torstai 9. kesäkuuta 2011

REVIEW - Kingdom Hearts II (2005)

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: December 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Square Enix
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix, Buena Vista Games

The development of Kingdom Hearts II began right after the release of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, and coincided with the development of the Game Boy Advance exclusive Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. However, the storyline and details related to the franchise's main gimmick of mixing two completely different universes together began taking shape several months into production. Improving the gameplay notably, primarily according to players' feedback, was the team's main objective from the very start instead of making another immerse, artificial collective of characters that would sell itself. That's some dedicated design work right there, very respectable and consumer-friendly if you ask me. However, you shouldn't ask me. You should ask each and every person who ever played this game, 'cause Kingdom Hearts II was released to some highly mixed opinions. Some fans of the first game hated every aspect of it, while some thought it was indeed a huge improvement over its predecessor. Some hated the fact that there are so few new characters from both universes, and loathed the original story which again disputedly took a turn for the worse. If you're still intrigued to ask me about the game, sure, I'll tell you what I think about it. As a game, it's way ahead of my original expectations. Storywise... well, I think the gameplay manages to overshadow the poetical flaws of the game. As a whole package, the game's near-excellent.

A bigger game of hearts

Haley Joel Osment : Sora
David Gallagher : Riku
Hayden Panettiere : Kairi
Jesse McCartney : Roxas
Brittany Snow : Naminé
Christopher Lee : DiZ
Wayne Allwine : King Mickey Mouse
Tony Anselmo : Donald Duck
Bill Farmer : Goofy / Pluto
Steve Burton : Cloud Strife

Roxas is a seemingly normal teenage boy from Twilight Town, who spends his days hanging out with his three friends, dodging bullies and eating ice cream. However, what's going on in his head is far from normal. He sees visions of figures all dressed in black never really knowing if they're his allies or enemies, a mysterious girl named Naminé, and day by day, the line between Roxas' dreams and reality seems to grow thinner. He soon realizes that someone is attempting to guide him to the truth behind his existence and purpose. In a research lab hidden beneath a local haunted mansion, Sora, Donald Duck and Goofy are in deep slumber, unknowingly waiting for Roxas' help.

The Beast's gone apeshit.
Although Kingdom Hearts wasn't exactly a mind-blowing experience for me, it pleased me greatly as a Final Fantasy and Disney fan when I first played it, and upon seeing the first screenshots and gameplay teasers for Kingdom Hearts II, I couldn't help but pre-order the game and hope that it would live up to my expectations and be at least as good of a game its predecessor was. As I pointed out, it surpassed my expectations. On the surface, it took time from me to realize how good it was, because I originally hated the story; this one blew the top off everything that had happened so far in the series. Besides, it was very hard for me to even try to follow the story since I hadn't played Chain of Memories back then. Suddenly, there was a host of new characters in both better and worse, including Organization XIII, who are very cool original villains, but perhaps they were in the wrong game all along. The Kingdom Hearts story simply _does not work_, as far as I'm concerned. I'm here for the cameos, and Kingdom Hearts II has a lot of them. Originally, I was just as disappointed as everyone else, that there were so few new major characters and new worlds. However, then I realized that each and every recycled world in the game has been completely redesigned. Then I realized something else: they didn't have much fine material left! A level based on Lady and the Tramp? The Fox and the Hound? The Aristocats? Pocahontas? Yeah, I thought so - wouldn't work. The Jungle Book? The Deep Jungle level in the first game was perfectly enough. That's probably why the developers decided to expand to Disney's live-action franchises, to bring something new into the game, and I think they made a fine effort, no matter what anyone says. Kingdom Hearts II is very far from a rehash. Actually, the thought of recycling never crossed my mind while I was playing the game. It's different in so many ways.

