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Review – Kingdom Hearts 2

posted on April 24th, 2006 by horatio

Sora picks up a new, more badass outfit in KHII. Donald still uses his sailor outfit left over from his porn star days.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away (let’s call it Japan), a man from SquareEnix and a man from Disney were getting drunk in a karaoke bar when, somewhere between sake and bad renditions of Michael Jackson songs, one of them stumbled upon a most wonderful idea: why not take all the best aspects of the Disney universe, throw them together with all the best parts of the Final Fantasy series, and from this soup of uberness draw the most amazing game ever conceived by man? The two set off to do just this, and on September 16th 2002, if Jesus himself had come down from heaven to bring rapture to the world, no one would have noticed because they’d have been too busy picking up their reserved copies of Kingdom Hearts from Gamestop.

Fast forward three and a half years later, and Square and Disney have gotten together again to bring us heaven-in-a-DVD in the sequel, Kingdom Hearts II. Now, before I move on to elaborate on just how goddamn awesome this game is, I will offer a small caveat to my review: I recognize that I am a fanboy of this nascent series, and because of that the review you are about to read may suffer from a minor case of subjectivity. On the other hand, the fact that the series can already elicit from me such strong feelings of elation and exuberance I believe only serves as a testament to just how solid both of these games are. Of course, if you disagree with my opinion I respect this. I also respect the fact that God has ordained all non-believers in the Kingdom Hearts series will be damned, suffering eternally from a thousand kinds of torture and torment. Ahem, on to the review.

First, let’s deal with the story. For those of you who don’t want any of the plot of this game or its predecessors spoiled, feel free to skip to the next two paragraphs. Kingdom Hearts II begins roughly where Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (a filler game Square released for the GBA) left off. Sora and crew are still sleeping in their pods in castle oblivion, and Riku and King Mickey are off somewhere being mysterious badasses. Meanwhile, the game starts you off as Roxas, a keyblade wielding alter-ego of Sora’s whose cryptic origins and purpose will of course be slowly revealed throughout the course of the game in traditional RPG style. Much like the original, we can split the plot of Kingdom Hearts II into two distinct realms: you have the stories that take place in each world (namely reenactments or reimaginations of various Disney move plots), and then you have the overall story arc of Sora and his friends. In both cases, Kingdom Hearts II far outstrips its prequel. The Disney plots are more memorable and poignant (the impetuous relationship between Belle and the Beast and Simba coming into his own as a King are a couple of good examples), and as you complete each world you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time watching plot scenes irrelevant to the game as a whole, but rather each world culminates in a ‘mini-ending’ that gives you that warm feeling inside only a Disney film can evoke.

Organization XIII- So evil it can kill you with a sitar.

Next, the larger story with Sora and his friends is also much more in depth and intriguing. The game introduces a new set of villains, the nobodies. that Much like the heartless, while most of the nobodies are mindless drones, a group known as organization XIII is composed of the most powerful nobodies who retained both their original human forms as well as their ability for conscious thought. Also, the intervening time in the characters’ lives provides for a much more mature plot line. The one drawback, like in the original, is that the plot tends to come in abrupt spurts. You end up spending a lot of time going form world to world wondering what the hell is going on with your friends, only to have a whole lot of plot rammed down your throat at the end of the game. On the other hand, this makes the last level seem almost like the infamous baptism scene in the Godfather, only with keyblades replacing guns and mobsters being replaced by… heartless, nobodies, and organization members. Overall, despite the somewhat uneven pacing, the plot is well thought out and just as emotionally pulling, if not more so, than the original. End spoilers.

