The Kingdom Hearts series is one of the most well-received crossovers of all-time, especially in the video game industry. The series has been running strong for many years now, and soon, the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III will finally be released.
In the lead-up to the release of Kingdom Hearts III in January, I have been revisiting each entry in the series and reviewing them. My aim is to set a bench-mark identifying what has come before from the series, to compare against what we will receive in the future.
I hope you’ll join with me on this adventure across this ever-expanding universe, as I continue by reviewing: Kingdom Hearts II.
Note: This review is based on the HD port of Kingdom Hearts II available as part of the Kingdom Hearts I.5+II.5 HD Collection on the PlayStation 4.
Regarded by most Kingdom Hearts fans as the best game in the series to-date, Kingdom Hearts II became a staple in the video game canon as also one of the best games released on the PlayStation 2.
The game takes place almost a year after the end of Chain of Memories.
Much to Sora, Donald and Goofy’s dismay, the Heartless are still causing trouble across the worlds. However, this time they’re not the only ones. Pitted against a new force of darkness – Nobodies, Sora’s journey is more perilous than ever before. Alongside his pre-existing quest of freeing the worlds from darkness, he must now defeat the shadowy Organisation XIII that had first been introduced in Chain of Memories.
The Organisation are close to achieving their goals and as is the case for any Kingdom Hearts game, Sora is the key to it all – the only one capable of stopping them.
The stakes of Kingdom Hearts II are far greater than what they had been in the previous games, and as a result, the tension and story-telling are even stronger too.
The over-arching ride of Kingdom Hearts II’s narrative is truly wonderful, offering its fair share of touching and sombre moments, alongside those of extreme action and intense battles. However, I can only say this for the main plot of the game.
As is part of the tried and true Kingdom Hearts formula, you once again visit various worlds from the Disney archives – some are returning fan favourites, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas’s Halloween Town, while many others are new additions to the Kingdom Hearts universe.
In the first Kingdom Hearts game, the main narrative of the game was intrinsically connected to each of the Disney worlds that Sora and co. visited.
The results of Sora’s actions within each world aided with the progression of the narrative. Whereas in Kingdom Hearts II, each of the Disney worlds tend to offer little development to the overarching narrative of the game.
Furthermore, each of the sub-plots for the Disney worlds follow more closely to their cinematic counterparts instead of an original story. Thus, the Disney portions of the game feel very much like a secondary thought and as though they were only included in the game because Kingdom Hearts is marketed as a cross-over between two pre-existing IPs.
Don’t get me wrong. Each of the Disney worlds are enjoyable to play through and becoming a part of the Disney narratives is exciting.
Plus, there are a few Disney worlds that either do tell an original story or, particularly with returning worlds, intertwine the Disney film with the laws of the Kingdom Hearts universe.
It’s just overall that it doesn’t feel as cleverly pieced together and written as it had in Kingdom Hearts.
The gameplay of Kingdom Hearts II returns to the traditional form that was introduced in the first game of the series, as opposed to the card-based combat system from Chain of Memories. However, in comparison to the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II has been immensely improved upon. Every aspect of the game was given much greater depth, from the movement options, to combat, to even the returning Gummi Ship segments.
Sora is more agile than he has ever been, you can close the gap between you and your enemies much faster and more easily; as well as extend your base combos beyond anything you’ve ever been able to in the past.
The ability system that had been present in the original game makes a return, however, with the inclusion of new abilities with greater variety of capabilities, this system becomes the core of the combat of Kingdom Hearts II.
Rather than just the previous Combo Pluses and Air Combo Pluses in the first Kingdom Hearts, to boost the capabilities of your attacks, Kingdom Hearts II offers a much greater variety in terms of Combo Modifying abilities.
Furthermore, the most unique aspect of Kingdom Hearts II’s combat is the implementation of Drive Forms.
These are various temporary forms that Sora can enter that can bolster different abilities or change his combat setup entirely. Some Forms can provide him with a boost to his physical or magical strength, as well as some that grant him access to using two different Keyblades at once.
There is an abundant amount of new Keyblades to obtain throughout Kingdom Hearts II. Much like in the first Kingdom Hearts, each Keyblade has its own stat buffs to either Sora’s attack or magic power. However, in Kingdom Hearts this led to many of the earlier Keyblades obtained not being used once a strong one was acquired.
In Kingdom Hearts II however, each Keyblade also comes with its own special ability. These abilities can range from boosting the potency of items, halving the amount of damage received when in critical health and so.
With each Keyblade having its own abilities, which Keyblade you choose to kit Sora out with is less dependant on its damage output, and more based on how applicable the Keyblade’s ability is to your current scenario.
More than ever before, how you set up Sora’s equipment and abilities has a major impact on how easy fights throughout the game go. Each of the game’s systems are very well balanced, and you’ll find that you can play the game in the style that best suits you without the game restricting you into a specific playstyle.
The combat of Kingdom Hearts II is a key example of an optimised system that allows its players to take full advantage of everything that it has to offer.
Returning from the original Kingdom Hearts, traversing between each world is once again achieved through the Gummi Ship – a seemingly low-polygon, on-rails, starship bullet-hell shooter.
These segments were the weakest element of Kingdom Hearts, and the same rings true for Kingdom Hearts II, unfortunately. However, this time round it’s less due to these segments being weak, but more that every other aspect of the game is significantly stronger and more enjoyable by comparison.
A small part of me finds the Gummi Ship segments pretty enjoyable in Kingdom Hearts II. These sections are far faster-paced than in the previous game, as Gummi segments in Kingdom Hearts felt like a crawl to reach the end, with not much happening in the meantime.
Now each Gummi Ship route feels different from the last – well, at least most of them. The background visuals while still nothing to write home about are vastly more interesting too.
The abilities that you can modify your Gummi Ship with boost the action of each route tenfold. There are more enemies to destroy and more perils that you will need to avoid.
The Gummi Ship missions can still be relatively tedious to go through when you’re itching to make it to the next world, but regardless, the improvements made do make these sections a lot more enjoyable.
There is some much to love about Kingdom Hearts II. Every tweak and modification to the gameplay and the mechanics come from a place of love from the developers. Furthermore, the sheer scope of improvement between Kingdom Hearts to Kingdom Hearts II is immeasurable.
There is a reason why any Kingdom Hearts fan will tell you that Kingdom Hearts II is the best in the series – it’s because it is. Everything is far grander than anything that had come before; almost every change made was for the better.
The sub-plots of each Disney world are perhaps where the game is at its weakest, especially in comparison to the original Kingdom Hearts. However, this is nothing but a single raindrop in a river when contrasted against everything other element of the story-telling and gameplay of Kingdom Hearts II.
Kingdom Hearts II earns a 10/10
Thank you very much for reading my review of Kingdom Hearts II. It was such a great game to play through, and on Critical Mode it gave me one of the most enjoyable challenges I’ve had in a long time.
What about you? Have you played Kingdom Hearts II yet? If not I would highly recommend it. If you have, do you agree with my rating?
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Have a great day!