Disney cheesiness all around, but it's one of my favourite ever Playstation 2 games
My relationship with Kingdom Hearts II is a hectic one. I first bought this game from a game store when I was about 11 years old, thinking it would be a turn-based RPG, a la Final Fantasy. When I got home and slapped this baby in my old PS2 I noticed otherwise. And, quite honestly, I was pleasantly surprised. I got so hooked to Kingdom Hearts II that I couldn’t imagine any game library without at least a single Kingdom Hearts game. But then, one terrible day… I lend my Kingdom Hearts II to a friend. And he broke my copy. After beating him up, I looked forever for another copy in the stores, but really without any success. After some time, I thought I was forever apart from my Kingdom Hearts II. I gave up. Until, about a year later, I saw another copy of this game on the shelves! I couldn’t believe my own luck, and of course, instantly bought it with my savings. Now, I still play one of my childhood favourite PS2 games out there. Now that Kingdom Hearts III is coming up, I felt like I had to write a review about one of the series’ best.
Kingdom Hearts II has some wonderful candy for your eyes to nibble on. The world around you is drop-dead gorgeous, with lots of variety in style. You’ll visit the worlds of Disney franchises such as Aladdin, Hercules, The Lion King, even Pirates of the Caribbean, but also a couple of original, neatly designed levels. Like I said, each world you visit has their own unique style and design, making you really feel as if you’re in, let’s say, the Land of Dragons helping Mulan with… well, whatever her problem are. (spoilers!) Furthermore, the characters look great. Every licensed character such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, etc. look 100% true to their original designs (visit Timeless River for a nostalgia boost, btw), and the original characters are very creatively designed.
Aside from some cheesy/bad voice work from the more minor characters, and some repetitive music input here and there, there is a lot to love about Kingdom Hearts II’s sound. This game has a giant soundtrack, with over 70 pieces of music to enjoy. There’s bound to be a couple of tracks you like. The voice work for the Disney characters is top-notch, most Disney characters (with a couple exceptions) have their voices spoken in by their official Disney voice actor, and it was Cloud’s first time at a English-spoken voice. Needless to say, it met my standards. It’s a 1000 times better than any Dragonball Z DUB could’ve been. Again, the sound isn’t perfect, some Disney voices who Disney or Square couldn’t find the original voice actor for have gotten terrible replacements, and the game only seems to have one ‘sad scene’ music track used in every scene where the characters talk about sadness or their own insecurity, but this is quickly overlooked when looking at the overall picture.
As a little kid, there wasn’t a single video game I put more hours in than in Kingdom Hearts II. This game easily goes in my top 5 for most played video games. And, mind you, it’s still pretty darn addictive for me. There’s quite a lot of stuff to do and find in this game (which I will talk about in the Depth paragraph) and the things to do come with great rewards, making most things a joy to complete. Apart from one thing. Square Enix made a major screw-up with the requirements to unlock the secret ending. This is the way it works: When you’re playing on Proud Mode (the hard difficulty), you automatically get to see the secret ending when you defeat the final boss. But when you’re playing on standard/normal difficulty, you need to beat the final boss, when you’ve done everything there is to do in the entire game. Basically, in normal mode, you need to complete the game a 100% to see the secret ending. Why did they do this in normal mode, and not in hard mode? It doesn’t make sense, this makes the normal difficulty look way more daunting than the hard difficulty, seeing as you don’t really need to complete the game in hard mode as in normal mode. The fact that you’re not really ‘encouraged’ to fully beat the game in hard mode, greatly diminishes the addictiveness for me.
This game’s story has more cheese in it than a Dutch cheese farm, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The plot in Kingdom Hearts II does a good enough job of tying things up, leaving a desire for more at the end, and leaving a couple of holes at the start to be filled up by the game’s later prequels like 385/2 Days. The story’s main theme revolves around the power of friendship, and how strong a bond between friends can be. Don’t play this game with a sceptical view on life, and you’ll be charmed by the events. Even though you might be a bit confused at the start of the game, during the whole Roxas in Twilight Town saga (even if you played the first Kingdom Hearts) this will all come clear later in the game. It is during the latter prequels like Birth by Sleep and Coded where the plot become over-complicated.
