Letâs face it; with Final Fantasy XII refusing to make a local appearance until sometime next year, Kingdom Hearts II is the biggest game of this year. Oh sure, games like Gears of War can try and step up to the plate, but nothing will have people swarming and drooling like Kingdom Hearts II. In fact, the chances are that this review is rather redundant; youâre likely to have already purchased a copy anyway. Indeed, youâre probably reading this after youâve already invested a couple of hours, wondering if your opinion is somewhat validated.
And if you think Kingdom Hearts II is a good game, then weâre in agreement. Oh sure, anyone who is less than 4 hours into it may be quick to write off Kingdom Hearts II. Those that arenât opposed to the unlikely pairing of Square-Enix and Disney will probably be wondering if this is actually a sequel to Kingdom Hearts.
Yes, the style and presentation is similar. Itâs vastly improved in all areas: the graphics are better, some of the best seen on the aging PS2; the camera is now mapped to the right analogue stick like it should be; and even the menus reflect the theme of each world. Nobody who is familiar with the original game would mistake Kingdom Hearts II for anything other than the successor to the original.
The problem with the first 4 hours is that there is barely a Disney-themed subject in sight. Weâre not just talking about Destiny Island and Traverse Town all over again; Sora, Donald, and Goofy barely get more than a mention. When coupled with the fact that the plot focuses heavily on the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for GBA (despite claiming people wouldnât need to play it), the first few hours become, well, frustrating. And thatâs not even taking into account that players will be forced to repeat a series of mini-games, each of which becomes tedious after the first play.
But Kingdom Hearts II is a 40-hour-plus game, and judging it based on its early chapters would be poor form. And after all, isnât slow, perplexing introductions a staple of the RPG genre? The good news is that after those first 4 or so hours, the plot begins to become clear, the usual suspects turn up, Disney cameos are plentiful, and itâs business as usual. Yes, this is the Kingdom Hearts you know and love.
In fact, itâs better than the Kingdom Hearts you know and love. Square-Enix has spent 4 years crafting this sequel, and it shows. Itâs not simply a matter of graphics and presentation; the gameplay has been significantly improved as well.
As previously mentioned, the camera has been mapped to the right analogue stick, and this improves the game more than any other feature could. Fans of the original will remember how frustrating the original camera could be. It never felt like you were manipulating it; it felt like you were fighting it. This has been fixed in the sequel. While the reversed default axis is undesirable, Square-Enix has fortunately given you the option of âcorrectingâ it.
Ultimately, this means that youâll have a far easier time of being aware of what is going on around you. And thatâs a good thing because you can no longer easily switch between targets you have locked on to. This is probably the only major flaw of Kingdom Hearts II, and fortunately itâs nothing major because of the refined combat. The original Kingdom Hearts was accused of being somewhat of a âbutton masherâ. The combat in the sequel has been improved thanks to a few context-sensitive commands.
The first that you will encounter is the ability to execute a âreversalâ but pushing âtriangleâ at a certain time. This is later taken a step further, as pushing âtriangleâ at the right time will allow Sora to execute a series of impressive manoeuvres. Timing is essential, but the rewards are certainly worthwhile.
Another major addition to the combat is the inclusion of the âDriveâ manoeuvres. Without giving away too much (it has something to do with Soraâs new clothes), executing a âDriveâ will allow Sora to absorb the abilities of his party, while also allowing him to equip a second, special Keyblade. The upshot of this is that Sora becomes a bit of a machine that can perform an array of attacks. The only catch is that the party members involved will disappear from combat.
Lastly, fans will be pleased to hear that jumping is no longer a chore. You are no longer committed to an arc, Ghosts and Goblins style, once youâve jumped. Indeed, you can now choose the strength behind your lunge, and you can alter your course in midair. This means that there are no longer any tedious plummets due to poor camera angles and sloppy jumping mechanics.
And these are only a few of the additions to the gameplay. Playing Kingdom Hearts II is like playing Kingdom Hearts with all the negative aspects removed. There are plenty of times that inspire pleasant thoughts about how they fixed that really, really obnoxious element. Hell, even the Gummi Ship has been improved. Itâs actually fun! So much so that there is enough incentive to go back and try for better scores. Hell hath indeed frozen over.
But letâs face it; while itâs nice that Kingdom Hearts II has great gameplay, thatâs not really the main attraction. The real attraction is a story based on the odd combination of Disney and Square-Enix games. The story is darker and a little more convoluted this time around, and at times it does seem as if Kingdom Hearts II is little more than fan service.
Yet the thrill of running around Disney-themed worlds, meeting up with your favourite Square-Enix and Disney characters is still alive and well. Youâll visit old favourites, and youâll visit new worlds like those based on Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean. As before, each world will have its own unique theme, structure, and characters to include in your party. And thanks to the great soundtrack and some excellent voice acting, including Geoffrey Rush and Christopher Lee, the game really does allow you to sink into each world as if you were immersed in a Disney flick.
And at the end of the day, thatâs why itâs so easy to recommend Kingdom Hearts II. Disney movies are well-loved classics for a reason: their appeal is universal. And unless youâre some kind of puppy-kicking, humbug-spurting Disney-hater, youâre going enjoy this game. The nostalgia factor is off the scale. Given that the story is just as complex as weâve come to expect from Square-Enix, and given that the presentation and gameplay has been vastly improved, Kingdom Hearts II is a joy to play. Itâs not the best game ever; itâs not even the best game released so far this year. It is, however, impossible to play this game without a smile on your face. Young or old, Kingdom Hearts II comes highly recommended. Purchase immediately.