Review by tasuki210

Reviewed: 04/04/06

Disney + Squaresoft (for a second time) = Miraculous!

The Way I See It…

A personal anecdote to start: too often do I express how much I am in love with Kingdom Hearts to my friends and maybe even to random people, and many times, I'll get something along the lines of "Disney and Final Fantasy? Sounds like the stupidest concept ever. I’ll never play Kingdom Hearts even if my life depended on it!" Well, it's obvious that they didn't play it or they don't appreciate Disney or Squaresoft (now Square Enix, but with regards to nostalgia, I'll refer to it as Squaresoft) enough to enjoy it or for the game to be attractive to them. Personally, Disney and Final Fantasy are two of my favorite franchises ever, and the two of them merging into an ongoing video game series (a very GOOD series, at that) is pretty much heavenly for me, and I can die happy simply because this game came out during my lifetime (okay...maybe that's an exaggeration).

The first Kingdom Hearts surprised many, no doubt, because the idea of Disney and Square together may have seemed a bit awkward and even laughable, but the game turned out to be a huge success, with plenty of action in battles (keeping a classic RPG feel to it in the meantime) and an engrossing plot that combined the masterful storytelling of Squaresoft with the magic of Disney that everyone has come to enjoy at some point in their life (seriously, no one has NEVER liked Disney). But, the game did come with its deal of flaws and some tricky gameplay mechanics (Exhibit A: The infamous KH Camera), and the game was criticized as being much too button-mashy. Still, it was an excellent game and an instant classic, immediately establishing its wide fanbase that eagerly awaited an upcoming sequel, and unfortunately, Chain of Memories (the GBA interim game that was released in the meantime) did little to satisfy fans and keep them at bay for the next one…

And after a long, long wait, Kingdom Hearts II is finally in America. The game pretty much picks up right where the first Kingdom Hearts (and Chain of Memories) left off, and doesn’t really care to fill newcomers to the series in on what’s going on plot-wise. So, to answer the question of whether or not you should play KHII if you haven’t played the first one: don’t play it, or you’ll be way too confused. But, if you like Disney as much as I do and you enjoy Squaresoft characters enough, then by all means, play your little hearts away (no pun intended!), but people who have experienced the first one will get more out of the story and appreciate the gameplay more than a first-timer.

First Things First…

Many times I’ll ask my friends (in a rather repulsive tone) why they didn’t like the first Kingdom Hearts, and one of their answers might be “Because there’s that super-long intro on that island and it’s super-boring.” Well, if the introductory level in the first game turned you off, then don’t expect the intro in KHII to be any better. Apparently, Tetsuya Nomura (the creator of the series) was insistent on having the players go through a gruesome 4-hour long introductory stage in KHII that isn’t very exciting, and there’s no Disney at all (I know!). I enjoy boring things, but the intro was just brutal, although necessary. You see, the intro sets you up for the rest of the story, and because the plot for KHII is extremely elaborate and quite confusing at times, paying attention to the intro is very much essential to understanding the plot (which, for Squaresoft games, is one of the most important aspects of the games, collectively). I’m not going to go into the dirty details of the intro in terms of what happens, because I’m sure you’ll easily find it in another review.

Mix It Up!

From then on, you’ll play as Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy Goof, world-hopping in their little gummi ship while kicking Heartless ass. Sounds a lot like the first one, right? Well, truthfully, how your quest is outlined and structured is almost exactly the same as it was in the first: Sora is traveling from world to world in hopes of finding his friend Riku, while Donald and Goofy travel alongside him to search for the king (Mickey Mouse). Even so, there’s plenty of variation between the world that you’ll encounter in KHII, whether it be the expansive landscapes of China in The Land of Dragons (Mulan world) or the classic and nostalgic feel of the Timeless River from Steamboat Willie (and various other early Mickey Mouse shorts), Square did an excellent job making the worlds interesting to play in, and it’s a pretty overlooked improvement of the sequel: each stage and world is fun to complete in its own way.

Battle system? Think of the original Kingdom Hearts’s battle system that is revamped with an oddly-remodeled Magic system, reaction commands, the new Drive Meter (explained later on), and inter-party Limit Breaks (they’re useful sometimes, but overall they’re pretty pointless). The battling is very much the same as it was in the first one, with a few tweaks to make things more interesting but not really practical for use. And even with all these new features, the battling is still very button-mashy as it was in the first game, even with using Reaction Commands with the triangle button, which don’t pop up as much as you want them to, anyway.

Gummi Bears, Gummi Worms, Gummi Ships?!

Want to know about how gummi ship levels are this time around? Simply put, they’re fine. Not bad, not good, nothing special, really. Still, it’s a notable improvement from the last game, and each gummi level features beautifully designed surroundings (when you get this, be SURE to go through the Splash Island course, the route that leads to Atlantica. Simply beautiful). Other than that, there’s really not much to say about the gummi ship, except that it’s less of an annoyance and more of just a side-game sort of thing.

Easy As Pie…Right?

Finally, there’s one tragic flaw in this still-beautiful game that must be pointed out: the difficulty level. On pretty much any difficulty level you choose at the outset of the game, it will be painfully easy around the first 30 hours you play; button-mashing your way through Heartless and Nobodies, surprised by how easy almost every single boss fight is in the beginning of the game. But then, all of a sudden, when you’re making second visits to each world, the difficulty level skyrockets and suddenly you’re confronted with crazy-hard bosses that show no mercy in kicking your ass. Especially when the Cure spell becomes a necessity in almost all boss battles as the game gets progressively harder, for some reason, the game developers decided to have a single Cure spell take up all of your MP, and having your MP gauge reload for a good minute or so. This makes healing very hard and dependent on your limited amounts of Hi-Potions and Elixirs for those super-hard boss fights in the end (can you say SEPHIROTH?!). So, it is the extremely uneven balance of difficulty throughout the entire course of the game that caught me off guard and will probably do the same to many other gamers. This is worse than the first Kingdom Hearts, where it had a steady difficulty spread throughout the entire game.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts II was worth the wait and it’s worth playing. Far from perfect, it still delivers that Disney magic and the Squaresoft-inspired stories that make your head spin, that collectively makes a hugely enjoyable game. I’d recommend it to Disney fans, Square fans, and RPG fans in general, but not to all types of gamers. There’s no doubt that this will remain a classic, keeping the bond between Square and Disney intact for years to come.

Final tally:
Gameplay: 8/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound/Music: 9/10
Play Time: 10/10 (Around 50 hours, not counting Side Quests. Every minute of it is FUN)

OVERALL: 9/10


Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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