Let's start with the slight, but notable increase in the wealth of Final Fantasy within the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Originally, Tetsuya Nomura avoided using characters he didn't design, and that decision of his still pretty much stands. However, Setzer Gabbiani and Vivi Orunitia are in the game, to compensate for the previous game's total lack of characters from Final Fantasy VI and IX. Sephiroth appears as a part of the plot this time - and he's finally voiced by the right guy, at that. In addition Tifa makes an appearance as an agent in search of the much more prominent Cloud, the disciplinary committee from Final Fantasy VIII is in an important role during the first few hours of the game, and the Gullwings from Final Fantasy X-2 show up as some strange fairy spies. Oh yeah, and get ready for a resurrection for the ages. If you're as much of a fan of one certain Final Fantasy character as I am, you're in for a real treat. All in all, the divide between the Final Fantasy and Disney gimmicks in this game is a lot narrower. The previous game leaned a bit too much on the Disney factor. I dig the slightest balance they found in Kingdom Hearts II.

Have you ever thought that Winnie the Pooh
is one selfish asshole? Well, think about it.
The light side of the game - the Disney side - sees the rise of a whole heap of new characters, and level design which is more faithful to the original concept art, and way better at that. There are only a few brand new worlds, but if those worlds include The Pride Lands from The Lion King, and moreover, Port Royal from Pirates of the Caribbean, AND if the old levels are indeed wholly redesigned, I have absolutely no complaints. The level design is really so much better than that of the first game, and the only thing in common between, say, Agrabah, in Kingdom Hearts with the one in Kingdom Hearts II is the name of the world. The same goes ten-fold for Atlantica, which has been fully renewed. No longer will you have to take part in a tedious, awkward swimming quest which will leave your heart full of darkness, Atlantica is more like a refreshing minigame in its entirety. I can't really name one level in this game I wouldn't like, that's a huge overhaul in itself. The "old levels" are no longer that attached to the movies. Some of them draw influence from sequels, such as Agrabah draws influence from Return of Jafar. The Beauty and the Beast segment, on the other hand, now takes place in the Beast's castle, so it's a bit closer to the original source material than the segment in the first game.

The original cast... well. All of the kids have grown up a little, that helps my tolerance for their roles out some. Naturally, their respective actors have also matured as professionals - but this is all technical talk and I still hate the characters of Kingdom Hearts. The voiceover work is technically on the mark, but it's the dorky story and dialogue, and the occasionally very strange rhythm of it, that work against the actors, ALL actors. Not just those who portray the original characters. What I'm trying to say is, all of the Final Fantasy and Disney characters have already built their reputation in some other game or movie, long before there ever was one Kingdom Hearts game. What have the original characters ever shown us? Nothing. And that's why they are not interesting. Except for Organization XIII, who have enough of contrast between dark and quirky to be entertaining, especially now as they perform with a little bit more flesh than in Chain of Memories.

On with it. The graphics of the game are absolutely phenomenal. I think the team was driven by the thought - turned fact - that this was going to be the last Kingdom Hearts game on the PlayStation 2, and they spared no expense in putting on the best possible show. The cinematic style of the game is still sort of clumsy - Disney animation doesn't go well with the dramatic Japanese Final Fantasy style in my opinion. You know, lots of awkward pauses, weird rhythm, weird camera angles. It's far from a fluid, seamless mixture of the two worlds.

That's "Captain". Captain Jack Sparrow.
The clumsy dialogue hurts the voiceover work by a disturbing lot. There are still those forced laughing scenes which I've hated ever since Final Fantasy X, and a lot of good or even great actors ruin themselves by saying one single line: that's "Sora! Donald! Goofy!", in an increasingly ridiculous manner and rhythm. It might sound like I'm nitpicking, but it's disturbing - trust me. Joining the original cast, we have Sir Christopher Lee himself as the mysterious DiZ, who was introduced in "Game B" in Chain of Memories. Also, Brittany Snow and Jesse McCartney, some of the hottest young actors in the States make important appearances. Mae Whitman replaces Christy Carlson Romano as Yuffie, otherwise the Final Fantasy VII schtick is like an Advent Children reunion. Doug Erholtz replaces David Boreanaz as Squall, for some reason, and Vivi is played by a chick (named Disney). Not much more to say about the Final Fantasy characters, 'cause I still don't want to spoil everything that's coming your way. Wayne Allwine's (R.I.P.) Mickey Mouse is now a central character, and both Tony Anselmo and Bill Farmer technically rock as always. The new Disney cast features the voice talents of Ming-Na, Cheech Marin, Angela Lansbury, Pat Morita, Tate Donovan, Zach Braff and Bruce Boxleitner, among others. Famed voice actor James Arnold Taylor makes the best Jack Sparrow impression ever. A true Depp fan will notice the difference, but you've got to hand it to him - he's good. Of course, James Woods still and forever owns as the returning Hades.

