Review by PyramidHead87
"Heartless May Cry 2: Sora's Awakening"
When the original Kingdom Hearts came around in 2002, it was, of course, a huge success. Combining the two superpowers at Disney and Squaresoft (now Square-Enix), the developers created a game that was both liked and hated by gamers alike. It would only be 3 or 4 years later when we finally hear from the sequel. Being the optimist that I am, I decided to look at the game anyway despite the warnings about its unpleasant shortcomings. Though there was certainly some potential wasted, I still enjoyed it in a sense. However...
In this department, the game looks only marginally better than its predecessor. Yet, you would come to expect that from a game in which cartoon characters roam the streets. The real eye candy lies with the fluid animations and over-the-top particle effects, something Square-Enix has become quite good at lately. However, something did quite stand out...once you get to the Pirates of the Caribbean world, it will be kind of strange seeing these ultra-colorful cartoon characters standing against the freakishly-realistic Pirates. Though it's a small issue, it is one to point out. Other than those, the graphics are no better or worse than I expected.
Much like the other games of this time, the game utilizes Dolby Pro Logic II. This basically means you'd better expect fantastic sound design. I found the soundtrack to be bearable, but not quite as memorable as the first game's soundtrack. Some of the music is drab and desolate, as others have been recycled from the first game with minor differences.
The voice acting, however, is where the game really tells it's business--expect a star-studded roster of voice talent being provided for the game. Almost every voice actor in the game has come from somewhere in the acting field. Of course, we all know Haley Joel "I See Dead People" Osment. He's back once more to provide a serviceable performance for the hero of the story, Sora. He did, however, hit puberty after KH1, so his voice will definitely be deeper and mature-sounding this time around. Thankfully, Square-Enix actually worked that into the game a little, not just throwing Haley Joel into a booth for his next round and leaving everyone to wonder why Sora suddenly sounds really old. Most of the Disney characters also get their respective voice talent, but the voice talent from the Final Fantasy characters leaves much to be desired. Some of them sound like they're trying too hard to be tough. Others sound like they're not trying hard enough. You will know these moments when you come across them, though. At least they switched out Sephiroth's voice with someone who actually makes sense this time around.
By now, everyone knows you play the first three hours of the game as a different character named Roxas (though, this amount of time is significantly cut in half if you skip all the cutscenes). With him, you spend about five or six (forgot which one, but it's not like it matters) in-game days doing stuff around the town in order to use up as much time as you can with your summer. Though this is quite new, it does little for the actual plot of the game. Sure, you're introduced to the Nobodies and Organization XIII, but this part of the game moves rather slowly for a tutorial. This part basically contains flashbacks to the last game, perhaps to bring you up to speed on the things that have happened thus far.
Once this part is over, you realize that Sora, Donald, and Goofy were in some cryogenic sleeping chamber since the events of last time (no, I'm serious). Afterwards, it's time to go find Riku and Kairi again. Though Kairi has absolutely no memory of you (for some reason), Sora sets out to find the friends anyway. So, he goes to Twilight Town (where the game began in the first place), and gets his first exposure to the new problem surrounding this universe, as I like to call it. And, what do we have here ? The Heartless are back! As usual, Sora and company has to battle them while at the same time saving the world from an even bigger threat. I won't give TOO much away from that point on, but you can expect many of the things that worked in the original game.
As before, the game presents to you a bevy of different worlds to travel to. But, here's the problem: some worlds feel COMPLETELY useless in this game. Heck, you can beat the game without even going to all of them. The new, interesting worlds include Tron, Steamboat Willie, the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mulan. Others have been recycled from the old game, just re-tooled, such as Little Mermaid (you don't fight in this world--you just do some musical simulator or something), Hercules, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Aladdin (note that these are the names of where the areas come from, not the names the game gives them). The Disney Castle has also been added as a new one, but it isn't quite new since it already appeared in the first game as an unplayable area. Don't get too excited, though the Disney Castle is only about six rooms big, only bearing the Gummi launch pad, courtyard, a hallway, the library, the throne room, and the Cornerstone chamber.
And that's one thing that's wrong with the game some worlds are just way too small. Steamboat Willie may have more rooms than the Disney Castle, but for one of the most interesting worlds, it only takes a little while to complete it. Another thing that's wrong with the game is that you do almost no exploration in these worlds. Most of the worlds consist of beating up Heartless and Nobodies and moving on to another area. That's why the game feels more like a beat-em-up with RPG elements thrown in. For every time you try to explore other areas of the worlds, the game won't let you until you've advanced the story far enough in that particular world. There is backtracking involved, definitely, but most of the time, you're just being forced along a path just to unravel the story.
