Review by eyestothesky57

Reviewed: 04/21/06

Final Fantasy, Goofy, and Techno are together again...and it's better than ever!

I honestly didn't think the original game could be improved on. The game was fantastic in every aspect. It had excellent, lush graphics; simple, yet addictive game play, and tunes you would never forget, and Chain of Memories was exactly the same. But I've been wrong before, and man, was I ever wrong in thinking improvement was impossible. From the get go, you're shown that this game is graphically awe inspiring when you just watch the intro movie. More on visuals later though. To start, you play as Roxas, a boy on summer vacation in Twilight Town. Right there it's shown to you that if you didn't play the series in the past, you're going to be lost. Twilight Town was a mysterious town you played in CoM. You spend about 5 hours in this town which serves as the games tutorial. From here you learn how to fight, how to navigate, etc., etc. For veterans of the series, this will be more of a refresher than anything else.

It isn't until you get into Sora's over-sized shoes that things get to the nitty-gritty. This brings me to the first thing that is improved upon in this game, the fighting. At first it starts just the same as it played out in the original game, you have your standard 3 hit combo move that deals decent damage when all three hits land on your target. But as you level up you gain abilities that allow you to add moves to your combo or extend the maximum amount of hits in your standard attack combo. In the end, what you get is a display of ultra cool acrobatic moves that will remind you of God of War. What's more, with certain abilities you can retaliate back after being sent flying from an enemy's attack, getting in an extra hit to your combo. Trust me, there isn't much better than slapping a strong heartless with an awesome 10 hit combo, purposely getting hit by an attack that sends you in the air, and retaliating back and getting in yet another 10 hitter.

But perhaps the coolest addition to the game is the "Reaction" commands. To get a good idea of what this is, again think of God of War. It's pretty much exactly like the button pressing sequences you could do in that game where you would press X when it appeared, Square when it appeared, and so on and so forth, and you would do a really cool, sometimes cinematic, special move or series of moves. The difference is that in this game, the only button you have to press is triangle when it appears. This leads to one minor problem to the game. You see, in God of War, if you pressed the button too early, or too late, you bailed and usually took massive damage, in this game, you can only be too late; you don't get penalized for pressing the button early, and you rarely are penalized in any way for being late. So, really, since you only need to worry about one button, and once you know when to start pressing triangle, you can just jam on the button to ensure you hit every reaction command and do the massive damage it rewards you with. It's a pretty minor setback since the reaction commands that reward you with the most damage are only against bosses, and are pretty rare to come across, but it would have been nice if you actually had to time these commands. Either way, the tons of different reaction commands almost always look badass (especially the cinematic ones during boss fights!), and are really helpful in a lot of situations.

Another invaluable improvement is being able to assign items to the shortcut buttons, not just magic spells. So while you're waiting for your MP to refill, you can easily press whatever button you might have your potions assigned to instead of having to go all the way into the tab in the command menu. Of course the items are limited to the amount of items your characters can hold, but it's a very handy and helpful addition. The only thing that baffles me is that you can't select who you want to use a defensive spell or item on in this game. In the original, a sub-menu came up that allowed you to select who you wanted to cast the spell on. In this game, you can only cast the spell or item on yourself if you use it through the shortcut buttons, I have no idea why. Granted, you hardly ever need to heal your teammates since they usually have abilities that will revive fallen party members (except Sora), but it still is a mystery why you can't select who to use them on with shortcut uses. What you will be using quite a bit in this game are the new "Drives". These are different forms Sora can take on when he combines with other party members that, on top of allowing you to wield two keyblades (which stand for some even cooler looking combos by the way) place an emphasis on strength, magic, or both. They're pretty handy to use, especially against some of the harder enemies and bosses, of course, you usually deal out much more damage when in one of the drive forms as well.

However, in the midst of all this improvement, there stands a problem; the games difficulty. On easy, the game is a joke. If you've played through the first Kingdom Hearts, you can probably blow through easy in less than 15 hours...if you skip all the cut scenes. On Normal, the game is still basic until you get to the last bunch of boss battles. The only way to get a true challenge out of the game is when you play it on "Proud" a.k.a. hard. This actually ramps the challenge up by a good amount, but if you've played the game on standard beforehand, the only worlds that will pose any serious challenge will be Beasts Castle and the Pride Lands. The key contributor to the easiness is actually the gameplay improvements. Square didn't do a very good job balancing the massive damage you can do just by a standard attack combo and the enemies difficulty. I honestly don't think the AI of the game changes much between standard and proud; everything seems to stick to the same attack patterns, and a few bosses actually seemed easier on proud than on standard. But as easy as the game may come off to be at times, there's still tons to do including the godly-infamous Sephiroth battle (which is so hard I nearly broke another PS2 in frustration), tons of fun little mini-games you can find in almost every world, you can work on completing your journal, even the HIGHLY improved gummi ship battles have special missions. And trust me, I do mean improved, the gummi ship mini game is actually excellent for this game. So you'll be playing this game for a while afterwards.