I almost forgot about the soundtrack, which is very similar to the soundtrack of the first game. There is another horrible (AND YOU CAN TAKE THAT TO THE BANK!) J-Pop tune to start things off, but otherwise, Yoko Shimomura once again manages to impress with her delicately balanced original soundtrack which draws influence from both the Final Fantasy franchise and the Disney media; I dig her direct adaptations, too.

As soon as you're done with the lengthy "intro sequence" that honestly takes about three hours to complete, you will find a game that is... somehow familiar, but yet so different. First of all, you can see your surroundings a bit better, and the game is in full 3D; this time, you control the camera with the right analog stick instead of the shoulder buttons, just like it should be in any modern game. Reaction Command is very crucial to your success, and you will learn the basics during the intro sequence. It's basically a QTE tied to your normal command menu, and almost every enemy and boss have their own Reaction Commands for you to harness. You can also set your limit attacks, both single and team moves, as Reaction Commands. Some criticize the simplified battle system which even lets you put items on speed-dial this time around - they feel it's bit too much of button-mashing madness, but I somewhat enjoy it, especially during the most epic battles which won't end until you've slaughtered one thousand Heartless creatures during one single fight. That's 1000. Yep, you must do that in order to beat the game. See the EXP fly. The thing is that beating the game - per se - is very easy due to the fluid combat, easily gained supercombos and limits, and the greatly improved party A.I. - but believe me, there are optional boss battles that will push you to the limit, and beyond. Plus, the game has quite a bit of length.

Hangin' with the king.
In addition to limit attacks, which indeed come in many shapes, and some summons (which really won't help you a whole lot), Sora has a new attire which allows him to change to a Form. In other words, he can turn from good ol' Sora into a meat-mincing, Keyblade-wielding, Heartless-killing, name-taking son of a bitch in a jiffy as long as he has spunk left in the Form meter, and as long as he has case-specific party members helping him out. The Form system is a bit of a mixed bag. You see, it's fun to kick bosses' asses (that rhymed.) with a Form when nothing else works, after all Sora wields two Keyblades during a Form change which is awesome, but the Forms do not level up along with Sora; all forms have their own EXP counters. So, in other words, if you want to level up your Form, and it runs out of gas before you nail an EXP score from your enemy, only Sora levels up. That's why the Forms become more useless the more you make progress - just like everything else outside of regular button-mashing combat. Just hacking along's fun in its own way, it looks nice, but admittedly building up a Super-Sora with all the best combos takes away all the purpose of having magic attacks, for example.

You could always say you can't afford the AP to build Sora up in such a way, but yes, you can. Most of the AP in this game is gained via AP Boosts, that are found from everywhere and you can pretty easily give them all to Sora, because Donald and Goofy don't have nearly as much abilities as Sora, and they can handle themselves just fine with minimal effort by you - the A.I. and the mana regeneration system are both so much better, from the characters' own, as well as Sora's standpoint. About halfway through the game, you'll already have built up quite the character in Sora. If you truly want challenge out of this game, you'll unfortunately have to wait to get to the optional stuff - which, again, is lightyears harder than what you might expect. I think Square intentionally got back at the fans for calling Sephiroth such a pushover in Final Fantasy VII...

The game's structure is surprisingly different. Instead of killing the PS2's capacity with something like 20 worlds, the developers stuck with a game that is of about the same artificial length as the first one, but they added different episodes to almost each one of the worlds, and even previously unlocked worlds are impossible to enter in certain phases of the game - they will be unlocked again at a later point in time. Despite the need to return to some previously visited locations, this does not mean the game repeats itself, on the contrary; very often a whole new area within a world is unlocked in a different episode. In addition, there's a total of three worlds that can only be entered through a special portal in another world, kind of like the Hundred Acre Wood, which is in this game also. Jiminy's new, improved journal has also a lot to offer to completists, so don't go into Kingdom Hearts II if you're looking for a nice, brief walk in the intergalactic park.