Moving onto the game’s appearance, the music in Kingdom Hearts II is just as good as the original. Utada Hikaru, who wrote the wonderfully catchy song “Simple and Clean” that served as KHI’s theme, returns to write a much more gravid but equally impressive theme for KHII, “Sanctuary.” Many of the games old music themes come back, evincing a great feeling of nostalgia as you dispatch hordes of heartless and nobodies. And of course, the various Disney songs that make their appearances (“This is Halloween,” “Under the sea”) evoke a childish sense of glee. In terms of art, most of the graphics look only marginally better than the original, but a lot more detail went into the character designs and menus. For example, the action menu in the bottom left corner changes in color and style to represent each world’s themes. Most important however, the intro and ending cinematics are awe inspiring. The intro follows in style of the original game, providing a combination of stunning art and alluring plot bits, all beautifully synched to the game’s aforementioned theme song, “Sanctuary.” The ending cinema seemed to be a bit on the short side, but that may just have been a depressive episode kicking in as I realized the game was over.

Finally, there’s the game play. Lets deal with the bad first. The gummi system returns, somewhat unfortunately, but it does come with improvements. The graphics for gummi levels are now worthy of the ps2, not the SNES, and its easier to pick new ships. However, building them is just as incomprehensible as in the original. Also like the first, the combat system of KHII is pretty simplistic, and players can easily get through most of the game by only mashing the x and o buttons over and over again. Despite this, Square threw in some new features to at least attempt to spice this up. The most successful of these are the drive forms: by combining with some combination of Goofy and Donald, Sora gains a new outfit and a slew of new abilities that allow him to rapidly unleash death and destruction upon his foes. Each form has its own costume and strengths, and they provide a very nice alternative to Sora’s normal combat techniques. Also, the game added reaction commands, where by pressing triangle at special times, Sora unleashes an almost cinematic combo that is specific to each monster. This plethora of options leads to an unfortunate drawback that you have to try to scroll through two menus to find certain moves in the midst of combat. While setting certain moves to a quick command menu (utilized by holding down L1 and then pressing o, x, square, or triangle) partially mitigates this problem, the difficulty needed to cast magic, use a summon, or perform a limit is high enough that most people will just end up being lazy and stick to mashing the attack button.

Studies concluded that between 60-80% of Final Fantasy fans orgasmed upon seeing this screenshot.

Where the combat system lacks however, the experience system shines. Everything in this game can gain levels. First, each of your characters has a normal leveling system. Then, for Sora, each of his forms has its own level (with a max of 7) as well as its own mechanism of leveling (valor form for instance gives you one exp for every attack you deliver, wisdom form gives you one point per heartless killed). Leveling up the forms will also net Sora some very nifty abilities that can be utilized in the normal form (like a higher jump and aerial dodge ability). Summons also have their own level (as a group), and even the moogle who synthesizes items for you gets experience for each item he makes. As he gains smithing levels, more items will become available to you and existing recipes require less materials. Basically, if you’re the kind of person who wastes 60 extra hours on an rpg because you want to level your party up to 99, this game is god’s gift to you.

In conclusion, Kingdom Hearts II surpasses the original in every aspect, and it also lives up to every bit of hype that has surrounded it for the last year or so. In terms of time you’ll spend on the game, I spent about 35 hours to beat the game, then another 25 hours to collect everything and unlock the secret ending (a preview of KHIII that is incredibly confusing but intriguing nonetheless). Ultimately, KHII truly is the best of Square and Disney: deep plot, wonderful sound and animation, and you will leave it feeling like a kid again, happy and content.

3 Comments

  1. Stefan said on April 25, 2006:

    I think this is the first time in my life I’ve ever heard of mickey mouse referred to as a “mysterious badass”.

  2. jay said on April 25, 2006:

    The first game’s combat was what turned me off. Should I stay turned off or try this?

  3. Horatio said on April 26, 2006:

    The combat is a lot more fluid because you have much better camera control, better combos/variety of attacks, and a nice spell called magnet which draws all the enemies together. Unfortunately, mashing x and occassionally hitting triangle is still what you’ll be doing 90% of the time. it does look a lot prettier this time in around, so i’d definitly rent it at least to see if you can deal with the combat system.

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