Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix - Review

Many years ago, a very unlikely game hit store shelves. It was a game developed by Squaresoft, it featured characters from their Final Fantasy series, and it was a role playing game. At first glance the game may have seen like a standard RPG to fans, but there was one little detail that made it stand out above the other games in the genre. The game was called "Kingdom Hearts," and it was a crossover game with Disney.

When the game finally came out, despite the seemingly odd premise it was based on, it soon became a hit. A large fanbase formed around the game, and before we knew it, it had evolved into a full fledged series. What started as a single game, soon branched off into a set of six main games, with multiple ports and remakes across the platforms, as well as a few mobile titles.

In 2013, the now "Square-Enix" officially announced that the third numbered entry in the series was finally in the works for the upcoming PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game consoles. Although the game would be the first entry in the series to be developed for an HD console, Square-Enix had other plans to go along with it. Before Kingdom Hearts 3 was officially announced, Square-Enix decided to jump aboard the HD collection train. Just as other companies had done before it, Square decided to bundle a few of their Kingdom Hearts games together, update them to fit the HD standards, and then release them at a lower price. Although, this time around they did handle things a bit differently.

Instead of releasing every Kingdom Hearts game in a single pack, Square decided to bundle them into what appears to be two separate collections. The first collection is titled "Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix," and contains two games as well as a movie, while the second will be "Kingdom Hearts 2.5." This is a review of the first release, and due to its nature, this review will be slightly different. It will be broken into two sections, and it will cover both games separately. Now with that being said, let us get on with the reviews.

Back in the year 2002, a very strange game was released for the PlayStation 2. It was an RPG created by Square-Enix featuring Final Fantasy characters from a wide verity of games, but it also crossed over with another set of characters that no one would have ever imagined. The game was called Kingdom Hearts, and it was a crossover between Square's Final Fantasy, and Disney's cartoons and movies. Although at first glance the game may have appeared to be a very strange mix which would fail in the long run, in reality, it was a hit. It was a very unique game, it was filled with nostalgia, and it soon found a place in the hearts of gamers around the world.

A few months after the game's initial release in the west, the game soon found itself on store shelves in Japan for a second time. Due to the months between the English and Japanese release of the game, extra content was added into the English version, such as a few new bosses. Although this really didn't make a major impact on the game, it was extra content that Japanese fans wanted, and because of that "Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix" was born. While the Final Mix version of the game was mostly the same as the English version, it did add in a few new features which truly did make an impact on the Kingdom Hearts series. While the game added in new enemies, as well as some other minor extras, it also introduced a few new cutscenes and story points as well. Sadly the game never saw a release in the west, and because of that some fans were left confused. At times later games in the series brought up information covered only in the Final Mix version of the game, and that only left people wondering.

Well, here we are a little over 10 years since the release of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix in Japan, and for the first time the west is finally able to play Final Mix as a part of the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix collection. It has been a long wait, but was it really worth it? And what about new comers to the series, is it worth getting into now? Well, how about we continue on with the review and find out?

The Story:

When Kingdom Hearts first opens players find themselves face to face with some cryptic messages. "I've been having these weird thoughts lately. Like, is any of this real, or not?" The message is read off by the game's lead character named "Sora" right before he finds himself waking up in a strange place.

As Sora opens his eyes, he finds himself in a large black space with nothing but pillars to walk on. Each pillar has a stain-glass type design on it featuring one of the Disney princesses. Although unsure of where he is, or if he is even awake, Sora soon finds himself following orders from an unknown voice. As the voice walks Sora though what needs to be done (which serves as a tutorial for the player), he soon comes face to face with strange "shadow monsters." Despite trying his best to beat them, Sora is sucked into a dark pit, and before he knew it, he was opening his eyes on the beach of his home island. But, was it really just a dream?

It turns out that Sora is a 14 year old boy who lives on an island called "Destiny Island" where he plays with his friends all day, everyday. The place is a paradise, and everyone who lives there is happy; however when an unexpected event occurred, everyone started to wonder about the outside. While Sora originally grew up with his best friend Riku, a third "best friend" entered the picture out of the blue. Her name was Kairi, and she was from another world. Up until that point, no one really thought about there being other worlds, but the moment they met Kairi, they knew they were not alone. Determined to see other worlds, Sora, Riku, and Kairi began to work on a raft that they could then take out to sea, and it turns out that today is the day they finally start to finish up work on it.

Although Sora, Riku, and Kairi are all good friends, there is also a rivalry between them. It becomes quite clear from the beginning that both Sora and Riku care about Kairi very much, and because of it they tend to compete quite a bit. Despite working on the raft together, both boys decide to make a contest out of everything they do, and they even take the time to stop and spar for a bit. They both drive each other to be the best, and they are always getting stronger because of it. Overall they have a good, healthy, friendship and rivalry, but unknown to them, that was all about to change.

