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Kingdom Hearts II Review

Developer: Square-Enix Publisher: Square-Enix
Release Date: March 28, 2006 Also On: None

With frequent delays and a less than satisfactory GBA time filler, Kingdom Hearts II had fans of the original squirming at the edge of their seats, reading up on every detail they could salvage about the game. Finally, after four years of intense anticipation, Kingdom Hearts II has come out; and it came out swinging. I hear a lot of people complaining about this game for numerous reasons. Well, I’m here to tell you that those complaints are pure hogwash. You start the game as a boy named Roxas, who lives in Twilight Town. Roxas keeps having strange dreams about Sora, Kairi, Riku, and everyone else, and witnesses what happens during the first Kingdom Hearts. You control Roxas for a good few hours in the beginning of the game before, somehow.

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I’ve had people tell me that Kingdom Hearts II looks nearly identical to the first one. This, in every sense of the word, is false. After hearing this, I put in my Kingdom Hearts disc and gave it a spin, and I could instantly tell that four years have gone by. The in-game graphics in Kingdom Hearts II are clean, crisp, and everything moves very smoothly. The three CG sequences you see throughout the game (two if you don’t get the secret ending) are each breathtaking. In addition to the game’s overall cartoony feel, the graphics on Port Royal (“Pirates of the Caribbeanâ€? level) are very pleasing too the eye, although they can look a bit goofy (no pun intended) when next to the cartoon graphics. The environments of the game are probably the highlight, due to the fact that they match up (and sometimes even look better) perfectly with their representative Disney films.

I also have people tell me that Kingdom Hearts II is nothing but a hack-and-slash, button-mashing fiesta. However, the gameplay/fighting of Kingdom Hearts II is what truly makes it shine. Yes, there will be plenty of X-button ramming, but in addition, Sora and the gang have quite an impressive arsenal of new tools and abilities at their disposal to use against the endless enemies and ever-challenging bosses. The most entertaining of all being the new use of the triangle button. This special little button performs moves called “reaction commands�.

Whilst running, adventuring around the various Disney worlds, every once in a while, a word will appear on top of the bottom left menu with the triangle button next to it. When you see this, as if you didn’t know, press triangle, and Sora will either counter-attack specific enemies, unleash special moves, or a do a variety of other things. This “reaction commands� can also be key to defeating bosses, quickly, and much easier. This new addition to the battle system is fun, but can often be a little cheap, since you could simply ram the triangle button until a reaction command appears with no penalty, if desired. Also new is the way the MP meter works. When your MP reaches zero, you do an auto recharge, and once it’s completed, your MP charges all the way back up to full. However, during the time you’re charging, you can’t cast spells or any such things. Also, using cure uses up all of your remaining MP, which I don’t agree with, but makes for more strategic battling.

The most obvious (and in my opinion awesome) change to the battle system, is the new “drive gaugeâ€?. When the drive command is used, Sora can transform into one of three forms (you obtain each form throughout a different point in the story). The forms are Valor, Wisdom, and Master. During the Valor form, Goofy is removed from your team and Sora becomes an offensive machine. He wields two keyblades, his speed, strength and defense increase massively, and he basically annihilates anything in sight. He can’t, however, cast magic during this form. He has to first “revertâ€? into normal Sora. During Wisdom form, Donald is removed from the party and Sora sports a snazzy blue outfit, and glides around the ground, shooting blue icy magic stuff from his keyblade. During Master form, both teammates are removed, and Sora goes fairly insane, wielding two keyblades, and having the ability to cast magic. Pretty tight.

There are a few downfalls to the drive modes however. For example, when you’re in your drive form, you don’t have any backup support from your teammate, which makes healing/measuring your health more difficult. Also, each time you transform, there’s a chance that you will change into the “anti-Sora� which is basically a dark/painful/death/heartless form of Sora, where all you can do is attack. No magic, items, reaction commands, or reverting. All you can do is attack and wait for the drive gauge to very slowly count down to zero.

There are also some “limit� commands that Sora can use, that allow him and his allies to unleash devastating attacks. Limits use up a full MP bar and only last for a short amount of time. But all the limit attacks are spectacular and extremely useful in terms of dealing damage. Every world-based ally will contribute his/her own special limit attack, where you use both X and triangle to unleash combos of brutal moves until one last final finishing attack. Donald and Goofy also learn limit attacks of their own that they can use with Sora.

Summons make a return as well, however they’re more just for kicks than extremely useful limit attacks or drives. I found them to be helpful, but I rarely used them, considering there was so much else to use. Shops, abilities, ability points, ability customization, and the like have all come back as well and are more important than ever. Also returning to the game is the beloved “Gummi ship�. I personally loathed the Gummi Ship system in Kingdom Hearts, and never got too into customizing my ships or anything. This holds true for Kingdom Hearts II as well, but I decided to get accustomed to it for the sake of this review.

As in the first Kingdom Hearts, you only take command of the Gummi Ship when you’re traveling between worlds and you’re only required to do it once. However, this time around, if you go back to the Gummi Ship route, they’ve added secret missions for you to complete if you so wish. You’re ranked A-E (or “S� if you’re really good) on these missions and if you get a good enough score, you can unlock new modes and such for your ship. You start off with standard ships that go in increasing levels (Highwind, Falcon, and Invincible), but there are also some novelty ships you can get, such as a Toneberry and a Cactuar. You can still create and customize your own ships, but the system is still as confusing, if not more, than the first Kingdom Hearts.

In addition to the Gummi Ship game, Kingdom Hearts II is filled to the brim with tons of fun and interesting mini-games that keep you entertained, such as the Winnie the Pooh book (yeah, it’s back), and a plethora of musical games in Atlanticia (no fighting in that level, thank God). As if Kingdom Hearts wasn’t good enough, Square-Enix managed to do what they do best and blew our minds by making an amazing RPG. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might just make some new friends playing this game. Square-Enix will have a hard time creating Kingdom Hearts III, because this game will be quite hard to top.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.9
Written by Matt Evangelista Review Guide