Well, after what literally seems like more than a decade of waiting, we finally got a specific deadline to Kingdom Hearts 3. And now we got people making Kingdom Hearts retrospectives left and right to not only commemorate the arrival of a game we've been waiting more than a decade for, but also to try to wrap our minds over the utterly convoluted storyline. I myself am so interested at this point that I decided to replay Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2 and see how they still hold up. Kingdom Hearts 1 is still a classic to me, but how does Kingdom Hearts 2 fair? Let's find out!
Keep in mind, I will be referring to the PS4 version for this review. It is definitely the most superior version of Kingdom Hearts 2 to date, with not only all the extras introduced in the Final Mix versions, but also significantly faster load times. Yet that won't come to play much in my review as it is still generally the same game as the PS2 original.
- AMAZING presentation. The first thing that strikes me as better than Kingdom Hearts 1 is its overall look. The graphics are prettier and more detailed, there are far more facial animations than the first game, and the style of the interface looks so sleek and modern. They even went a ridiculous extra mile by making the logos, font and cartoon irises unique to each world. Not to mention the incredible detail of just the Command Menu in the bottom left that has its own unique graphics and animations relative to each world. Or in some cases, relative to each ROOM. That's a significant attention to detail, but you can tell Nomura was having fun with his craft since he is a graphic designer after all. You can tell that so much passion went into making the game look incredible, but still unique, and that passion is what is inspiring me to walk my path towards being a game director.
- Outstanding soundtrack. The soundtrack to the first game was great, but the second game's is even better. There are just far more memorable tunes and a wide range of exciting and memorable boss battle tunes. And of course, if you're playing the PS3 or PS4 versions, you'll get treated to a reorchestrated version of the entire soundtrack which in some cases sound much better than the original in many ways. Although personally, I would appreciate being able to listen to the PS2 soundtrack as an option. Because as much of an improvement the recorchestrated soundtrack is, sometimes a MIDI song has more crunch and beat that makes the boss battle tunes more exciting.
- Great range of Disney Worlds. Kingdom Hearts 1's choice of Disney Worlds were all very good, and the choices they made for levels in Kingdom Hearts 2 were also really good. With a few exceptions, I like the seamless blend of new worlds like Mulan, Tron and Lion King, mixed with some of the oldies like Hercules and Aladdin. In the latter two cases, they brought back these worlds to focus on a different part of their respective movies, which shows them adding to the already established continuity the first game set, but also focus on something different so they still feel fresh. Agrabah is based on Aladdin 2, which I thought was a really nice touch, and the Olympus Coliseum is now set in the Underworld this time, which has its own unique feel and it's also my favourite world in the entire game.
- Gummi Ship Segments are a blast. They didn't have to go this far, but once again this is another example of them going the extra mile. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 1 where the Gummi Ship Segments were so boring they'd put you to sleep, here they're so dynamic and exciting as shoot 'em ups that they are a perfect substitute for a StarFox game. If you enjoy StarFox or any of those kinda games, you'll love this game just for these segments alone.
- Summons are actually really useful. This might be a small thing to comment on - as the combat is wildly different to the first game - but personally I have my ups and downs about this game's combat to the point where I can't offer any compliments to it that aren't backhanded. That being said, if there's one thing I do recognise as an improvement over the first game's combat, it is the Summons. The summons in Kingdom Hearts 1 were extremely useless. The damage dealers didn't do nearly enough damage and the supportive ones weren't really all that helpful (except for Tinker Bell who will revive you in every battle you summon her in). But all of Kingdom Hearts 2's summons are useful, almost all the time. But ironically, it's only when you're not using them do they become useful. Each summon has their own little minigame that is supposed to be the highlight of their use, but if you just let them wander around while you do their thing, their secondary actions prove to be more beneficial. Chicken Little can magnetise all surrounding enemies to him so you can hit them all at once, Peter Pan can stunlock enemies and even certain bosses while Tinker Bell heals you, and Stitch will very often refill your MP to full, making him a fantastic substitute to Ethers or Elixirs if you don;t have any. And I bet now that you know all this, you'll most likely use them in combat a lot more and I don't blame you.
- SEVERE pacing issues. The bulk of this game's problems all stem from it not pacing itself properly. And it truly hampers my enjoyment of it. As good as the game's story premise is - it has so many twists and turns that are actually interesting and a whole slew of great characters - it's disjointed structure makes it hard to appreciate or even understand what is going on in the game's world, which might explain why some people are to this day still confused about the entire franchise's storyline. Cutscenes sometimes drag, certain gameplay segments are unnecessary (including the Gummi Ship Segments honestly) and the fact the game makes you go through all the Disney Worlds twice just seems rather frustrating story-wise.
But the culmination of this game's poor pacing can be traced to the game's very beginning: Roxas' Prologue. Whether you love or hate his character, you can't deny his gameplay in Twilight Town at the start of the game is exceedingly boring. It is essentially an overlong tutorial, with a story that feels completely different to the main game's storyline. Personally, I think it would've been far better if, instead of gong through Roxas' entire story at the start of the game and then ignoring him until the very end of the game, his story would be separated into chunks and those chunks would be peppered separately about the game. So, for instance, the game would start right when Sora wakes up, and after his excursions in Twilight Town and Hollow Bastion for the 1st time, he starts feeling sleepy and passes out. It would then cut to Roxas and you would then play his 1st Day. Once it's over, the game cuts back to Sora who wakes up confused as would be the player who hasn't experienced this story before. And after Sora, say, defeats the Hydra, he again passes out and the game lets you play Roxas' 2nd Day. And so on and so on and you get the idea. This way, it would make Roxas' segments feel less boring and his relevance to the endgame would become more apparent as you play more of his Days throughout Sora's adventure. As opposed to going through Roxas' entire story at the start, blowing away his identity from the very beginning, and then forgetting about him until the endgame. What do you think? Better? Or worse?