One day while looking for food to take on the raft, Sora came across a strange man in a robe. Upon seeing Sora the man began to discuss how the worlds had become connected, but then vanished shortly after. Although Sora wasn't able to understand everything the man discussed, he knew that he had proof that other world's existed, and he was sure that the "raft plan" would work. Sadly, the plan would never make it to its final stage.

That night Sora was laying on the bed of his room when he saw a dark cloud forming above the smaller island where he and his friends hung out all day. It didn't look like a normal storm cloud, but Sora decided to head to the island anyway. The raft was still sitting on the beach, and he really didn't want to see it get damaged. That decision to return to the island is what sealed Sora's fate, and upon going back his life was changed forever.

The shadows from his dream were appearing in real life, a strange key shaded sword had appeared in his hands, Kairi vanished in front of him, and Riku stood in a portal of darkness. He had opened the door. The door to the heart of the world. In order to travel to other worlds, Riku had opened the door hidden deep inside a cave on the island, and by doing so he had sealed the fate of the island as well. As the world crumbled around them, both boys were sent through a portal, and became separated.

Meanwhile at "Disney Castle," King Mickey (Mouse) has gone missing, and sitting in his place was a letter. It turns out the King already has knowledge of the shadows that attacked Sora's home world, and he knows about the other worlds as well. As the King set out on a journey to protect the universe, he wrote a request for his best friends to carry out. The message was for none other than the mage Donald Duck, and the knight Goofy. It turns out a key called the "Key Blade" exists in the world, and the only way to set things right again is to use the Key Blade to close the hearts of the worlds to protect them from the heartless. Since the King had business of his own to take care of, he trusted his friends with the duty of finding the new Key Blade Master, and helping him with his journey. That Key Blade master was none other than Sora, who was now in a brand new world.

The main story of Kingdom Hearts actually overlaps with the game's world stories. While the game revolves around Sora trying to reunite with his friends, it also deals with quite a few Disney movies as well. Most of the worlds in the game actually come from (what may be your childhood favorite) Disney movies, and each one features a condensed version of said movie's story. For example early on you can go to Wonder Land where you will have to help prove that Alice is innocent of the crimes she was being accused of. Although the worlds do not cover the entire movie, they do cover the main aspects, or at least some of the key events. If you've never seen the movie the world is from you can easily pick up what is going on, but fans of the movies will find these story sections much more enjoyable.

Although Kingdom Hearts may seem like a childish game on the surface, it really isn't. In reality, Kingdom Hearts actually deals with a lot of dark themes which you would never expect from a game of this nature. The game revolves around light versus darkness, but it is really much more complex than that. While the original version of the game was a bit more self contained, Final Mix does add in quite a bit that points toward the future, and that future alone will change everything you know. In reality the events that happen in Kingdom Hearts are not what they seem, and with each new entry in the series, everything you know will be flipped upside down. The story truly is a complex one, and it is also one that continues to expand. Overall what seems to be a happy go lucky storyline soon evolves into an emotional rollercoaster. It really is no wonder that Kingdom Hearts became as big as it is today.

The Gameplay:

Unlike the Final Fantasy series, which Kingdom Hearts is semi related to, Kingdom Hearts is an action based game. In game you control the main character Sora, while your two partner characters are controlled by an AI. Just about everything takes place in real time, and at the bottom left of the screen is a menu. While the first option on the menu is your "attack" option (which is what it will stay on most of the time), there is also an option for magic, an option to use items, as well as an option to use summon characters, which are characters that temporarily show up to help you in battle. Although you can use the D-Pad to sort through the menu to pick the magic attack you want to use or the item, you can also set shortcuts to the L1 button as well; this allows you to use special abilities with just the press of a single button. It is a very useful feature, but you are limited to using the four face buttons.

Although Kingdom Hearts is an action game, the combat really isn't all that deep. The combos come down to just pressing the X button over and over again on either the ground or in the air, and the magic attacks are very basic single use attacks. Fire will shoot out a fireball, thunder will strike an enemy with lightning, and heal will, well, heal you. These magic abilities cannot be used to create true combos, and they are really only useful for hitting enemies' weak points, as well as solving puzzles. Even so, despite the limitations, and the button mashing, the combat is actually fun. The thing is, Kingdom Hearts doesn't need to have crazy combos to work well, and battles do actually require strategy to win. Some enemies have weak points you must attack, they have attack combos you must memorize if you want to have any hope of surviving, and sometimes fighting a boss is a puzzle. Despite being a "button masher," the combat system is still fulfilling; especially when you kill enough enemies to level up and gain new attacks and abilities.

