We need to be honest with ourselves. If you’re considering picking up Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix, there’s a 75% chance you’re doing it for Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In my opinion, Birth By Sleep is the best and most important installment since Kingdom Hearts II, and while it was nice to have it as a PSP exclusive, it was also a heartbreaking decision for everyone who loved the series and didn’t have that system. In my mind, Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix is the means of rectifying that and giving everyone the opportunity to play a game they deserve.
Mind, that isn’t the only reason to get Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix. There are others too. It’s pretty, for one. You can’t deny curb appeal, especially since those Square Enix PS2 games clean up nicely. More important is that the variations of Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep appearing within the compilation are the more robust, Final Mixes, offering additional content to enjoy. I suppose completionists will also be pleased to have a retelling of Re:coded that doesn’t involve playing through that cash-in of a spin-off, but everyone else can go on pretending that installment never happened.
The original Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix was a delight. It was a lovely way to revisit a series many fell in love with. After all, it is one of the better mashup games in existence. Yet, despite its delight, it was a reminder that neither the original Kingdom Hearts or Chain of Memories aged well. They were still delightful games, but it brought to mind camera and control issues from the original games. I’d like to think Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix allows us a happier look back, as it isn’t overcome by as many of the problems. That isn’t to say it’s perfect – there are still some camera issues and people will surely prefer the Birth By Sleep battle system to Kingdom Hearts II‘s, but it’s a more solid game as a whole.
In some ways, I’d say the move to PS3 made the controls even better. It’s no secret that, if asked, I’ll say Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is my favorite installment in the series. Catch me on a particularly opinionated day and assertions that it’s the true Kingdom Hearts III and that one they’re developing now is the fourth wouldn’t be surprising. That said, I felt the camera in that installment was sometimes the worst foe, due to the PSP not having an extra analog stick for additional control. Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix rectifies that, and I feel it makes the overall experience even tighter than before.
This makes up for Birth By Sleep‘s one failing in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix. When Square Enix put the spit polish on these games, Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts II turned into stunners. The games looked gorgeous, and it’s amazing how noticeable the chance was from the PS2 to the PS3. The PSP installment gets that same level of care, but instead of it transforming into a swan, it seems to point out how it falters compared to its console counterparts. The characters look better, but environments show their sparcity and the original platform’s limitations. I’d go so far as to recommend playing Birth By Sleep first, once Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix is popped in, as seeing the remastered Kingdom Hearts II only makes the difference more prominent.
The wealth of additional content helps one forget about Birth By Sleep‘s slightly barren appearance. Admittedly, the PSP port gets the short end here as well. Most notable is the Rhythm Mixer Command Style, which adds a music-game-inspired finisher to attacks and I wholeheartedly recommend collecting enough stickers for. It’s a gimmick attack, but works. Similarly, most of the other additions are rather minor and serve to provide extra incentive to spend time playing mini-games or exploring supplemental activities in Disney Town or the Mirage Arena. The biggest change is really a new secret ending, which is playable as opposed to people sitting back and watching another movie.
It’s Kingdom Hearts II that gets the star treatment in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix. There are so many changes that, for many, it will feel like a new game. It has been seven years since it was first released, which will make you wondering how much has changed. The numerous array of balancing adjustments and alterations to make areas better are almost to many to keep track of. It felt like some story battles were less tedious to complete, or in some cases offered a more satisfying challenge than they did years ago. Especially appreciated are new battles, since its possible to fight Marluxia, Larxene, Vexen, Lexaeus, and Zexion now, or even tackle any of the other Organization XIII battles again in Radiant Garden. There are even some additional story scenes and, of course, extra equipment for Sora to find.
My favorite part of Kingdom Hearts II in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix is, though, an optional fight. Fortunately, it isn’t much of a spoiler to say I greatly enjoyed fighting The Lingering Will. A part of me even wishes it weren’t optional, because it’s so important to the series’ canon. Especially due to the connection it makes with Birth By Sleep. These two installments pair perfectly together for a number of reasons, and this secret boss fight helps cement that bond.
I can still remember playing Kingdom Hearts II with friends I made in college, joking about our favorite characters, taking turns passing around the controller as we went through a single player RPG as a group, and even playfully mocking the campier elements. I remember Birth By Sleep restoring my faith in Kingdom Hearts after hearing about coded and enjoying, but not 100% loving, 358/2 Days. Both of these games were important to me, but eventually faded from my mind as time passed. Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix reminded me how important they were and how much I loved them, and make me even more eager for the series conclusion in Kingdom Hearts III.