Kingdom Hearts II
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
Buena Vista Games
Developer
Square-Enix
Genre
Action/RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Mild Blood, Use of Alcohol, Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Large areas that look great stylistically
• Lots of combat options
• Tons of boss fights
• Overall presentation is top notch

The Bad

• Less story and more action would have been nice
• Prologue is enough to drive anyone away

 
Grade
A-

When the first Kingdom Hearts was announced I was a bit concerned on how the story would work out, but after playing it, I found that Square-Enix (then Squaresoft) found a way to merge Disney with Final Fantasy in a story that didn't depend on either. With the sequel, things pick up some time later as Sora, Donald and Goofy are still on the trail of Mickey and Riku. After a three hour prologue that introduces Roxas and covers some of the events from the first game, players are drawn into a story where the Heartless remain and new enemies, the Nobodies and Organization XIII, show up everywhere.

Yes, you read that correctly: the game opens with a three plus hour long prologue that slowly introduces gameplay elements in between sizable story segments. Finally, when you are turned loose in the game, players are given multiple worlds to visit and even more to unlock as you complete the goals in each world. To access these worlds, though, players have to fly the Gummi Ship through space shooter like levels which are vastly improved over the previous game.

Once in the level, you'll find Sora controls with the Left Analog stick while the Right stick controls the camera. The D-Pad flips through the menu in real time. Through the Start menu, you can set up the Shortcut menu, which can be used with L1 and any of the four face buttons to quickly use items or cast magic. The R1 button is used to lock onto targets. The X Button performs attacks, while the Circle Button jumps and the Square Button performs certain actions that can be turned on in the menu.

While you use the X Button as your main attack button, there are times when you'll have context sensitive options that can be activated with the Triangle button. Often these are just attacks that can be keyed off during combat, while other times, they can be used to do combo attacks with the characters you join up during visiting each levels.

Along with basic combat and magic, Sora and pals also have access to summons, including Stitch, Peter Pan and Chicken Little. And, then there's Drives, where Sora merges with either one or both of his allies to do all sorts of major damage. To pull one of these off, you have to fill your Drive gauge. Once you do, just select the Drive and Sora will merge with either Donald, Goofy or both. At this time, you start emptying the gauge, all the while performing all sorts of high-speed damage.

As Sora, Donald and Goofy defeat bosses and level up, you'll gain more AP and access to new abilities. In the menu, you can equip these skills (each which costs a certain amount of AP) on Sora. The abilities for Donald, Goofy and any additional allies you come across can likewise be equipped and even set for the frequency of use.

One of the nicer aspects of Kingdom Hearts II is how the scenarios have been planned out. The first time around, most of the worlds play out closely to the original content, but when you revisit, things feel more unique and open. Also, a lot of mini-games are thrown in to keep things lively. And, then there's the fact that the game is packed with boss fights, many of which are both a blast to fight and even a bit of a challenge.

Visually, Kingdom Hearts II excels in both technical and stylistic terms. The levels are often massive with a lot of detail and a number of things going on. But rather than packing the levels with excessive realistic detail, each location is patterned after the movie they came from. The colors are often bright and the designs find a nice midground between Disney and Square-Enix. Each region has a well-executed style that permeates everything from the menu to the treasure chests to the monsters. The character designs are nicely executed and the animation is finely developed. On a technical standpoint, the large levels often feature a lot of NPCs and enemies on screen at any given time with little to no slowdown.

Since a huge portion of the story is told through voice-acted cutscenes, the voicework had to be pretty good. For the most part, it is. Many of the Disney voices are either from the original voice actors or from people who can pull off the voices to near perfection. Other, like the voices from Jack Sparrow and Barbossa, don't sound much like the original. The voice work for the Square-Enix characters is decent enough. Osment as Sora does pretty well, as are most of the main story characters. Where things get bit iffy is in the stiff voicework for Aeris, Yuffie and Cid. The soundtrack is well done and features a lot of familiar themes. Each world has the same music and sounds found in the original content. For fans of the originals, you'll certainly enjoy the familiar themes.

There certainly is a lot to enjoy here, but I would have to wonder how much deeper the game could have been if not for being on such a short leash. Many of the stages are heavy on story and short on combat, especially early on. Further into the game, this gets better as more areas are open to you, but you'll have to work through 10-15 hours before you start to feel a little freedom.

If you loved the first game and enjoy a story-heavy action roleplaying game, then Kingdom Hearts II is a must-buy. Of course, if you haven't played the first KH or even Chain of Memories, then you may find the story a bit much to swallow, especially when it comes at you as such a healthy portion of the game so early on. Still, Kingdom Hearts II does well to show that the PS2 still has some life in it.

- - Kinderfeld

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