Despite being a full action based RPG that takes place fully in the overworld, Kingdom Hearts still does feature a sort of random battle system. As you walk around the different worlds, you will come across different points where heartless will spawn. When you walk into their range, portals will open up, the heartless will pop out, and Sora will enter his combat mode. Although Sora can still attack, use magic, jump, and use all of his other main moves outside of battle, there is one major different with his combat mode. While in this state, NPCs cannot be talked to, you cannot open chests on the field, and you cannot use any other special action which requires the triangle button to use. This means you will have to clear the entire field if you want to open the chests on the map, or do anything else outside of fighting. This can become quite annoying as time goes on, but it never does become a real issue.

On top of the fighting, Kingdom Hearts features other "RPG standards" that most RPG fans have come to know. There are town areas you can walk around, you can talk to towns folk, you can go buy equipment and accessories from the shop, you can unlock different weapons for use, there's an arena to fight in, and there are other mini games to be found as well. The game also features its fair share of puzzle solving, and you will often find yourself having to back track as well. For example early on in the game you will see quite a few item chests that are out of reach, so your only option is to continue playing the game until Sora unlocks the "high jump" ability, or possibly another skills or ability. Just because you complete an area in Kingdom Hearts, it doesn't mean you won't ever return to it. There is a lot to be found in the game, and exploration is always rewarded.

The Gummi Ship:

Unlike Final Fantasy games, which normally have a massive overworld map, the structure of Kingdom Hearts is also quite different. Instead of exploring a single world map with town areas and dungeons to explore, the entire game is broken up into smaller worlds which you must travel to using the "gummi ship." On the world select screen you are given the option to travel to any one of the currently open worlds, but to do so you actually have to fly there. At this point in the game, the game switches over from a 3rd person action RPG to an on rail shooter. As you fly your ship through different space areas, you must shoot down enemies, collect new parts for your ship, and try to get your score as high as possible. It really is just a nice throw back to older arcade style rail shooters, but Kingdom Hearts actually takes it quite a bit farther than the games from back in the day.

As you play through the game you will unlock what is known as "Gummi Blocks." Gummi Blocks are, well, blocks that allow you to actually build your own ship from scratch. You can use them to design how the ship works, you can increase/decrease its stats, and you can even add your own custom weapons to the ship. Want a powerhouse of a ship with many guns floating around it? Well, you can do it! What about a ship that is extremely fast? Well if it fits your style, you can do that as well. Really you can spend a lot of time working on your Gummi Ship; especially with the inclusion of Gummi Missions which were one of the changes made in the Final Mix version of the game. Originally when traveling between worlds, you had no goal. The whole point of traveling was to get from place to place, and it did become quite the chore after awhile. Now that missions/goals have been added to these paths, traveling with the Gummi ship has become much more enjoyable, and it also gives you a reason to replay the same route over and over again. These missions alone greatly expand the use of the Gummi Ship, and they really are a nice extra to have.

Skills and Abilities:

During your playthrough of Kingdom Hearts, you will slowly come across different skills and abilities for Sora and his friends. By completing different tasks, and by leveling up, Sora will slowly begin to learn new attacks, skills, abilities, character summons, as well as new magic attacks. Although all magic and summons will be added to your list on their own, the abilities are actually something that can be customized to your liking.

As Sora and his friend's levels up, they will unlock "Ability Points" which can be used to equip different skills/abilities to them. Sometimes these abilities allow you to throw in an extra hit in your attack combo, sometimes they add new moves for you to pull off, and other times they actually allow Sora to do things he couldn't before; such as glide or even dodge out of the way. Since there is a limit to how many abilities can be equip at one time, everyone who plays Kingdom Hearts will most likely build a unique party to their own liking. While some players may prefer a wide range of mobility, others may prefer to ditch mobility for stronger attacks and more moves. It really is up to you to decide how you want to build each of your characters, and that is a very much welcomed feature.

The Changes of Final Mix:

If you have played the original Kingdom Hearts, you may be wondering; "are the changes made in Final Mix worth replaying the game for?" Well, truth be told, some of them are, and some of them are not. The main addition in Final Mix is the addition of a new secret boss (which ties the game in with Kingdom Hearts 2), as well as a few new cutscenes. Since some of these cutscenes have been used in future titles to help explain the story a bit better, they really don't add too much to the game. The truth is, this day in age there are other ways that you can watch these very same cutscenes, and because of that many die hard fans have most likely already seen them. They don't really add too much to the game, but they are nice, and they do fill in some gaps; its just too bad that they are not voice acted. Each cutscene only contains subtitles, with the characters mouthing the words.

On top of the cutscenes, the new boss, and the addition of Gummi Ship Missions (as mentioned above), some of the heartless and difficulty settings have been changed as well. Overall the game is a bit more balanced than the past versions, it has a harder setting for anyone who wants a challenge, and there are a few new heartless that help add a bit more verity. Some heartless have also undergone some color changes, but it really doesn't make too much of a difference on the game. Even so, what really makes a difference is none other than the addition of the cutscene skipper.

