IS 2 BETTER THAN 1?
Kingdom Hearts, what began as a weird experiment between Square and Disney, turned into a multi million dollar game that ultimately, led Nomura to be Square’s leading man, and might have driven the FF series as we knew it to oblivion.
Kingdom Hearts was a commercial success and to a degree critically it was well received by critics, but not well received enough. The game, despite its high budget presentation, needed a lot of gameplay polish before it could challenge the elite in the Japanese action RPG genre, namely the Legend Of Zelda.
Thus Kingdom Hearts 2 arrives some 3-4 years later, Nomura who is considered now probably Square’s MVP, decided to abandon the FF series while he worked on this title, taking with him most of the FF team, needless to say that side shows like FFX-2 saw the light of day thanks to this. But having played KH2, and having watched the movie Advent Children (Both works directed and in a way conceived by Nomura himself) I must say perhaps that Sakaguchi was indeed the brilliant mind behind the first 10 entries in the FF series, Nomura to me is overrated, no one will dispute his brilliance as a character designer, but as a story teller and a director, he is not in the league of his former mentor.
BEGINS WITH A BANG AND ENDS WITH A WIMPER!
First of all KH2 had big expectations to meet, because the KH1 was a decent game, unfortunately KH2 is decidedly the inferior product of the two. You wouldn’t know this from the intro though or even the first 3 hours of gameplay, where the improvements clearly are shown.
The Intro FMV is long and as well done as anything that has ever been done in CG, the game immediately throws you into the shoes of a young man named Roxas (Played by Jessie McCartney) who is enjoying the last days of his summer vacation.
KH1 fans need not worry, the section you play as Roxas, at most only lasts 5 hours, however, it must be said that surprisingly those first five hours are the best 5 hours you will ever have with the game, as the plot slowly self destructs after that.
The Roxas section of the game manages to recapture some of magic that made the last five FF games in the series (VI-X) some of the greatest experiences in any form of entertainment. The first five hours of KH2 actually reached deep within me and managed to touch my heart.
Roxas predicament in this game is a serious one to say the least, unlike Sora who is fighting to make his way home with Kairi and Riku. Roxas troubles and struggle has to deal with the fact that his very existence is in peril, his very being is at stake. Not only that the character development during these scenes at twilight town is brilliant, you begin to feel for all of the cast, and in a short hour of play you probably will forget that the reason why you bought KH2 at all was to continue Sora’s story.
However like all good things in life, Roxas part in the story will come to and end about five hours in, and then you will step back in to the shoes of former hero Sora, and it’s from this point on that the plot auto destructs itself.
Its not just that plot doesn’t wholly make sense (Nobodies anyone?) is that the pacing stinks. Really, this time around the Disney segments in the game were somewhat devoid of life (except for the Mulan and Nightmare before Christmas sections) and feel like they were just there to add a few hours on the game before a Nobody from Organization XIII would drop in to actually add towards the progression of the plot. So really you basically play the Disney worlds in order to get that small (Mandatory) bit of plot advancement that comes at the very end of the Disney Stage. The Pattern is simple and predictable, in fact I knew how the game was going to end by the time I was 10 hours into it.
The ending itself leaved much to be desired, but by the time I was 20 hours into the game I no longer cared for the plot I just wanted to get it done with, thankfully KH2 clocks in at about 30 hours, a little less than 10 hours shorter than its predecessor. However some how KH2 felt somewhat longer than the previous game, needless to say that unlike KH1 which left me salivating for part two, KH2 did nothing to make me wait and much less want the inevitable part three (yes the game ends in an uninteresting cliffhanger of sorts).
Roxas and Namine (honorable mention to Donald Duck) were the best characters in KH2 by far because they were very well developed and actually had a refreshing story backing them. Sora, Riku, and Kairi however had the misfortune of being in the midst of a convoluted mess that in a way brought back memories of FFVIII, (Though I must say that FFVIII, is years ahead of this game in what character development was concerned). So much for Nomura being able to replace Sakaguchi.
SQUARE STILL RULES THE GRAPHICS GAME!
One thing I have to admit regardless of what my feelings are towards the game, is that KH2 is simply beautiful…in what looks are concerned. Great character designs (Nomura is truly a master of this facet of game making) and flawless animation push the PS2 to its limits.
