2.5, like 1.5, is an HD upgrade/remake of a trilogy within the storied world of Kingdom Hearts, and released for Christmas in 2014. This time our menu consists of a director’s cut version of the PS2 game Kingdom Hearts 2 (known as The Final Mix, released only in Japan until now), An HD enhancement of the PSP game Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, and lastly, like 358/2 days in 1.5, an HD Movie containing the highlights of a Nintendo DS game called Kingdom Hearts re:Coded. Which originated as a game on mobile phones, but then was released more commercially on the Nintendo DS. So, like last time, it’s more or less 3 reviews with comparisons, so lets get right at it.
KINGDOM HEARTS 2: THE FINAL MIX
Kingdom Hearts 2 takes place where 358/2 days ends, and to the surprise of those who played Kingdom Hearts 1 and then went into Chain Of Memories or 2, we’re playing as Roxas. Back in 2005/6, I don’t think anybody had a clue as to what was going on. 358/2 days didn’t come out until 2009, and as far as I know, there wasn’t even a manga in Japan to fill in the gaps. To go from the ending in KH 1 or even Chain Of Memories, to this, was incredibly confusing at the time. We all scratched our heads; “Who’s this kid? Who’s Axel? Why are we following this group of kids we know nothing about? Where the hell is Sora?” Pre-358/2 days, it was 1 of the most confusing sequel transitions ever made, and only the opening video to the game seemed to give some indication as to what was going on – primarily “Square have a lot of explaining to do”. When we finally do start playing as Sora, Donald and Goofy again, this was where it became my favourite game in the franchise (and with the help of Chain Of Memories and 358/2 Days, the game’s prologue is actually much better than we realised).
Is the story as strong as Kingdom Hearts 1? No, and it isn’t as focused either. But despite this, Kingdom Hearts 2 took everything else that made ‘1 great and made it better. The graphics remain the best in the series, and even pushing 10 years later they still look really nice! The game’s worlds are also among the best that I’ve come across. Some worlds have returned (such as Agrabah, The Olympus Colosseum, Atlantica, Halloween Town (which featured Christmas Town this time!) and Hollow Bastion) and some new worlds appeared (or at least some were new until 358/2 days came out) such as Beast’s castle (Beauty & The Beast), The Pride Lands (The Lion King), The Land Of Dragons (Mulan) and this time Neverland (Peter Pan) has been replaced with Port Royal (Pirates Of The Caribbean) as the pirate-themed level. There are others, but I think I’ll keep them a surprise.
Gameplay-wise, this is by far my favourite Kingdom Hearts game. I just love playing it. ‘Love it! Everything works well and it all flows and responds beautifully! I would give it 6-stars if I could, it’s simply a masterpiece in this area.
The music is great, and some tracks are downright adorable. The themes to Twilight Town (returning from Chain Of Memories and 358/2 Days) remain some of the most nostalgic that I have ever heard.
I have friends and know of people who will call Kingdom Hearts 1 the superior game, and certainly within the context of story, introduction, and being such an amazing creation for its time, I can agree. Kingdom Hearts 2 does require the other games in order to make sense, and because of this, some would say it’s not perfect. But within the context of, lets say Assassin’s Creed 2 (a game that technically requires the others) It’s at least very close to perfection. It doesn’t work as well as a standalone game, but as a game to simply play, it’s a truly wonderful experience. It falls into the same category as Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It requires its prequels to be understood, but in terms of what went into it, it’s a superior product. You need the others for the character development and see where they came from, and unlike the others, Kingdom Hearts 2 features much more fleshed out characters and the humour is much, much better as well. Sora, Donald & Goofy are a lot more like friends in this than before.
Anything else? Yes, if you’re a Final Fantasy fan, this game has even more of their characters than before. You might also notice that Squall (Leon) and Cloud have changed since last time, with Cloud’s character design being changed from his exclusive Kingdom Hearts appearance to that of the film Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children (Which came out several months before this game, and a movie that made fans ask Square Enix “So when will Final Fantasy 7 be remade to look like this?”), they justify this by saying Cloud is full of darkness…kind of like Riku…and there was also a long passage of time took place between 1 and 2. So, there you go. Is there anything I don’t like about this game? Probably the voice of Simba from The Lion King (It’s really bad! & It’s not done by Matthew Broderick either).
