Almost 10 years ago, I remember sitting in my basement during middle school, anxiously waiting for my PlayStation 2 to load Kingdom Hearts II so that I could start playing. The past few weeks, I found myself doing the same thing, only this time it was with my PlayStation 3, while cramped in my college bedroom. And, just like back then, excitement welled up inside of me that would continue while I played the game, as well as much longer afterwards. The Kingdom Hearts series has captivated many Square Enix and Disney fans alike over the years. Whether looking for similarities to Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series or just enjoying the childish wonder that Disney brings, Kingdom Hearts II has generated interest and appeal from players and fans alike.
The story for this game is one of the best in the whole series. Kingdom Hearts II prefaces the main storyline with the sub-story of Roxas and his friends’ summer vacation. However, this is very brief and the game becomes an apparent sequel of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories following the protagonist, Sora, and his group of Disney friends, Donald Duck and Goofy, in their quest to find their friends Riku and King Mickey Mouse. Along the way, they continue to fight the ever-present Heartless enemies, as well as discover a new dangerous entity called “Nobodies.” The incorporation of these enemies adds more depth to the game when their leaders, Organization XIII, enter the fold.
While the Heartless and controlling the darkness within worlds is still an issue carried over from the first game, Kingdom Hearts II primarily focuses on the danger that the Nobodies and Organization XIII present. The storyline is much deeper than in Kingdom Hearts and presents a lot more plot twists over the course of the game, adding suspense and tension to the story. As was stated by the game’s director, Tetsuya Nomura, the franchise is supposed to grow-up along with its players, which makes these changes all the more fascinating.
The game incorporates originally-created worlds (Twilight Town, Radiant Garden, The World That Never Was) and Disney worlds used in the first game (such as Halloween Town, Olympus Coliseum, Agrabah), as well as new Disney worlds (Land of the Dragons, Port Royal, Pridelands). All of the worlds operate in the same format: Sora and the gang get rid of Heartless and help out each world’s characters. The only digression from these worlds is Atlantica, from The Little Mermaid, which is absolutely obnoxious with its musical “press-the-button-Simon-Says” song layouts, which are clearly aimed for younger audiences. Usually, I just mute the TV and try to get through this place as quickly as possible. But, the dynamic for the worlds is entertaining and fun as a whole.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix HD, which is one of two games offered in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX, differs from the original game not only with the HD graphics, but also with newly-added cutscenes that were only available in Japan’s release of the game in 2009. The cutscenes provide more context into the backstory and events characters face — most notably with Roxas’ character, who many critics believed to have had a very shallow characterization in the game’s original release. While very interesting and emotional, for people who are more interested in the gameplay rather than story, or simply just aren’t as interested in the story of the game, the cutscenes can tend to drag on for a while if you choose not to skip them.
The gameplay from the first game is overall the same. The D-pad is used to change between melee attacks, magic spells, summoning spirits, and using items. However, a new “reaction command” system has been implemented that allow Sora to use special attacks with various members of his party, as well as enemies fought. The reaction command system is a fantastic way to shake things up and incapacitate the enemy, though it can be seen as making the game “easier” for less-experienced players.
The mechanics of the Gummi ship (the means used to travel between different worlds) are very different than in the first game. Square Enix seemed to have ramped up the graphics and difficulty of the Gummi ship battles. And, while interesting and pleasing to look at, much like in the original game, it was pretty useless and unimportant to the overall story to the game.
One of the only real notable changes in gameplay that the HD version offered was difficulty towards some enemies. I found myself dying a lot more frequently than when I usually played the game. In fact, there is a fight towards the end of the game that they REALLY amped up the difficulty for that made me almost throw my controller into the TV. However, the difficulty change was a good one for those who have played the game previously, in order to add to the challenge of the game. Another addition to the game was the option to play “Absent Silhouettes,” which were actually members of Organization XIII that were found in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. These enemies, are intentionally much more difficult than most, but are still very interesting to play.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix HD really did live up to its name when it came to graphics. Though not as noticeably different than with Kingdom Hearts Final Mix HD Square Enix did a great job detailing characters more. Special props go to the Pirates of the Caribbean world, which was a Disney film starring actual humans; it got the detail and HD graphics that it deserved to portray it on the PlayStation 3. However, the downside to this is that the game lagged a little bit during certain parts. I found myself trying to fight Heartless, but having to wait for the frozen still to speed up to where I was currently in time. While an issue, they were few and far between and not a real issue to the overall gameplay or story.
The Verdict: 9.6 out of 10
This game is just simply amazing. Those who have played it when it was originally released on the PlayStation 2 will benefit re-playing it again and again with the new difficulties and added features, as well as to see the new cutscenes that greatly add to the story of the game. To those who have never played the game, it is a great combination of Final Fantasy and Disney that creates a heart-felt, whimsical fantasy world. The downside to the Final Mix version of the game is that you can’t just get it on your own. Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix HD is one of two games included in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX, alongside with Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix HD and the Theater mode for Kingdom Hearts re:Coded. Big fans of the franchise may see this as a benefit, getting two games and a 2 hour movie for the price of $39.99, but for those who are only interested in this game in particular may find the other two games unnecessary due to the need to understand past games in order to understand the stories of each. Overall, the game is just a beautiful part of the whole series and made me upset that Kingdom Hearts III has no release date yet.
Audrey Lips is one of MONG’s Associate Writers and is currently balancing a Journalism major while secretly hoping to get her Hogwarts acceptance letter. You can follow her TMI posts on Twitter.