Square EnixDeveloped by:
Third-Person Action RPGPlayers:
E10 (Everyone 10 and up)Release Date:
March 28, 2006Written By:
The sequel to SquareEnix’s popular 2002 Square-Disney cross-over, kingdom hearts 2 makes many improvements over the first game that make the story and the worlds all at least as engaging as they were in the first game and make the game itself more convenient and more streamlined in a lot of ways. But whether or not those improvements necessarily save the game from its strikingly simple gameplay will probably depend on how much you loved the first one.
The new adventure starts out by immediately getting down to continuing the Kingdom Hearts storyline, which only gets better in this game. As soon as a new game is started players are taken into an elaborate music video that goes to great lengths in getting you excited for the new adventure. Even though roughly the first 3 hours of the game were essentially one really long tutorial, I never became truly bored of it simply because there was so much plot development all coming at such a nice pace, complete with a sort of recap of the events of the previous two games for those not familiar with the franchise.
Players should also quickly appreciate the reappearances of many of the characters from the first game as well as the introduction of many new ones whom I all found to be very likable. Like in the original, SquareEnix has been able to pick up some serious star voice talent for this game which serves to keep up the franchise’s high standards in presentation quality. Fans of the previous games will also notice that some returning characters have gone through changes as Sora, Riku, and Kairi have all grown up a little bit since the last game. You’ll even notice the difference in Sora’s voice as his voice actor Haley Joel Osment has started to hit puberty.
As you progress farther into the adventure you’ll return to a lot of the Disney-themed worlds and once again see some Final Fantasy character cameos (who’ll eventually start to take a back seat to the original characters later on in the game) that appeared in the first game as well as some new ones. As in the first game, the Disney worlds are written into the main storyline excellently, both adding to the main story and being very true to the original source both in terms of the storyline and visually as well. For one thing the game’s command menu changes its appearance to fit the look of each world. In a few of the game’s worlds, Sora, Donald, and Goofy are also transformed in order to better fit their surroundings.
In one section of the game, Sora and the gang must travel back in time and end up in the world of the 1928 movie Steamboat Willie, which featured Mickey Mouse’s very first appearance ever. In this world everything is displayed in black and white as Donald and Goofy are transformed into their original designs from the old days while Sora himself is adapted similarly to fit that style. In another part Sora has to go into a computer system in order to recover information vital to his quest, and when he does he ends up in the world of the movie Tron, where he and his friends’ clothes are all transformed into a sort of cyber armor to fit their surroundings. To go even further, they even added in the little electric “beeps” for whenever Sora makes footsteps. All of this is just SquareEnix going the extra mile to further meld everything together and make it click. And yes, the game does feature a light bike sequence.
Staying so true to the original content for so many movies can also make certain parts of the game pretty nostalgic for fans of old (and more recent) Disney movies. After playing through many of the worlds such as the ones for Lion King and Beauty and the Beast I had an urge to actually go back and watch all the original movies and even made me seriously think about finally buying some of them on DVD.
All of these worlds also serve to give the game nice variety of environments that all look crisp and adequately detailed, as do the characters, although there is some inconsistency in the quality of the facial animations in the cutscenes, the graphics generally look just as good as they did in the first Kingdom Hearts, and for the most part it all runs smoothly as well.
Despite this game’s continuation of the production values, story, and wonderfully presented Disney worlds that the first was known for, some of the most appreciated things in Kingdom Hearts II are probably going to be the little improvements SquareEnix made here and there to make the game play out more smoothly.
Kingdom Hearts II does quite a bit to make the game more playable and more convenient than the first game, which had its share of issues with the camera and controls. The operation of the game’s camera has now been switched form the shoulder buttons to the right analog stick. Although this does take away the ability to easily navigate the command menu on the fly with the right analog stick, you do have the option to switch the system back to the way it was (the control system for KHII is actually quite configurable) and you can also hold a button to temporarily switch control back. Surprisingly, you can even play much of the game in first person view.
One thing I also appreciate in this new game is how the environments are now generally more spaced out. In the first game part of my frustration with the camera was due to how confined many of the environments were. In Kingdom Hearts II each of the worlds has generally been given more open space that overall gave the game a better feel for me, not to mention helping to fix the camera. It’s just little stuff like that and some slight rearranging of the controls that make Kingdom Hearts II a more manageable game than its predecessor.
Despite all the noticeable improvements that KHII makes over its predecessors which I appreciated, the one thing I was never quite able to get past was the apparent simplicity in the game’s combat system as well its considerably low level of difficulty, because of which by the time I got to the world of the Lion King, I was really just running from plot point to plot point, completely ignoring most enemies.
