If there's one original role-playing series that found its place on the PlayStation 2, it was Kingdom Hearts. A hybrid of an original Square Enix world and familiar characters and places from Walt Disney's universe, it became a huge hit upon its release with a sequel and some refinements that followed soon thereafter. While we patiently await the arrival of Kingdom Hearts III (it's got to come some day right?) Square is giving us something to occupy our time with a collection of some of the best Kingdom Hearts content it has to offer with 1.5 HD Remix. The team recently invited us to get an early look at the game in action.
Kingdom Hearts 1.5 isn't just the original game tweaked with high-definition graphics - this is the Final Mix of the game, which originally saw release in Japan but never got a chance here in the United States. Basically, it consists of additional content not included in the original game along with an improved camera system that lets you use the analog stick to look around compared to the shoulder buttons. It makes a world of difference, especially in combat.
Also included is Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, which originally released for the Game Boy Advance before making its way to the PlayStation 2. This version is based on the PS2 game and also comes with touched-up graphics and other improvements.
Finally, there's bits and pieces included from the Nintendo DS game Kingdom Hearts 358/2. Though the full game isn't included here, several of the cut-scenes are as a continuation to the story that focuses on Keyblade-carrying hero Sora and his friends.
We got a chance to see Kingdom Hearts 1.5 in action through a hands-off demo. The gameplay looks like it holds up like previous Kingdom Hearts, with a combination of role-playing tactics and real-time action. You'll swing away at enemies while calling upon your allies and countering incoming strikes from enemies. In the demo we got to see underwater combat, as Sora and his friends donned fish tails and met up with Ariel from The Little Mermaid for their latest quest.
After swimming through a beautiful looking cavern, Sora and his friends spuring into action after a group of enemies appeared. The battle system appears to be just as easy to get into as the previously released version. Party members change over the course of the game with each new land you visit, some of which are based on familiar Disney worlds. You'll also spot familiar characters in these worlds, including the fast-talking Hades (who is voiced by James Woods, just like in the film Hercules.)
Some refinements have also been made to the gameplay. Commands once again return, including "Attack", "Magic" and "Items" and a new "Summons" system enables you to call upon allies at certain times. In addition, a new Reaction Command system is also being implemented which will enable you to use special attacks by pressing the triangle button when you're prompted to do so. Square Enix wouldn't say if this gameplay was the same across the board for Final Mix and Re: Chain of Memories, but we don't see why not.
Though the demo was all too brief, the Square rep we spoke to explained the true value of the package. Kingdom Hearts with this Final Mix rendition and Re: Chain of Memories will combine together to offer hours worth of play, boasting some familiarity for long-time fans and new terrain for those just beginning the series. Even though 358/2 isn't playable (we didn't really get a clear answer as to why, only that the DS gameplay couldn't quite translate to the PlayStation 3) its story will add some great extra content to an already packed experience.
Best of all, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix will be offered at a bargain price of $39.99. That's the price that most other high-definition compilations go for, and considering role-playing games don't get revisited that often, it's nice to see Square offer something for those impatiently waiting for some kind of Kingdom Hearts experience on the PS3.
It's not the count to three that you might have been expecting, but some Kingdom Hearts experience certainly beats none and with the introduction of the long-awaited Final Mix along with a bonus game and cut-scene story, RPG and action fans will feel right at home with 1.5 HD Remix. Look for it in stores later this year, exclusively for the PlayStation 3.