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Phil Larsen
29 Sep, 2006

Kingdom Hearts 2 Review

PS2 Review | It's been worth the wait.
Square Enix has taken two of the most recognisable (and, dare we say it, overused) entertainment icons in history and created one of the most original games on the PlayStation 2. True, this could be said about the first game, but without a decent strategy and core gameplay mechanics, all the creativity in the world will fall flat. Some regarded this to be the case with the first installment, with a clunky battle system, dodgy camera and repetitive combat. If one word were used to describe Kingdom Hearts II, it would be refinement. Every single error made with the first game has been corrected – or at least made completely bearable. So what does this mean to you, the sceptical investor? You can rest assured that this game is one of the lengthiest out there, so your money will be well spent. Without spoiling any details at this point, Kingdom Hearts II is truly an excellent action RPG, and arguably one of the best ever made. It's just a damn shame it took so long to arrive on PAL shores.

The world of Kingdom Hearts II is actually made up of multiple worlds, separated from each other and usually completely different. You play as a young lad named Sora from the Destiny Islands. He has mysteriously been transported across the plane of existence into high adventure on surrounding worlds. This is all part of the first game; you essentially pick up where you left off (after a long nap). A few of your friends are still missing, and some ne’er-do-wells are still intent on world destruction (or domination, I really can’t be sure) after messing with people’s hearts. The story is actually pretty confusing, and those who missed out on the first game are whole-heartedly recommended to pick it up; if not for the story, then the game is still pretty decent. Nevertheless, Kingdom Hearts II is always entertaining, no matter how obscure the dialogue is. So, Sora again teams up with Donald and Goofy from Disney Castle and begins an inter-worldly adventure, visiting old friends and making some new ones. Of course, the big draw here is the inclusion of Disney and Final Fantasy characters – some are playable, some are more consequential to the plot and some just pop in to make an appearance and crack a few jokes. Overall, the character development and cast is second to none.

Never mess with the Mouse.

Never mess with the Mouse.
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If anything negative is to be said about the narrative structure, it is that several lines and scenes are pretty much unnecessary. Some of the timing of spoken dialogue is a bit off (not to discredit the voice actors, who did a perfect job), and as a result the scenes can tend to seem longer than they are. There is hour upon hour of spoken scenes, and when this involves the classic characters from the individual worlds, it is always entertaining. When the atmosphere turns serious, and the real source of the goings-on is being investigated, these speeches sometimes revert to confusing, Matrix sequel-esque lines: “Within your memories, your heart will be free and then returned to one – as the path to a soul of darkness both begins and ends.” What? This kind of talk is a bit overused, but is quickly forgotten once the focus becomes more character-driven.

The absolute key to the overall effectiveness of any RPG is the ability to draw the player in and keep them there. Kingdom Hearts II not only enthralls throughout its four-hour introductory sequence (literally – it was after 3.5 hours of solid playing that the Kingdom Hearts 2 logo finally showed up to mark the beginning of the game), but also sucks the player deeper into the game with each successive world. Many RPGs tend to have dragging sequences – Kingdom Hearts II is as long, if not longer than most epics and there were very few of such occasions – especially when excluding the obscure lines. This is more than I can say for the first game in the series, and there isn’t a much higher compliment I can give to KHII- or indeed any game. Seeing the old team reunite again gives an extra feeling of warmth and depth to the characters, and without needing to delve into specifics we can already feel the connection between the title trio – and indeed the massive cast of characters who each support the storyline extremely well.

Will these two ever get along?

Will these two ever get along?
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All the gameplay standards are still present, yet every one of them improved. The combat is third person, and moves at a blisteringly fast pace, with all characters tearing around the screen using magic and swordplay to decimate enemies. The camera issues plaguing the first game have pretty much vanished, and one can zoom in and out to view the action at any angle. One notable fight halfway through the game is the ultimate culmination of fluidity and finesse in the battle system - Sora versus one thousand Heartless, non-stop. It is these scenes that give KHII that extra feeling of adventure, and the sheer fun gives the entire experience far more weight than anything achieved the first time around.

