Release Date: December 2, 2014
Developer: Square Enix
Metacrtic Score: 81
Lately i’ve been rewatching one of my favorite cop shows, “Life” on Netflix. One of the cases is about a 10 year old murder; when the two lead detectives try asking suspects about where they were almost all of them say the same thing “it was 10 years ago, how could I remember”? This stuck out to me, as at the same time I was watching this scene I learned that Kingdom Hearts 2 is about 10 years old now. I was around 13 when the game was originally released. And I don’t know about you, but I tend to look back at 13 year old me with petty and disgust. 10 years ago I was listening to Slipknot and Mudvayne, thinking they were as heavy as music came (yes, I’m embarrassed by this), writing bad and angst filled poetry, and playing Kingdom Hearts 2. I loved this game when it came out. But I don’t lission to Slipknot or Mudvayne anymore. When I write poetry now it’s more thoughtful and not about being rejected. With so many changes happening, both to me as a person and to gaming as a whole, will Kingdom Hearts 2 be the next victim of my growing up, or has it stood the test of time? Lets find out.
The story starts with a young boy named Roxas, and I’m going to be kinder to you than the game is and make this section short. While simply trying to enjoy his last week of summer vacation Roxas becomes caught in the middle of a feud between a man named Diz and a mysterious group called Organization 13. As it turns out, when (SPIOLER WARNING) Sora turned into a Heartless in the first game, he also created a Nobody, heartless beings born when a strong hearted person becomes a Heartless. In order to bring Sora back (he’s in a coma like state due to events in Chain of Memories), Roxas must disappear. And so he does….after an overly long into that tells you too little too slowly, all of which well be retold to the player pretty consistently.
Once awoken, Sora learns of Organization 13 and that inorder to stop them he must travel back through Disney themed worlds inorder to reopen the pathways that will lead to the Nobody homeworld. The Organization seem…unbothered by this. In fact, they make little effort to stop him, making long sections of the game feel like the developers forgot about the Nobodies. Once their plan is explained, this makes sense, but I wont be going over that here. Along the way Sora, Donald and Goofy will be on the look out for King Mickie and Riku while helping out the citizens of each world they come across, making new friends and revisiting some old ones.
I really like the story here, but there is one major issue: the game often forgets to tell it. In almost every Disney world you go to you play through what amounts too an OC Insert Fan-Fiction version of whatever movie the world is based off of. The story is at it’s best when it feels like it’s telling it’s own story. The lore about the Heartless and Nobodies is genuinely intriguing if over-complicated. Sure, the game is cheese and has an over reliance on the “friend ship will over come everything” theme, but it’s sweet and earnest and….well…this is a kids game, so it fits the demographic. That’s not to say don’t like the Disney stuff, but when it’s retelling the same story as the movies with shoehorned in references, I felt like I was playing marketing material for these movies rather than a game set in the same world. You go to each world twice, and one of the missions you do is more of what I was hoping for, but that doesn’t really excuse the fact that I was constantly awaiting a voice over to pop up saying “buy Pirates of the Caribbean today on DVD or Bluray, only $19.99”.
Unfortunately, the story is so bloated I can’t even say the stuff I like outweighed the stuff I didn’t. At around 30 hours, I felt like the first 10 could have been either slimmed down or cut out completely. This included the three hour tutorial level where you don’t learn most of the games newer machinates that this time could have been used to introduced. The parts of the story I love I really love, and they hold up surprisingly well, but all the half-hearted callbacks to Disney movies forced me to admit that I would be having a lot more fun just watching the movies. When the game takes the movies and adds to them it works so well you have to ask why Disney has such a hard time making a good sequels to their own movies. I mean honestly, Simba having to fight the ghost of Scare in order to overcome his fear that he wont live up to his fathers legacy is far better than “we did Hamlet with Lions, we might as well do Romeo and Juliet too”. But all the really great stuff is at the bottom of a pile of heartless (yes, pun intended) references and needless retelling of well known stories. The fact is, this franchise is just Disney product placement with some added Final Fantasy product placement sprinkled in. But Square Enix has managed to make something great out of. Because of that, for so much of the game to feel like it’s trying to sell us more Disney hurts just a little more than it should, as it was already doing that in a great way only to over do it in a far less interesting manner.
In the end, the story just don’t hold up. It’s too long and filled with padding, the good parts of the story are too little and too spread out and the cheesiness can get to be too much at times, which doesn’t help the poor storytelling that makes up much of the games run time.
One more thing: I normally don’t like talking about graphics cuz I feel they aren’t all that important but, the clashing aesthetic design in the Pirates of the Caribbean world is down right inexcusable. For the human characters Square went with a more photo realistic look (well, as photo realistic as the PS2 could get) but kept the cartoony look for Sora, Donald and Goffy. It’s ugly and makes the worse parts of this section ever worse. Square, please, in Kingdom Hearts 3 just use a uniform aesthetic. We wont care if live action actors look cartoonish, I promise.