One HUGE problem this game suffers from is the difficulty. 85% of it is LAUGHABLY easy, whereas the optional Sephiroth battle and the final boss are the only truly challenging components. What makes this game so easy? Well, since Sora is supposed to be a super-spaz now, he has to have the biggest upgrades in the combat department, meaning he is the Jet Li of the Keyblade. You can pull off even the most complicated chain of combos simply by pressing the X button. Get this I beat a Boss only by pressing X the whole time. So, the whole way through, I was fighting the Boss with one hand, and eating a cheeseburger with the other hand. Some Bosses, Heartless, and Nobodies do require strategy for each individual, but it won't matter since smashing the X button easily makes short work of them. You can choose different difficulty settings, though, as anything above Beginner is slightly more challenging. I emphasize "slightly," as the only time you'll notice that you're playing even on the intermediate difficulty is in the beginning of the game when you haven't acquired your best powers yet.
What the game does in attempts to mix up gameplay is its addition of the Reaction Commands. These actions are executed by pressing Triangle when the signal appears onscreen (as a huge Triangle button, of course). This is used for everything from talking to characters, to tactically taking down Bosses that actually need it. You're supposed to press Triangle at the right time to unleash the action associated with it. However, this can easily be cheated by simply mashing Triangle once you realize the signal is coming. This made the boss battle with Roxas (as you're controlling him) ridiculously easy since you couldn't miss a Reaction Command easily. Since there is no penalty for pressing Triangle too early, this allows for the Reaction Command system to be cheated easily. So, the Reaction Command system is a neat idea it's just that Square-Enix didn't include a penalty with it. A penalty would have made the Reaction Command system a whole lot more sensible, like disabling your ability to use it if pressed one too many times before the Command actually appears.
One weird thing I want to point out is that there are item chests everywhere. Lots and LOTS of item chests. In the original KH (or in any of Square-Enix's past RPGs), item chests are usually scattered all over with little instances of appearing, with some allowing you to walk up to it and open it, while others require some reaching work. In KH, you had to find some chests by obtaining certain abilities to get to them. Here, every item chest is lying around, immediately ready for opening. Almost every room has item chests, and all you have to do is walk up to it and open it. You get most of your items this way. You can buy a lot of these items from item shops (which now appear in every world instead of just one), but you probably won't need the Moogle shops for anything else other than item synthesis. Some chests also contain maps, further insulting your intelligence when exploring areas. Only huge areas where everything looks like a door or an entrance require a map. When you get a map for a small area with only four doors in the whole room, THEN it becomes insulting. Oftentimes, you won't get a map until the very end of a certain area, but then when you make no plans to revisit the same area, the idea becomes pointless.
Another new aspect the game adds to the combat engine is the Drive ability. The Drives allow Sora to take one of several forms that give him even MORE ease when it comes to battles, especially when he can dual-wield Keyblades. However, you won't find very many needs to use the Drives, since the game is still pretty easy regardless.
The game also included Limit attacks for the characters. Depending on who's in your party, you can unleash Limit attacks that conjoin Sora and the other character together to unleash a series of attacks that are unfortunately aren't really effective unless you're up against low-level enemies. There won't be too much need to use this either, but from time to time, you may go on and just do it anyway. However, I did still find the Summons useless, as in the first game. Not once have I felt like I needed to use a Summon. I did use a few throughout the game just for the sake of using them already, but again, the Summons aren't necessary in any case in the game.
Oh, and let's not forget the Gummi Ship parts; as before, you use the Gummi Ship to travel between two worlds. This time, though, the Gummi Ship segments actually HAVE a challenge aspect to them. In the first game, the Gummi Ship levels had almost no challenge to them. You were only required to ride along a rail and shoot random junk until reaching the world you were going to. Here, the Gummi Ship levels are no pushovers. Enemies can attack you in groups and can attack you with laser shots that you can only avoid by rolling around the screen, though it doesn't always help. You even run into Bosses at certain points in the stages, requiring swift movements while at the same time utilizing whatever weapons you have to defeat it. Most times, you can complete a Gummi Ship stage without defeating the Boss, but in a lot of cases, that may be a good thing. You could be on your last drop of HP before the game decides to make you continue through the level. Oh, and you still fly along a track. It's just more involving this time since enemies actually FIGHT BACK this time.
This game would probably work better as a rental than a buy. There probably wouldn't be much motivation for you to replay the game again after beating it once, but you may want to anyway. Since you can skip cut scenes this time around, you wouldn't necessarily have to worry about suffering through the story again for a second time if you just want to beat up some Heartless. However, the game could have been much cleaner in the combat and overall gameplay department. Maybe then, the game wouldn't trip over itself trying to challenge you while at the same time forcing you along a linear path. 7/10.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/06/06
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