“Starting a new journey may not be so hard,
It has already begun…”
As we wait for the much anticipated Kingdom Hearts 3 I find myself recalling this quote, and never has it been so relevant and now in the wake of Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts 1.5, I feel compelled to revisit some old memories and dust off my copy of Kingdom Hearts 2.
Released in December of 2005 Kingdom Hearts 2 was the sequel to the action RPG Kingdom Hearts. The series as a whole is famous for its combination of Square Enix and Disney worlds and characters and has sold over 17 million copies worldwide. It’s rich, complex and expertly written storyline has captured millions and not only that, but has grown up with its audience, going from a mostly light hearted scenario and slowly descending into a more serious and increasingly darker story.
Kingdom Hearts 2 starts off with an absolutely breathtaking opening cinematic that acts as almost a summary of the first game and then throws us into the shoes of a new protagonist, Roxas. We live his life for a little while, a young boy trying to make the most of the final few days of summer vacation. There’s a tournament to be fought and fun to be had with his friends at The Usual Spot. His summer fun is interrupted however by flashbacks of people and events he doesn’t remember occurring and a voice in his head he doesn’t know. His time is short however, for the story must go on! After a couple of hours of gameplay (that seemed to leave me with more questions than answers) we end up back in the saddle again as our much beloved Destiny Islander, Sora. Waking up in a strange place after a year of machine assisted sleep Sora, and his companions Goofy and Donald Duck set out to scope out the area. With this, our adventure begins.
With a fantastically rich universe with beautifully designed worlds and characters that you may recognise from movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, Mulan, Fantasia, Tron and The Nightmare Before Christmas along with new worlds like the run down ghettos of Hollow Bastion to the daunting high rise buildings and blindingly bright lights of The World That Never Was. The characters make for an interesting roster with characters from the Final Fantasy series such as Cloud Strife, Squall Leonhart,(Or Leon as he is called in game) Auron, Tidus, and so on, coupled with Disney staples such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Hercules, Tron and Winnie The Pooh along with some amazing original characters creating amusing run ins and providing some childhood nostalgia.
Kingdom Hearts 2 plays fairly well, with very few “Where the hell do I go now?” moments that many Final Fantasy players will remember. The developers also had the good sense to fix the awful camera from Kingdom Heart’s by letting us use the analog sticks instead of the shoulder buttons which made battles in the first game far more difficult than they needed to be. Speaking of combat, Kingdom Hearts 2 makes combat that bit more since on top of its fluidity and fun enemies, you have Drive Form, which allows Sora to equip an extra Keyblade for a limited time or even more once you reach your Final Form, causing Sora to float in the air, pin wheeling his Keyblades at enemies. The interact button plays a part in combat too now, letting us do massive damage or AoE damage to enemies in a one shot attack. The combat, camera and weaponry improvements really helped remedy the clunky gameplay which was where the first Kingdom Hearts game fell down.
The game also has one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a video game, with nice, constant theme music to accompany certain worlds, occasionally broken by the intense battle music whenever you have a run in with the various different kinds of Nobodies and Heartless, and some of the most beautiful music to suit the quieter, touching moments of the game and helps immerse you further in the moment. Added to all of that one of the most popular Japanese music icons, Utada Hikaru returns with a new track ‘Sanctuary’…
Overall this game showed a much needed bout of originality in what was becoming, at the time, a market saturated with movie tie in games and sequels that were utter let downs. When so many games let us down, Kingdom Hearts 2 shone through, with memorable characters old and new, a fantastic storyline, immense set pieces and epic conflicts. It gave us moments that had us laugh, times that had us so stressed we wanted to lob the controller at the screen and made it so easy to connect with the characters and that only made the sad moments that much more heart rending.
So, with all that having been said, it’s nostalgic appeal and strangely relatable characters made the series as a whole that much easier to fall in love with it, finding a place in the hearts of gamers everywhere and you can be damn sure that when Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out, I’ll be first in line.
[Words, Keith Slattery]
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!