Posted by David on January 16th, 2007
The original Kingdom Hearts was released in 2002 for the Playstation 2. The game was developed by Japanese RPG legends Squaresoft (Shortly before they merged with creators of ‘Dragon Quest’, Enix) and Disney. Apparently the game was thought up in an elevator when a fateful meeting occurred between Shinji Hashimoto, the producer of the game and an executive from Disney’s Japan department. The two companies struck a deal and started work on Kingdom Hearts. When the game was originally announced it was regarded as a ‘gimmick’ and a corporate money-making tie-in. Upon release though it became apparent that Square and Disney had created something spectacular. With high reviews and little criticism, the game was a huge hit the world over and gained a large fan base begging for more.
Skip forward a few years to 2006. Square Enix releases Kingdom Hearts II. A fully fledged sequel to the first game which carries on the story of Sora, Donald and Goofy on their quest to return the many worlds back to order and defeat the Heartless once and for all. The game starts with a very long tutorial during which you assume the role of a new character called Roxas. As the tutorial teaches you some of the new aspects of the games system it also unravels the games tightly knit storyline slowly. Once you have finished the tutorial the game is back in the hands of Sora and co. who must now work their way through the worlds, this time defending them from endless scores of heartless drones and fiendish â€˜Organisation XIIIâ€™ nobodies. It does sound a little childish and clichÃ© and that is perhaps why this game is so good. The storyline focuses primarily on the tales of many of Disney’s movies including Aladdin, Hercules, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mulan and Beauty and the Beast. The other part of the game continues the story started in the first adventure regarding the separation of three friends from their home planet. The way the game has two stories is incredibly involving and because of this it keeps you coming back for more until you finally uncover the story plaguing the characters throughout the two games so far.
So what is different between this game and the first? When you first play the game it feels fairly different. The system itself runs a lot smoother and faster than the original, but this may be due to the true 60Hz PAL frame rate which was left out of the first game, instead opting for the slower, bordered 50Hz European standard output. The games attack system takes a little getting used to as the â€˜action commandsâ€™ seem a little gimmicky at first. The commands are alternative to the normal attack style, you press the triangle button to activate them but they are only usable on certain enemies. The reason they feel gimmicky is because the majority of them are clearly scripted and can only be used during boss fights. A lot of the time it is also necessary to use these action commands to win battles instead of just grinding along with your attacks. Sadly, the games lack of difficulty also means that it is pretty much pointless to use your magic to defeat enemies as you can literally just keep attacking and curing to save the day. Only really do you need your magic towards the end of the game when youâ€™re faced with some of the tougher opponents. This game also adds onto the attack system created in the first game; as well as magic and summons you also have limit breaks, powerful attacks which take up all of your magic points. There are also many different ‘forms’ which change your costume and make battle that much easier for about half a minute. These new additions seem fairly pointless though due to the lack of difficulty, but again, it helps having all these things towards the end of the game. It’s just a shame that there was not a higher level of difficulty half way through instead of leaving the hard parts till the end.
Graphically, Kingdom Hearts II is great. Graphics are stylised depending on the source material. It is a little odd when you arrive in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ world however as every character there is drawn like a human whereas you still look like a cartoon character. The game clearly stretches the PS2 to its limits graphically as sometimes there is far too much going on for it to handle and you get some minor slow down, especially during sequences with many action commands. The sound is also superb, being a fan of Square Enix’s game soundtracks itâ€™s always nice to hear what they come up with. The soundtrack for Kingdom Hearts II was composed by Yoko Shimomura who also created the music for the first game. Musically, the game draws a lot from the first game with a lot of key themes being re-scored for this entry. None of the music feels lazily done though, most of it is key to the nostalgic qualities relating back to the first game.
Like most RPGS, this game should take you around 30-40 hours to complete but there are a lot of extra things that you can do to add extra value. Many of the side quests don’t add much to the story and because the game is pretty easy, it won’t make it much easier to finish the main game either way. In comparison to the first title, Kingdom Hearts II is a neat improvement, it feels a lot more established in its themes and conventions and finally wraps up most of the fictional and sometimes philosophical mysteries opened by both games (as well as the Game boy Advance title which sits neatly between the two chronologically). For some reason though, there is something not quite right about this game that I can’t place. I think the problem is, Kingdom Hearts II focuses too much on trying to patch up complaints about the first game and looses focus on what was so great about it. An example of this is the lack of platforming elements in this game, some of the most fun parts of the original were when you had to jump around the levels to get to where you were going – something never seen before in a conventional RPG. Aside from some changes to the formula, Kingdom Hearts II is definitely a solid entry in the franchise and is an improvement over the original. It still has its problems here and there but apart from that you should play this game if you are interested in RPGs or Japanese games. It shares many conventions of the more popular role playing games without drawing too much from them and at the same time creates something unique.