In the original version of the game cutscenes could not be skipped. Although you normally do want to watch scenes in RPGs, especially ones that are heavily story based such as this, not having the ability to skip them can cause some major issues. Later on in the game, for example, there is a very challenging boss battle. At this boss fight there is a very good chance that you will actually die quite a few times before you manage to win. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but the moment you realize you have to watch a ten minute long cutscene before fighting him, you will begin to hate it. Each time you lost to this boss in the original, you had to rewatch that cutscene time and time again. While the boss fight may actually only last five minutes each time, you may end up spending a total of one hour trying to take them on, and THAT is a major problem. Now with the addition of the ability to skip cutscenes, that issue is now a thing of the past, and fans no longer have a reason to dread this section of the game. Overall, this really did make the biggest impact out of all the changes.

The Changes of 1.5 HD:

The additions of the Final Mix release are not the only new features fans in the west get to experience, and once again Japan received an update as well. Due to Square-Enix losing the original files for Kingdom Hearts, a lot of the game had to actually be rebuilt from the ground up. While 1.5 HD is a near perfect recreation of the original Final Mix, it also adds in a lot of changes to help update the game to the series' current standards.

One of the major additions fans will notice right off the bat is the ability to use the right analog stick to control the camera. Originally the camera was self controlling with some limited camera control options, and that could be a major problem at times. Although it really didn't get in the way of the game itself, it really is nice to have full control over the camera in these types of games, and now we finally have the ability to.

Another addition to the game is the triangle button in general. Before the triangle button you actually had to select actions such as "talk" to talk to an NPC or actions like "open" to open a box from the menu; now all you have to do is stand in front of your target, and hit the triangle button just as you do in Kingdom Hearts 2; as well as other entries in the series.

The final additions to 1.5 HD come in the form of the HD enhancements in general. The game is now in wide screen which allows you to see a lot more of the game field, the textures have been updated to suit the new 720p support, and a few other minor touches were made throughout the game to really help make it pop. Now even though Kingdom Hearts doesn't look realistic, it really didn't need to. Kingdom Hearts has always used a unique, almost cartoon like, art style, and that style carried over to the HD version quite well. To put it simple, the world is beautiful and you may actually find yourself taking the time to just look around and admire what Square has created; even if you've played the game before.

Just like most other HD games of the current generation, Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix also features trophies as well. Although not important to the game, they do provide you with extra goals to try and complete, and they are a great way to show off your progress. Up until now all of your friends had to just assume you were telling the truth about defeating that secret boss, but now you have proof!

The Good and the Bad:

Kingdom Hearts is a great game. If you are a Disney fan you will be filled with nostalgia, if you are a Final Fantasy fan you will find the deep storytelling you may have come to know and love, and if you're a fan of action games, you will most likely fall in love with what Kingdom Hearts has to offer. Really the game appeals to a wide verity of fans, and it is sure to please just about everyone who gives it a try. The game is massive, it has amazing music, it has great character development, it has a great art style, and it is easily one of the best JRPGs to be released during the sixth generation. It really is a game all video game fans should at least try. Even so, it does have its issues.

Although Kingdom Hearts is a solid game overall, there are a few minor hiccups that may take time to get used to. First of all, the voice acting is a bit strange. While the Disney characters are spot on, Sora (who is voiced by a young Haley Joel Osment), as well as characters like Squall aka Leon (who is voiced by David Boreanaz), feel a bit off. While both are experienced actors now days, it is very clear that they were not used to voicing video game characters. Some of their voice work feels choppy in general, and you may even want to cringe. Even so, it really isn't that bad, and it is pretty easy to get past it. As the game goes on things do straighten up quite a bit, but the first few hours are very awkward.

The other issues with the game come from the controls in general. Overall the controls do work great, but a few minor issues may take some time to get used to at first. The camera controls feel slippery (the camera continues to move despite lifting up on the analog stick), the jumping is floaty and takes some time before you are able to judge your jumps right, sometimes Sora won't grab onto the ledge you are aiming for (or he will hit the platform's block keeping you from jumping on top of it), and sometimes the auto lock-on will target the wrong foe which may actually cause you to get killed. Sure you can adjust to these issue after a few hours of play, but the fact remains that they are there.

Either way, despite its flaws, Kingdom Hearts is still a great game overall. If you are a video game fan, you owe it to yourself to at least check this one out. Overall I give Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix HD a solid 8/10. It is a really good game, but it can feel dated at times.

Almost two years after the release and success of the odd Disney and Square crossover game Kingdom Hearts, a sequel finally hit store shelves. Although the original game, simply titled "Kingdom Hearts," as well as its enhanced "Final Mix" version were released on the PlayStation 2, this time around Square decided to try their luck with Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. This GBA sequel was titled "Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories," and it was a game that changed everything.