BIRTH BY SLEEP
Birth By Sleep is effectively the Metal Gear Solid 3 of the Kingdom Hearts series. It is well and truly the very first chapter of the series, and unlike the rest of the games, you get to play as 3 characters in 3 different stories that happen at the same time as each other, providing a variety of perspectives and justifications (Think of it as being like a game version of Blind Chance or Trilogy Of Terror…or if you’re a Simpsons fan, Trilogy Of Error, the 18th episode of season 12). Set about 5 years before Kingdom Hearts 1, our game stars 3 main protagonists; Terra (The Big and powerful 1), Ventus (The nimble 1) and Aqua (The Mage), who are all training to become Keyblade welders under their master, Eraqus (Voiced by Luke Skywalker and The animated Joker himself, Mark Hamill). From the beginning, you can tell that our 3 characters have an aspect of deja vu to them. Terra struggles with the darkness inside him (much like Riku), Ventus is very friendly, rather naive, and looks a lot like Roxas, and Aqua sports a similar haircut to Kairi in KH1. In the background, our main antagonist, Xehanort (voiced, bittersweetly, by the recently late Leonard Nimoy) has plans for all 3 (particularly Terra and Ventus), and sometimes is followed around by a man wearing the same outfit as Riku when he’s consumed by darkness (not the black cloak, the other 1). And all 3 stories lead towards and beyond the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts 2, which I’m not going to spoil.
So how does Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep rate when compared to other games in the series? Simple, Birth By Sleep is by far the 3rd best game in the series (after 1 and 2). While the other spin-off games are important to the overall story, this 1 is superior to most of them in quality. So, graphics-wise. It’s more or less the same as most others, and considering this was originally a PSP game, it looks incredibly well when upscaled and put onto the TV. I guess the only complaint I might have, and this simply comes from it being originally on the PSP, is the lack of NPCs. Kingdom Hearts 2 had plenty of NPCs to make rooms and areas look more alive and lived in. But BBS doesn’t have this…which is fine, they did what they could.
The gameplay provides you with the ability to choose the skills your want to use in battle, and also the ability to mix them together to create new and more powerful attacks and spells (trust me when I say, it’s important to keep doing these science experiments, because the final bosses aren’t particularly easy…especially Terra’s final bosses. You’ll need lots of good attacks and healing abilities). The controls work very well, and the camera does feel a little odd, as your character looks quite big on screen and right in the middle. It should also be noted that when your characters make friends, you can actually use a new skill set in battle based on each friend, and the more you use those skill sets in battle, the more they level up and more skills can be unlocked within them.
The worlds in Birth By Sleep are potentially hit and miss. Each game has a “Classic Disney” world, usually either Traverse Town or Disney Castle, here it’s a new 1 called Disney Town filling the role (and it’s fine, you’re mostly there to play mini games). Hollow Bastion (pre-fall), The Olympus Coliseum (Hercules), Neverland (Peter Pan) and Mysterious Tower (Fantasia?) all return from previous games, and the new worlds are primarily (but not entirely) belonging to Disney Princesses (who play a rather important role in Kingdom Hearts 1), so you get to explore The Castle Of Dreams (Cinderella), The Dwarf Woodlands (Snow White) and the Enchanted Dominion (Sleeping Beauty. Since Malificent is a primary villain in the series, it had to be explored). We’re also provided with Deep Space as a wild card (The World of Lilo and Stitch, since Stitch can fight alongside Sora…You might even say this game encouraged me to watch the movie). Some levels are great fun, others are a bit on the bland side. It depends on what you’re looking for. It’s also a game that provides us with some new music to go with the new worlds, and Yoko Shimomura’s once again done a great job.
For this, much like 358/2 days, I’ll be reviewing the Nintendo DS game, while also watching the HD movie to see if it’s worth playing both or choosing 1.
So…Story. RE:Coded is set after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2 and just before the secret ending. It involves Mickey Mouse trying to decode the information (or lack thereof) of Jiminy Cricket’s 2nd Journal (Jiminy Cricket, if you haven’t played the other games, follows Sora around and records everything that happens in his journal). In trying to digitally mend the journal, he finds out that it’s full of bugs (glitches/computer virus/oh no, we’re going to lose all of our photographs and my half-finished Magnum Opus Novel) which prevent the diary from being read. So, in order to cure the virus in the diary, Mickey creates a digital version of Sora (as he was in Kingdom Hearts 1, minus Hailey Joel Osmund’s unbroken voice at the time) who already has the ability to use the keyblade, to travel to different worlds in order to kill/defeat bugs and restore the diary, so that Jiminy will understand what the diary means when it says “Thank Namine”.
