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Kingdom Hearts II (PlayStation 2)

86
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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
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5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Guy Chapman (1744)
Written on  :  Aug 30, 2006
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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Summary

A Satisfying Conclusion To An Epic Story Arc.

The Good

For a Disney and Final Fantasy fan, this game caters well to both audiences, and brings those fans into each other's worlds in an epic package that make most big-budget films cringe.

The game addresses the most serious issues from the first game: Namely the clunky Gummi Ship scenes, which were more of a tedious chore, and replaces them with a fast-action shooter that actually makes it worth the time to go through. It also makes the side-quests more appealing to spend the time and complete, as they are fun in their execution.

There's so much to cover in the game: The beautifully rendered CG intro which recaps the elements of the first two games, is definitely important to understanding where this game begins, as the beginning hours of this game are played with an unexpected twist. When Sora does make his appearance, the game begins to really take off.

The worlds in this game are stunning. The new worlds add so much life and depth to the stages that you can't help but feel like you're walking on a virtual set of the movies.

"Pirates of the Caribbean" was a surprise world, but works with the story it lays out. Same for worlds like "Steamboat Willie", which is utterly charming in presenting itself as a 1920's cartoon, complete with mono sound. And "Tron" is simply the game that you always wanted to come out when the movie first appeared. It captures the essence of that world so well, that I spent a great amount of time just staring at how pretty the world was.

The same could be said for other new worlds, like "Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast". And even the revisited worlds are by no means rehashes of the original game. New areas, new missions, new story... familiar characters. And the reunions between Sora and the inhabitants of that worlds generate a feeling of sincere familiarity. Long-time players of the series will be pleased.

The story is larger than ever, and finally, a lot of the questions from the last few games are answered. The plot never keeps dropping surprise twist and turns until after the final battle, but it doesn't come off as forced or contrived. It's a smartly written story, and it's interesting to see characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy handled with a sense of maturity, but never losing any of their personality traits in the process.

The Heartless return, and so do many of the Disney Villains, but the Nobodies add something extra to the mix. A deeper exploration into the abilities of the heart. The Kingdom Heart series main story point is that nothing can match the power or strength of what comes from the heart.

Sound is a no-brainer. The game makes more use of the music from the films, and a staggering amount of the movie voice casts return to reprise their respective roles. Some like the "Pirates" crew are missing, but the sound-alikes are decent.

The game build up to a very long climax and the ending uses the strong story-telling pull of Square's writers combined with the emotional pull of Disney films that provides.... The ending rewards the players who became so emotionally invested in Sora and company. The ending itself is long, but the final moments are satisfyingly simple, and memorable.

The Bad

I've read comments that players do not need to complete the Game Boy Advance Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories to understand the story. To save you the trouble, that is the biggest falsehood you can ever be told about this game.

The GBA interquel introduces so many characters and certain plot points throughout this tile, there will be times that you will be utterly lost if you don't know that story. Without the GBA game, you will only get about 80% of what is going on, and even less if you never attempted or completed the first game. The three games in the series are too intertwined. You have to play it as one, as they act more like chapters of a much larger story. The recap at the intro will only give you so much background.

The character of Roxas is a mixed view for me. One one hand, he does have his part to play in the story. On the other hand, I wanted to get through his parts to see the continuation of Sora's story. In a lot of ways, Roxas' part plays like a very long tutorial, and his story only becomes relevant when Sora becomes prominent again.

I was sorry to see that the "Tarzan" "Pinocchio" and "Alice in Wonderland" worlds were gone. Tarzan seems lost due to possible licensing issues, but it would have been interesting to visit all the worlds again. The new worlds introduced, however, were more than satisfying.

The "Little Mermaid" world was a bit of a disappointment. It has changed from a fully playable world, to a series of rhythm/music games similar to Bust-A-Groove. It wasn't horrible, but certainly not as entertaining.

Also, combat has been perhaps a little too simplified. Pressing "X" will get you through just about any battle, and as long as you are powered up, you aren't going to have any issues.

The Bottom Line

I was skeptical about "Kingdom Hearts" as a whole when it was first mentioned. I enjoy Disney Animation, and I enjoy Final Fantasy titles, but how could the two work together and be a serious title. Then again, with Square's work on Super Mario RPG, I knew they were capable of making an effective crossover.

The game still reigns as my Top Game of 2006. It is a virtual Disneyland, where players can visit their favorite characters and ride their favorite rides, and it makes for a stunning package.

The biggest flaws from the first game are cleared up in this title, and so many of the things you wanted to do in the first game but couldn't... you definitely can now. And for the characters that were taken away this time, Square and Disney added more than a fair share of new and familiar faces.

Kingdom Hearts 2 makes for a satisfying conclusion to a four-year old series... with hints that the story may not yet be over. If the story does continue on, fans should expect something no less than magical.

The game is as good as it gets. Recommended.