Travelling between worlds is again taken care of via the Gummi Ship – this was a pretty lousy idea in the first game, and it still is a somewhat lousy idea – but the execution has improved out of sight. The flying sections are fast and frantic, with all manner of enemies attacking. A particularly impressive sequence is the Gummi Ship taking on a gigantic inter-stellar pirate ship. The flying is still a rather tacked on feature, but it has improved beyond recognition from before.

If one were to recall back to the original Kingdom Hearts, accessing the menu and using the right analogue stick to select options in the heat of battle could be frustrating. KHII simplifies this a bit, by adding more submenus and D-pad control. Shortcuts for using items can also be used this time around, and best of all, the items will restock in the used slot. This means no more trudging back to the main menu after every battle to add Potions to everyone’s inventory. These restocking options, as well as various others, are completely customisable - so if anyone loved the exact menu layout and battle selection set-up from the previous game, they are more than welcome to keep using the traditional methods.

The very definition of old school.

The very definition of old school.
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While menus are much easier to use, it doesn’t mean nothing without a decent combat system to back it up. Thankfully, KHII reproduces the fast-paced, shimmering combat of the first game and adds some surprises – all of which are an absolute improvement. The first of these differences is Form changes. This allows Sora to change his clothing and assume a different “Form” (really, just the colour of his clothes change), gaining some extra abilities. These Forms come at the cost of one party member, so you have to make do with two while in a new Form. Sora more than makes up for this loss – he wields two Keyblades, each with their own special uses in combat. The change also increases his speed, strength and magic (although different forms have different effects). The changes are only temporary (much like a Limit Break, which are also present as an additional combat function) and once time is up Sora and the gang must defeat more enemies to refill the Form meter.

The absolute best additions to the combat system are some new abilities called Reaction Commands. These are performed by the simple use of one button – triangle. It seems Square have really taken a long look at the first game to discover if any gaps could be filled with extra content, and, honestly, the triangle button really was underused. So, this freshly revamped button will be one of the most used; it also handles the “talk” and “examine” functions. But yes – the Reaction Commands! Many times during battle, the triangle indicator will flash green and prompt you to get down to some serious business. Hit that bad boy and watch Sora layout some ultimate smackdown. Almost every boss fight has at least one Reaction Command - when timed correctly, it triggers an amazing display of acrobatics and swordsmanship, resulting in (sorry) massive damage [Seriously, what were you thinking Phil? – Ed]. One particularly stunning Reaction has Sora jumping on the back of Pegasus - the flying steed from Hercules mythology - and laying waste to the many heads of a Hydra in mid-air. Fantastic. Some Reactions are also available when fighting normal enemies, and can also be combined with other party members (notably, the special members from each world) for a dual attack.

3 against 3000?

3 against 3000?
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KHII is artistically stunning. It is a rare treat to see previously hand-drawn Disney characters represented so flawlessly in a 3D environment. That is the word to use when it comes to the characters and animation – flawless. My personal favourite, Mulan, was given special honours with a world that recreates the story of the film, and adds the twist of a neurotic duck, clumsy dog and spiky-headed punk. The Mulan world lasts almost as long as the film itself, so it was great to sit back, enjoy the great character interaction and re-telling of the original story, and of course have the odd epic battle with hundreds of Heartless on top of a snowy mountain peak. One of the pleasant surprises (although many may know about this already) is the inclusion of a Timeless world – which has Sora and company battle the Heartless in the settings of five classic black-and-white Disney cartoons, including the original Steamboat Willie. Everything from the character models to the sound is tweaked to get a classical experience – including the background sound effect of an old movie reel spinning. Like mentioned before, the use of these well known stories are made original again by the inclusion of the new characters.

The soundtrack is nothing short of spectacular. All the classic Disney themes are present, and while wandering around each world some original themed music will accompany you. The only criticism of this is that the world music gets a tad repetitive, but because there is always so much action going on, you won’t even notice – unless specifically sitting there and listening. There are also some notable vocal tracks, included with the musical festivities in Atlantica, as well as the signature track from Utada Hikaru, Sanctuary. This, like Simple and Clean from the first game, is a pop song, which seems to have been perfectly crafted to both set and build from the atmosphere of the game. In my personal opinion Simple and Clean is the superior track, but it really isn’t any kind of detriment as they are both fantastic. The original Kingdom Hearts themes are also present, including a slightly different arrangement of the tune that plays on the main screen when loading or beginning a new game. All in all a breathtaking auditory experience, surpassed in this generation perhaps only by the traditional Final Fantasy games.

