My Review- Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)
The first Kingdom Hearts is a classic action-RPG, despite the odd premise of a Disney-Final Fantasy crossover. In recent years, the series has spawned numerous spin-offs and side stories, but in 2006, Kingdom Hearts received a true sequel. Kingdom Hearts II brought numerous improvements to the slight problems the original had, but it also brought a change in tone and style that directed the future of the franchise. Does it live up to it’s famous predecessor?
Kingdom Hearts II begins a year after Chain of Memories, and immediately after 358/2 Days. At the start of the game, you’re playing as a boy named Roxas (the protagonist of Days, who has no memory of past events) in the world of Twilight Town, via tutorial. Roxas is having mysterious dreams about Sora, the protagonist of the Kingdom Hearts series, but he has no idea what they mean. Roxas also discovers that he is capable of using the Keyblade. Over the course of the week, we discover Roxas’ identity (if you’ve played Days, you already know), why he has a Keyblade, and his connection to Sora, and from there the real plot of Kingdom Hearts II begins.
Once the tutorial is over, you’re now playing as Sora, Donald, and Goofy, who are attacked by mysterious white monsters. After being rescued by King Mickey, who tells them to leave Twilight Town by train, Sora also discovers that the Heartless are still in action, attacking the tower they’ve been sent too. Reaching the top of the tower, they meet the wizard Yen Sid (Mickey’s master), who informs them that the white monsters are called Nobodies, and that they are the empty shells of people who became Heartless. Sora primarily wishes to find his friends, Riku and Kairi, but now he must save the worlds again, this time not only from the Heartless, but from the Nobodies and their leaders, the mysterious Organization XIII.
Kingdom Hearts 1 had a melancholy tone, but Kingdom Hearts II has a much darker story, a style that would be carried into subsequent games. The Nobodies and what they represent- soulless, emotionless beings- make them depressing villains, but even outside of them, there is a level of ennui not present in the original. Roxas is an interesting character, but we don’t see enough of him (unless you’ve played Days, a lot of Roxas’ character is lost). A big problem with the story is that not a lot happens for a good chunk of it- the first and third acts are where the entire plot happens, while most of the Disney stuff is shoved into the middle. However, it is still a Kingdom Hearts game, and while the Disney is downplayed, it is never absent, and the game still has the unique feel of the franchise. A minor gripe is that, in this game, Organization XIII never rises above the generic ‘evil organization with superpowers’, although having played Days I appreciated the inside jokes and personalities of each member.
Kingdom Hearts II has a flawed, yet interesting story.
Kingdom Hearts II’s basic gameplay retains the staples of the series. Combat features a menu, like a traditional RPG, which is used to select what action is mapped to the X button. Combat is real-time and very fast paced, as Sora and his two-man party fight legions of Heartless and Nobodies in various Disney-themed worlds (there are numerous new ones, such as pirates of the Caribbean and Tron). Said worlds are accessed by a world map. The basics are all the same, so I’ll only talk about the differences.
While the core combat of Kingdom Hearts remains intact, it’s become even crazier. Sora is a much more combative character in this game- he runs, flips, and glides quickly and gracefully, raining Keyblade death on all enemies. Control is simple and easy, yet Sora has a much wider range of combat options at his disposal. Sora also has access to Drive Forms, temporary transformations that, by merging with a party member, allow him increased power, such as stronger magic or wielding two Keyblades at a time. Speaking of your party members, they’re quite a bit smarter in this game than they were in KH1 (that is to say, they aren’t dumb as bricks anymore), and can now trigger a Limit Break attack. Enemies are just as varied as they were in the previous game, although the new Nobodies provide an interesting variation from their Heartless counterparts.
The most contentious additions are Reaction Commands, quicktime events mapped to the triangle button. Pressing triangle curing certain moments in combat triggers a cinematic attack that usually does a lot of damage. While they do add a bit of flare to fights, it’s almost impossible to screw them up because just mashing triangle will get you through them. Still, they aren’t a deal breaker for me. People have complained that Kingdom Hearts II is too easy, and I’d say that, while the game is pretty easy, this is far from a flaw. If you want the game to be hard, play it on Proud, which provides a stiff challenge. Reaction Commands may be easy to pull off, but many of the boss fights remain very challenging, and honestly, the difficulty in KH2 is pretty fair.
A major improvement from the original is the complete overhaul of the retarded Gummi Ship minigame from the original. No longer bland, slow, uninteresting wastes of time, the Gummi Ship battles are now fast paced, challenging shooting galleries. You have to do one mission to get to each new world, but can revisit old stages at any time. Customizable ships and weapons make the Gummi Ship a much more rewarding minigame.
Kingdom Hearts II is a very fun, action-packed game that significantly improves upon the original game’s (minor) flaws.
Kingdom Hearts 1 was, and still is, a great looking game, and Kingdom Hearts II continues that trend. The game has the same Disney-Nomura blend of the original, but with cleaner and slightly improved graphics. Each world provided a unique look that helps keep things fresh, and the varied enemies provide some great and sometimes humorous designs. Sora has received a bit of a makeover, looking older and more powerful- the same goes for other returning characters.
Yoko Shimomura once again did the soundtrack for Kingdom Hearts II. The soundtrack is fantastic, retaining the sound style of the original game, while appropriately suiting the darker situation at hand. Returning tracks such as Dearly Beloved are great, new battle themes such as Desire for All That Is Lost are suitable, and the Disney music is appropriately upbeat. The voice acting is generally good- Jesse Mcartney does a surprisingly good job as Roxas, Christopher Lee makes a superb Ansem, and David Gallagher returns as Riku. The Disney voice actors are usually good, but the stand-in for Jack Sparrow sounds terrible.
Kingdom Hearts II may have a few minor flaws, but it also fixes the problems the original game had. This game set in motion many things we now commonly see in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, for better or for worse, but KH2 is a thoroughly enjoyable game, just as much as the first game.