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Kingdom Hearts II PlayStation 2

Published by Buena Vista Games
Developed by Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £39.99

Who would have thought combining Square’s (who hadn’t merged with Enix at that time) RPG expertise with Disney’s vast array of colourful characters would give a game so impressive and enjoyable. Kingdom Hearts was a real surprise to many when it was released back in 2002. Initial expectations were that it would be a kiddie game that would have little appeal to many console RPG fans. When the game was released however, many loved it. We were impressed with it too, although we wish the game had had a turn-based combat system instead of the real-time system that had been included. Due to the huge popularity that Kingdom Hearts enjoyed it was only a matter of time before a sequel was released and six months after the game was released in the US it’s finally available for us in Europe. Let’s take a look at how this highly anticipated RPG turned out.

The sequel continues the story of the original game and once again you’ll be controlling Sora and you’ll have Goofy and Donald Duck as your companions. Whilst it’s not essential that you’ve played either the original Kingdom Hearts on the PlayStation 2 or the GBA Kingdom Hearts game, the story will make more sense if you are aware of the story in the previous games. As we’ve just said though, it’s not essential that you’ve played the previous games and simply experiencing this sequel in isolation from those other games still makes for an enjoyable time. As with the original Kingdom Hearts you’re going to encounter a lot of Disney characters here. You’ll meet characters from movies such as Hercules, Mulan and The Little Mermaid for example as well as more recent movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Chicken Little and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas. You’ll even come across characters from Tron. There are so many Disney character here that the game is simply a must for anyone who enjoys Disney movies.

The game just isn’t about Disney characters though. In fact there’s quite a few from the Square catalogue here to make the game equally appealing for fans of Square’s previous games. Whilst the game is an action RPG, using a real-time combat system instead of a traditional turn-based system, it still has enough depth to appeal to those who are looking for a satisfying RPG experience. Even the platform game elements that were plentiful in the first game have been drastically reduced this time around. There is plenty of scope for character customisation in terms of how they develop. Whilst the game is very linear there are quite a few side quests to undertake if you want to do so. The arcade shooting Gummi ship sections are still there, which might irritate some gamers but thankfully they aren’t quite so annoying this time around.

Kingdom Hearts II is a great game, of that there is no doubt, but you can’t help but feel in some ways it could have been better. Personally I still feel a turn-based combat system would have been the better choice as it would have made the game accessible to everyone and not just those who are happy to button-bash their way through battle after battle. That said, the combat system is better this time around and you have context sensitive actions such as reversals. You can configure your AI partners to some extent to but despite these refinements you’re still going to end up with sore thumbs after long play sessions. When the story gets going it’s very enjoyable but it takes hours to get into full swing. The early part of the game is rather dull and has you doing errands to earn money (or munny as the game calls it) and investigating seven wonders. It’s all rather tedious and it would have been much better had the game had a more compelling opening. The camera still has a tendency to go a little wonky at times, although it’s better than in the first game, which makes battles slightly more awkward than they should be.

Graphically the game is as colourful and vibrant as the original Kingdom Hearts and it’s definitely one of the better looking RPG’s on the PlayStation 2. As you might expect for a game built around Disney characters the colour palette is a bright and bold one. All of the locations you’ll visit in the game, and there are many, look great. The presentation has all the usual first class polish of a Square Enix product. As per usual the pre-rendered cutscenes look amazing. All of the Disney characters that appear in the game (and there certainly are a fair amount of them) look excellent and that’s something younger gamers (or fans of the Disney movies) will certainly appreciate.

Deaf gamers will be able to fully enjoy Kingdom Hearts II. By default the game is subtitled (probably because not all of the dialogue is voiced, in fact quite a lot isn’t). The games cutscenes are subtitled simply with white text. There are no dialogue boxes, character portraits or character names placed alongside the text in the cutscenes. The in-game conversations are also subtitled. Here the text is shown in coloured speech balloons that make it obvious who is saying what. Any objectives you are given are displayed in text and you can recall them at any time by looking at your journal.

Kingdom Hearts II is the last console RPG we’ll review in 2006 and it’s fair to say it’s one of the best to have been released this year. With a story that lasts around 50 hours it’s also a game that’s going to keep you busy for while. The early part of the game is a little tedious in all honesty but once the story does get moving, it becomes highly enjoyable and the three difficulty levels that are available (Beginner, Standard and Proud) should mean there’s a difficulty level to suit everyone from younger gamers to expert button bashers. We would have preferred a more satisfying combat system but in truth it doesn’t prevent Kingdom Hearts II, with all of its many Disney and Square characters, from being a great RPG.

Overall Game Rating 9.2/10

Deaf Gamers Classification

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Kingdom Hearts 2 takes a while to get going but once it does it's one heck of an action RPG that will delight fans of Disney and Square alike.