains the ability to wield a weapon that can defeat them, a key-shaped sword known as the Keyblade. With the Heartless now invading various Disney worlds, from the 100 Acre Wood to the bowels of Monstro the whale and Tarzan's jungle treetops, there are signs that something sinister is afoot, and it falls to Sora to save the day, hopefully reuniting with his friends in the process.
A 'lite' action role-playing game, your time in Kingdom Hearts is split fairly equally between button-mashing, Keyblade-swinging combat, fighting waves and waves of Heartless enemies, and more adventure-style exploring, looking for evidence to prove Alice's innocence, helping Pooh collect honey from a tree, or navigating the maze-like Cave of Wonders, depending on the Disney world you're currently in. Some worlds, in particular the Hercules-themed Olympus Coliseum are almost exclusively combat based, taking the form of contests against wave upon wave of Heartless enemies and Final Fantasy characters, eventually culminating in a boss fight against the humongous, ferocious Cerberus. Other little Disney touches along the way help make the ride worthwhile too, whether its the antics of your brothers in arms Goofy and Donald or rounding up the 99 lost dalmatian puppies spread throughout the game.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
A bit of an odd one, this. Lured to the strange world of Castle Oblivion by a mysterious organisation for reasons unknown, Sora ends up re-entering the worlds he fixed in the first Kingdom Hearts - only this time, each has been warped by the Heartless in a different way. Now, everyone inside each world seems to be suffering from some kind of chronic memory loss, best shown by the Queen of Hearts, who now has Alice on trial for stealing her memory, rather than her heart. What follows, both in Wonderland and across the rest of the game, is a remarkably similar trip to the same Disney worlds as the first game, just in a slightly different outfit.
However, Re:Chain of Memories does mix things up a little with its new card-based battle system. Now, instead of just mashing the attack button and spamming the odd spell, each of Sora's moves is tied to a specific card in your deck, with battles requiring you to scroll through to the desired card to use the move in question. Each card is one use only, and disappears from your deck until you 'reload' it by hovering over the special reload card for a while - and all of this is going on whilst you're moving Sora around, dodging enemies and getting into a good place to attack. Needless to say, it's a bit of an exercise in spinning plates, as the game tries to get you to be a bit more strategic and conservative with your attacks, rather than just spamming the whack button, as we're wont to do.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Not really a game as such, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (by which it presumably means 179, right?) is simply a collection of all the cutscenes and story segments from the DS game of the same name. With around three hours of cutscenes to take in, the whole point of this addition is to flesh out the story of the bad guys that crop up in both Kingdom Hearts I and Re:Chain of Memories. The problem is, watching several hours of Kingdom Hearts cutscenes about angsty teens eating ice cream on rooftops isn't exactly edge of your seat stuff - if you can, you might be better off hunting down the original DS entry and playing through that instead.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix
In Kingdom Hearts II, the Heartless are back, and this time they've bought backup in the form of the 'Nobodies' - a more intelligent and formidable foe than the Heartless. Invading all the Disney worlds once more, while a mysterious group known as Organization XIII enters the fray, Sora sets out on a quest to find his friend Riku, the land's ruler King Mickey, and a way to return home to Kairi. With his companions Donald and Goofy in tow, this is another jaunt into a variety of Disney worlds. From helping Mulan prove herself to the captain, to getting to the bottom of the Beast's strange behaviour, or kicking back with a few mini-games with Kanga, Roo and the gang, you'll revisit some familiar worlds and explore brand new ones in what is arguably one of the best games in the collection.
With a new adventure comes a new outfit (of course), and a bit of a reworking of the combat system. It's still the same fast-paced button-mashing from the original game, but now Sora has a new 'Drive' ability thrown in. As you whack enemies with your Keyblade, spam the odd spell and dodge incoming attacks, defeated enemies will drop yellow 'Drive' orbs, which add to your new Drive meter. When full, you can harness the power of Donald, Goofy or both by transforming into a more powerful Sora during combat, switching into a new outfit to boot. These Drive Forms also come in handy outside of combat, when it comes to tracking down the 144 collectable jigsaw pieces that are scattered throughout the game - with pieces hidden in some hard to reach places, the extended gliding abilities, higher jumps or quicker running of Sora's various outfits come in especially handy.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix
A remake of an old PSP prequel, Birth By Sleep is set some ten years before the events of the original Kingdom Hearts game, and follows the stories of a trio of Keyblade wielders, on a quest to save the world from darkness once more. With the obligatory Disney worlds invaded by a new breed of mysterious dark creatures known as the Unversed, warping the stories and generally causing chaos as they do, it falls to the trio to put things right, in a familiar mix of button-mashing, puzzle solving and exploration. Perhaps the coolest part of Birth by Sleep is that each of the three Keyblade wielders - Aqua, Ventus and Terra - all have their own unique, interwoven stories to play through. Only by completing all three will you be able to uncover the truth and put a stop to the Unversed menace once and for all.
Each of the Keyblade wielders has their own unique combat style, with big, burly Terra focusing more on brute-force, Ventus on speed and agility whilst the blue-haired Aqua deals mostly in magic, leading to a fancier and flashier take on the traditional Kingdom Hearts style real-time combat. Just what you need when it comes to tackling the Unversed and righting all the Disney worlds that have gone astray, whether its holding off the enemy hordes so that the little mouse Jaq can free the imprisoned Cinderella, fighting your way out of Maleficent's domain with Prince Phillip at your side, or lifting Snow White's curse by beating up a Magic Mirror boss, there's no shortage of Disney-themed adventures to be had.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
Bringing up the rear is another dose of Kingdom Hearts TV, this time featuring the cutscenes and story segments from Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, a spin-off for the DS. When Jiminy Cricket finds a strange message in his journal that speaks of "their hurting", King Mickey creates a simulated, digital world to investigate who, or what, is in trouble, enlisting the help of a virtual Data-Sora along the way. Again, there's no gameplay to this section at all - it's simply three hours of cinematics to sit through, and story to enjoy. While you could argue that with the Playstation 3 collection it was at least a source of easy trophies, Re:Coded (and also 358/2 Days) don't even have that any more.
In all, then, the value you'll get out of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 and 2.5 ReMix will likely depend on how many of the originals you've played. For those who played the separate collections when they graced the PlayStation 3 a few years ago, or even the PlayStation 2 originals, it's a bit tricky to recommend this, as it's literally just the same thing again. However, if you've managed to sidestep the series up until now, or want to swot up on the lore before Kingdom Hearts III eventually launches, then it's hard to go wrong with this bargain collection of six (well, technically more like four) games. Kingdom Hearts I and Kingdom Hearts 2 are definitely the stand out parts of the collection, although we're quite fond of Birth By Sleep too - but on the whole, as a bumper pack of light-hearted Disney-themed button-mashing adventures, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix does its job admirably.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4