Years in the making and with only a Game Boy Advance title to tide fans over Kingdom Hearts II held a constant position as one of the most anticipated games in Japan’s want list. Now the wait is over, the game is out and you can continue Sora’s story as he fights the heartless and visits classic Disney worlds. Before we continue talking anymore about Kingdom Hearts II be warned that there are spoilers about the KHII, Chain of Memories and such below.
The story begins right after the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Sora is waiting in a cocoon for his memories to return along with his trusty companions, wizard Donald Duck and knight Goofy. While he’s in suspension we learn that there is a new enemy besides the Heartless, the Nobodies. Organization XIII seems to have a lot of information about this new threat. When Sora awakes from his long nap he remembers his friends from Destiny Island, Kairi and Riku. However, he can’t just stop to search for his buddies. Sora needs to track down the source of the Nobodys, eliminate the return of the Heartless from each Disney world and all of this will lead him back to XIII.
Kingdom Hearts II sticks to the theme “you never know who you’re going to run in next”. The game brings in more Disney characters and even more Final Fantasy characters than the last game. Early on you’ll see Vivi, Seifer, Raijin and Fujin in Twilight Town. Setzer makes a cameo as champion of the struggle battle. Tifa, Cloud, Yuffie and Cid from Final Fantasy VII hang out in Hollow Bastion. Then there are host of new Disney world to explore, like the Land of Dragons (Mulan), Port Royal (Pirates of the Caribbean), Pride Rock (Lion King) and Space Paranoids (Tron).
You’ll spend about an hour in each world. This is just enough time for Sora to meet Captain Jack Sparrow, help save Elizabeth and battle Barbosa. Or if you’re playing around in the Timeless River that hour is going to be spent entering different classic black and white cartoons. In one you’ll battle the Heartless as a giant Sora, in another you’ll try to save a burning building. Timeless River even plays a homage to the classic Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie in a boss battle against Pete, who tries to escape Sora on a steamboat. In Pride Rock Sora becomes a lion and fights against Scar. Then in Space Paranoid’s you’ll battle inside someone key figure’s computer with the help of Tron. Just like the first game, Kingdom Hearts II sticks to the source material rather well. Most importantly it captures the spirit of each of the movies, even though odd details are left out like the crew in Pirates of the Caribbean.
There are a bunch of returning levels from the first game like Halloween Town (Nightmare Before Christmas), Agrabah (Aladdin), Olympus Coliseum (Hercules) and Atlantica (The Little Mermaid). Thankfully, each of these levels have new areas to explore and new goals for Sora. In the Nightmare Before Christmas level you’ll help Jack Skellington search for Sora. Agrabah is in a pickle because Jafar’s lamp has surfaced, so Sora and company have to recover it. Instead of spending your time in the Coliseum you’ll be battling in the underworld, where Hades lives. Atlantica takes a different approach all together and you’ll play a rhythm mini game instead of fighting. Speaking of mini games Kingdom Hearts II is packed with them. You can go out hunting for pages to the Winnie the Pooh book to play mini games with Pooh. In one of the first games you’ll fly with a balloon as you try to catch up to Piglet who got caught in an updraft. Then there’s a skateboard mini game you can play if you talk to Uncle Scrooge in Hollow Bastion. Sora can grind over stairs, do 360’s and combo these tricks for points. The Gummi Ship game also returns, but it is vastly improved from KH1. You can still customize and build your own Gummi Ship or fly with a number of competent ships right away. The game is still an on rails shooter, but it is more action packed. Waves of ships will fly at you and in some levels you even have mini boss battles like when Sora fights a space pirate ship. To master the Gummi Ship game you need to lock on to enemies to and launch a bunch of shots at once. Each extra enemy you shoot down leads to more points, which leads to more treasures. There are a bunch of Gummi Ship levels to conquer and best of all they’re not a nuisance this time, they’re actually a lot of fun.
Let’s not let the mini game goodness overshadow the core action RPG gameplay. Sora has some new tricks up his sleeve from Kingdom Hearts 1. You can still hack and slash with your keyblade by pressing circle and jump by pressing X. New to the system are reaction commands. At certain points in the game a command will flash over the command window in green and a glowing triangle will appear. If you press triangle right on time you’ll do a new move. Reaction commands add a new dynamic to boss battles, which make them much more exciting. In the battle with the Hydra in Hercules world, Pegasus flies around the battlefield. If you time your triangle press you’ll jump aboard the winged horse and be able to directly assault each hydra head with your keyblade. In Beast’s Castle the boss will throw Sora towards a column in the ballroom. Press triangle and you’ll avoid a hit, jump forward and do a superman style hit towards the Heartless. Reaction commands are critical in regular battles too. When fighting the large rotund Heartless you can finish off a combo with a reaction command to send the Heartless flying forward and stun it for a few seconds.