Due to the limitations of the GBA, the game had to be altered to fit a completely new style of play. To make up for its transition into 2D, Square decided to give the game a unique play style that would suit the mobile 2D game a better. While the original Kingdom Hearts made use of the PlayStation 2's four face buttons, four triggers, its D-Pad, as well as its left analog stick, the Game Boy Advance did not have the option to do so. The system only had two face buttons, a D-Pad, the standard start and select buttons, and an L and R button on the back. Since the GBA was unable to use the traditional style of combat (which used a menu that was navigated with the D-Pad), Square decided to use a new card based battle system instead. With this new card system, just about everything fans knew and loved about Kingdom Hearts was altered. The battle system, the over world, and even the story revolved around the use of these cards, and the result was a completely new unique game.

A few years after the release of Chain of Memories, and the PlayStation 2 title "Kingdom Hearts II," a new version of Chain of Memories went into the works. This version of the game was dubbed "Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories," and it was to be released along side the Japanese exclusive title "Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix +" in a single bundle. This version of the game featured updated 3D graphics, it made full use of the PlayStation 2 controller, and it also featured fully voiced cutscenes. Although Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + was never released outside of Japan, Re: Chain of Memories did soon find itself making it to the west on its own. But how good was the game? Was it worth owning over the original Japanese version, and is it even that good of a game in general? Well... How about you decide?

The Story:

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories picks up right where Kingdom Hearts left off. Sora, Donald, and Goofy had saved the day. The door to Kingdom Hearts was sealed, the man behind the events of Kingdom Hearts was defeated, and Sora was separated from his friends. After waking up in a field, and seeing the dog Pluto carrying a message from none other than King Mickey, Sora and Co decide to chase after him to see what the King had to say. As far as they knew the universe was safe, and their only goal now was to find a way to return to their home worlds.

As Sora and his friends chased after Pluto, they soon found themselves standing at some crossroads at nightfall. Although they didn't know where they were going, soon their next destination became clear. As Sora wondered away from his group on his own, he was approached by a man in a black robe. The main told Sora about a place down the road which held the answers he was seeking. The place was a castle called "Castle Oblivion," and to enter it, it meant also losing something very important. What would he lose? Sora was unsure, but he decided to press on with his friends; no matter what the risk.

Upon reaching Castle Oblivion, things began to change. Sora met with the man in the black robe once again, but this time he was given a gift by him. After "sampling" Sora's memories, the man gave Sora a deck of cards which held a memory of a location he had visited before; these memories were none other than that of Sora's first adventure in Kingdom Hearts. By using these cards, Sora would be able to open the door on each floor of the tower like castle, and then enter a virtual world of his memories. By going through each of these virtual worlds, Sora would then be able to advance from floor to floor until he finally reached the top; where something very important laid in wait for him. However; there was one catch. With each passing floor, Sora and his friends would lose a part of their memories. Will Sora risk it all just to reach the top, and who is this strange organization that seems to be running the show? What do they have to gain from all of this, and what is their connection to Sora? The only way to find out is to play the game.

Although many may pass off Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories as a GBA spin off that really doesn't matter, the truth is that it is one of the most important parts of the Kingdom Hearts storyline. It really is a chain that binds the rest of the series together, and the events of it continue to have a major impact on the story even today. The game introduced the "Organization XIII," it was the game that brought Kingdom Hearts over to the darker storyline featuring themes such as death, true evil, as well as the harsh reality of how the world really works. While the original game was a happy go lucky adventure across the worlds where almost nothing could go wrong, with Chain of Memories it becomes very clear that this fantasy world really isn't all that bright. As Sora and Co make their way through the castle, they come face to face with the reality of the past, as well as the darkness that has been lurking in the shadows.

While Sora makes his way to the top of the castle to reclaim what is important to him, his best friend Riku also appears. After helping Sora close the door to Kingdom Hearts, Riku finds himself laying in the basement of the castle. Although he isn't quite sure why he is there, he soon finds himself coming face to face with the darkness inside of him. After subcoming to the powers of darkness in Kingdom Hearts, Riku continues to walk the fine line between light and dark. As he makes his way to the bottom floor of the castle, Riku continues to encounter that which he had hopped to be locked away; the remnants of an evil man named Ansem. During Kingdom Hearts Riku had fallen for Ansem's tricks, and allowed his body to be taken over by him. Despite helping Sora take him down during the final battle of the previous game, Riku soon learns that Ansem will never truly be gone. He will always be in the shadows of Riku's heart, and this fact will continue to haunt him. Even so, Riku has chosen to fight back, and return to the light once again. But, will he be able to do it? The answer lies on the way to dawn.

