HD remakes have been a thing for a while now, but there was something special about the way Square Enix handled Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix. Not only was the entirety of the game's art assets built from scratch for high definition display, but also included a remaster of Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories, as well as a collection of the cutscenes from the Nintendo DS title Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, providing a hefty experience for fans. This year, Square Enix is following up in the same vein with Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix, which also includes PSP's Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep remastered in HD, as well as the DS's re:Coded in cutscene form.
I got a chance to check out Kingdom Hearts 2.5 at Square Enix's booth on the E3 show floor, and what I saw made me feel like a kid again. Just like any HD remake should, Kingdom Hearts 2.5 looks, plays, and feels like the original, but the fresh coat of paint makes it feel timeless.
During the demo, I got to visit two classic Disney locations: Christmas Town from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Beast's castle from Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps what sets Kingdom Hearts 2.5 apart from other HD remakes is how the redone graphics highlight just how well the game's art team captured the spirit of the films. Christmas Town looked good on PS2 back in 2006, but in Kingdom Hearts 2.5, there were moments where playing felt indistinguishable from actually being in the movie itself, capturing the the claymation style of the art and animation. Likewise about Beast's castle, where the bright and vibrant colors make the world feel like it came directly from Disney's vault. Just like in Kingdom Hearts 1.5, I'm ecstatic to revisit Disney's iconic worlds and see them through a new lens.
Fans will be delighted that Kingdom Hearts 2.5 retains the original's gameplay, but for those introduced to the series with last year's HD remake, it's worth noting the differences in the sequel. Combat largely remains in the same action-RPG ballpark, combining elements of brawler and action games with smart real-time item management. A "chance" quick-time event system allows main character Sora to perform context-specific moves, such as knocking a boss enemy off of a chandelier, or delivering a special combo move with Beast. Once filled, a "Drive Gauge" allows Sora to take on different forms, move faster, use stronger attacks, and usually dual-wield keyblades. All in all, Kingdom Hearts II's gameplay system refined and improved upon the mechanics of the original, and I'm excited to revisit them when the game releases later this year.
Only the Kingdom Hearts II portion of the collection was available to demo, and I'm a little disappointed I didn't get a chance to see how the PSP's Birth by Sleep fared in the journey to HD. I suppose we'll find out later this year, however, when Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix releases exclusively for PS3 this December.