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Two years on, still as awesome as ever!
on 10 April 2008
The Kingdom Hearts series is renowned for being a thing of greatness. Ever since Kingdom Hearts 1, the once-unfathomable idea of Disney and Final Fantasy crossing over has proved to be a thing of true-creative genius, beautiful presentation and totally enjoyable gameplay.
With this Platinum release, it now means you can treat yourself to a classic at a bargain price. And I can't recommend it enough. Two years after its original release, it's STILL a mandatory purchase.
Kingdom Hearts 2 takes place a year after the events of Chain of Memories. But before Sora, Donald and Goofy make their return, the story starts out in a world called Twilight Town, focusing on a newcomer called Roxas. Roxas is being plagued with dreams of Sora and soon finds himself subjected to weird happenings. It's not long until the Keyblade mysteriously falls into his possession and he encounters DiZ, Naminé and Axel, the only member of the Organization to have survived and returned from the events of Chain of Memories.
Soon, however, Sora, Donald and Goofy are back in the fray, and have to contend once more with returning Disney villains and the Heartless, as well as a brand new threat; the Nobodies and the remaining members of Organization XIII. The events that follow complicate matters and their desire to find their lost friends.
Kingdom Hearts 2's visuals are absolutely stunning. Right from the CGI movies to the in-game graphics. As with KH1 and KH: COM, the game has the feel of a Disney movie and works on every level. It's still amazing that Disney and Final Fantasy crosses over and succeeds. And the fact that the worlds are based on cartoon AND live-action this time around justifies how flawless the presentation is. Nothing feels out of place here.
The sound is, for the lack of a better term, godlike. Kingdom Hearts' music score and voice acting was near perfect. In the sequel, the orchestra and soundtrack is even better. The music for each of the worlds, boss fights and cut scenes are a real treat to listen to. Many famous pieces of Disney music have been recreated brilliantly for the game and the original pieces are full of emotion too.
As with the first Kingdom Hearts, an all-star voice cast is present and there is plenty of greatness here. But there are a few things to be very picky about. For numerous reasons, not everyone could reprise their roles for this game, so sadly, there's no Billy Zane, David Boreanaz, Whoopi Goldberg, Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom among others, but the guys who fill in do a very good job nonetheless.
The majority of the voice cast are at the top of their game and it shows. The Disney actors and guests who give life to the original characters naturally go without question. But the standout ones include Haley Joel Osment, who remains brilliant as Sora, this time giving a deep voice to the growing teenage hero. Jesse McCartney likewise is awesome as Roxas, so too Quinton Flynn as Axel. And of course, James Woods deserves all the credit in the world for his typically classic performance as Hades.
But the best voice actor in the game, bar none, is unquestionably the great Christopher Lee, who gives such life to the enigmatic DiZ. There is no other voice on the planet that can give more credit to the character and you'll hear for yourself that I'm not exaggerating.
The gameplay has changed from the first Kingdom Hearts. It's similar but noticeably different. Fights are still in real-time but many new features have been incorporated, such as reaction commands and the inclusion of Drive forms, which make Sora more powerful and are a welcome addition. There are now some cool double-team moves to pull off with party members, and the camera has thankfully been greatly improved from the last game, which was diabolical. Although still not perfect, it's much better and such a relief to use.
The Gummi Ship routes are back this time and also greatly improved. This time round, they are a great addition and are actually purposeful and thus more enjoyable, with extra missions and ships to be unlocked. There are also plenty of secrets to explore, Coliseum tournaments to unlock, and numerous side tasks to accomplish in order, so there is plenty of replay value to keep you coming back for more.
The most rewarding thing about playing Kingdom Hearts 2 is definitely the story. The stories in the first game and KH: COM were awesome, so naturally the story here is truly one of epic proportions from start to finish, right from Roxas' tragic tale to the poignant resolution. Everything comes together and the mysteries regarding DiZ, Naminé, and the Organization are finally revealed. The answers are immensely satisfying and prove that Square-Enix knew what they were doing all along. Startling new revelations also come to light regarding KH1's main antagonist, Ansem, thus making a very interesting villain even more interesting than ever before.
There are also some tremendous sub-plots that are great in their own right. Having played KH1, I still had a few doubts as to what would work and what wouldn't. Kingdom Hearts 2 proved me wrong by showing that anything can work. The Pirates of the Caribbean world springs to mind, as does the Tron world, which plausibly plays an important role in the main story. And like last time, the Winnie the Pooh world fits in perfectly and is absolutely charming and enjoyable.
In closing, Kingdom Hearts 2 remains phenomenally good. There are a few things to nitpick about, so it's not perfect, but like the previous games, it's very close to being perfect. All fans WILL be satisfied.