Square and Disney's long-running crossover series has quite the history and you can now experience 6 of its stories in one package.
Before getting to the individual games, I figured I'd discuss this collection as a whole. It basically consists of the quintessential versions of 4 Kingdom Hearts games plus 2 compilations of cutscenes from a couple of Nintendo DS titles. For starters, I'm very impressed with how well each game looks which is especially impressive considering the original game initially released back in 2002. They really did an excellent job of making each game look great with 4K visuals and a smooth frame rate. Sure, it may not look realistic but each game stands out with personality, lovely use of colours, and plenty of style. Plus, their soundtracks are superb and the voice cast is extremely talented with many of the actors being big celebrities and official Disney voiceover artists. Each game is truly a magical experience.
When it comes to story, Kingdom Hearts is definitely divisive as many fans love their intricate plots and relish in putting all the pieces together. Personally, I find the stories to be delightful yet the more complicated plot-threads tend to make me disinterested. Either way, I still respect them and understand how many are captivated by them. Thankfully, if you fit that description then you'll love watching the hours of cutscenes within Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and Kingdom Hearts Re:coded so it's awesome that they're included.
About the games in general; there are 2 aspects that I found particularly frustrating about them. First, the bosses range from rewarding challenges to incredibly irritating. Having to retry some of the bosses 5 or more times really put me in a bad mood and some of these annoying boss fights are even early on in their respective games. To rub salt in the wound, if you want to change the difficulty in any of these games then you have to start them from square one. If the developers didn't want gamers to temporarily decrease the difficulty then why not offer players the option to lower the challenge then lock them out of higher difficulties? It makes no sense.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
First up, we have a remake of the original Kingdom Hearts. I have fond memories of playing it when it first released but after playing it again in this compilation, I'm surprised how poorly it has aged. Don't get me wrong; it's a wonderful game that has many memorable moments and the series had to start somewhere so it can't be faulted much. However, there are many elements that feel exceptionally dated. Namely, you'll often not know what to do in order to progress and I found myself constantly referring to a guide in order to simply advance past seemingly simple scenarios. Also, you have to play a Star Fox style mini-game where you control a Gummi Ship whenever you want to travel between worlds and it's very tedious and features awful collision detection. On the plus side, battling with Goofy and Donald and experiencing many iconic Disney tales makes it one unforgettable adventure. It's the definition of a mixed bag.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
Next, we have a game that originally released for Game Boy Advance and had a PlayStation 2 remake a few years after. The basic formula is very similar to the first game except it's a dungeon crawler that focuses on gameplay above all else and incorporates cards in its combat. I've seen many people complain about the card combat but I ended up enjoying it and I love the focus on combat and dungeon crawling. Out of all the games here, I can see myself coming back to Re:Chain of Memories most often as its formula lends itself well to pick-up-and-play gaming sessions. That's not to say that its story isn't good; it's very well told and thoroughly engaging.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix
After the dated original and its enjoyable direct sequel, here's the next mainline entry in the series. Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix is a vast improvement over the first game with its smooth combat that features more intuitive and visceral controls complete with reaction-based moves. On top of that, its visuals are fantastic and, dare I say, even rival many contemporary JRPGs. Its campaign is quite linear but I appreciated the fact that it is because the story is so well told that it provides an ideal driving force as you progress from area to area. Sure, there were a couple times when I was lost but it's much less confusing than the first game. Oh, and the Gummi Ship segments are much more exciting and the Drive Gauge system that allows you to transform or summon a helper is a great addition.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix
Finally, we have a remake of a prequel that originally released for PSP back in 2010. In Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, you play through 3 characters' stories (Aqua, Ventus, and Terra) in whichever order you prefer. The gameplay is similar to previous games although the combat is more action-oriented. Whereas the other games relied primarily on hacking and slashing, evading enemy attacks while strategically striking foes whenever the opportunity arises is crucial here which needless to say, feels more like a full-fledged action game. Plus, customizing decks of commands such as skills and items that you can unleash at the tap of a button allows for a rewarding element of strategy. Also, deploying powerful abilities whenever the gauge is full and targeting foes in first-person via Shotlock just feels awesome and if you ever want to switch up your commands, you can utilize other characters' moves with the handy D-Link system.
Whether you're completely new to Kingdom Hearts or a long-time fan, enjoying these magical adventures on a modern console will surely put a smile on your face. This collection is simply jam-packed with greatness via plenty of gameplay variety and memorable stories.
- + Contains 4 fantastic Kingdom Hearts games that mostly hold up well
- + Includes 2 cool cinematic experiences
- + Everything looks and sounds great
- - Kingdom Hearts Final Mix feels dated
- - Some bosses can be downright infuriating
- - Can't change difficulty mid-game