What’s bad about Re:Coded isn’t the graphics and animation (The primarily still-shot with written dialogue style of storytelling (similar to Persona 4 and other RPGS) looks great for the Nintendo DS and both the remastered cutscenes and new cutscenes with new voiceovers are very good on the PS3), but rather it’s very average story. Because you’re revisiting some of the worlds from Kingdom Hearts 1 (and Chain Of Memories) again, there is a strong sense of Deja Vu, and there isn’t very much that’s new in terms of the worlds you visit or the characters you meet. However, that’s where similarities end. What does change is the gameplay, with each level providing something different to the last. Examples of this include Traverse Town having a 2D Beat Em Up Boss fight, Olympus Coliseum being a classic Role-Playing Game, Alice In Wonderland being a treasure-hunting Adventure Game (with a temple-run style boss fight), Agrabah being a hunting game/3D platformer of sorts, and Hollow Bastion being a live-action tactical RPG. Although despite all of these variations, each 1 is quite primitive in itself, as the main focus in gameplay is still the Kingdom Hearts action RPG style…and in every world there are glitch boxes to be broken, and digital-dungeon worlds were you have to defeat glitched enemies to fix glitches in that world, like doorways being blocked. The level-up system in RE:Coded is like a circuit board, and in order to get anywhere in the game, you have to fill it up with Strength +1 chips, level-up chips, and so on. When circuits connect, powers become twice as strong, and new abilities can become unlocked. It’s actually 1 of the nicest ways to customise Sora in the series.
Nearly everything else is more or less as good as most other Kingdom Hearts games, including Yoko Shimomura’s music (which remains great), the characters (even if the story doesn’t really do much for them), and even though some of the voice actors are different in the HD version (Genie is definitely a different voice actor), they’re still well done. It can also be noted that Re:Coded is probably the shortest Kingdom Hearts game by many hours (a rushed play through can take about 11-12 hours).
So, would I recommend the HD movie or the Nintendo DS game or both? In truth, they’re different, but about the same in their respective qualities. They both suffer from the same problem, which is the story. What you already know about the characters doesn’t really get added upon, and came across more like an episode of a Disney TV Show that’s based on a popular Disney movie (much like how Aladdin and Little Mermaid had their own shows back in the ’90s). What do I mean? Well, it’s like saying “Here are some well developed characters, lets put them in this basic, gentle story so that people will get more of the characters”. It can also be noted that dialogue-wise this 1 is among the corniest instalments in the series, but it also conveys quite a nice message about the pain of forgetting memories and friends. The gameplay is unique in its constant changing and variations, but at times, you will hate the camera, and hate the enemies known as “Danger Bloxs”. When comparing how well the story translates from a long game into a 2-3 hour movie, the ReCoded HD Movie actually did a better job than the 358/2 Days movie did for its respective game, even though ReCoded isn’t as good, or as original, as 358/2 Days. I’d say that you might play the Nintendo DS version once, but the experience and story isn’t good enough for it to be the top choice between the 2. Once the DS game is finished, you will probably prefer to watch the HD movie from then on in any marathon playthroughs later in life…for a very obvious reason being the secret endings. The HD Movie version not only provides the secret ending in the DS version without the work that goes into it, but it also provides a second ending that isn’t available anywhere else…a very good reason to choose it if you ask me.
Would I recommend Kingdom Hearts 2.5? Yes! Especially if you’ve played 1.5 and have a PS3. Due to the quality of both Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep, as well as the fact that reCoded was well captured in the HD Movie, it is an excellent buy, and also a better overall trilogy than 1.5.
KINGDOM HEARTS 2: THE FINAL MIX
Overall rating: ****3/4 (As a standalone, but ***** within context)
KINGDOM HEARTS: BIRTH BY SLEEP
Overall Rating: ****1/4
KINGDOM HEARTS: RE:CODED (NINTENDO DS) ***
KINGDOM HEARTS: RECODED (HD MOVIE) ***1/4
OVERALL RATING: ****