Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX: Hold your breath, it gets better

It’s safe to say that there is no stranger crossover title in all of gaming than Kingdom Hearts. On a fundamental level, it almost feels like the stuff of fan fiction and while it does lean that way during its lowest points, the series’ writers generally do a great job of showing the internet amateurs that bringing the Square and Disney universes together isn’t simply a case of clumsily describing a scene in which Winnie The Pooh gets off with Tifa. Sure, the core Kingdom Hearts narrative might be so confusing as to make the Metal Gear timeline seem pretty logical, but it’s a code that can be cracked. And even if you don’t manage to fill in the many blanks left by the story itself, you still get to dive into some of the most iconic worlds and scenes in animated cinema, which in itself has to count for something.

As before, this remastered collection comprises one console game, one handheld game and one set of incomprehensible cutscenes that you would never watch through choice if there weren’t Trophies tied to doing so, all brought up to modern standards with a slick 1080p upscaling job. The good news, though, is that the first two-thirds of this collection easily outshines the last remaster compilation. KH2 is categorically a better game than its predecessor, while former PSP title Birth By Sleep feels more in keeping with the main series games than the card-based Re:Chain Of Memories yes, there’s more of an action emphasis, with ability cooldowns and a trio of playable characters, but that design choice doesn’t make it any less relevant or enjoyable on a controller than it did when it first went handheld. In fact, if anything it’s actually a better fit for a controller than a portable platform, save perhaps for the oddly close camera angle that feels extremely odd in comparison to KH2’s somewhat distant viewpoint.
Kingdom Hearts 2 is undeniably the main attraction here, an epic action-RPG adventure through classic Disney lore that deserves all the love it gets. For the first time, we actually get the Final Mix version of the game in English the Japanese re-release came with a raft of additional content and it’s every bit as in-depth as we had hoped having never played the Japanese release. New content is far more plentiful here than in the original’s Final Mix, with a whole heap of new end-game boss fights, top-end gear and additional story scenes to enjoy that will really test your mastery of the game’s tight combat system. Even nearly a decade on, this aspect of the game remains robust, even though the ass-backwards controls still can’t be altered for some arbitrary reason. You’ll get used to having jump mapped to Circle and attacks on X, but it’s likely to be the cause of frustration during the first few hours due to how much it goes against the grain of the genre.

It’s not all good news, however greatly improved visuals and character models (to the point where certain sections could pass for a brand new PS3 game) come at acost, with the odd framerate hiccup and, worse yet, brief load times whenever you choose to change Form in combat. It’s a fairly minor grievance but given that some of the tougher fights rely on clever switching between Sora’s multiple modes, having the game call a time out every time you switch up your abilities can get a bit
frustrating and really does pull you out of the action.There are a few issues from the original that no amount of HD polish can glossover too, chiefly the tedious slow start to Kingdom Hearts 2 (before Roxas’ tutorial missions finally give way to classic Sora gameplay) and Birth By Sleep’s uncomfortably close camera, a hangover from its PSP days that we’d have thought would have been a relatively easy fix.

Aside from these slight annoyances, 2.5 HD ReMIX certainly doesn’t look out of place on PS3. KH2 holds up slightly better than BBS on a technical level but as with the original collection, it’s a stellar upscaling job that manages to make the simple and clean design of the game really sing. Sure, it falls down a little in terms of  textures and geometry in some busier areas, but the crisp, colourful look of most of the Disney-themed characters and worlds is simply lovely. We’re not sure how much of a compliment it actually is to call it the best-looking PS2 game on PS3, but we’re going to go ahead and say it anyway.

Add in a remastered orchestral soundtrack (for KH2, at least BBS only gets a partial musical makeover) and a pair of Platinums to chase and this compilation of arguably the two best games in the series and one bunch of easy-to-ignore gibberish mobile game cutscenes manages to combine the very best and very worst of the franchise, but the highs make it so easy to ignore the lows. As the definitive versions of both the PS2 classic and the underrated PSP prequel, fans and newcomers alike who can look past the sickly sweetness of Disney’s influence and the incomprehensible story are in for a treat.

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