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Developer:
Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS2
Release Date: March 28, 2006

by Tony Ames




Perhaps the biggest thing to hit RPGs in the past generation, Kingdom Hearts II was more anticipated than almost any game in recent memory. Stratospheric sales were practically guaranteed, but the question remained; would the lightning born from the fusion of Square and Disney strike twice? Was it all a fluke, or is Kingdom Hearts here to stay?


Nothing really changed on the visual front. While the main cast got some new outfits in the off-season to better fit the year's worth of aging they've done, the graphics themselves are pretty much more of the same. The biggest difference lies in the stages, which are all larger, busier, and far more camera-friendly. Considering that was easily the biggest complaint with the first game, things are certainly looking good so far.


Kingdom Hearts sounded pretty good too, although here the sequel is a bit of a letdown. Yoko Shimomura returns to do the score, but the themes just don't have the same spark now. Still, the voice work is, if anything, an improvement from the already exemplary work of Kingdom Hearts, a feat in itself.


The biggest changes all lie in playing the game. While the multitude of worlds Sora and co. visit are larger and more vibrant than before, they're also considerably closer to the ground. Yes, while Sora can still run and jump all over to heart's content, the game no longer requires the same acrobatic feats of old. A bit of a bust for those that liked a little mild platforming, but a huge boon for everyone who got the camera stuck on the tree behind them one too many times.


The changes hardly stop there. The pace of battle has quickened considerably, with Sora able to string blows like never before against masses of enemies. But more interesting are the new means of teaming with your allies. Limit abilities give you a variety of ways to punish the enemy unopposed at the low, low cost of eating all your MP, while Drive lets you fuse with them to open up a host of new abilities for our hero. Last, but far from least, are Reaction Commands, special attacks used to counter specific enemies throughout the game. In fact, a great many bosses can only be defeated through repeated use of Reaction, which, in a way, takes some of the fun out of the battles by making them too gimmicky.


Finally, I'm sure everyone wants to know about the Gummi Ship. I'm sorry to say that, yes, the Gummi Ship is back. However, it has been much improved. Gummi levels are now a great deal faster, a little bit shorter, and, in general, only have to be done once. For that matter, they're now a bit more interesting than enemies ponderously moving towards you. In fact, some people may actually enjoy the new take on Gummi, but even if not, it should certainly be a lot less intrusive than before if you want to ignore it and get on with the game.


When last we left our heroes, they were recovering their memories in Castle Oblivion, eager to get back to searching for the missing Riku. So, naturally, we start this new adventure... in a city called Twilight Town, controlling a blonde fellow who apparently has the same trouble getting shoes in his size as Sora? Yes, Kingdom Hearts II opens with quite the curve ball, and simultaneously creates what may be the longest prologue in history. Of course, the implications of Roxas' little story are not clear until well into the game, and for the most part the story proceeds as before, each Disney-inspired world having an almost self-contained adventure. Until around halfway through when nearly every world gets a visit from Organization XIII, the primary villains, and you get to solve all the multiverses' problems again, anyway. To sum all that up, while Kingdom Hearts II is clearly in the same spirit as its predecessor, the bar has definitely been raised here.


All told, Kingdom Hearts II is a very large game in every respect. A long narrative, huge worlds, more secrets than you can shake a giant evil-slaying key at, more characters, more moves, bigger explosions, enormous hordes of Heartless, it's all here. If you had the slightest affection for Kingdom Hearts, you should already have played this game, and even if not, it's easily worth a look.


Final Grade: 95%




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