Review by Arkrex

Reviewed: 06/29/06

The cinematic button-masher

Kingdom Hearts was the lovechild of Square Enix's expertise in game development and the magical world of Disney. It had a lot of bright ideas, but the execution was far from perfect. Now here comes the sequel which has aimed to improve on all the areas the original had laid down, and for the most part that is what has been accomplished. Everywhere you look, you'll see improvements, from more streamlined gameplay, a more extensive list of abilities, better camera control, smooth graphics, etc. etc. But it is still far from perfect.

I thought I'd begin with what is truly the most impressive part of KH2. The interface is just like in the previous KH, with a d-pad controlled active menu used to command the on-screen action. Now there are a lot more options, but everything executes rather easily still. The main menu is extremely detailed; all the worlds you travel to are meticulously documented and you can look up info on any characters you encounter, any events you observe, and follow the story at your own leisure. The story progresses through numerous cutscenes, and in general they are done very well and flow nicely. And now you are able to skip all cutscenes at will too!

I'd just like to mention here that the smallest things, from the way you can freely open up treasure chests this time, to navigating the galaxy quickly and efficiently, really do contribute to making this whole package one really well put together piece of dedication. And it shows; the presentation in Kingdom Hearts 2 is much better than I could've ever expected!

The worlds are once again vibrant & colourful, but now they are very clean looking too with nary a jagged edge in sight. The framerate is consistent even when there are a lot of enemies and special effects onscreen, and these sequences are pretty good looking too. Overall though, there's nothing
really special, but it gets the job done with giving us detailed likenesses of our favourite Disney & Final Fantasy characters and the imaginative worlds they inhabit. Looking at worlds like Port Royal from 'Pirates of the Carribean' it can be seen that the developers really have worked well in collaboration with Buena Vista to bring us accurate replicas of our most loved fantasy worlds.

And then there are the actual animations which are captured remarkably well too. Looking at Captain Jack Sparrow, you'd think he really was that swaggering, odd pirate you saw in the movies, and seeing Sora lion pounce all over enemies with keyblade in er.. mouth is pretty hectic. The in-game battle actions are more numerous in this sequel, but do they ever look sweet, with Sora at times looking like he just came out of a fresher course with Dante post-Devil May Cry 3 lol!

SOUND - 8/10
Music is a nice blend of old tracks, new tracks, and Disney classics. The variations on Dearly Beloved are always wonderful, and I love the theme played in Atlantica. Some of the new ones like the battle theme of the nobodies and Twilight Town are pretty well done too. The new theme song, Sanctuary, is nice & new, and performed by the lovely Utada Hikaru no less. However I was disappointed at the lack of familiar tunes in the Pridelands; I thought The Lion King was probably the most poorly realised realm of them all, with highly generic gameplay and plot threads.

As for the voice work, this is done very well (English version) just like the original was. Most of our favourite characters have their usual voice actors who perform extremely well. The new ones are given life by some talented new castings including the great Christopher Lee. It's nice to see that Haley Joel Osment has matured since the first outing, and he still provides an excellent Sora. But there are some duds such as Aeris (where's Mandy Moore?) and Squall.

STORY - 9/10
Continuing on from the first game and the GBA mini-story, the story is put together more coherently this time around. With the introduction of a new party, the nobodies, and the constant scenarios involving the members of Organisation XIII, you really do feel like stuff is happening all around you.

The first 3 hours is dedicated to a mysterious backstory surrounding Sora's slumber; this prologue of sorts is slow-paced, but at the same time imparts a sense of humanity which I took a liking to. Over the course of the game, you learn more & more through interactions with the said party, as well as from documents gathered through your travels. But things really only start to pick up about halfway, with the first part being the same old meet the characters again. Towards the end, it does get very exciting though with stacks of revelations that will make you go "whaa?!" A fitting conclusion awaits at the end of this remarkable tale, for the progression is what really drives this game..

