Disclaimer: There may be some minor spoilers within this review and I apologize in advance for this. I would also like to note that I had not fully played the original game in roughly 10 years so my memory of some events was quite fuzzy.
Ah yes, Kingdom Hearts. I still remember the day I found an article on IGN talking about it and showing off the Tarzan world and instantly going to my mom to beg for it because I just had to have this game. Now ten years, one true sequel, and many side stories later I come full circle in writing a review for this game for this site. This game not only has that memory for me, I still remember back when this was just a little fledgling site and me putting up a large information page for the game and being wowed over getting a bunch of views. So this truly feels like I’ve come full circle.
Anyways, this isn’t a time to reminisce over the past, there is a review to be had. While most of the core game is the same, there are some very vital changes to it. Not only that, for the first time ever, players outside of Japan (and importers) are finally able to lay their hands on Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. While this Final Mix is nowhere near as impressive as Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+, it is still nice to see it finally come to our shores.
As many, many people know, one of the biggest issues in the original game was the camera. It had very, very awkward controls and just felt clunky. Well, gone are those days. Kingdom Hearts Final Mix HD’s camera takes from the game that follows it, much to the relief of many. You can now use the right analog stick to move the camera as you please, and of course you have the option to invert the directions should you so wish.
In the original games, if you wanted to do anything it was within the menu – open chests, examine anything, use special skills. However, they did away with that in the HD version and went with a more Kingdom Hearts II approach. All of these commands have been moved to the triangle button, and now (so long as you aren’t in combat) you are able to use them without fumbling all over the menu!
The game has received an extensive overhaul graphically and needless to say, it looks gorgeous. However not all that looks gorgeous is perfect. The game suffers from some serious lack of expression in several characters’ faces. It just didn’t look right looking into someones face and them just giving me this blank stare. Nor did it look right watching a cutscene where a character is trying to act all serious and all I could see was the blank expression.
There are also some textures that don’t look quite… right in HD. For an example, if you look at Cloud’s hair in Olympus Coliseum – at least on an HDTV with HDMI, I haven’t looked at it on anything other than HDMI – you can just sit there counting all the pixels. It just looks poorly done when everything around it looks so good.
Proud Mode – Not quite Critical yet not Expert
While I’m not quite sure if this existed within the original version of Final Mix, it definitely exists in the HD version. Proud mode replaces what was Expert mode originally, however it is definitely harder than Expert. With that in mind though, I wouldn’t say it is quite at the levels of critical mode – though my experiences with critical mode only come from watching others play it.
As in the past few years I decided I would always play Kingdom Hearts games on Proud mode, I of course started off the playthrough for this review on it. Boy did I soon come to regret it, at least at various points. At what one should consider a “normal” level for the likes of Guard Armor and Trickmaster, on this new “Proud” mode it sure didn’t feel like these are the normal levels. Trickmaster alone took several hours, and then soon after it I got so stuck on the required coliseum matches that I literally had to go back and grind for a bit – though the main purpose of the grinding was to get some munny for potions.
Needless to say, despite my regrets in places of deciding to do my first full playthrough of the game in ten years on Proud, it is definitely very welcome and should challenge those looking for a challenge in the game.
An ability that may as well have become required for those seeking a challenge, EXP Zero does exactly what it says – it makes it impossible for you to gain experience while it is activated. While I haven’t used it myself, I know there are many out there who will be very happy to take on the level one challenge – and it’s definitely a challenge since the ability is Proud mode only!
Beginner – The Other New Difficulty
Should you choose to play on the new easiest difficulty in the game, you get even more bonuses. When you start the game you’ll begin with a bunch of boosts in your inventory – AP Up, Power Up, and Guard Up to be exact. This new difficulty is easier than Standard, and while I don’t have experience with it myself yet, it is likely on par with the Beginner difficulty available in the other games.
Gummi Ship Missions
Ah yes, the ever dreaded Gummi Ship missions. Now you might be thinking, “Hey wait, that isn’t new!” Well guess what! There are now actual Missions within your regular routes. These missions will have you do a variety of things from using a specific gummi weapon, take no damage, or maybe even both! As much as I dread these things, these new missions actually brought a bit of life to what used to be something dull.