The World Gameplay:

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is not like Kingdom Hearts at all. Sure the game continues the storyline, and it does feature some of the same characters, but that's all it really has in common with the previous entry. The gameplay of Chain of Memories had to be altered to suit the Game By Advance, and them changes continue over into Re: Chain of Memories. Despite being in 3D, the game is still in fact the same as it was back on the GBA.

The first major change to the game players will notice is the world set up. Each floor of the castle contains a door, and that door will then lead you to a virtual version of a past Kingdom Hearts world. When you first walk up to the door, you are given the option to pick one of the world cards to use on it. Each set of floors contain their own set of world cards, but for the most part you are able to pick which world you want to visit, and in which order. Although there are exceptions with the first and final areas being the same no matter what, the rest of the game does allow you to freely choose the path you wish to take.

Once you have chosen a world to visit, you will then find yourself in what can only be called a maze. Instead of exploring large open areas like in the first game, Chain of Memories' worlds are broken up into smaller rooms. In each room there are a set number of doors you can open to progress, but each door holds many possibilities behind it due to the inclusion of "Map Cards."

Map Cards are special cards that can be earned from winning battles, and there are three types of them. There are red cards, green cards, as well as blue cards. Each of these cards will have a special number written on them, and each door of the room you are in will have a number as well. In order to open one of the doors and advance onto the next room, you will have to use a card with either the same number or higher on them; however, different color cards will have different effects. If you open a door with a red card, you are able to control how strong the enemies will be in the next room, if you open it with a green card, you can control how strong your deck of cards will be in battle, and if you open it with a blue card, you can actually transform the room into a special room (such as a room with a chest, or a room with a save point). Sometimes there are limitations on what color cards that can be used to open each room, but for the most part, the game does allow you almost complete control over the map.

In order to advance through the worlds, you will have to open up rooms, find the rooms that hold key events, and then get special cards from said key events which will then allow you to advance onto the boss room. Once you come across the boss room, you will then fight the world's boss, finish the world's story, and then gain access to the main hall once again. Once you reach the main hall, you will be able to continue onto the next floor, and then be able to repeat the process for the next world. Overall it really is a pretty unique system, but fans of Kingdom Hearts' open world may find the new set up a bit disappointing.

The Battlefield:

Although the original Kingdom Hearts featured enemies that appeared on the overworld, Chain of Memories actually makes use of an old RPG standard. This time around enemies will show up on the world map, and when you hit them with your Key Blade you will then be pulled into a battle screen. Depending on if you hit the enemy, or if the enemy hit you, you will start the battle with either bonuses or negative effects, and sometimes these effects can help turn the tides of battle. Even so, this is actually the only "standard" aspect of Chain of Memories, as the battle system is one that is completely unique.

In battle Sora makes use of cards to attack. There are cards that are simple Key Blade slashes, there are magic attack cards, there are partner summon cards, and there are even item cards as well as a few other special attack cards. Everything this time around is depended on cards, and there is no way around it. By going into the deck menu, you can build your own custom deck, and control Sora's fighting style in battle. Different cards allow Sora to pull off different attacks (such as fire allows him to shoot a fireball, while a Key Blade allows him to slash with his blade), and each one has its own pros and cons. However; there are some limitations on what you can or cannot do with said decks.

Each card in Sora's Deck uses up "Card Points" if you want to have them equip, and that alone will limit you from using nothing but strong cards. To gain more Card Points Sora will have to level up, and then you will have to choose to increase his CP from the level up menu; at the expense of increasing his HP or learning a new special movie that is. Even so, if you want to be able to use stronger cards, or more cards in general, CP becomes very important, and you will quickly find yourself running out of it.

Although each card is unique, the type of card isn't really the most important aspect of it. Sure, you can fill your card with the strongest Key Blade cards you have, or strongest magic cards you have, but they will mean nothing if the card's number is low. One each card a number from 0-9 can be found, and just like with the Map Cards, the higher number always wins. Since enemies attack with cards as well, you will have to use your own higher number cards to counter them. For example, if an enemy is attacking with a card that is number 5, you will not be able to attack the enemy with a card that is numbered 1-4 until their attack is over. Your cards will break, and you will be left open to attack. Now, what if you attack with a card that is higher than 5? Well, you break the enemy's attack instead! The enemy's attack will end, and they will be completely left open for attack. This is a feature you must make use of if you have any hopes of making it through the game, and it requires a lot of strategy; however, there is more too it than that.

There are two other ways to break an enemy's card besides just using one of higher number. The first way to do so is to use a number 0 card. The 0 card is special, and it can actually break any card in the game; however, it can also be broken by any itself. The card is very useful to cancel enemy attacks, but it really isn't the best option when it comes to just attacking. As for the other option, it too has its pros and cons.