Magic has also been adjusted in Kingdom Hearts II. Some spells were changed around like fire, which was a linear attack and now causes a circle of flames to surround Sora, making for a great crowd control attack. New spells like Reflect were added, which if timed correctly can save Sora from a hit. Cure has been adjusted to heal a wide area, but take all of Sora’s remaining MP to use. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 1 where you would be forced to use an ether or collect bubbles to restore Sora’s MP, magic power refills automatically when it’s empty. After about thirty seconds your magic meter will be back to 100%. This is a good thing since you’ll need to spend your magic meter to use link up attacks. Link up attacks bring in one or both of your teammates for a combo attack. When Sora teams up with Donald he can use the “Comet” link up. For a few seconds you’ll be able to directly control Donald’s spell casting with triangle while attacking with Sora. Donald finishes up the link up with a blast of fireworks. Sora can also team up Auron where both of them will slash with their weapons and finish with a tornado. Or team up with Tron, where Tron will control a computer and fire projectiles. Link up attacks not only look really cool, but they’re constantly useful.
Sora can also get help from his party members with the Drive system. By using your drive meter you can transform Sora and another member of you’re party to super charge Sora with new abilities. When you merge with Goofy Sora becomes a dual wielding keyblade combo machine. Best suited for full frontal assaults, the Brave form is great for boss battles. Wisdom form is when Donald and Sora merge together. This gives Sora a ranged shot from his keyblade and the glide skill. Each drive form has its own level so you’ll want to use your drive meter as much as possible to level up each form. The drive meter also serves another purpose, summons. You can still summon Disney favorites like Stitch, who will blast enemies with his laser gun and the recent star, Chicken Little who runs around on screen. However, since a summon drains your drive meter and remove both of your partners you’ll probably opt to switch Sora’s form rather than use summons.
It goes without saying that Kingdom Hearts II has great graphics and fluid animation. In Twilight Town you have a far draw point with tons of buildings and a constant glowing horizon, which looks great. Halloweentown looks straight out of the Nightmare Before Christmas. Then when you step into Tron or Pirates you move into more realistic graphics. The model for Jack Sparrow is amazing and so is the model from Tron. All of the Square-Enix characters look more grown up too. Seifer is a teenager instead of a kid and Squall.. wait Leon.. doesn’t have his super deformed look from Kingdom Hearts 1. Kingdom Hearts II also manages to create more action packed scenes with the help of the reaction commands. There are plenty of times that you’ll watch the jaw dropping moves that Sora does. The only complaint about the whole deal is the camera. Kingdom Hearts II uses the same broken camera in Kingdom Hearts 1, which spins around way too much and needs to be aligned constantly. Even with lock on targeting the camera finds itself stuck behind walls or completely out of focus when there are multiple targets.
Music wise Kingdom Hearts II sounds great. It uses some of the same score from the first game in returning levels like Hollow Basition. For the movie levels like Port Royal, they use import songs out of the movie. When fighting in Port Royal you’ll listen to the battle theme directly from the movie. Kingdom Hearts II flawlessly blends the music in between battle scenes and the level themes. Props to the voice acting cast, which all sound great. Sora is voiced by Miyu Irino, who did Sora’s voice in KH1 and is Haku in the Japanese track of Spirited Away. The entire cast from Final Fantasy VII Advent Children makes a cameo. Each of the FFVII characters not only appear in their Advent Children garb, but they have the same voice actor from the CGI movie. If that doesn’t sell you on the cast, just listen to Donald Duck in Japanese. He still has that raspy, barley understandable accent, in Japanese.
Kingdom Hearts II is an all around excellent game. It looks phenomenal and plays even better. What started out as a crazy fan based experiment for Square-Enix has panned out to one of the most entertaining titles of the year.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 4
If you can read kana you can play Kingdom Hearts II. Most of the menus and key details are in kana. Although the game’s dialogue and story are in Japanese with no furigana, so you’ll be missing out on all of that. If you really have to play Kingdom Hearts II and cannot understand Japanese it’s still possible to enjoy it since the action sequences are straightforward.
Kingdom Hearts II is scheduled for a 2006 release in the US.
+ Pros: Kingdom Hearts II expands on the first game in almost everyway: a deeper story with plenty of good surprises, excellent combat sequences with the new reaction commands and an even wider selection of worlds that fans of Disney and Square-Enix will love.
– Cons: Some of the excellent action sequences are spoiled by the same wonky camera in the first Kingdom Hearts.
Overall: Three years was worth the wait, Kingdom Hearts II is one of the best games in the Playstation 2 library.
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