Kingdom Hearts II - PS2 Review
Back in 2002 Square-Enix released a game that was expected to do moderately well, but ended up exceeding all expectations - including our own. That title was Kingdom Hearts, a title which blended the characters from Square's Final Fantasy and some of the most recognisable characters and locations from Disney's long running movie history. Kingdom Hearts has gone on to sell some 2.6 million copies in North America alone, and is still rising. Four years on and a sequel has just been released promising much more of everything. Have Square-Enix managed to expand on the already brilliant original? Read on to find out...
|Our game is in English!|
Taking place after the events of the first PS2 title, and the Gameboy Advance title, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II follows Sora, Donald, and Goofy on their continuing quest. Sora is looking for his lost friend Riku, while Donald and Goofy are searching for their missing king, King Mickey. The story begins in Twilight Town, a quiet burg nestled between night and day. Sora and friends are joined by a vibrant new cast of characters, including the king himself. We must point out that while it is helpful to have played the original game it's not essential as Square-Enix provide some flashbacks to the key plot points.
As with the original game Kingdom Hearts II can be described as a simplified RPG (Role Playing Game). Obviously with a younger target audience then most other RPG's, Square-Enix have taken the mindset that the gameplay has to be a bit more simplistic then some of the more hardcore RPG's. That's not saying this is a bad game, it's far from it, but just don't go in expecting something with detailed stats, combos or magic as seen in the companies Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles.
|Ohhh, nice doggies...|
Combat has been overhauled somewhat for this sequel. Not only do gamers have the ability to perform normal attacks on enemies with the X button but also have a range of special attacks and can now perform cooperative attacks with other members in your party. It's possible to transform Sora into various forms by using a Drive command. These forms include the Brave form where Sora can absorb the powers of Goofy giving him two keyblades, a Wisdom Form where he absorbs the power of Donald to increase magic skills and a Master Form in which he absorbs the power of both Donald and Goofy. At times you will have to press the triangle button to avoid enemies. The developers have definitely improved the cameras in this game. It's no longer locked to the L2 and R2 buttons as in the original game, but is now controlled through the much more user friendly right analogue stick.
The range of locations you will travel to in Kingdom Hearts II is very impressive. These include all-new locations from movies such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Steamboat Willie and Tron. The developers have also included locations from the original title including Aladdin, Disney Castle, Hercules, The Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Each is superbly recreated and is instantly recognisable by the landmarks and enemies you'll encounter.
|Obviously we'll have English text!|
One of the great features in this game is the journal which Jiminy Cricket keeps of your progress including the major plot points, the enemies you've defeated, treasures you've discovered and other mission information. It's a very welcome improvement over the original titles efforts in this area.
After playing through the game my main disappointment is that Square-Enix have kept the combat very simplified compared to other games from the company. While I understand this title is aimed at a younger audience then their premium RPG's, I would have liked to see just a little bit more complexity in this title. We've surely seen that the Kingdom Hearts series has captured just as many older fans then young ones.
We were also quite disappointed with the fact that almost all the enemies can easily be defeated by simply mashing the X (attack) button repeatedly - with little need to perform special moves or use magic. Surely the company could have 'forced' gamers into using more special moves or magic during the quest. I also found Kingdom Hearts II to be quite linear. It doesn't offer a massive number of "side quests" which many RPG's currently include and Square-Enix could have easily extended the games lifespan by adding some more "diversionary" mini-games or sub quests. Still, the twenty to thirty hour game time isn't too shabby. I must point out that despite these negative comments this is still one of the most enjoyable games on the market today, and I'm really picking on some of the smaller problems.
|Yet more stunning effects.|
Visually this game is a triumph - both artistically and technically. Square-Enix open the game with a stunning pre-rendered video before moving to the in-game graphics and while no where near as detailed, are every bit as impressive artistically. The way in which each of the different game worlds captures the look and feel of their movie counterparts is stunning with highlights for us including the areas from Port Royal to Halloween Town. The visual effects are also quite impressive while the animation on the characters is very solid indeed.
Yet again the audio in the game is absolutely stunning. The music is perfectly suited to the gameplay, changing temp as the need arises. The sound effects are also very well done with a wide range in sounds, and very high in quality. Where this game shines though is with the speech. Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) has voiced the main character Sora while David Gallagher (7th Heaven) has voiced Riku, and Hayden Panettiere (Raising Helen) has done Kairi. Other voiceovers from the Final Fantasy VII universe have been provided by actors such as Jesse McCartney as Roxas, Brittany Snow as Namine, Christopher Lee as DiZ, Steve Burton as Cloud, Rachael Leigh Cook as Tifa and Mena Suvari as Aerith. From the Final Fantasy X-2 universe Hedy Buress, Tara Strong, and Gwendoline Yeo have voiced the female-trio Yuna, Rikku, and Paine. Other Disney characters have been voiced by their original voice actors including Ming-Na as Mulan, Sean Austin as Hercules, James Woods as Hades, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, and Zach Braff as Chicken Little. Not only is the voice acting well performed but the actual lines of dialogue have been wonderfully scripted. Unfortunately it's clear too that many lines have been taken straight from the movies - and at times it seems a little out of place in this game.
|Mulan and Goofy with Sora.|
With over a million sales in America within four weeks of going on sale Square-Enix have another hit on their hands with Kingdom Hearts II. Fortunately, despite the dumbing down of the RPG side even more, the quality of this title means that people that do buy this game will be having a pretty good time. We suggest you also join those people that bought this game.
Review By: Dave Warner
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|GRAPHICS||Locations and characters looks superb. Typical Square-Enix quality.||90%|
|SOUND||Some great music and effects, but it's the voices that really impress.||90%|
|GAMEPLAY||Despite the simplistic combat this is a thoroughly enjoyable game.||81%|
|VALUE||A lengthy game, top production values, and constant entertainment. ||80%|
|OVERALL||Kingdom Hearts II is a fantastic follow up to the sequel. It helps if you've played the first, but not essential. I would have liked to see Square-Enix push this game further, in some areas they have simplified the game a bit much. A game well worth adding to the collection.||85%|