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Kingdom Hearts II (PlayStation 2) artwork

Kingdom Hearts II (PlayStation 2) review


"The first Kingdom Hearts brilliantly blended the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy in a refreshing and surprisingly unique tale. There, we followed Sora, the unsuspecting Keyblade Master who was ripped from his peaceful island home and separated from childhood friends Riku and Kairi. We watched as he met new companions and ventured through Disney-themed worlds, attempting to seal them from impending darkness. We helped him battle the Heartless, physical manifestations of evil, as ..."



The first Kingdom Hearts brilliantly blended the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy in a refreshing and surprisingly unique tale. There, we followed Sora, the unsuspecting Keyblade Master who was ripped from his peaceful island home and separated from childhood friends Riku and Kairi. We watched as he met new companions and ventured through Disney-themed worlds, attempting to seal them from impending darkness. We helped him battle the Heartless, physical manifestations of evil, as well as the villains manipulating them. Of course, he ultimately succeeded, but we were left with a strong sense of “What happens next?” because, while he managed to find his closest friends, they remained trapped.

The second in the series ties up many loose ends, and a whole new plot emerges in the process. But the first several hours will leave you confused and bored. Playing as Roxas, a seemingly random character that (at first) has no relationship with the main cast, you wander the streets of laid back Twilight Town performing menial tasks as you finish off his summer vacation. There are a lot of bizarre and unexplainable phenomena that occur during this time, leading to questions like “Why is this kid dreaming about Sora?”, “Why can he wield the Keyblade?”, “What is Organization XIII?” and “Why are Sora, Donald and Goofy slumbering away in a ‘haunted’ mansion?”

Once you finally gain control of Sora, he remembers only that he and his two partners had been searching for King Mickey, Kairi and Riku. Eventually you discover your next quest. The Heartless have returned, controlled by King Mickey’s arch nemesis Pete and a revived Maleficent, but these are child’s play compared to the Nobodies. Through the instruction of master sorcerer Yen Sid, the gang learns that when someone turns into a Heartless, the empty shell left behind gains a will of its own. Organization XIII is a group of particularly acute Nobodies with a mysterious agenda. It is they who are the biggest threat… despite working behind the scenes for the better part of the game.

In order to discover the truth behind Organization XIII, as well as glean information about lost friends, Sora must open new paths connecting different worlds. The first stop on their journey is a revamped Hollow Bastion. No longer overcome with evil, a thriving town has sprung up in the shadow of the decrepit castle our heroes explored a year ago. The familiar (in name only) location will serve as a “home base” of sorts, much like the Traverse Town in the original. Here Sora meets up with old comrades Squall and Yuffie (to name a few). In charge of the restoration committee responsible for the town’s reconstruction, they charge Sora with finding out why the Heartless have suddenly returned.

….and that’s about all that happens there the time being. But they’ll return. Several times, in fact. You’ll come back to replace Winnie the Pooh’s torn pages (again), help Tron save his small world along with Hollow Bastion from the chaotic Master Control, and even save the city from a swarm of rampaging heartless. But first…

There are new realms to explore! In Mulan’s world, you stop the Hun Shan-Yu from taking over the imperial palace. You travel to Beast’s Castle to solve the mystery behind Beast’s sudden, aggressive behavior. You’ll even trek through Port Royal in a stripped down version of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Like before, each Disney-filled excursion doesn’t merely copy and paste the plot of its respective film. Rather, every journey ties into the main quest. Shan-Yu undertakes his mission of conquest with an army of Heartless. Beast acts so strangely because a member of Organization XIII manipulates his emotions in an attempt to turn him into a Heartless. The cursed pirates receive help from Pete as they try breaking the curse for their own lusty goals.

Even the places you’ve visited last time make an appearance in a completely unique way. The Olympic Coliseum has you marching through the Underworld in an effort to convince Hades to cut Hercules a break from all the fighting. Later it serves the same tournament function as the last game, but with many new contests to participate in. While Halloween Town features the return of Oogie Boogie, the story revolves around Jack’s Christmas obsession rather than the “spooky” part of the story covered last time.

Atlantica saw the most change. Rather than actually exploring the underwater city to thwart Ursula’s plans, you do nothing but watch cut scenes and participate in musicals. The little part you do play involves timed button presses at just the right moment during a song to score a certain amount of points or reach a specific goal. A step down, perhaps, but it does serve as a fitting tribute to The Little Mermaid’s true nature, and I deeply respect that kind of effort.

Combat has also greatly improved. You still have a menu from which to select various commands during real-time battles, but now a plethora of shortcuts and new abilities make fighting much smoother. In addition to Sora’s huge range of sadistic combos, you can now perform “reaction commands” against opponents or with allies given the right opportunity. These act as single-button quick time events that allow you to do anything from dodge enemy attacks to beating berserks with their own hammers. The magic shortcut from the first Kingdom Hearts has expanded to include items, a godsend when menu wading can cost your life. Some spells have changed to produce different effects. Blizzard temporarily freezes, Fire engulfs all foes as it swirls about you, and the new spell Magnet draws creatures to one spot for easy disposal.

The newest feature is the drive gauge. It’s use for summoning, but more importantly serves as a medium transform Sora into something ferocious. Lose Goofy and Sora turns into Valor. Pure power, magic cannot be used, but speed increases and heavy blows rain from dual-wielded keyblades. Sacrifice Donald, and Sora becomes Wisdom, which not only shoots enemies from afar but also enables room-clearing thunder spells to be cast endlessly, provided your mana withstands. With his last two forms, Sora becomes unstoppable, as they combine the best of both with their ability to unleash devastating physical and magical combos.

As great as these improvements are, the allure for me will always be the immense care taken to replicate each world in as accurate a way as possible. It’s a wonderfully nostalgic trip that does justice to many of the Disney classics. That Sora’s quest blends so seamlessly within these recreations shows just how great a job was done.

Rating: 9/10

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Community review by wolfqueen001 (August 20, 2010)

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