Kingdom Hearts II

by Diana Poulsen
author awarded score: 90/100

Kingdom Hearts II
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Available on: PS2
Reviewed by: Diana Poulsen

Almost four years ago, Kingdom Hearts surprised gamers with its roller coaster pace, challenging levels, and enjoyable characters and story. It took advantage of our nostalgia for Disney characters and passion for Final Fantasy. For many gamers Kingdom Hearts II is one of the most anticipated games of 2006.

KH II is actually the third in the series; it continues from the story from the GBA title Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories. Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to read any mild spoilers. The GBA interlude introduces Organization XIII, but erases Sora, Goofy and Donald's memories of the events that transpired in KH CM. It also helps explain that a year has passed and that is why Sora, Riku and Kairi's voices have changed, as all the voice actors have gotten older with the passing years. In KH II Sora will have to face Organization XIII, without knowing that he has done it before. He will have to fight both the Heartless and the Nobodies of Organization XIII, and discovers that as long as there is darkness and light there will always be Heartless and Nobodies.

For the first 4-5 hours of KHII you play as Roxas, a boy who dreams Sora's memories and is a Keyblade master like Sora. While it is interesting, it drags on with endless cut scenes and mini games, causing the game to lack the roller coaster pace of the first; however, the overview of the events in the first game is helpful to understand the intricate plot details of the second. Despite that, the slow pace is frustrating. Once becoming Sora, the game rapidly picks up as you are whisked away to new and familiar worlds. A personal favourite, is the Tron world (Twilight Town a close second), as I finally I got experience my childhood dream of light cycle racing, and fighting alongside Tron. However, the colour scheme is a little hard on the eyes. This experience is only one of many that the KH series provides to enrich the child full of wonder in all of us.

A large portion of the cast reprise their roles, and those who do not have talented replacements.

As for female content, there really isn't much to mention excluding Tifa and Mulan. Oddly enough when you first acquire Mulan when she is disguise as Ping (a boy she is incredibly weak. When she finally becomes herself, she is one tough lady and a great ally setting a good example that you are the strongest when you are yourself.

Game play has been improved upon by adding Limits, Drives and reaction commands. Limits are attacks that are performed with your 'friends' (Goofy, Donald, etc), and require all Sora's magic; but, are impressive and a staple of the Square ENIX series Final Fantasy. Drives are transformations that cause Sora to attack using two keyblades, but require the absence of at least one friend. Reaction commands, popularized by games like God of War and Resident Evil 4 , are used in battle to help out with fighting. Reactions commands could have been used more to spice up some of cut scenes. The new additions make the fighting intricate, visually pleasing, dizzying but satisfying. The Gummi Ship has had a complete overhaul, actually making it fun and not tedious like the first incarnation. It is easier to construct a new ship and more control is given while flying the ship, making the action fast paced, but still pure button mashing.

My complaints are as follows: if you only complete the world quests and a few side missions, the game is pretty short for an RPG at only 30 hours. The Standard (Normal) mode of game play is far too easy; unlike in the original where you need to gain experience or Sora would die frequently. I am playing hard mode and it seems that you simply just have less hit points. Completing Jimny's journal on the other hand is quite difficult, and if you want to unlock the secret ending you have you complete the journal on standard mode. If you want it easier on yourself complete the game on hard mode or simply download the secret ending from the Internet. Also, KHII has a sever problem with painting a situation pure black and white, when it's really not that simple. At times I had a hard time relating or understanding Sora's ease of selecting who was evil and who was not. While I agree that Organization XIII methods were not correct, I sympathised with some of their reasons for doing what they did, and had a difficult time strictly labelling their actions as evil.

Overall if you like the previous additions you will love this one; if you are new to the series you will enjoy running into old childhood friends.