Kingdom Hearts 2 picks up after the events of Chain of Memories and 358/2 days. You are not playing as Sora but as Roxas. But who exactly is Roxas you wonder? That’s the question, the game wants you to ask and it won’t tell you the answer until later in the game.
Long summer vacations
Roxas enjoys his summer vacations with his friends in twilight town. But strange events start occurring and interrupt their fun time together. In the first hours of the game, you are not doing much and just getting to know Roxas and his friends and explore the location. You are playing a lot of mini-games and do some fighting along the way and accomplishing some tedious tasks.
Mini-games are always a nice diversion in RPGs, if they are fun and not required to advance the story. But it makes no sense, to put so much of them at the beginning of the game. They rather should give you a break of the core gameplay loop throughout the journey.
Nobodies are your main enemies in the beginning and they pop up out of nowhere. The Party is wondering what exactly those creatures are and why they are chasing them. Also, a familiar red-haired guy appears and confuses Roxas even more with his speeches about nobodies and organization XIII.
Those first Moments of the game really drag a long time and are not that enjoyable. But that is not the point. The intro wants you to connect to Roxas and his friends in which it succeeds in my opinion.
So it is that more impacting and heartbreaking when Roxas finally learns about Sora and his true origin. By sacrificing himself he restores Soras memories and awakens him out of his sleep. Summer vacation is over for Roxas…
Back to old habits
But now we have our well-known troop back, consisting out of Sora, Donald and Goofy and the game really starts. You are doing the usual stuff, visiting old and new Disney worlds and following a slightly altered version of the plot from the source material. Trough out your journey you are also uncovering the mysteries of organization XIII.
Outstanding for its time
The visuals are beautiful as always. The strongly stylised graphics are timeless and still hold up to today. Especially in the new HD overhaul, it got in the final mix version. Its just lovely and silly to see your beloved final fantasy characters like Cloud, Sephiroth and even Setzer in this art style. Even the Characters models of the pirates of the Caribean where at the time “photorealistic” and still look nice today.
I can not imagine how the PS2 handled the flashy animation, especially in battles, there is so much happening on the screen.
Also, Kingdom Hearts has one of the strongest Soundtracks I heard in gaming. It just adds so much to the overall Atmosphere of the game. The voice acting is also great, only a few times it can be a bit out of touch and not really fitting to the Situation.
Better in every aspect
Gameplay is far improved compared to the first game. I am still not a fan of the gameplay overall, but I have to admit it is better in every aspect than before.
Combat feels much smoother and the camera is now fairly manageable. It is much quicker and responsible and adds a lot of variety. You have a lot of customization options and much more combos to perform. They added new forms which can boost your attack or magic power or both at the same time. Those give you new moves and they can be leveled up individually, which grants you even more options.
So there is a lot to take and you can really dive deeply into the combat system if you want to. But you do not really have to, because most battles are won, by simply button mashing.
The Boss battles are really the highlights of combat. They are much fairer than in the first game, but even here some of them are really luck based. In addition, a lot of them really are just long quick time events where you have to press the triangle button at the right moment.
Not only the combat is much quicker, but also the overall pacing.
In the first game, the Disney worlds were really empty and did not have a lot of content. Most of the time you had little story sequences and then fight a wave of heartless. Exploration was not really fun and you just searched for the next cutscene to trigger and then repeat the process. The fights felt really repetitive and sometimes you did not know where to go next.
KH 2 still follows this form but iterates on it with some minor but important tweaks. Now Disney worlds feel much tighter and they find the perfect balance between story sequences and fighting enemies. You have much more mission types because they add things like timers or meters to battle that add a layer of challenge. Also, they integrate little mini-games into the battles themselves.
So even if you are doing the same things over and over again, it still feels somehow fresh. Cutscenes come in much quicker and shorter bursts and you have always something to do in between them. Every world has the perfect length and you do not get tired of it.
So it did not feel like unnecessary backtracking in later parts when you had to revisit them. I really enjoyed going back.
I did not expect that
The second half was more about the organization XII. They caused Chaos in the Disney worlds which you had to take care of. I really wanted to know more about the organization. Even tho I enjoyed going back to the Disney worlds, I wanted to move on. After revisiting the last world it was finally time to fight them face to face. I was really pumped to infiltrate their Headquarter, but not for too long…
I was pleasantly surprised about the high difficulty spike that waited for me there. This is probably intentional and an excellent move from a gameplay and Story integration perspective, because now it is getting serious. But it was not really difficult, it rather felt unfair and inconsistent in my opinion.
The game throws a boyband in dark hoodies at you that spams with attacks that could be right out of Dragonball Z. It all looked really cool and I enjoyed the presentation but I did not enjoy fighting them.
Somehow I wanted to go back again to my Disney worlds that I abandoned beforehand. It is the same for me every time with Kingdom hearts games, they somehow lose me in the second half.
But I withstood all of this and in the end, it was all worth it.
A prime example of a sequel
Kingdom hearts is not a perfect game, but it is a perfect sequel. It exceeds the first one in every aspect and improves on it without losing its core essence. It still has not the best gameplay and some pacing issues in the latter half. But it excels on the audio-visual front and in the presentation side of things. The story can seem sometimes silly and cryptic, but that is intentional. It has a much deeper Lore and symbolic meaning than it appears at first sight.
Kingdom hearts 2 has his flaws here and there but it is still a great game.