There is a lot to do in Kingdom Hearts II. There are a lot of mini-games to play, some make for great fun, and they’re all played in a different way which makes for a lot of variety in gameplay. Some worlds even make you play around with a skateboard which is actually great fun. You can perform sick tricks on it! Gnarly! These mini-games all reward you with a certain equippable item or weapon, giving you a reason for completing the challenges. If you completed the mini-game, there’s always an entry in you Journal which challenges you to beat the mini-game again, but in a certain way to get the high score. Bragging rights are always fun. My main problem with this, though, is this: Some weapons you unlock early in the game quickly get cast aside by others you unlock later on. Most weapons have a neat side-effect, but this doesn’t really help. Why would you still use the Kingdom Key, when you have unlocked Fenrir or the Ultima Weapon? I know, it has the Defender ability, which slightly increases your defense a bit when your health is low. But I would still pick the more premium Keyblades. And yeah, the secret ending… Disappointing. The combat is also quite shallow. The biggest chunk of the combat system relies on button mashing until everything around you is dead. There are five Summons, but only two of them are a little bit useful, so they’re not worth the use. Square Enix tried to give combat a little more depth by giving you various forms to play around with, called ‘Drive Forms’. All these forms have different abilities, and could change the way in which a battles plays out, but ultimately, you’ll still find yourself button mashing the ‘X’ button until the end of the battle, even if you change your companions’ battle techniques in the status menu. The Reaction Commands, however, are a nice touch to the combat and help pulling it out of the ‘repetitive’ zone a little bit. There are special battles in which you have to press ‘triangle’ here and there to make Sora and friends perform a special move to do great damage to an enemy. Nice touch.
Except for a couple of semi-difficult boss battles, a borderline-frustrating light cycle part in the Tron world, and a fight against Sephiroth that is qiute a challenge, Kingdom Hearts II’s difficulty is toned down greatly since the first Kingdom Hearts. There weren’t as many shortcuts you could make in the status menu in the original Kingdom Hearts, and as such button mash was often a no-go in tough battles. The first Kingdom Hearts required you to stop and think for a second. In Kingdom Hearts II, however, you can beat anything by simply mashing ‘X’ the whole time, often without a second thought, also thanks to the reaction commands. I remember the Large Bodies being a very daunting enemy in the first Kingdom Hearts because you could only hurt them in the back or with magic, but magic wasn’t that reliable in the first Kingdom Hearts. But magic is a lot stronger in Kingdom Hearts II, and once you manage to knock a Large Body off their feet, you can perform a Reaction Command on it to finish it off instantly. This game has a couple of parts that might make you struggle a little, but all in all, this game could have been more of a challenge.
Even though the Difficulty paragraph and the end of the Depth paragraph might’ve seemed like I was giving this game a lecture about how bad it was, this is not at all true. There’s Disney cheesiness all around, but Kingdom Hearts II might just be one of my favourite Playstation 2 game ever, even after all this time. My Kingdom Hearts fanboyism might’ve worn off a long time ago due to its confusing prequels, but Kingdom Hearts II is a pearl. If you haven’t played it already, go ahead and play it. But be sure to play the first Kingdom Hearts first.
- Visuals are near-perfect
- A lot to come back for
- Reaction commands give some more depth to the otherwise shallow combat
- Most licensed character are spoken in by their official voice actors
- If you can look away from the cheese, it’s all just very charming
- If it weren’t for the cool Reaction Commands, the combat is quite shallow
- Standard difficulty is too much of a cakewalk
- Requirements you have to meet in order to unlock the secret ending are terrible