- More emphasis on combat than exploration. Before you come at me with pitchforks, I want to stress that I do not hate this game's combat nor do I consider it as a detriment to this game overall. Despite some of my grievances with it, like being unable to react to taking damage immediately or the artificial feeling of Reaction Commands, I do recognise it as a complex system that, with time and practice, can be mastered and show off your true skills. And while I do understand the effort went into making this game more combat-centric, there's practically no exploration to be had and that kinda takes the fun out of it for me. Kingdom Hearts 1 always stands out as being more memorable to me because there was so much to find and explore in each world. And the reliance on my own sense of exploration made that game stick so much in my mind. Whereas this game is much too linear. If you're unimpressed by the story or the combat, or you even hate it, the game won't have much to offer besides it. The game's structure relies heavily on its story and combat being absorbing, and fortunately it was for a lot of people. But for those that weren't taken in, they were left with a very linear hand-holding adventure that offered little in terms of exploration. There is indeed side content and goodies to collect, but a lot of that is out in plain view and is only restricted sometimes by the player's abilities. Which leads me to my next point...
- Drive Forms stink. Drive Forms look so cool on the outset, but in terms of how they feel, I hate them. Like I said, there are goodies to collect and even an optional dungeon to explore, but experiencing these requires you learning Growth Abilities that can only be obtained by grinding these Drive Forms separately and it is entirely not fun. These forms can't just progress with Sora's main progression in parallels, no, you have to go out of your way to find spots where you can actually level up Drive Forms productively. For example, Master Form can only be upgraded by collecting Drive Orbs, which only certain enemies drop. So be prepared to stop your adventure in favour of going someplace else and grinding it up so that you can get that Double Jump needed to grab those goodies. And let's not forget that, even when you're grinding them or you're in a spot where your strategy calls for a Drive Form, there's a chance you'll get Anti Form which is a form that exists as a penalty to you spamming Drive Forms. But Drive Forms can't be spammed anyway, so I don't see the reason why Anti Form exists. All it does is just annoy the player some more and add another layer of tedium by having to manually refill your Drive Gauge because Anti Form wasted it all. F*ck off. Each form isn't all that special either. Valour Form is more powerful, but combos take forever and you can stunned incredibly easily, and you can't use magic. Wisdom Form makes magic more powerful, but your primary attack has been replaced with a wimpy-ass pea shooter, and your jump feels nerfed. I could go on, but I'll just say that Drive Forms at the end of the day are supposed to make you feel more powerful, and while I understand the need to not make these forms too powerful, they haven't been balanced correctly and thus feel most unfun to use.
- Atlantica. And to a lesser extent, 100-Acre Wood. I actually thought the idea of Atlantica was a great one. Disney's known for having many, many iconic songs on top of fantastic animation, so let's have a Disney World that is primarily a set of Rhythm Minigames. Brilliant idea. But oh dear lord did they drop the ball. Not only do the songs not feel like Rhythm Minigames because there is no timing whatsoever, but only 5 songs were included in the world and only 2 of them are actually from The Little Mermaid. The rest are original songs that sound abysmal. Not to mention hearing Donald Duck sing makes your ears bleed. They seem to jokingly acknowledge that by Donald complimenting his "brilliant" singing voice, but instead of laughing at the joke, you just want to walk to Square Enix and slap them for making you having to listen to his poor singing anyway. Overall, Atlantica is widely recognised as one of the worst levels of all-time (let alone Kingdom Hearts) and I can see why. On top of being unfun, it is the pure definition of cringe. MERCIFULLY however, it is entirely optional. You can beat Kingdom Hearts without ever having to set fin in Atlantica. But if you want that Blizzaga spell, you better have some earmuffs ready. Oh and I don't know why they bothered with the Winnie the Pooh world. It's entirely pointless. Annoyingly so since it only exists to take Pooh's memory away just so Sora could spend a chunk of time reminding him of who he is over and over again. The minigames aren't that fun. But again, if you want that precious Curaga spell, you have no choice but to go through it.
Before replaying this game, I was always debating with myself over whether I liked Kingdom Hearts 1 or Kingdom Hearts 2 more. Sometimes it was 1. Sometimes it was 2. I was torn.
But torn I am no longer; Kingdom Hearts 1 is clearly the superior game.
That's not to say Kingdom Hearts 2 is bad, but there are plenty of issues with, that all it does is makes me romanticise a different version of it that wasn't poorly paced. Kingdom Hearts 1, for all its clunkiness, has its tone, pacing and gameplay all focused so it feels like a much more compelling and absorbing experience. Kingdom Hearts 1 I am purely happy with in its current state, whereas Kingdom Hearts 2 left me wanting more or different. But again, that's not to say Kingdom Hearts 2 is bad in any way. I'm very glad I got to play it when I did and there is enough about it that entertains or excites me.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is soon to come out and it unfortunately has the crutch of wrapping up the franchise's incredibly convoluted storyline, ergo it's story is most likely going to be terrible. But it still has the potential to be as good as Kingdom Hearts 2 at least if its gameplay can deliver. If it can manage to overturn the problems that Kingdom Hearts 2 made - most notably the pacing - I'll be a happy ducky.
RATING: 8 / 10