Kingdom Hearts II - Reader Re-Retroview  

Disney's Men in Black
by Jerry Gallen

20-40 Hours
+ Fun battle system with lots of variety.
+ Good control.
+ Nice sound and graphics.
- Prologue is asinine.
- Too much emo whining about hearts and darkness.
- Utterly devoid of anything resembling humor.
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   Kingdom Hearts, combining the talents of Square and Disney, proved to be a smash hit, in some ways proving a spiritual successor to their other largely-abandoned action RPG series, Seiken Densetsu / Mana. In an attempt to alleviate the long wait between the first game and its true sequel, Square-Enix released the Gameboy Advance interquel Chain of Memories, which continued the original installment's story. The official sequel, Kingdom Hearts II, picks up where Chain of Memories left off, proving to be an inarguably superior experience to its predecessors.

   Before taking control of Sora, Donald, and Goofy, however, players will briefly play as a mysterious boy named Roxas, who plays some importance in the sequel's plot. When players do finally gain control of Sora and his allies, he continues his search for his friends Riku and Kairi, traversing many Disney-themed worlds along the way while coming into conflict with the antagonistic Organization XIII, introduced in Chain of Memories.

   As Sora and company wander about the various worlds, Heartless, and newcomers called Nobodies, randomly spawn for them to slay. Like the original Kingdom Hearts, combat is both menu-based and real-time, with Sora able to perform a number of commands such as swinging around his Keyblade and stringing attack combos, and using MP-consuming magic or items, with shortcuts mercifully available for both. New to the sequel are Reaction Commands, which the player can occasionally trigger with the Triangle button depending upon the kind of enemy, and which are often necessary for victory in boss fights, which require more strategy than those in the original game.

Too bad the game isn't actually funny Donald finally loses it

   Another new feature is that if Sora completely expends his MP (which each level of Cure magic does), his MP gauge will gradually recharge, with magic use becoming unavailable until it completely refills. Also new is the Drive Gauge, which gradually fills up a few levels as Sora massacres enemies and picks up special balls dropped from killing them (alongside HP and MP-recovering balls, Munny, and occasional items). The Drive Gauge allows Sora to either fuse with an ally in a special Drive form, or use a summon spell, with the Drive Gauge dictating how long he will stay in Drive form or keep the summon in play.

   Sora’s Drive forms have experience levels of their own, with his summons sharing a level as well. Outside battle, players can, like in the first game, equip Sora with skills that take up AP, dictating the length of his combos, and allowing him to use additional battle skills like Limit Breaks that consume all MP, double-jump, and perform a temporary block. If a world-exclusive character is present, moreover, the player can switch them with one of Sora’s standard allies in the heat of battle. The sequel also features a number of objective-based missions that, when complete, give Sora and his allies a stat increase or new ability, as is the case with boss battles.

   Overall, the battle system in Kingdom Hearts II, given the new features, and flatter battlefields in the Disney worlds, is a definite step above that in the original game, with hacking away at the Heartless and Nobodies providing plenty of entertainment, alongside the strategic boss fights. The only real hiccups are the potential cheapness of certain bosses, especially on higher difficulties, the general uselessness of Sora’s block, given the requirement of near perfect timing, and that the target-switching system is a slight step down from that in the first game.

   Interaction is just as solid, given easy menus and controls, alongside a general good direction on how to advance the main storyline. Unlocking paths between worlds requires the player to go through Gummi Ship sequences like in the first game, though this mini-game is mercifully more optional than it was in the first game. It is somewhat annoying to see a “New” icon flashing whenever you enter the menus, and pausing (unavailable during normal exploration, not to mention the ending and FMVs), doesn’t stop the game clock, but otherwise, this area doesn’t leave too much room for improvement.

I desire...popcorn necklaces! "I desire...macaroni pictures!"

   Kingdom Hearts II retains the general feel of the original game, given the combination of Square-Enix and Disney characters and worlds, not to mention the menu-based / real-time gameplay, although new features such as the Drive forms and Reaction Commands help it feel sufficiently fresh.

   The story is sure to satisfy fans of the overall Kingdom Hearts mythos, although those who think the original installment had one of the greatest stories ever told certainly won’t appreciate the major retcon of the first game’s events, and as with before, the plot often takes itself far too seriously. One would think games such as the Kingdom Hearts series, given the crossovers and cartoon characters, would at least in some way be lighthearted or have something resembling humor, but the sequel, like its predecessors, doesn’t even try, feeling far too kiddy, given the further absence of Parental Bonuses.

   The story also doesn’t very well stand on its own, given the references to Chain of Memories and the return of Organization XIII from the interquel, with its members, except perhaps two, being about as complex as Snidely Whiplash. Many villains thought dead also make their return, with the appearances by many Square-Enix and Disney characters being nothing more than pointless cameos, as well. That many worlds, as in the first game, tend to rehash events from Disney movies also makes the plot feel horribly unnatural and disjointed, and ultimately, it’s difficult to argue that the story has artistic merit.

   The localization is adequate, in spite of some occasional mismatched lips during voiced scenes, and some corny dialogue such as “All our (blank audio) have been stolen!” in the asinine prologue, not to mention plenty of endless whining about hearts and darkness throughout the game, making the story feel like a clichéd battle between light and dark, or good and evil. Some parts, mainly in Port Royal, also saw censorship in the English release, utterly inexcusable in today’s games. Overall, the localization is functional, but definitely not a reason to purchase the game.

Auron and Sora "Gimme back my shades, punk!"

   Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack is full of nice tracks, some being a tad catchy like the Space Paranoids and Timeless river themes, with the fact that different worlds have their own unique battle themes resolving the typical JRPG problem of repetitive battle music. The voice acting is also adequate, in spite of cartoon characters sounding horribly out of place in a game devoid of comedy, and the battle voices occasionally drowning out the music. The sequel also brings back the signature intelligence-insulting Kingdom Hearts Critical Annoyance, but otherwise, the game is largely easy on the ears.

   The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, and have aged decently, looking sharp even on an HD TV (despite the lack of widescreen capability), largely being an enhanced version of those in the original game. Some of the art direction in certain worlds, such as the technological Space Paranoids and the black-and-white Timeless River, is also simply gorgeous, with the visuals in Port Royal, furthermore, being some of the most realistic on the PlayStation 2. There are some minor blemishes such as jaggies, but otherwise, the sequel is an absolute visual treat.

   Finally, players can expect to spend somewhere from twenty to forty hours finishing the game, with quests such as completing Jiminy Cricket’s journal and obtaining 100% completion on all Gummi Ship routes potentially padding playing time. Overall, Kingdom Hearts II is more or less what an RPG sequel should be, improving upon the original in just about every aspect, aside from its infantile storytelling. It’s definitely a great title for younger RPGamers, although older fans of the genre likely won’t appreciate the general kiddy feel of the game.

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