Back To The Magic Kingdom
Hey, remember when a Square game meant people got really excited and full of giddy anticipation over an epic story and emotional experience? Remember how long ago that was? Apparently, Square-Enix does too, so in an attempt to win back some of that good will they’ve lost over the years with Final Fantasy they’ve gone back to the well with Kingdom Hearts and released an HD port of one of the most beloved action-RPGs of the past generation. Depressingly, this is one of the best games Square-Enix has released in the last five years.
Back Where It All Began
With the E3 announcement that Kingdom Hearts 3 is in the works, now is as good a time as any to return to this unlikely success story of a franchise. After all, who would have predicted back in 2002 that a fusion of Disney movie character with Square RPG characters in an action RPG was actually going to work? Over 10 years later it’s one of Squenix’s few unblemished franchises, and this HD port still manages to hold up despite the all the time that’s passed.
This is not the same version that North American players bought 11 years ago; it’s actually the Final Mix version that debuted in Japan after the initial release. This means a few new cut scenes to clarify plot points, and greater foreshadowing with what would happen in the sequel. Being an HD port, there’s an expected smoothing over of polygons, although the textures themselves haven’t been sharpened up to the same degree. It’s obvious though how improved the game’s graphics are, looking even more cartoony and Disney-esque than before. However, the single, most important thing that needs to be mentioned here is that the years of being trained in using the right analog stick on a controller to move the camera around in-game has made it very difficult to play the original Kingdom Hearts on the PS2 since it assigns that function to the shoulder buttons. Putting the camera control on the right analog stick for this HD port instantly makes Kingdom Hearts far more playable than it ever was during its original release. For fans of the game, this is the DEFINITIVE version, and the change in control schemes is worth the upgrade.
Players also get Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories, an HD port of the PS2 port of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories that was originally a GameBoy title. It’s a bizarre, card battling system that’s now been grafted to the combat of the original KH, but an essential addition as a bridge story between KH1 and KH2. For the same reason, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days has also been ported over, this originally being a DS game. Days, however, is not actually a full game, just an HD port of the cut scenes. It’s a bizarre decision, but this is the first time that fans of the KH franchise can actually follow the entire story leading up to Kingdom Hearts 2 without having to buy different hardware platforms. At $50, it’s a bit pricey for two and a half games, but the quality and pedigree of the games is such that this is still a good deal. Kingdom Hearts, being a Squenix RPG, is positively huge, and there are literally dozens of hours of quality action-RPG gameplay here. The inclusion of the bridge games also makes it a little easier to understand the Byzantine plot leading up to KH2, though it’s obvious even at this point from the creaking plot of the Organization storyline that Square was already on the road to ruin that would eventually favour alienating, complex storylines over simpler conflicts and likable characters. That shouldn’t stop fans—and newcomers—from picking up a worthy port of one of the best action RPGs of the last generation. The gameplay, music, characters and heartfelt endorsements on The Power Of Friendship™ still manage to be as evocative in 2013 for the young and young at heart as they were in 2002.