Now to just get the patience to do some of those insane no damage ones…
The Bonus Boss of Final Mix
While I don’t want to spoil too much on what, or who, this bonus boss is for those who didn’t keep up with the Final Mix of the original game, I do want to just briefly mention this beast of a boss. This beast of an enemy will be no small feat to defeat, especially for those playing on the higher difficulties. You can expect to need to do a fair bit of leveling before you can even dream of taking him down.
So, long story short, if you think you’ve mastered the original game and have never played Final Mix, you are in for a treat. A very, very welcome treat.
Even More Bonuses
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix introduced a whole host of new enemies, items, accessories, and weapons. You are able to access most of these items through things such as the coliseum and synthesis. Take note though – be prepared to do some particular things to get your fancy new synthesis items! This provides a nice, as small as it is, added strategy to trying to get all your synthesis items made – another thing that is nice for those of us whom have never had the chance to play Final Mix before.
System Feels Dated
The Kingdom Hearts system is one that has evolved over the many games since the original was rele
ased. Unfortunately it makes some elements of the original feel dated when one goes to play this new HD release.
For example – the Gummi Ship. While a decent concept back then, looking back at this system now it just feels in the way. I mentioned above that the added missions here are nice, but at the same time, the system just feels like a hindrance to the progression in the game. This especially rings true when you look at games such as Birth by Sleep. You still have the overworld travel between worlds, however gummi ship missions are completely gone and you can just go right from world to world – well, once you unlock them via the story as usual. Kingdom Hearts II feels the same way as KH1 these days, but we aren’t here to talk about the second game!
On the other hand though, the MP system is a welcome relief after the constant deck systems in the past several games. Though, it still has its limits – however they don’t feel as bad as the limits in KH2, in a way at least. You either need a stockpile of MP recovery items or the ability to hit the enemies to hit you to recover your MP, or to be able to find MP recovery balls – KH2 you could just sit and wait while it refilled.
In the long run, while it is always great to look back at the game the started a worldwide success of a series, you can start to see some of the major issues within that game that got fixed as the series progressed.
Yes indeed, there sadly appears to be a very nasty audio glitch that can pop up a good portion of the way through the game. The audio glitch makes the game sound pretty much disappear, only occasionally cutting in and out if it feels like it. Thankfully it got fixed through a few cutscenes, but from my experiences with it, it lasted through an entire boss fight. Mind you, this wasn’t exactly a short boss fight either… and it took me a couple tries.
The big issue here though, is that this glitch was in the Japanese version and never fixed for the English release, despite the fact the English release was staggered out so much. This is slightly disappointing that none of the QA testers seem to have found this issue, as it is very distracting and actually takes away some of the epicness of the boss I encountered it on.
While something minor, trophies and achievements have become a part of gaming now. So of course Kingdom Hearts Final Mix features trophies – well, other than the fact Sony requires trophies on all games, but that isn’t the point here. So of course it would seem Square Enix sure wanted to make sure we had to work if we really wanted all of them.
Unfortunately, this comes with a slight oversight. A lot of games that feature different difficulties typically have retroactive difficulty trophies – beat the game on the highest one and you’ll unlock all the trophies for the previous difficulties. It would seem though that Square Enix is really keen on you playing this game (and Re: Chain of Memories) many, many times. Not only are the difficulty trophies not retroactive, there are other trophies for silly things – beating the game without changing gear, beating the game within a certain amount of time, and beating the game without using “Continue.”
So for those trophy hunters out there, somewhat like myself (at least when I’m in the mood for it), you’ll have to play this game a MINIMUM of three times to get it, though you’ll likely end up playing through it 5 or 6 times just to get all of them. Disappointing that the difficulty trophies aren’t retroactive and unlock all the previous tiers? Yes.
For fans of the series and for those just playing it for the first time, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix HD is a great way to enter – so long as you don’t try to play on Proud mode the first time! The HD remaster is an amazing version to a game from my childhood, and I enjoyed – well okay, mostly enjoyed outside of the frustration of dying all the time – playing through it again. However, some of the issues that cropped up such as the complete lack of expression on some faces and the audio glitch, kept me from giving this a higher score than you’ll see below.
Despite all this though, I hope you will all give Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX – and in particular Kingdom Hearts Final Mix HD – a chance.
(Now read the review if you skipped to the score.)
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX is available now and you can purchase it now through Amazon for $39.99.
I would like to thank Square Enix for providing me with a copy of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX to use for this review.