By using the triangle button to group cards together, Sora can add the numbers of up to three cards into one, and then use all three cards in a single combo. On a plus side, these cards will create a higher number card which enemies may not be able to break, but on the down side, you will lose one of the cards from your deck until the battle is over. On top of that, a special "Sleight" move can be used by combining cards as well. By mixing three specific cards together, Sora will be able to pull off a special attack for massive damage. These attacks are very useful, and can be seen as a "trump card" when fighting bosses, but these too will remove one of the used cards from your deck until the end of the fight. Use this feature too much, and you will be left with a single card, and no possible way to win.

On top of all of that, there is one other limit to the card system which you also have to learn to work around. Once you use a card in your deck, it will be removed from the field, and you will have no other choice but to reload it. To reload your deck, you will have to go to the last card of the deck (which appears as a blank card), stand still for a few seconds, and then charge it up. While reloading you are completely left open to attack, and because of that you really have to wait for the perfect opening. Until that opening comes, you will be left with no other choice but to dodge enemy attacks, and to try and run. Although you can use items to auto refill your deck in a split second, these items are limited use per battle, and because of that you cannot always rely on them.

Although it has been altered for Chain of Memories, the Party System makes its return as well. This time around all of Sora's friends have been turned into cards, and the only way to use them in battle is to actually wait for them to show up. As you fight heartless, and bosses, special party member cards will pop into battle, and you must then pick them up to add them to your deck. Each party member will have their own attacks to use, and they only last for a few seconds, but they are very useful. Not only are they a free card to use, but they are also strong. Other special type of cards will show up in boss battles as well, but rather than being attacks, they normally serve the purpose of being a switch. For example, in some boss battles you may have to do a set amount of damage to a boss or object before the card appears, and once you use the card, only then will you actually be able to harm said boss. This sort of system could be seen in Kingdom Hearts as well where enemies would require you to destroy a weak point before dealing damage to them, but this time that weak point just appears in the form of a card.

Riku's Gameplay:

After beating the game as Sora, Riku becomes a playable character for his own story. Although Riku plays a lot like Sora, he does have a few minor differences. First of all, Riku cannot change his deck. In each world Riku will be given a preset deck to use, and you have no control over using it; however he does have a few abilities to make up for this.

Upon leveling up, Riku can choose between increasing his attack power, he can level up his HP, or he can increase a stat known as "Dark Points." Dark Points get built up in battle as Riku takes damage or breaks enemies' cards, and the more he has in battle, the longer his special "Dark Mode" will last. Just like in Kingdom Hearts, Riku is able to transform into a special Dark Form which gives him improved stats. Although he cannot customize his deck like Sora, Riku gains access to powerful sleights while in this form, and it can actually be used a number of times in battle; depending on how long the battle lasts that is.

Overall, Riku's gameplay is actually a lot like Sora's in the original Kingdom Hearts. His combat is based around pure power and skill rather than strategy, and because of that you really can just button mash your way through his battles. Sure there is still some planning when it comes to breaking cards, but the game forces you to work with what you currently have, and there is really no way around it. Normally the game does prioritize attack cards rather than magic or items, but it really does depend on what world you are currently in.

The other major difference in Riku's gameplay and story is the fact that his rooms do not feature memories. Each of the worlds he visits are filled with nothing but heartless, and a boss, and all you have to do is make your way to the end each time. Because of this Riku's story is much faster moving, and it revolves more so around Castle Oblivion, and the Organization XIII than it does the past.

The Differences Between CoM and Re CoM:

When Chain of Memories was updated for the PlayStation 2, a few new features were added into the game. Besides the fact that the game was now fully in 3D, and featured full voice acting, the game had a few other slight additions as well. First of all, the game actually included a few new special attacks. Although these special attacks didn't add too much to the game in general, it was nice to see some new moves being added to the mix. Second of all, the game was also made a LOT easier. While the original Japanese version was a nightmare, the English version of the game decreased the difficulty by quite a bit. Now with Re: Chain of Memories, the difficulty was lowered yet again, and the AI isn't quite as smart as it used to be. While this is good news for anyone who struggled with the original, those who like a challenge may be disappointed by the change.

The final addition to the game is the inclusion of special abilities. Like in Kingdom Hearts, Sora will now learn special abilities from different points of the game. These abilities allow him to pull off higher jumps, glide through the air, as well as a few other actions that will help him progress through the levels, as well as gain the upper hand in battle. These new features really help add to the gameplay, and they can be very fun to use.

On top of that, there are also a few graphical changes as well. For example, when Sora goes to Halloween Town, his 3D model turns into that of his "monster" self. These costume changes were not featured in the original game, and it is nice to see them make a return.

Whats New in 1.5 HD:

With the release of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD, Re: Chain of Memories is finally playable on the PlayStation 3 in HD. Although the game originally came out around the time of the PlayStaiton 3's launch, it was originally unable to play the game without issues. Due to a bug which prevented the game from progressing past the tutorial, the only way to get the game working on the PlayStation 3 was by using a preexisting save file. If you had no way to do so, the game could not be played. Now, all of that is a thing of the past, and the game now looks better than ever!

