Kingdom Hearts 2 – Retro Review

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Read my review of the original Kingdom Hearts here

Kingdom Hearts 2 is officially the third game in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, although the first direct successor to the original game (Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was a GBA only game at the time). This game is an action RPG which combines elements from Disney films and the Final Fantasy series. It was originally released in 2005 for PS2, and again as part of the HD Collection in 2014 for PS3.

The combat is greatly improved from the previous game, where it was too simple and repetitive for the length of the game. Kingdom Hearts 2 brings some new features to make combat more exciting. There are a new faction of enemies called the Nobodies who are usually a lot faster and more mobile that the Heartless. There are a lot more different enemy types in this game, keeping the combat from getting too repetitive.

The two main additions are the drive gauge and limit commands. The drive gauge allows Sora to ‘transform’ into one of several different specialized combat modes. Each drive form has it’s strengths and weaknesses, meaning the player has an extra choice to make about how to approach different battles.

The various Drive Forms you get during the game give you choices about how to approach combat

The various Drive Forms you get during the game give you choices about how to approach combat

The limit commands which have been added allow Sora to perform powerful combos with the help of his allies (which change from world to world). These limit commands mean that the characters you fight alongside in each world go from being completely useless (like Kingdom Hearts) to just mostly useless. Nevertheless it’s fun to explore the different attacks and combos you can use when you gain each ally for the first time.

Apart from the new features and additions, the combat just feels faster and more fun. The game rarely ever devolves into simply hacking away at enemies with ridiculously high health bars. In particular on the harder difficulties you always have to keep moving and changing tactics depending on which enemies are thrown at you.

New combos and limit commands make combat flow much better

New combos and limit commands make combat flow much better

If you played a lot of the original game, one of the main things you will notice when you jump into Kingdom Hearts 2 is that the camera controls feel a lot more responsive and intuitive. It is much simpler now to lock onto enemies or play with a free camera, without having to constantly try to wrestle it back under control during combat.

There are several new worlds which have been added from the original game. The Disney film based ones include Space Paranoids from Tron, Pridelands from The Lion King and Port Royal from Pirates of the Caribbean. There is also a world called Timeless River which lets you jump into some classic Disney shorts (such as Steamboat Willie). All of these worlds are bought to life brilliantly through the art design and the soundtrack, each level remains true to its’ Disney film while providing an extra twist on the story and the setting. While the changes that are made to each individual story are definitely a requirement of making them into a game, the overarching plot serves to tie everything together very well.

The Pridelands is one of the new worlds in Kingdom Hearts 2

The Pridelands is one of the new worlds in Kingdom Hearts 2

Sora, Donald and Goofy’s appearance changes in several worlds now rather than just Halloween Town, it’s great to see these familiar characters in a tron style or in black and white and simplified down to original 1930s Disney style. The costume and character design changes from world to world really help Sora and co. to fit into the feeling and presentation of each world.

The necessity of this style change is shown in abundance during the adventures in Port Royal, where Sora, Donald and Goofy remain in the same cartoonish design while everything around them becomes realistic and dark. The result is that these characters stick out like a sore thumb and makes it hard for the player to immerse themselves in the darker story which this world is telling. It’s hard to take the threat of a band of murderous pirates seriously when there are doing battle against a quacking cartoon duck who doesn’t where pants.

The jarring contrast between styles in Port Royal

The jarring contrast between styles in Port Royal

Although Kingdom Hearts 2 has added several new worlds and areas to explore it still suffers from the same problem as the first games. The worlds feel small and uninhabited, yes this is definitely a tradeoff which had to be made in order to increase the number of worlds. But I still wish that some of these places could have been developed further.

Although I did enjoy playing through the new areas in the worlds from the first game. Adding Santa’s Workshop to Halloween Town and being able to explore the Underworld in the Coliseum was a great way to go back to the familiar places from Kingdom Hearts without repeating the same levels and areas again.

E

E

The Kingdom Hearts franchise is well known for having a very complex story which runs over the top of each game in the series. Untangle the web of plot lines is no small task, and one that I don’t intend to attempt by myself. There are plenty of videos and write-ups on the internet which will give you the quick rundown of the story of the series.

While the original game contained a simple story with few main characters, Kingdom Hearts 2 is where the plot starts to become more complex as it introduces many new characters and plot-lines. Organisation XIII are the new and mysterious enemies of the game, and they will play a big part in the overall plot in future games.

Axel, one of the new Organisation XIII characters

Axel, one of the new Organisation XIII characters

The idea that a Nobody is created when someone becomes a Heartless is introduced in this game, which basically opens up a whole world of possibilities from a writing point of view. I won’t spoil anything in this review, but I will say that although the execution of the storytelling isn’t always the best, the story itself is really well written.

You start the game playing as Roxas, in a similar vein to the first game it is slow going at the start. Tutorials and character introductions are thrown at you constantly, and the gameplay itself consists of fetch quests and mini games. Although once you begin to get through these few hours and gain control of Sora again, you are able to access the new worlds and the pace quickly picks up.

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The Battle of 1000 Heartless

Pythagean

Pythagean

Head Designer at The Video Game Forum

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Summary
  • Gameplay
  • Presentation
  • Story
  • Audio

Summary

If you enjoyed Kingdom Hearts, you will almost certainly like Kingdom Hearts 2 just as much if not more. It has the same charm which made the first game such a wonderful experience.

The gameplay is quicker, the new combat features are well implemented, the story is deeper and more complex, the new worlds are very well presented and fun to explore. This is a good iteration on the original game and a great addition to the Kingdom Hearts franchise.

4.3