E3 2014: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix Leaves us Nostalgic, Worried

Square Enix committed two sins at E3 2014 by leaving their biggest titles, Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III, behind.  They did, however, bring the next release in the Kingdom Hearts franchise.  I was able to go hands-on with Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix to see if the upcoming HD Remaster Collection was up to snuff.  While I’m happy to report one of the included titles is strong, the other one isn’t quite there yet.

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For those out of the loop, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix is an HD Remaster containing Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix, and HD cinematic cutscenes from Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded.  The release of the collection will set up the events of Kingdom Hearts III, which does not have a release date.  I got to try out some levels in both Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix that left me nostalgic, but also worried.

This is the first time the Final Mix content for either game has been released outside of Japan.  This is immediately apparent when jumping into the games.  Enemies have new textures, there’s new keyblades and abilities, and a few new enemy types.  Plus, players will get to encounter new bosses and narrative content later on in the game.  To say the least, it’s awesome that we’re finally getting this content after so many years.

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I got to enjoy two Kingdom Hearts II levels, a boss fight in Beast’s Castle and a brief romp around HalloweenTown.  The first thing I noticed were the crisp visuals.  Kingdom Hearts II has been lovingly remastered and looks stunning in almost every area. Square Enix has done a commednable job polishing the character models and textures for HD. This was a beautiful game when it launched on the PS2, and is still beautiful on the PS3.

Aside from the glossy new paint and the Final Mix content, nothing much has changed in Kingdom Hearts II.  Levels are exactly the same so those who have played the game previously won’t have much trouble getting around.  This is an HD Remaster, so no one should expect any drastic changes to the way game was designed back when it launched.

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I experienced three levels of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, one for each of the three main protagonists.  Birth By Sleep has gotten the biggest graphical overhaul of any Kingdom Hearts game because it came from the PSP.  Much like with Kingdom Hearts II, Birth By Sleep’s character models and textures and animations make the transition to the PS3 flawlessly.  However, there’s no hiding that this used to be a PSP game.  Environmental textures appear flat and blurry, a sign of the game’s origins.  The framerate also dipped when tons of enemies got on screen and particle effects were going off everywhere.

Like with Kingdom Hearts II, Birth By Sleep will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played the game before.  Square Enix has not changed any of the game’s design, which means these are the same levels as before.  Remember, this is an HD Remaster and not a full remake.

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Unfortunately, I was not able to view any of the Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded cutscenes.  I was able to speak to a PR representative about the scenes, and they confirmed that brand new scenes were created and voice acted just for this collection.  Perhaps we’ll get some more hints towards Kingdom Hearts III?  On that they remained silent.

Finally, I talked to them about the future of the franchise.  Once again, I asked if there were any clues regarding Kingdom Hearts III included with the HD Remaster.  They told me that I would have to wait to play it to find out.  I also snuck in whether PS3 owners would see Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance ported to the platform as a digital title.  On that, they weren’t sure.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remaster is out December 2 exclusively on PS3.