At first glance Kingdom Hearts II seems to include most of the conventions of your usual action RPG. But pretty soon in playing it I realized that I really didn’t need a lot of stuff the game threw at me in both combat and the gameplay in general. During the entire 30 hour adventure I rarely ever used any kind of attack magic and although the game does include a “synthesis” mode where you can use materials found in the game to make new items, I only used it once and I don’t think I ever even used the item that I made from it. Most of the items in my possession, stuff like tents, cottages, and many other items, went totally unused throughout my entire time with the game.
You see, most of the combat in Kingdom Hearts II is pretty much done through total button mashing. Most battles can effectively be won really by just jamming the X button at whatever enemies are there. One of this game’s major new features is the reaction commands, certain actions that can be performed by simply pressing the triangle button at certain times. While a lot of these reaction commands do look cool and do bring a little bit of variety to the gameplay, most of the time it really just comes off as a one-button QTE, where all you really have to do to pull off a string of reaction commands is just rapidly tap the triangle button. Another new feature in this game is the drive forms, basically transformations that give you special abilities when a special “Drive” gauge is filled, not unlike some of the super combos in the more recent Street Fighter games. As cool these drive forms look in action, it still results in the same button mashing as before. Because of this apparent simplicity in the combat system, most people are going to find Kingdom Hearts 2 to be a pretty easy game.
While there are at least a couple boss fights in the game that can be extremely challenging, requiring skillful use and timing of combos, reaction commands, blocking (which also isn’t used very much), and drive forms, the level of challenge throughout Kingdom Hearts II’s default difficulty level is far too low, especially for veterans of the first game. By the time I was done with the game’s tutorial I was already wishing I had started a game on Proud mode, the game’s harder difficulty setting. Now you could argue that seeing as this is a Disney game that they made it so easy because the game will surely attract small children as a large part of it’s audience, but SquareEnix could at least have put in some kind of notice suggesting that veterans of the first game or simply more seasoned gamers in general start the game on the harder difficulty setting. As much as I enjoyed the game’s storyline which kept some of my friends into it for hours on end, it was because of the simplicity and lack of challenge in KHII’s gameplay that I was never really able to play the game for more than maybe an hour or so at a time, which is why it took me roughly a month to complete the main quest.
One thing in Kingdom Hearts II that I am very glad to see some improvements in is the Gummi Ship levels. In the first game traveling anywhere meant flying through a gummi ship level where you had to shoot down enemies while flying through a corridor with obstacles, which really just ended up coming off as a bad StarFox ripoff. In Kingdom Hearts II for one thing they made things more convenient by giving the game a bit more of a conventional world map system where you simply move a little gummi ship around on a map to get from world to world instead of taking it down defined paths. You now only have to go through an actual shooting segment when going to a new world for the first time. These segments themselves have been designed by SquareEnix to feel more like a rollercoaster ride with shooting, which ended up giving the gummi ship segments in this game more of a Panzer Dragoon feel than anything else, which made these levels more immersive, more action packed, and overall just more fun, even if you’re still just randomly shooting at everything.
SquareEnix even decided to throw in a whole gummi ship customization mode in this game. In this game you are actually able to earn new models of the gummi ship to use which progressively get better. On top of that as you collect gummis you can use them to either customize the gummi ship models you have or build a whole new gummi ship from scratch. You’ll probably never actually need to ever even look at any of the gummi ship customization features in the game but I guess it’s still nice to have it there.
Other than the painfully simple combat and the simple but still fun gummi ship levels, most of Kingdom Hearts II’s gameplay is made up of a bunch of mini games that while may make sense for the game’s story and in the context of each Disney movie, I found most of them to really be pretty useless, not really adding anything to the game and really just taking up time. Some of them I guess could be fun in their own right and a few are pretty challenging, but in the context of the rest of the game I could have done without them.
If what Kingdom Hearts II’s main quest offers is enough to keep you playing then you’ll probably find yourself doing the sidequests as well. You don’t have to actually complete every world in order to finish the main quest so there are always extra objectives and quests to complete in order to fill up Jimmy’s journal, a sort of log of all the characters and enemies that you have met throughout the game. On top of that, having any hope of defeating the game’s secret boss Sephiroth will most likely require you to level up at least 20 levels beyond what may be required for the main quest’s final boss and spend quite a bit of time gathering materials for a secret special weapon. Preparing for this fight alone is sure to put some serious hours onto your time outside of the roughly 25 – 30 hours it may take to complete the main quest.Closing Comments
While Kingdom Hearts II does in many ways adequately improve over it’s predecessor, thus making the game a legitimate sequel, the engaging story and excellently mixed-in Disney presentation alone may not prove to be enough to make some people look past the actual game which, while made much less clunky than the original, in the end comes off as just too simple and not really challenging enough, putting a lot of the game’s seemingly cool features to waste. If you played the first Kingdom Hearts and loved it, then you’ll probably love this game just as much and will have no trouble laying down the money for it. The rest of you however may want to simply rent and run through the game once just for the Disney nostalgia.7.8/
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