"A compilation that's a collection of compilations. "
It's hard for me to review Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far without first going into how comically bizarre this compilation's existence happens to be.
Square-Enix has shown a shameless desire to re-master and re-package the many titles in this action-RPG series -- a move that does make sense as its games have been released upon several systems, from the PlayStation 2 to the Game Boy Advance to the DS to the PlayStation Portable to mobile phones to the 3DS to the PlayStation 4. Without a compilation or two, anyone wanting to experience the entirety of this series would need to have the compulsion to own at least as many systems as a long-time gaming addict such as myself!
And so, the PlayStation 3 got Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMIX and Kingdom Hearts 2.5 ReMIX, which both contain HD re-mastered versions of some games, as well as lengthy cutscene-derived movies detailing the plots of lesser entrants in the series. Those two compilations were then re-released on the PS4 as Kingdom Hearts I.5 + II.5 Remix, while that system also got Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, which added one more re-mastered game, a short side-story that serves as a sneak preview of the Kingdom Hearts III engine and a movie going over some key plot points from a mobile game taking place far before the events of any of the console or handheld games.
The Story So Far, which came out in late 2018, is nothing more than the I.5 + II.5 and 2.8 discs packaged together. Essentially, it feels like this compilation was made specifically for people like me, who had only played a game or so in the series, but saw a trailer or two for Kingdom Hearts III, decided we wanted it and felt the need to catch up on everything that had gone down with Sora, Riku and the rest of their friendship-loving team of do-gooders. Making this compilation truly unnecessary is the fact that when KH III was released, Square-Enix also put forth an "all-in-one" collection that includes all of this stuff along with that game.
It's not a particularly crucial purchase, but it did serve my purposes, as I had only played the original game. While I've already given my thoughts on Kingdom Hearts, I will say the remastered version is a bit more enjoyable. It is based heavily upon worlds derived from Disney movies, so the HD graphics make things look more like actual cartoons. Also, the camera controls are superior, as I found using the right analog stick to shift perspective to be easier and more intuitive than shoulder buttons. While I originally gave this game a 3/5 rating, I'd have to bump this version up to 3.5/5.
In fact, most of the games would probably receive that score if I were individually reviewing them. Two would not, though, with Chain of Memories being one of them. Originally released for the GBA and then receiving an enhanced port on the PS2, this was easily the low point of my time with this compilation. Due to how the GBA couldn't really run a pure KH game, they made this a faux-action title where you have to collect cards and then run around in fights, avoiding attacks while stringing together your cards to hit enemies -- a system in which basic enemies were really easy for me to run through, but bosses could easily shred me due to using the same sort of card-combo attacks that I could, while not having to keep eyes on both the action and their card collection. On the bright side, this game does introduce players to Organization XIII, the group of adversaries that becomes Sora's greatest threat throughout much of the series, but when that debut is attached to a game like this one, the decision to watch a cutscene-movie online to get the story without having to endure the game was an easy one to make.
Kingdom Hearts II was just the opposite -- a game that sucked me in immediately and didn't release me until the end credits had rolled. Before resuming Sora's adventures, you play through a bizarre little chapter featuring a young man named Roxas exploring a town with his friends as events get more bizarre and unsettling. When Sora regains center stage, he'll find himself in a game that trims back the exploration in favor of fast-moving action. You'll be tapping the attack button and watching him jet around the screen like a coked up Cirque du Soleil acrobat, occasionally changing his attack form into something even more devastating, allowing him to make short work of all the twisted monsters coming out of the developers' brains at the time. If there's a reason to buy this (or any) collection of KH games, this is it.
Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance could both be described as lesser versions of KH II. The former takes place 10 years before the initial game in the series, putting you in control of three Keyblade wielders attempting to get to the bottom of series' main villain Xehanort's schemes. The latter takes place after KH II and features Sora and Riku going through dream worlds in order to obtain the mark needed to become Keyblade masters. Both have you control multiple characters through adventures in several Disney (and a couple original) worlds and both utilize a Command Deck to handle special attacks and spells. As you earn those, you can place a limited number into your deck and use them at will in battle, with a short recharge period for each one. Both games do have some minor annoyances -- such as particular areas where mastering a rhythm-based mini-game is mandatory to progress -- and neither are as awesome to play through as KH II, but both are fun diversions with fast-paced action.
Which is also an appropriate way to describe the hilariously-named Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep -- A Fragmentary Passage. Featuring Aqua from Birth By Sleep, it's a fun little adventure that'll only take a couple of hours to complete. By merging her character arc with the events at the end of KH and setting up the transition from Dream Drop Distance to Kingdom Hearts III, the writers found an ambitious way to at least try to tie together the stories of all these games.
Three other installments were represented by movies designed to give players their stories without the need to actually play through them. With Coded and X, that is understandable. The former felt like a rehash of the first game with a couple new plot developments coming at the very end, while the latter takes place far before the events of any of the other games and seems to be one of those microtransaction-plagued things where the story elements featured were probably the only noteworthy aspect. I did feel a bit bad for 358/2 Days, as it wasn't deemed worthy to be fully reproduced while Chain of Memories was. Maybe the game really stunk or something, but I at least found its plot -- concerning Roxas and his stint with Organization XIII -- pretty captivating down the stretch.
Okay, I've gotten to the awkward part of this review where I realize that I'm going to have to say something more about the series' plot than merely alluding to how it exists and this isn't going to be easy, as we are talking about something that has stretched over multiple games, oftentimes seemingly being reworked and retconned on the fly.
So, Sora and his friends, Riku and Kairi, live on a tropical island, but want to see more. And boy, do they ever! A weird storm sucks them away and Sora finds himself teaming with Disney stalwarts Donald Duck and Goofy to save planets from an encroaching dark force being manipulated by a collection of Disney villains led by Maleficent the witch, while also searching for his friends and King Mickey (Mouse). By the end of their first adventure, it's discovered that Maleficent doesn't hold as much control over the darkness as she thought and was actually a pawn of a mysterious man, whose presence is (in a roundabout way) a harbinger of the presence of Organization XIII, a shadowy dark-aligned group looking to bring forth something called Kingdom Hearts to fulfill the objectives Xehanort -- one of those chessmaster villains who can suffer a humiliating defeat and then start cackling about how you fell into his trap and he actually won -- needs to start a new Keyblade war for…reasons.
With the help of the Internet, I did eventually start connecting the dots, but it's easy to get bogged down and confused thanks to the overwhelming number of characters that will show up, say something infuriatingly vague and teleport away, only to meet with their cohorts a bit later to have infuriatingly vague conversations amongst themselves. But I can safely say that I wasn't playing through these games for their overly-tangled webs posing as plots. The action, for the most part, is fast-paced and generally fun, with you often taking on hordes of enemies at once, flying from one to the next while wildly swinging your Keyblade. And the nostalgia factor is through the roof. Throughout each game, Sora and company will travel from one world to the next, with the majority of them derived from various Disney movies. They'll interact with characters from those films and fight iconic villains, both menacing foes such as that big demon in "Fantasia" and comic relief blunderers like Pete. As someone who grew up watching a lot of these films and characters, it is a truly cool experience to be able to play through truncated versions of their stories.
And that in itself made it worth playing through the Kingdom Hearts series, with the generally enjoyable gameplay being a very nice bonus. The overall story might be too complex for its own good, Chain of Memories might be an utter dog and this is a compilation that was made obsolete mere months after its release, but it came along at the right time for me and, sometimes, that's all that matters!
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 03, 2019)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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