The combat system is more refined, the camera is a dream to control, gummi ship courses are explosive & frenetic, and there's lots of stuff to do all up. The problem is that for the core part, this is still just a button masher, perhaps moreso than the original! Sora can now perform some seriously cool looking combos this time round, and his friends hold up pretty well this time too
(ie. Donald's actually good!) as well as support his various forms and provide assisting limit break specials. While the action is great to watch, it requires very little thought other than mashing X, square, the occasional triangle, and for fancy stuff some circles. Most of the bosses are pushovers except for 2 of them (and that excludes the final ones mind you) and most of the time you can go into battles mindlessly and still come out victorious.

The game is a lot easier than the first (on normal difficulty) since you essentially have so many super moves at your disposal. Add to that, the game clocks in at 30 hours or so (including Ariel's episodes and Pooh's book too) so you're looking at a similar length to the prequel, but here's the thing: about 2/3 of that time is spent watching cutscenes! Now these are well put together and comprise good entertainment and story development, but when you begin a cycle of fight for 2 minutes, watch for 5, walk for 1 and then watch another 5, you start to get the feeling that you're really not playing a 'game'. But strangely enough, even after all the sitting & watching, what there is is quite fun (for button mashing standards) and later on you will at least have some direction on how you want your combos to end/follow-up for maximum advantage.

As I mentioned earlier, the gummi ship parts are pretty looking and full of action ala old-school side-scrolling space-shooters. It's quite exciting to play through them, but just like before, there's not much of a pull to make you want to replay them other than to collect items. The other minigames scattered about are plentiful, but a lot of them are very uninspiring. Pooh's world
has a cool rescue piglet game, but the rest are lame. But Ariel's take this time with musical rhythm action was a fresh breath of air from the button mashing, but it was still too simple.

The game starts off with a new character Roxas, and a mysterious prelude develops in style. The first few hours are pretty enjoyable with a nice mix of battles, exploration, mini-games, and cutscenes. This was done surprisingly well; I hope that Square Enix do create a brand new game with these sort of mechanics in the future, without the ties to other franchises. After the long start, we get back to our main heroes and gameplay is just like the first half of Kingdom Hearts 1; it's good, but nothing new & exciting yet. About halfway through, things start to pick up with an assortment of specials, harder enemies, more events pertaining to the actual story, and more exciting gameplay
(carpet anyone?) This leads up to the final few hours which are really awesome and will definitely hook you in more than the first one ever did, and it makes sense too!

The one thing which Kingdom Hearts 1 did better though was giving players more freedom to explore. Here we have a solid presentation, no doubt about that, but in wanting to convey a sense of accuracy to each world whilst at the same time giving us a worthy tale full of intricacies, what we end up with is extremely linear. The worlds have lost a lot of the original's awkward platforming and find-the-tunnel sequences. These sections could've been improved upon, but were instead eliminated. There is never a time you can 'lose' yourself in these worlds anymore which is very unfortunate. The paths travelled are very straightforward and really are just a cover up for plot progression, so big minus marks here. In here we have about 5 new worlds to explore, but some old favourites are back with different regions involved. Whilst it is nice to revisit old worlds, I hoped that there would be more new ones; I'm still looking for some Disney/Pixar stuff!

And I just have to mention that the world of 'The Lion King' is disappointingly portrayed: being one of my favourite Disney stories of all time, I had hoped to see a lot of creative work akin to the film(s), but all they really did was the plot of the first movie and add some dreary environments in. The whole scenario was rather boring and the only cool things were Sora the lion (with crazy controls though) and having the hyenas, timon & pumbaa talk their stuff which always cracks me up.

OVERALL - 8/10
So what I'm trying to put across here is that this game has a lot of cool moments shown throughout with impeccable presentation values. It's fun for the most part, but there's just not enough actual play time! As an action RPG it kinda falls short. But the story is one to remember and the experience is one that will be cherished for all time. Essential for anyone who has completed the first.

-Great Game

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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