Although there really isn't anything new in the HD version, the game does look nicer. Textures have been updated, the game is in wide screen, and there is trophy support as well. Overall the HD version is just a nice update, and it is also one that finally allows PS3 only gamers to experience the game for themselves.

The Good and the Bad:

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is a very unique game. It has a unique world progression system, the battle system is unique, it has a great storyline, it allows fans to play as Riku for the first time, and it is also the game that really set the Kingdom Hearts story in motion. Overall the game does everything it set out to do right, and there are no real gameplay issues to speak of. What it really all comes down to what you prefer. While some may fall in love with this unique style, others may hate it and rather just stick to playing Kingdom Hearts.

When going into this game you have to understand it is NOT Kingdom Hearts, nor is it any of the games that came after it. It is completely different, and it is a style that may take some time to get used to. This is not a huge adventure game, and you will soon find yourself in battle more than anything else. If you're not a fan of fighting based games, this one may not be for you, and if you want to just mash buttons and win, you may be turned off by the game's strategy based combat.

Considering what the game set out to do, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories really is a great game. It was originally released as a budget title in the west, and as a free addition to Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + in Japan, so despite its Game Boy Advance induced limitations, you really can't hold the game back because of it. Yes the game isn't as big as you might expect, but it does what it needs to. It is a major improvement over the original Game Boy Advance version, and because of that I am giving the game an 8/10.

It is a fun game as long as you aren't expecting Kingdom Hearts I or II.

The final feature included in Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix is a "movie" version of the Nintendo DS game "Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days." Originally the game was a DS exclusive with mission based gameplay. Each "day" the main character Roxas would wake up, and  then go to one of the worlds to complete a mission. These missions normally involved killing a set number of heartless, or simply finding a specific item. At times the game could become quite the grind, but the story was enough to push you to finish it. Although some may be disappointed at the fact that 358/2 wasn't truly included in this collection, many will be happy to see the gameplay gone so that they can now just sit back and enjoy the story; now remastered in HD with full voice acting.

The Story of Roxas:

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 tells the story of a young man named Roxas. After waking up in front of a mansion with no memories of who he is, he is approached by a man named "Xemnas" and given the name "Roxas." Xemnas is the leader of a group called the "Organization XIII," which is an order formed by what are known as "nobodies." When someone loses their heart, their heart turns into a heartless, while their shell of a body turns into a nobody. Since a nobody has no heart, they cannot truly feel any emotion, and they truly do not exist. It turns out that Xemnas wishes to collect hearts from heartless, and then use them to create "Kingdom Hearts," only then will the nobodies be able to become whole once again.

The story of 358/2 revolves around Roxas' life in the organization. He soon becomes friends with the member named Axel, the very one who first appeared in Chain of Memories, as well as a young girl named Xion. Each day the three set out to complete their missions, only to then return to a clock tower where they enjoy ice cream together and hang out. The three do what they can to enjoy what life they have, but sadly their happiness doesn't last. 358/2 Days is a very emotional game filled with tragedy, and betrayal. As Roxas slowly begins to learn more about the group he starts to question their motives, and before he knows it, he soon finds his life being twisted upside down. Unknown to him, he is the nobody of Sora, and he one of the things standing in the way of returning Sora to his original self. As Riku works behind the scenes to restore his now sleeping friend, Xion too finds herself struggling with her own existence. She knows that she is not like the other nobodies, and that fact continues to haunt her daily. Just who is she, and where did she come from? Why was she brought in as a member of the organization? You will just have to watch and find out.

Like in the original game, Roxas, as well as a few others, keep a journal; however, it is no longer accessed in the same way. Originally each day a new entry would be in place for you to read, but this time around everything is unlocked from the start. Sure you can read it from the moment you see the title screen, but it really is something that is better left until you have watched the main story.

Although this "game" is in fact a movie, there are trophies to go along with it. By simply watching the story from start to finish you can unlock them, but unlike the other two titles in the collection, it does not feature a platinum trophy. 358/2 Days is counted as a mini game, and because of that, its trophies are limited.

So, now you may be wondering, is the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix worth it? To put it simply; yes. If you are a Kingdom Hearts fan, you really should pick up this game. The PlayStation 2 is now long gone, and this is the best way to keep playing the games that you love. On top of that, this is also the perfect chance for new comers to get into the series, and I personally recommend checking it out. If the games sound like something you will enjoy, you have no reason to buy it, but if you're on the fence, you may want to give it a rent. Really the game' is pretty cheap, so you don't have too much to lose. Overall, despite giving both games an 8/10, I'd have to give the collection itself a solid 9/10.

Not only do you get two great titles, but you also get to experience a retelling of 358/2 Days. It is well worth it!