Review by gung_ho_gun

Reviewed: 06/01/06 | Updated: 08/19/06

Kingdom Hearts 2 delivers in spades!

Kingdom Hearts was released in 2002 with much fanfare. Here was a title that promised to fuse Disney and Square characters into one cohesive package, and top it off with a storyline worthy of both companies and a battle system that could stand aside the genre's best. KH blew away the doubters and showed that even the most inane ideas can come together and make something special with the right talent behind it. The fans have been clamoring for a sequel ever since, and the GBA title Chain Of Memories only added fuel to the fire. What has become of Sora, Donald, and Goofy, and what new foes must they now face? KHII answers the questions and more with a game that improves on the original in several ways, but is held back in others.

Storyline: If you have played the first KH (keep the secret movie in mind) or COM you will be right in the mix from the beginning, as many new characters are introduced, including a mysterious boy named Roxas whom you play as at the start and several members of Organization XIII, who are the main antagonists. Org XIII controls a group of enemies called the Nobodies, in addition to the Heartless from the first game who are wreaking havoc. The scene quickly shifts back to Sora, Donald, and Goofy, and off you go to the various Disney worlds righting wrongs and trying to save the worlds from disaster. There are also cameos from nearly every Disney character, and of course Square fan favorites such as Cloud, Vivi, and the return of Aeris. I want to avoid any spoilers. Needless to say, the story is very complex and is worth the payoff if you immerse yourself in it. If you have not played the first game, you may be very confused at the start but luckily there is a more fleshed out Jiminy's Journal that records all the events in the storyline, making it far easier to keep track of all the people and places you will be encountering. The cutscenes keep the storyline engaging, and even though it starts off slow, by the end it will have you at the edge of your seat as questions are answered and mysteries are revealed. This game brings back old favorites such as Agrabah and Halloween Town, but also adds new ones such as Pride Rock and Timeless River, a black and white world that would make Walt himself proud to see his earliest work is still appreciated. If you are a fan, you will recognize the many storylines that unfold from the movies. Many see this as filler between the more serious aspects of the plot, but each world manages to add enough to keep it from becoming a drag.

Graphics: Incredible. At first glance this game looks similar to KH, but the more you play the more you will notice the SquareEnix has not let the years making this game go to waste. The lipsynching is spot on. The character models are much more expressive, and the cinematography during the cutscenes will have you staring in disbelief that 6-year-old hardware can produce visuals like these. The particle effects will leave you mesmerized. The CG cutscenes at the start and end of the game will bring a tear to your eye. I feel that the Disney worlds are smaller than in the first game but are more detailed. Limit attacks and summons take full advantage of the PS2's power. The Heartless and Nobodies animations have been enhanced, which makes them less like punching bags and more like combatants. There are parts in the game that recreate scenes from famous Disney movies, such as the ballroom dance from Beauty and The Beast and the stampede from Lion King This game is so pleasing to the eye it is ridiculous. Needless to say, this game holds up the SquareEnix tradition of great graphics.

Gameplay: Hooray!!! They fixed the camera. No longer do you rotate it with the L2 and R2 buttons. It is now mapped to the right analog stick. The camera itself is also pulled back more, which lends itself to the changes in the combat system. You and your partners still gain exp. and ap., learn new abilities, summon assistants and gain stronger weapons and armor. The AI controlled characters can still be fully customized to suit your playing style. The item synthesis has returned with a much larger range of items to make and the game is much more forgiving in how often the enemies drop materials. This makes it worth using even to those like myself who didn’t bother with it in the first game. But there are some very important additions. The Drive system involves Sora combining with either Donald or Goofy to make an even more powerful fighter, complete with dual-wielding keyblades and enhanced attacks. All characters now have 100 MP, and after it is used up you have to wait for it to recharge. The Limits are team attacks that consume all MP, but put a serious hurting on everything in the area. You fight alongside Disney characters as in the first KH, and each has Limit attacks of their own that you can perform with Sora. The combo system has been reworked, and there is a greater emphasis on aerial combat and blocking. The magic damage has been toned down, but the changes make it easier to work magic into your combos. For example, you could land two hits on the ground, launch your enemy, follow up with air attacks and then use magic (via shortcut) seamlessly. Sora has many new attacks, such as the ability to launch enemies in the air, which put a greater emphasis on combos than in the first game. The Reaction commands are probably the biggest additions. When you fight certain enemies, a small window will pop up with Triangle next to it. Press it, and special attacks can be performed, a la God of War. Everything from swinging on chandeliers to turning a Nobodies sword against it. These play a huge part in boss battles, which are even more over the top than in the first game, especially the fights against Org XIII members. You will not be disappointed. And finally, the extremely boring gummi ship battles have been improved dramatically. Your ships can be customized in even more ways. There are new paint jobs, weapons, and new additions called teeny ships that support your main craft. The enemy ships are more aggressive and there are even bosses to fight. The combat is now rail-shooter style a la Panzer Dragoon or Rez. Not that you will be buying this game for this reason, but the improvements are welcome and make this segment of the game borderline fun, especially your first time through them.

Note: I will say that I feel this game is easier than the first KH. It has its moments during certain bosses but it is far from being punishing. I beat it on Proud my first time through, and I say to seasoned vets to play it on Proud from the start or else you may find the difficulty lacking. Newcomers will find the combat to be a little button mashy at times but that is the nature of the beast. Vets will find these new changes welcome as it gives the combat much depth and will keep you coming back long after you beat the game.

Sound: The soundtrack is more moody, but it’s not like that is a bad thing. The music from the Disney worlds can get old after listening to it for an hour, but it fits the environments that you are in. It also changes when your fight enemies so its helps to keep it tolerable. The voice acting is great. It is not grating at all and you will not find yourself cringing at the lines being said, though I swear the word heart is spoken about 4 million times in this game. I will go so far as to say it is SquareEnix’s best work yet. Haley Joel Osment returns as Sora’s VA, and his performance captures Sora’s personality perfect. As Sora is more mature in this game, his voice is more appropriate. After having my doubts, I could not imagine anyone else voicing Sora. His performance is that good.. Other highlights include Christopher Lee as the voice of DiZ. The Disney stable sounds just like you remember them as a kid. The only voice that I don’t like is Aeris. It sounds too bland and dried out. And yes FF7 fanboys, One Winged Angel is played during the optional battle with Sephiroth. Rejoice for it is so.

Replay Value: The main quest should take you around 35 - 40 hours, making it about twice as long as KH1. There are many sidequests in this game, ranging from getting high scores in the various minigames to coliseum battles. You will spend hours upon hours trying to complete Jiminy’s journal, and there is a nice reward after you beat the game for those that do (on the Normal difficulty that is). There are plenty of secrets to discover, and finding them will make this game even more enjoyable.

Ending Note: Fans of the first game should report right to the store and pick this up if they haven’t already. I would recommend that you play the first KH if you have not because you will appreciate the story more. For newcomers who want to see what all the fuss was about, or those that maybe are put off by the Disney influence in this game but are still curious, I recommend that you give it a try. This is not a kiddie game at all. Older gamers will get a lot out of it, and there are depths to the story that a child would not understand anyway. For RPG diehards and skeptics that think this game is just an cash-in and an affront to the genre, there’s not much I can say but to judge on its own merits and to not compare to other titles in the genre.. This may be hard because of the SquareEnix’s illustrious pedigree, but if you keep an open mind I doubt you will disappointed.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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