The game play is the same menu bassed that it was in the first game, but there are a few tweaks. The first is Transformations. Throughout the game you gain “forms” that you can use by sacrificing one or more of your party members in order to gain new powers, like using a second Keyblade or able to shoot magic out of your keyblade from a distance. This offers a power boost to you, but you run the risk of not having the back up you may need. Personally I found I’d use the form that scarified Goofy as I needed Donald to heal me from time to time.
The next improvement are Reaction commands. Where most of the combat is based on hitting X over and over again, but regularly you will see a prompt come up and you hit the triangle. It’s a rather “qte” set up, but the reactions are usually short and flashy enough to make there use a non-issue in my opinion. Some have said this made the battles feel to much like an extended quick time event rather than a real battle. Now this may have been true in the original release, but I didn’t find it bothersome in this HD rerelease. At lest not for most of the normal battles. When it comes to the bosses your best bet is to use the reaction commands whenever possible. In fact, is some they are mandatory for victory. Personally, I found that I was using melee, magic and reaction commands enough to make the combat feel more fleshed out that it did in the first game. There I did get by mostly by hitting X, and while melee was still my go-to combat strategy, I didn’t feel like that was all the combat had to offer.
Now on to the no so good. My biggest issue is still the menu. While the quick select was a huge help throughout, the menu is this game was just too much. This is because there are too many commands for the game to only have one menu. By hitting left or right you can change the menu which give you different commands. So many times I’d go to use a transformation only to unleash an MP draining “limit” attack (a magic attack that you use in combination with one of your party members) and have to try switching menus in the heat of battle. This needs to not be a thing in KH3. It’s cumbersome and unwieldy and the only times I bothered switching was by accident.
And then there was….that level….The Little Mermaid. Now, I’m one of the seemingly few people that did not like this movie, but even if you loved it you will hate this mission. All this level is is a QTE rhythm mini-game singalong. I’ll talk more about it in Music and Sound but dear god, this level is the worst in the game. It was the worst in the first game and I hope and pray it’s not included in the next game. Please Square…no. More. Little. Mermaid. Please.
Thankfully the other worst part the first game, the gummi ship sections, have been vastly improved. Instead of the slow, needlessly long and boring waiting simulator they had you sit through in the first game, here the gummi ship sections are fact pace, on rail bullet hell shooters that are really a lot of fun. Each has a few extra missions you can do that can easily make you forget that there is some world saving that needs to be done.
While this does work for the gummi ships, I wish the levels didn’t feel like they were on rails too. Sure you can control where you go, and can movie around in a 3D environment, but the levels are mostly small, linear corridor, that you’ll end up backtracking through more that exploring each world. If the combat wasn’t so much fun this would have been a real draw back. As is it’s still noticeable, but I was willing and able to ignore it.
At lest Square found a way to make the world specific party members useful. In the first game there was no reason to use these characters, here, at lest in one of the play through per world you are stuck with the world specific character. Luckily they all have a “limit attack” that was worth using. When is the sections that explored these worlds outside of the films stories this really help make the worlds feel more holistic. In these sections it feels like you’re help Mulan, you’re helping Simba and so on.
I enjoyed my time with Kingdom Hearts 2. More than I did when I replayed the first game. It’s not prefect, and it’s age is showing, but replaying this did rekindle my interest in the franchise. I’m more excited now for Kingdom Hearts 3 than I was a week ago but not as much as I would have been if I was being released when I first got the game all those years ago.
Game Play: 3.5/5
Music and Sound:
When it comes to the acting every one done a wonderful job. While I don’t think any of the actors from the films reprise there roles, all the Disney characters sound like themselves enough to not be bothersome, but this is coming from some one who hasn’t seen any of these films in a long time. However, there is one, unforgivable offense this game makes: singing.
The “Little Mermaid” level has everyone singing through most of it, and none of the cast can sing. You thought Russell Crowe was bad in “Les Miserables”…well you were right, but hearing Donald singing is even worse. And I mean it when I say this is unforgivable. There is no way anyone thought this was a good idea, yet they put it in any way. That means they Square added this in knowing it wasn’t worth the time and energy players would put into it. Square knowingly sold bad art, that is unforgivable. I can go on about this (in fact, I just deleted a three paragraph long rant about this), but it’s irrelevant right now. The fact is, I literally played this section with the TV on mute. If I have to turn off the sound, the sound designer did a bad job. While I only did this in this one section, I can’t be over looked.
Music and Sound: 3/5
Overall score: 2.83/5
Who is this game for:
If you look at Kingdom hearts with a nice think pair of rose colored glasses, you should give these a skip, as I can’t seem them holding up. But if you haven’t given these games a try and want to know why some if us are going crazy for the third installment of such an odd franchise, I think you’d be better off with these rereleases rather than going out and finding the PS2 copies.