How should this Kingdom Hearts II analysis end? With a word of caution. Those who disliked the first game outright in every aspect are unlikely to discover a new love for the series, despite all the improvements. If one was turned off simply by the camera, or controls, it may be worth checking out KHII to see if it makes enough of a difference to warrant a purchase. A final word of warning – there is a lot of dialogue, and many hours of cut scenes; not all of them involving classic Disney and Final Fantasy characters. Anyone after a quick beat-em-up will probably be turned off by the lengthy breaks in the combat. If this is manageable, though, and you want everything from the first game improved beyond reasonable doubt, this is one of the easiest recommendations I have made this year. Kingdom Hearts II is an essential purchase for fans of the series, and indeed anyone with an interest in Disney and Final Fantasy. This is a heart everyone can love.
The Score
Great in every regard. Better than the first game in every conceivable way, and a strong recommendation for those even simply curious about the story of Kingdom Hearts.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Kingdom Hearts 2 Content

Disney wants third Kingdom Hearts
01 Nov, 2006 But Nomura has other plans. For now.
Kingdom Hearts II receives PAL treatment
12 Sep, 2006 No more lazy conversions?
Kingdom Hearts 2 Preview
01 Mar, 2004 Square and Disney fanboys rejoice yet again.
22 Comments
7 years ago
A well written review. I would've given the game higher points, but then, I'm a KH2 fanboy, so it'd be biased as icon_razz.gif

So far I'm 20 hours into the game (yeah that's right, in 4 days I got 20 hours in), and all I can say right now is...wow. Seriously, the sheer scale of this game is incredible. The first Kingdom Hearts blew me away and stole my heart, and now the second has arrived after so long to steal my soul. Although the wait was excruciating for a fan such as I, it was well worth it. My most anticipated/wanted game ever has turned out to be so far, one of the best games I have ever played/experienced. Well done Square Enix.
7 years ago
When was it first released (anywhere)?
7 years ago
Echo_Possum wrote
When was it first released (anywhere)?
If I remember clearly, December 22nd for Japan, then March 28th for US. This is off the top of my head.
7 years ago
My god Frozen you're as bad as me. I expect to have it 100 percented in a week. =P
7 years ago
That's an ambitious task, DarkYoshii. I've been murdering it for a solid ten-ish days (I forget, it's been a blur) and I still have to tie up various loose ends around the place.
7 years ago
December.
Damn i hate long delays on games.
Reckon there will be a KH3?
7 years ago
^ Yes but we won't get it til 2010. We being AUS.
7 years ago
DarkYoshii wrote
My god Frozen you're as bad as me. I expect to have it 100 percented in a week. =P
I'll take that challenge also icon_wink.gif But I doubt we'd be capable of doing it tbh. The first Kingdom hearts was mind numbingly massive (and getting all the synthesis items to create certain things was an absolute pain.), so I don't know. But let's try anyway icon_razz.gif
7 years ago
Frozencry wrote
Echo_Possum wrote
When was it first released (anywhere)?
If I remember clearly, December 22nd for Japan, then March 28th for US. This is off the top of my head.
That's when I got it! icon_smile.gif I completed it 100% some time ago, I couldn't wait all this time for it to arrive in PAL regions, no way.

I'd like to ammend the review by saying that the game is not as long as it is made out to be, I finished it in much less than 35 hours.. If you want long, look at the Disgaea series! Now that's a challenge! It took me 45 hours to finish Disgaea 2 once.
7 years ago
I would tend to agree with you, in theory. If one were to play through the main quest solidly on an easier mode, it wouldn't take longer than 35 hours. The average player would probably take longer (I did, and I like to think I am a more experienced player than the average). It also depends on the missing Pooh pages, and the Gummi courses, and synthesising - whatever you decide to do before continuing with the main story.
7 years ago
I was referring to me completing Proud Mode, and sealing all the keyholes. Easy mode is way too easy. icon_smile.gif
7 years ago
Just completed it, not 100%, but the story. And on proud mode so I got the 'extra' thing.

