There are a lot of ways veterans of the Kingdom Hearts games describe the series, and with good reason. Kingdom Hearts, as a whole, is a staggering achievement that blends the best elements of Square Enix games with the most compelling beats in Disney's best films. At its worst, however, it is an unapologetic mess, an amalgam of increasingly confusing achronological plot points and a parade of characters with mysterious back stories.
Many people, however, will tell you the latter is part of the series' whimsical charm, and that's as good a mindset as any to adopt when heading into Square Enix's brand new Kingdom Hearts remaster collection, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX. The collection is a port of the two PS3 remasters of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, alongside the final mix version of Birth By Sleep, a newly revamped Re: Chain of Memories, and two cinematic versions of 358/2 Days and Re: Coded.
That's a lot of content, but the bulk of the collection will be judged, as always, by the quality of the two "main" games in the Kingdom Hearts series. Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX presents 1.5 and 2.5 in an incredibly smooth 60 fps frame rate, and that, coupled with the definitive experiences of the most important games in the franchise, makes Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX a must-have for those looking to catch up on the series ahead of Kingdom Hearts 3 - although diehard fans will likely want to give this collection a pass.
Perhaps, more than anything, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is a welcome addition to the Kingdom Hearts family because it feels like the most cohesive offering of the game's unbelievably convoluted story. Kingdom Hearts, by nature of its Disney and Square Enix mash-up and eclectic assortment of Disney worlds to visit, has always felt a little disjointed, even before the many curiously named spin-off titles hit the market. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is the first time nearly every significant story set in the Kingdom Hearts universe has been assembled together, and it really does help gamers get a sense for what's happening to Sora and the gang.
That being said, the HD cinematic offerings of 358/2 Days and Re: Coded are hours-long movies with the production values of handheld video game titles. They're useful for those who were unfamiliar with the games, which is important since Kingdom Hearts has bounced around Sony and Nintendo devices a fair bit, but they do drag and aren't recommended viewing unless necessary.
It's unlikely many people are buying Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX for its HD video collection, however. Those looking for the true Kingdom Hearts gameplay experience will find it in spades in this collection, and by and large it is the best example of what has made the series so endearing to its many fans.
The revamped graphics in Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep, in particular, make it much easier to appreciate how fluid and refined the combat in those titles really is. Those two titles, which introduced different command styles for players as well as flashy finishing moves, were huge improvements to the formula established by Kingdom Hearts. It is very easy to see how these titles influenced future games like Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue or the frenetic combat of Final Fantasy 15.
Unfortunately, though, the reason Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep are such noticeable upgrades, even in HD, are because they improved on the very flawed combat in Kingdom Hearts, which persists through Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX. It is a combination of the fussy camera that never quite functions the way players want it to, especially if set to Auto rather than manual, and the age of the gameplay mechanics present in the series' first offering. It can be frustrating hopping between games and having to slog through the much slower-paced, simple battling in Kingdom Hearts, and it is unfortunate more couldn't be done to revitalize Sora's first outing.
Including the Final Mix versions of the games in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is a nice touch that manages to alleviate some of the problems, however. The Final Mix designation for Kingdom Hearts games means each title comes with optional side content - often featuring some of Disney and Final Fantasy's most popular characters - and superbosses.
Superbosses are an important inclusion in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX, because experienced gamers will find even the most difficult settings of the titles involved in this collection will still be relatively easy. That's true of the main bosses and of the side quests present in the original versions, but the Final Mix content ramps up the difficulty greatly and provides a lot more replay value.
There are still a few minor glitches in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX here and there, however. Character models will occasionally clip the environment in a way that they get stuck, and this reviewer had to reload a save once to free Sora from being stuck behind a barrel. It's unfortunate that these issues persist throughout - they were present in the PS3 ports as well, and it seems Square has yet to fix them - but they are all relatively small, and the reload seemed to be a one-off problem.
After all is said and done, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX 's graphics might be a bit more crisp, but its titles are essentially the same games they were years ago with little in the sense of additional content. If fans have already played through the PS3 ports at some point, it is hard to recommend picking up Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX, and players should likely check out Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue instead. The latter also contains Dream Drop Distance, one of the few titles Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX doesn't actually cover, so it also helps those trying to make sense of the story.
Still, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is a high quality collection that will enthral new players and offer those who haven't picked up the series in a long time an excellent reason to revisit it. Minor technical issues and dated gameplay aside, it is hard to find a compilation with this much value built-in, and Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is the best excuse Square has given players to brush up on Kingdom Hearts yet.
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is available now for PS4. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.