Graphics are the bread and butter of this game though. It could sell just on its beauty. Regular gameplay looks just as gorgeous as it did in the first game, except they've done a very impressive job at giving characters dynamic expressions. Square has done what I thought could only be done in cel-shading in this game. Characters easily and seamlessly shift from smiling to frowning, to anger; small addition, but one that amazes nonetheless. Few games pull it off as successfully as this one does. The worlds look absolutely gorgeous as well, and now there's even more variety and uniqueness to each world you play in. From classic Kingdom Hearts locations, to old school Disney cartoons, to even realistic graphics, playing this game feels like walking through virtual art museum. The FMV sequences you get treated to in the beginning and end of the game are also done excellently, and look even more life-like than the previous games did. These are cinematic treats that make you really wonder how Squenix managed to fit all this beauty into a single game.

All the while you get background music that signifies the classic Disney movie you're playing in (except the Steamboat Willie world). The songs from the first two also return, but have been updated, such as the music from Hollow Bastion, the world select music, and Twilight Town. Voiceovers are the sound equivalent of what the FMV scenes were for graphics; they are honed to perfection...for the most part. For some reason, during the first five minutes of play, the voice acting doesn't sync right with the mouth movements, giving a very "Godzilla"-esque Japanese feel to it, but that's really the only instance where you see this happen. The rest of the game you're treated to some great personalities for your most known characters, such as Haley Joel Osment, David Gallagher, Jesse McCartney, Christopher Lee, and more...and yes...Square has listened to our whining and removed ol' Lance from being the voice of Sephiroth. The only other problem is that some of the vocals sound sort of robotic, especially when the characters say "Sora, Donald, Goofy...". The worst though, has to be Mena Suvari and her work with Aerith. From the second you hear her voice droll out of Aerith's mouth you have to ask yourself, "WTF!?" She has the emotion of my pet rock. I have to say...Mandy Moore did a much better job of voicing everyone's favorite FF gal. Plus they changed Aerith from being a very wise, prophetic character, to becoming some preppy little schoolgirl who wants people to recognize her. Sound effects are on cue and feel natural, but are really nothing to write home about, it's your basic stuff and it does its job perfectly.

Final Verdict

Although anyone can pick up this game and thoroughly enjoy it, it'll be the veterans of the series who get the maximum this game has to offer. That's not to say fans of either or both Disney or Final Fantasy won't be brimming with glee over this game. One of the most breathtaking scenes is when you have Cloud and Squall, the two most popular FF heroes, back to back, smack talking about who's the best fighter, about to take on a massive horde of heartless together. You can't help thinking about how badass that really is. So what's my score for this game? Well we're looking at solid, fun, addictive game play. It has its negative areas like the magic system, and the difficulty, but it's all easily overlooked after playing the game for a while. The graphics are top notch, and there's never a hint of a drop in frame rate, even when you and your partner are franticly reflecting a swarm of lasers that are all zipping towards them. Sound is just as nostalgic as the other games were and you constantly find yourself humming along to tunes that all somehow feel familiar while you play. Even though you'll see 9, the actual score I give the game is a 9.9/10. I couldn't give it a 10, it was just too easy of a game to grace it with the honor of being my first perfect game; but let it be known, that if it weren't for that one problem, this would be the one in my opinion.

My Recommendations

I would highly suggest Kingdom Hearts II to anyone who has played both of the previous games. Even if you've only played the original Kingdom Hearts, you can still understand a decent amount of the story. I also steer Disney or Final Fantasy fans towards this game because you're looking at some really cool rebirths in this game. I say the Final Fantasy fans will have more to look at in this game because it's just plain cool to see characters from different games in the series talking to each other and helping one another out. Also, anyone looking for a solid action title can find it here; just expect to be totally lost in the storyline if you haven't played the previous game/games since it's a straight sequel of the previous two games in the line. Also, if you're looking for nail biting difficulty, you may want to stay clear of this game.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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