Man...this just toppled SotC in my fave game of all time. The wait was SO worth it. Period.
7 years ago
Frozencry wrote
Just completed it, not 100%, but the story. And on proud mode so I got the 'extra' thing.

Man...this just toppled SotC in my fave game of all time. The wait was SO worth it. Period.
Very good. What do you make of that trailer? It's KH3 for sure, most likely on PS3, I expect. Talk about awesome games. icon_biggrin.gif You must really love it, I wouldn't say that KH2 is my favourite game, but it's up there.
7 years ago
admeister wrote
Frozencry wrote
Just completed it, not 100%, but the story. And on proud mode so I got the 'extra' thing.

Man...this just toppled SotC in my fave game of all time. The wait was SO worth it. Period.
Very good. What do you make of that trailer? It's KH3 for sure, most likely on PS3, I expect. Talk about awesome games. icon_biggrin.gif You must really love it, I wouldn't say that KH2 is my favourite game, but it's up there.
To me it seems like a prequel. Possibly an explanation of how the Keyblade was formed, etc.
7 years ago
Maybe. A lot of people seem to think that Sora is one of the guys. I guess we'll see.
7 years ago
[SPOILERS]


^well watching it again, it shows the Ansem reports, so it's most likely not a prequel. It's a pretty good theory that one of them is Sora, just way ahead in the future. But what doesn't seem right is seeing that one of the keyblade wielders is Mickey, he can't possibly have become a human now. I'm theorizing perhaps many many years into the future (as in like milennia or something), 3 new keyblade wielders have been chosen, and maybe there is some kind of 'keyblade' war happening, Where people have discovered how to harness the power of the keyblade. Just my 2 cents.
[/SPOILERS]
7 years ago
Man I wanted to play this game badly, shame my pstwo broke. Damn sony.
7 years ago
Frozencry wrote
[SPOILERS]


^well watching it again, it shows the Ansem reports, so it's most likely not a prequel. It's a pretty good theory that one of them is Sora, just way ahead in the future. But what doesn't seem right is seeing that one of the keyblade wielders is Mickey, he can't possibly have become a human now. I'm theorizing perhaps many many years into the future (as in like milennia or something), 3 new keyblade wielders have been chosen, and maybe there is some kind of 'keyblade' war happening, Where people have discovered how to harness the power of the keyblade. Just my 2 cents.
[/SPOILERS]
Maybe so. There's a lot of theories flying about atm. I guess we'll see, in time. icon_smile.gif For now, we can speculate, and enjoy the trailer.
7 years ago
took me 24 hours and a bit to complete the story but that is on easy, you guys are right aswell it is too easy, i didnt die once. so how do u get this trailer? beat the game on the higest level?

IMO, there will definantly be a 3rd one because how the movie after the credits finished.
7 years ago
You can either complete 100% of Jiminys Journal in Standard Mode or just complete all the worlds in Proud Mode, either way you get to see the secret ending, its worth it.
7 years ago
^
thanks, may sound like cheating and laziness but i watched it on youtube icon_biggrin.gif
but im still gonna complete it on proud mode. sounds much more easier than standard mode way.

it was good. and now i no why you guys didnt no if it was future or present because their are reasons why it should be in the future but also clues that its in the present. i was searching around and came to an interveiw with the person who does KH (dont no his name or what you call those ppl, im pathetic at that stuff, i also forgot the site so sorry that i cant send a link) and he said it is in the future but also the present!!! yes that is understandable! well its KH, they have alot of weird imaginations which makes these games so good, for example you dont get a game with your character using a key as a weapon often.

now im probably wrong but my guess is that the movie is how it all started and thats how it will end, now yes im sure thats wrong but thats the idea im getting. there will be a while before we find out because in the interveiw he also said that they havent even started on KH3 yet because they have another game that they are working on.
7 years ago
Matt3 wrote
^
thanks, may sound like cheating and laziness but i watched it on youtube icon_biggrin.gif
but im still gonna complete it on proud mode. sounds much more easier than standard mode way.
You'll be in for a challenge! Do you best. It's quite a mysterious trailer, I must say.
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Publisher:
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