Western RPGamers are often handed the short end of the stick. We've never experienced international zodiacs, played through final missions, or seen some of the best remasterings, but now there's a remix of a cherished franchise in store for us. While at this year's PAX East I had the opportunity to meet with our friends at Square Enix and they were happy to show off Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX in a hands-off demonstration.
First and foremost, Kingdom Hearts now looks quite pretty. The series has always had strong graphics, but the original suffered from some murky backgrounds and was limited by developer inexperience with the PlayStation 2's capabilities. The first Kingdom Hearts, which was the most prominent section shown off in a vertical slice of the final product, has undergone more than a new coat of paint. Environments are now as clear as they are large, character models have gone under the knife, colours palettes are much warmer, and the UIs and animations are very crisp. It's hard to describe all of the changes to the look of the game, because they are somewhat subtle, but it's clear that this wasn't a simple HD upscaling.
Outside of graphics, the updated control scheme took center stage. A poor camera was one of the few complaints levied against the original Kingdom Hearts, and it has been modernized to use the thumbstick control so many games are now reliant upon. Kingdom Hearts' gameplay also now takes a few cues from Kingdom Hearts II, allowing context-sensitive controls to replace the tedious scrolling that made selecting spells or items such a pain in 2002. These aren't substantial changes, but the tweaks will ultimately make gameplay less irksome and Square Enix deserves points for effort.
This is likely going to be the best series entry point for newcomers to the series, but Western fans will find a lot to love as well — starting will Final Mix goodies. Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, an updated edition of Kingdom Hearts previously only released in Japan, featured some slick changes from the original version, including a ton of new Heartless, weapons, abilities, difficulty settings, cutscenes, Gummi Ship missions, Ansem Reports, and a secret movie with allusions to other entries in the series. Kingdom Hearts fans in the PAL territories will be happy to know that Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, which was previously unreleased in that region, is included in this compilation as well, along with a cinematic retelling of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days's events for those who didn't have the opportunity to play the Nintendo DS exclusive. Not only has all of this content been updated with HD graphics and tweaked gameplay, but Square Enix has indicated that voices have even been re-recorded for a truly refined experience.
At this point, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX is shaping up to be a decent collection at the quoted price of $39.99. The Square Enix representative I was dealing with indicated that at this point the plan was a retail-only release this fall, but a digital release isn't outside the realm of possibility. Naturally, I took the opportunity to inquire about the Western releases of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD, Final Fantasy Type-0, Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and the possibility of a Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX. He was tight lipped.