To the surprise of basically no one, shortly after the release of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, Square Enix announced its plan to give three other games in the Kingdom Hearts series the same treatment. However, this HD remaster had more going for it because Kingdom Hearts 2 and Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep are considered the franchise's crown jewels. With these two games getting a glossy new coat of paint and Kingdom Hearts Re:coded represented as a movie, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX sounds like a recipe for success. And it is. Not only do we get two amazing games and a movie, they are HD versions of the "Final Mix" releases that were unavailable overseas. This collection is more than just pretty versions of previous releases. It is easily the definitive way to experience these games.
Since this is an HD collection, it makes sense to critique the visuals first. Much like Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMIX, the games in this compilation had their rough edges smoothed out and upgraded. The result is something far and beyond the original game and actually had me questioning if it truly was an HD upgrade. However, this creates a bit of a problem with how some areas of each game look. For example, many portions of the game have been left untouched, which can be jarring and because they stand out in the worst ways. It's so odd that Square Enix would go through the trouble of enhancing so much of the game, yet leave certain assets completely alone. The pre-rendered cutscenes in particular are especially bad and actually take away from the experience. When making my way to the Battle of the 1000 Heartless, I felt the same elation I did as a child only to see it stifled by a blurry, low-quality cutscene. Don't get me wrong, Square Enix did a fantastic job touching up all of the games, but it's hard to shake the feeling that corners were cut.
The visuals are not the only part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX to get an upgrade. The entire soundtrack in Kingdom Hearts 2 and a couple of tracks from Birth By Sleep have been re-orchestrated and the result is something absolutely incredible. When soundtracks get a complete overhaul, there are some that don't quite stand up to the original, but I can honestly say that I prefer every single song that has been redone. Every track seems to encapsulate the feelings and essence of the original piece. The amount of love put into this music is palpable and I still find myself being blown away when I hear them again and again.
The core gameplay has changed very little from what you may remember (except for Re:coded, of course), but as I said before, these are more than mere HD remakes. Each game is a Final Mix version and includes a decent amount of new content. For instance, Kingdom Hearts 2 includes the new Critical difficulty, roughly 30 minutes of new cutscenes, a new Drive form, the ability to fight Lingering Will and every Organization XIII member, and even the addition of an entirely new dungeon, the Cavern of Remembrance. Birth By Sleep offersadditions as well, although it doesn't quite rival Kingdom Hearts 2. The result is an experience that, while familiar, still manages to retain a sort of freshness. During my playthrough of Kingdom Hearts 2, there were so many times where I uttered "Wait, I don't remember that" to myself. No other HD remake I've played has been able to elicit a reaction like that out of me and it certainly works in the game's favor. If I had to pick out a flaw with how the games run, it would be the substantially longer load times, but even that is somewhat trivial.
I should also note that despite Birth By Sleep coming from the PSP and Re:coded being turned into a giant movie, the transition to the PS3 has been painless. The controls in Birth By Sleep feel significantly better and more accessible, and it doesn't feel like anything of value was truly lost by making Re:coded into a cutscene. In Re:coded, the cinematics have been upgraded and some scenes have been added (or slightly altered in the case of boss fights) while Mickey narrates between certain points in the story to ensure the player isn't lost and fully comprehends what is going on. In fact, Birth By Sleep and Re:coded have been handled so well, I don't think I'll ever play the original releases again.
It's difficult to look at Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Re:MIX and judge it as a compilation of remasters when it really is so much more than that. Until now, people overseas had to import the Final Mix to play the additional content, but with this collection you get that and then some. Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Re:MIX is the quintessential package for the games that comprise it and with the selling price of a mere $40, it is well worth the money. The updated visuals, re-orchestrated soundtrack, added content, and ease of access make this compilation a must-have for any Kingdom Hearts fan.