January is the doldrums when it comes to video game releases. It’s the month where game publishers figure, “Everyone bought games or got them as gifts in December. Why would they want more in January?” With that, they leave the release schedule dry until at least Valentine’s Day or so, when people have had the opportunity for quality time with their gifts.
Indeed, January is the perfect time to catch up on games you neglected and treasures you missed. For instance, “Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix” (Rated E10; $39.99) – a collection of three (well, more like two-and-a-half) games that combine the aesthetics and storylines of “Final Fantasy” with the characters and the whimsy of the Disney universe.
The original “Kingdom Hearts” has actually aged quite well, especially for an action-adventure RPG, thanks largely to the constant and inventive presence of the Disney characters and worlds. The primary conceit of the game is that protagonist Sora has been given a great weapon called the Keyblade, which is not only useful for walloping baddies but also locks the keyholes that have opened up in the various Disney worlds, keeping frightening little minions called the Heartless from wreaking havoc.
One of the game’s purest pleasures is seeing how each world has been transformed into a platform for adventure. Particularly noteworthy are the undersea “Little Mermaid” world and the Halloween-flavored “Nightmare Before Christmas” world. There’s plenty to see and take in, and the amount of exploring and searching you have to do in the game guarantees that you’ll take in almost everything.
‘Re:Chain of Memories’
Once you’re done with that, you’re ready for something new, and the “Re:Chain of Memories” game does a good job of providing just that. Despite the fact that many of the locales and characters are reprised from the first game, “Re:Chain of Memories” adds a card system that allows for powerful attacks and combos. This provides a substantially different feel from the hack-a-thon of the first game, which was apt to give you blisters from hammering the attack button. “Re:Chain of Memories” is also a pleasant diversion story-wise, providing the background knowledge that will give you a better idea of what’s happening once the “proper” game rolls around.
Finally, there’s “358/2 Days,” which goes by fairly quickly – maybe three to four hours – but feels long because you rarely do anything other than tell the game to proceed to the next scene. While it’s nice to be let in on the story, not being able to actually play that story is frustrating. It’s a questionable decision on the part of the developers. I’m not sure if this was prevented by an exclusivity deal or just wasn’t worth the effort, but either way, it feels like there should be a third full game here.
That said, the 2 1/2 games you get are enough to last a solid 60 hours of gameplay. If you dedicate two hours a day, that’ll get you through January, and then you’ll have some new stuff to look forward to. As time-killing video games go, “Remix” – exclusive to the PlayStation 3 – is a consistently interesting and engrossing way to power through an entire month. As the best version of one of the best games of the PS2 generation, “Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix” is worth every penny you’ll pay for it.
New This Week: “OlliOlli” (Vita) looks simple but promises to be a deep and surprisingly complex portable skateboarding experience. A cute little top-down RPG called “A Wizard’s Lizard” (PC) also releases this week, looking a bit like a cartoony version of “The Legend of Zelda” with a catchy title.