Space Paranoids is one of the kookiest levels in
the game. But in a good way. I liked Tron.
Jiminy still keeps stats of everything most basic, and his journal can also be checked for character bios, enemy files, and to somehow keep up with the story, but it holds so much more than that. Every treasure in every world is also tracked. In other words, if you think you've found every treasure you can in one world up to a certain moment, you can always check Jiminy's journal if there are one or two missing. Cool. Also, Jiminy keeps a track record of all level-specific minigames and trials - EVERY level has them. Granted, there are two levels wholly based on minigames and trials, and of course the Olympus Coliseum will work as the battle arena from a certain point onward, but every level has something which will have the most die-hard completists reeling. If this game had Trophies or Achievements, or more specifically, one that would require you to conquer every challenge in this game, I can tell you right now that I'd never be able to plat it myself.

People liked the Gummi Editor, but they hated the shoot 'em up sequences. Nomura listened. The Gummi Editor is pretty much the same as before, but it's a completely optional gadget. You see, you gain perfectly fine blueprints by just making progress - the editor's there just for those who are heavily into editing Gummi Ships, and those who are willing to go to impossible lengths to fully master each shoot 'em up sequence. They are the real deal this time around. They are kind of like minigames or stages in themselves. Still, all you get is new parts for your ship, but the sequences themselves are fun, adrenaline-pumped madness with boss ships to boot! All of them even have different difficulty levels for the most fanatic Gummi lovers to conquer. Honestly, these sequences slap many actual arcade shoot 'em ups silly.

The Moogles have a synthesis shop in almost every world, so you no longer need to backtrack your way to your base of operations each time you want some work done on your piles of materials. The Moogles level up according to the types of materials you bring them, and according to what types of items and equipment you have them cook up for you. It's all quite cool and improved, but there's also a downside: you need to beat almost half of the game to be able to synthesize something useful! The weapon shops have a pretty good trade this time around, and you can also find some choice equipment in the field.

Here again, but I assure you, it's very different.
And fun.
The optional bosses, the trials for completists and the Olympus tournaments make up for a fine amount of challenge. OK, perhaps the casual game isn't such a smooth ride from the beginning to the end either, it has its difficult moments, and it's about 15 to 20 hours lengthier than the first one no matter how you go at it, but it's still quite easy to beat on a casual, steady pace, and the treasures, as cool as it is to look for them, are very easy to find.

I could bitch about a lot of small things that are just simply wrong about the whole franchise, in its core gameplay and aesthetics, but the most important point is that Kingdom Hearts II, as a whole package, is in my opinion exactly what the first game should've been. Every smallest flaw that was part of the original deal is gone. I can only really complain about the plain stupidity of the storytelling - instead of being harvested out, it's only increased. The dialogue is sometimes so bad that I honestly find it extremely hard to enjoy the game. Reminder: "bad" does not mean "childish". Of course the game is childish. But it doesn't have to be written like this. Also, the trials in some levels are just dull and somewhat forced, like they just had to have some trials in each level, were they stupid ideas or not. These things, and the easy combat that creeps up on the game slowly, but surely, are perhaps big splinters on the game's smooth surface - but otherwise, Kingdom Hearts II gets two thumbs up from me. It's a game I think every PS2 owner should try.

SOUND : 9.0



GameRankings: 87.46%

A modified version of the game entitled Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + was released exclusively in Japan in March 2007. This version includes Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories.

This is the first time Yen Sid speaks.

Pat Morita's (Emperor of China) final performance. Rest in peace, Mr. Miyagi.

The Chicken Little summon was added only to promote the movie in Japan. In the same vein, Stitch was added into the game because of a Japanese survey that proved him to be the country's second most popular Disney character.

Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were originally supposed to reprise their roles as Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, but were busy making Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Geoffrey Rush - who only appears in one scene in the aforementioned movie - had time to reprise his role as Barbossa.

Ei kommentteja:

Lähetä kommentti