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    Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix

    Last year’s Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix took us back to the beginning of the series. Kingdom Hearts 1, Chain of Memories, and the cutscenes of 358/2 Days all returned with an HD visual upgrade in a single package. At long last, we finally got the fully loaded Japan-exclusive Final Mix edition of the first game in the West. Frankly, this was the primary reason to buy the collection, as the other two inclusions were significantly weaker.

    The new HD 2.5 Remix collection has a leg up on the first simply by having a better lineup. I spent several hours sampling Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, Birth By Sleep Final Mix, and the cutscenes of Re:coded, and it’s already clear there’s more quality per hour in this collection. Here’s a breakdown of each component.

    Kingdom Heart II Final Mix
    Nearly nine years have passed since Kingdom Hearts II released in North America on the PlayStation 2. Square Enix has done its best to upgrade the visuals for the modern eye. Most of the lead characters have higher resolution models along with more detailed and lifelike faces. Several of the environments also got an HD pass. However, like HD 1.5, plenty of low resolution textures went untouched. Certain parts of a character’s clothing are blurrier than the rest. The skybox, some background buildings, and objects like the wall ivy are jarringly inconsistent with the otherwise beautiful, cartoony visuals. The worst offender is by far the cutscenes. In the same scene characters will go back and forth between sophisticated, fully lip-synched facial animations to crude, vacant faces that look like they’re a ventriloquist-controlled puppet. That said, world exploration and battles (which is 90 percent of the game) all look great, with vibrant colors and effects permeating the experience with no framerate problems as far as I encountered from the first several hours of gameplay.

    If you’re not a hardcore importer, you're probably wondering what’s different in the Final Mix edition. The answer is a lot. An extra-hard “Critical Mode” difficulty is available in addition to a new puzzle piece collecting meta game. Several heartless receive updated looks. New cutscenes, boss battles, weapons, and gear abound.

    Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix
    Birth By Sleep released on PSP back in 2010 and is considered by many fans to be the best Kingdom Hearts entry outside of the two primary PlayStation 2 games. It takes place 10 years before the first game, setting up the events that would lead to Sora’s adventures. Players control three keyblade wielders Terra, Ventus, and Aqua in any order they please. This leads to a flexible story, but also a sense of déjà vu as you revisit worlds (albeit different sections and story threads) three times over.

    Birth By Sleep translates naturally to the big screen from its previous portable home. It still has the same sprinkling of bad textures and weird cutscene animation quirks as KH II, but again the battles and characters look great. Compared to the intricately decorated worlds of KH II, these environments are plain and empty. Playing these two back to back doesn’t help. But the use of a full controller compared to PSP’s lack of second analog stick and full set of trigger buttons feels much better. It brings to mind the control advances made on KH 1 when it made the jump to HD 1.5 last year. The Final Mix edition adds in more special boss battles, challenges, and a new playable section at the end of the game.

    Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
    This part of the collection is a cutscene-only remake of a 2011 DS game which was a remake of a Japan-only episodic mobile game. For some reason this black sheep of the family keeps showing up. I watched the first 20 minutes of the movie and it isn’t bad compared to the 358/2 Days movie from the previous collection. Mickey and company comb through a corrupted journal and work with a digital Sora inside it to solve a mystery. It flows from one place to the next without a bunch of repetitive clocktower lounging and ice cream eating. Square Enix even added custom battle scenes so you see representations of the fights players had in the DS game instead of the awkwardly edited 358/2 Days movie.

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