The CG scenes are breathtaking, and the environments complement well with the cartoony anime style of the characters. The frame-rate rarely drops even in the middle of chaotic battles, the game doesn’t improve much from the already stellar looking first game. But really when you consider the source material KH2 looks as good as a game can look in the underpowered PS2.
SQUARE ALSO TAKES THE MUSIC AWARD
Hitada Ukaru lent her voice again for the main track in the game’s soundtrack, the overall music compositions are all great, regardless whether they came from Disney or Squares own composer Yoko Shimomura who shows an amazing amount of talent in this effort, perhaps he can someday take Uematsu’s place.
The voice acting as always is excellent since the game employs actual actors, from TV series and movies. In a sore note, the Pirates of the Caribbean characters are not played by their original actors, instead their lines were acted by actors who sounded like the original actors themselves. The sound effects are the standard fare, in short along with the visuals the sound in the title is top notch. Kingdom Hearts 2 is flawless in terms of presentation.
IMPROVEMENTS TO COMBAT 2 STEPS FORWARD 1 STEP BACK IN ACTUAL EXPLORATION.
People who complained about issues in the first game with the camera during battles, and the targeting systems can rest assured that those problems have been addressed here mostly, as long as you’re a locked into an enemy he wont disappear from view (if the enemy isn’t locked he will still disappear from view) and there is even a 1st person view enabled, in both combat and exploration.
The combat system has been refined, and simplified. There are bigger combos now, much bigger, and the addition of “In battle commands” which are timed button presses that trigger a scene and either gets you an instant kill against weaker enemies or deal massive damage to bosses is a welcome one. There are also Drives, which allow Sora to transform into a 3 different kinds of a powerful warrior, an ability that came in handy in many of the boss battles.
Leveling up is also now easier and more useful, and it’s easier to equip powerful abilities on you characters thanks to the abundance of AP points. I must say that many of the hardcore will complain that these additions have simplified combat and indeed they have, but that along with different difficulty levels to chose from Square has made the game more accessible to a younger audience and the mainstream crowd, even though I thought the last boss was some what challenging, so complaints in that regard will most likely fall on deaf ears…if you want to have a game with tough battles get yourself a copy of Star Ocean 3.
Where Kingdom Hearts 2 takes a major backward step is in the exploration department, no longer do we have to scout the environments for treasure (or Dalmatians), the levels presented here are more linear than the ones featured in the first game (which were already linear enough), in other words it doesn’t hold a candle to Zelda, and I think its time people (including myself) stop calling KH an action RPG because it plays more like a hybrid traditional action RPG than anything else. Even then KH2 is lacking in replay value because of the lack of anything in the environments, even any small platforming segments that were present in the first game, have been ditched in this effort.
This is definitely a title was made with 6 year olds in mind, too bad for the rest of us who looked for something more complex. It’s unfortunate that no 6 year old will understand most of the convoluted plot, at least they will get to see “King Mickey”.
FOOL ME ONCE…
I loved the first game, even though it was very flawed the story was touching and left me hungry for more, I have to say KH2 isn’t as huge a disappointment as FFX-2 was, but it is still a mediocre playing “Action” RPG, only that now the story itself was mediocre too, thus leaving the game with no redeeming feature other than its presentation. Good for kids, and I am sure fans of the first title will at least manage to get through it once. But everyone else stay away there are many RPG offerings that are vastly superior to this available on the PS2. I will not be eagerly anticipating KH3, that’s for sure…
Gameplay: 6.0-Easier battles are okay, but the simplified exploration kills the score here.
Graphics: 9.5-As good looking a game as you will find on the PS2.
Music: 8.5-The music is great, every sounds as good as you would expect from a Major Square offering, the acting is top notch too.
Story: 6.0-Linear, convoluted and ultimately boring. Non existent character development for the most part.
Addictiveness: 5.0-Play it once and never comeback to it again unless you are a masochist or have a secret crush on Mickey Mouse.
Overall: 7.0-A bad Score for a Square/Enix game, if it wasn’t because the presentation was so good the game would have sunk even lower, however the game is still worth one play through from players who finished the first game.