Kingdom Hearts II PS2 Review

After selling close to a million copies after one month of availability in North America and a whole lot more since its release in Japan in 2005 we’ve been waiting a very long time for Kingdom Hearts II to make an appearance in PAL-land…well wait no more ’cause its finally here.

As with most reviews here on DarkZero we will try and keep spoilers to a minimum but a few mentions of the story must be made to know what the game is all about. Kingdom Hearts II begins where the GBA’s Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories left off; as such the game expects you to have played the previous two titles and uses moments and references from them to explain events as you progress. Obviously it would be preferred if you had got to the end of both other titles before you play but it is not needed to explain a good portion of the main story. However there will be some “what did he mean by that” moments if you go into the game blind of Kingdom Hearts’ past efforts.

The Heartless, the main enemies from the original make a return, this time they are joined by another group called The Nobodies. One of the great aspects of KHII is the enemies’ ability to tailor themselves to the environment they are in. Whether you are playing in the 100 Acre Wood, Agrabah, the Deep Jungle or any one of the other many environments nothing ever seems out of place. When compared to the first Kingdom Hearts the combat system in KHII is fairly simplistic, perhaps over simplistic but thankfully as a result of dumbing things down more combat options are opened up.

Sora now has access to drive commands offering the ability to change into new powerful forms when merging with Donald or Goofy. The game also implements a reaction system with context-sensitive opportunities to execute unique attacks and manoeuvres which are different depending on what enemy you are facing. These are well thought out and over the course of my playtime with the game I never really got bored of performing the moves. A big improvement from the original game is the mode of transport from world to world. The shooter levels are now loads of fun to play, instead of dreading their appearance after every world like the original they can be embraced as part of the overall experience.

Of course no game can be perfect and KHII does have a few niggling problems. The most noticeable of these will be familiar to fans of the PS2 original as the frustrating camera that caused some annoyances in the original makes a return. Thankfully, Square-Enix have made note of the problem and made some much needed revisions. The camera still sometimes messes up and gets stuck in weird places while trying to cope with some parts of on-screen scenery but it no longer happens ALL the time like it seemed to do in the previous adventure. Another problem would be the games difficulty or should I say lack thereof. If you played/finished any of Square-Enix’s other RPG efforts (there’s a lot of them!) then you may find KHII a little bit on the easy side.

KHII strives to make use of every piece of source material it could, and with it being a Disney inspired game it had a lot to choose from. It goes without saying, although as you can see I am saying it, that Kingdom Hearts II contains one of the vastest, most encompassing cast of characters seen in any game, ever! There are far too many names to list here (and it’s best to not mention some of the characters in this review and let you be surprised should you choose to play the game) but from Disney the likes of Captain Barbossa, Mulan, Princess Jasmine, Ariel, Hades, Jack Sparrow and a whole lot more make an appearance. From the Square side of things a whole host of Final Fantasy stars appear, but it is best to not mention them here as meeting them without expecting it is part of the game’s appeal.

Without a doubt the game looks fantastic, while it may not be one of the more beautiful PS2 releases it is certainly up there with the rest of 2006’s offerings on the ageing console. The screenshots on the left give you a good gauge to judge the quality of the game. All of the cameo characters are faithfully recreated with added Square-Enix style and pizzazz when needed. Animation is also top-notch with all the characters moving as smoothly as you would hope. The game’s framerate also seems to remain stable at all time with absolutely no slowdown to be seen. A special effort was made to preserve the original voice actors from the Disney movies and as such the likes of Haley Joel Osment, James Woods, Rachel Leigh Cook, Brian Blessed (*bow*), Chris Sarandon, Dan Castellaneta, Bruce Boxleitner, Zach Braff, Mena Suvari and even Christopher Lee all voice characters in the game. Only a few characters had to be voiced by impersonators and most of these are ok editions with only a few noticeable errors rearing their head. Finally, the game’s soundtrack deserves a mention as it is nothing short of fantastic. All the worlds in the game have their own unique theme and the vast majority of them are very hummable little ditties that will stay with you long after you put the controller down.

While KHII tackles the genre with a noticeably more linear approach than the first game in the series there is no doubt the franchise is still as appealing as it was way back in 2002 when it first announced itself to the world. The adventure lasts well over 30 hours and once you acclimatise to the game’s setting (about 2 hours in) things start to get very addictive. While it may not be one of the deepest RPGs ever to be released it certainly one of the more fun gaming experiences that is available on store shelves. There really is nothing to dislike about KHII, it’s a game everyone should contemplate buying. The only problem I have with the title is that we’ve had to wait so damn long to get our hands on it – but for once it was most certainly worth the wait.

A game everyone should let into their hearts.

8.4 out of 10