Review by LegatoBluesommers
A highly enjoyable and entirely worthy sequel to Square's surprise hit
Once upon a time, what was then Squaresoft had this crazy notion of teaming up with animation superpower Disney to make a game featuring the best of both worlds. However, after the game then proceeded to receive high critical praise and sell millions of copies worldwide, the notion didn't seem so silly. Well, it's been many years in the making, but finally Square Enix came through with the sequel that all of us RPG fans have been dying to get our paws on. While Kingdom Hearts II certainly lives up to its pedigree, it is certainly not the perfect game that many had dreamed it would be.
Your adventure starts in a very interesting way. In the quiet burg of Twilight Town, a boy named Roxas is on summer vacation with his best friends. However, strange things start happening to Roxas, and a mysterious connection between him and Sora, the hero from the first game who has been in a deep slumber for much of the past year, begins to unfold. In addition to building up many of the concepts that the game revolves around, this three hour intro story also serves to familiarize those who are new to the series with how the game plays and feels. After many dramatic twists and an emotional conclusion that is easily one of the high points of the entire game, the intro ends, and the player returns to playing as Sora. Now after going through the intro, I was excited about how things would play out from there. Sadly, what followed ends up being what I believe to be the game's most annoying weakness: for the next 15 hours, the story completely abandons all of the ideas and characters from the intro, and instead elects to simply play out most of the various Disney themed worlds using the individual plots of the corresponding movies. While it certainly entertaining to be able to play out these stories, the worlds simply do not integrate the theories on the complexities of the human heart and what happens to those who lose their hearts as well as the original did. Thankfully the story does finally pick up in a big way at about the halfway point, and from there it keeps a much more acceptable pace until the game's masterfully crafted end. On the whole, the game's truly awesome sequences end up being offset by the simply average ones.
Gameplay has gotten a huge facelift from the first game. While the battle system, despite the upgrade, is still a button masher at heart, it is a very FUN button masher. Sora moves and fights with much more fluidity than he previously did, and has a boatload of new abilities to boot. The most noteworthy of these is the "drive" command, which allows Sora to merge with one or both of his companions, Donald and Goofy, to greatly augment his abilities for a short time. For example, the "Valor" drive form with Goofy greatly increases Sora's attacking speed and allows him to wield two keyblades (Sora's weapons) at the same time, while using the "Wisdom" form with Donald increases Sora's general movement speed, lets him quick-fire small energy bursts from the keyblade, and allows him to cast magic spells in more rapid succession than usual. Another new feature is the "reaction" command; special offensive and defensive trick moves that can only be used in certain situations with timed button presses. These vary depending on the enemy you're facing, but all are very useful (not to mention cool looking), and are often required with dealing with bosses. Summon spells still made it into the system, but are essentially as worthless as they were before. Also, the camera controls, which were one of the things that pretty much everyone agreed should have been better about the first game, have been vastly improved, letting you use the right analog stick to rotate and zoom the view instead of just the shoulder buttons. The downside to this is that navigating the command window with the control stick requires you to hold a shoulder button. The control setup can be changed, however. My primary beef with the gameplay comes simply from the fact that the game is just WAY TOO EASY. As compared to the many many times I faced defeat playing the original Kingdom Hearts, with this game I only lost twice through it all (both times via extremely cheap means). Sadly, the difference between the three difficulty levels isn't all that noticeable, so the only real challenge to be had is the game's purposefully difficult optional boss, as well as some of the later battle arena matches. Another issue has to do with the worlds themselves: they feel a little small. Much of this is probably due to the fact that most of the platforming elements seen in KHI were stripped away in favor of a higher action pace. You don't really have to look for anything in the game: even treasure chests are in plain view 90% of the time.
Graphically, the game is just as superb as the original. Despite my misgivings about how small the worlds seem, there is no denying that they look spectacular, with an extraordinary amount of effort given to making the worlds look and feel identical to their source material. Graphical lag is practically nonexistent, even when countless enemies flood the screen. Soundwise, the game derives much from the original in terms of the music, which certainly isn't a bad thing, though the original tunes are very nice (Pirates of the Caribbean fight music during battles in that world = win), though the main theme song, "Sanctuary", feels a bit off. The voice acting is truly fantastic, with only a few offbeat performances among the 100+ in the game. There are quite a few mini-games dispersed throughout, and most of them are fun (as silly as the Atlantica rhythm game is, getting to hear songs like "Under the Sea" and "Part of that World" is practically a bonus by itself). Production values are quite good, as loading times are remarkably short for this type of game, and Jiminy Cricket's journal, which logs all of the sights you encounter in the game, is more detailed than ever.
Despite its faults, Kingdom Hearts II is a resounding success, making it abundantly clear that the first game was no fluke. This series has a bright future, should Square Enix decide to continue it.
STORY - 7/10
GAMEPLAY - 8/10
VISUALS - 10/10
AUDIO - 9/10
SWING - 10/10
OVERALL - 8.8/10
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Kingdom Hearts II (US, 03/28/06)
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