Well it may have taken me almost a year since I finished the first one, but I recently got around to completing Kingdom Hearts 2. In keeping with tradition when I play a game I have a lot of thoughts on I'll be writing a little bit about my feelings on it.
So lets take it away...
I was actually unaffected by any kind of nostalgia going into this game, despite that there's something incredibly important in this song. I don't really care for the Disney properties involved, I still haven't played the Final Fantasy games that the characters in this game come from. This song however, relies on absolutely none of that. Unlike other portions of the game where it seems like the fact that you've seen or played as these characters before is expected to carry the story and drive emotion, there's something very different about Dearly Beloved. It's hard to say exactly what it is, the piano, the strong focus on a melody or even the image of Sora just standing there looking onward. It all comes together to give Kingdom Hearts 2 a very certain feel, one that I imagine has deeply influenced the people that have played it.
I do believe that I've rambled enough, it's time that I get right to the meat of every game, which is the gameplay. KH2 does a good job at taking steps forward, while staying true to the original formula. Running, jumping and attacking all feel as engaging as they did in the first, but a few choice changes allow the series to naturally progress.
Battles still feel fantastic, and nothing feels better then guarding at the right moment, and launching a furious counter attack. I always felt that in the first I was having the most fun fighting the enemies that were on the same footing I was. Humanoid enemies that could also jump, block and attack always felt great to fight, as if I was engaging in a dual and I was required to use all my available skills and magic to make it out alive. KH2 wonderfully recreates feeling and more by having a wider variety of enemies and bosses besides the typical heartless.
Combat itself works well, but there was one thing that continued to bother me, the reaction commands. To anyone unaware, during fights you are given prompts to press the triangle button when enemies do certain things. For bosses it was usually to have reveal their weakness or dodge an attack. In regular battles it could be anything from simply moving behind the enemy to outright defeating them. I have mixed feelings on this because it takes away from the overall combat.
It looks impressive, sure, but besides being able to react to it on time everything is automated. For example pressing it during the Hydra battle will cause Sora to do some fancy work and cut off all its heads. It looks great, and adds excitement, but I'm really not doing it. I remember back to the first KH game when during the Rock Titan boss battle you had to attack its feet to have it drop down, before scaling it and attacking its weak head. That felt awesome and was entirely controlled by myself, it really did feel like I had just taken down some larger then life beast. The reaction command takes that kind of player control away, and what's given in exchange? Better looking finishing moves?
What does save reaction commands though is that it's continuously used even in regular battles. A reaction command never took me by surprise because I'd been using them throughout the entire game. They also don't function like quicktime events, in the sense that if you miss one it's not a game over. You might take some damage or miss an opportunity to attack, but you're never extensively punished for missing one.
Another downer is the lack of actual platforming and the corridor based level design. Too much of the time, especially towards the end of the game you fight enemies in very flat, almost arena like areas. The original faired a bit better in this regard, with more variation in level design. The game also doesn't open up very often, making areas often feel cramped and linear.
Those are just minor quips though, overall the game remains fun and engaging right through to the end, and they even managed to improve the Gummi ship sections, so there's that.
You know what? I didn't mind the story in the first Kingdom Hearts. It was goofy, and tended to throw around the same words over and over again, but it brought a lot of franchises together and was entertaining overall. Kingdom Hearts 2 however, sort of wallows in the confusing lore and web of characters that have been introduced since then. I'm sure there are people that say otherwise, but when you need a flowchart to properly understand what's going on you might have a problem. There's just so many characters with uninteresting motivations that the ones that you care end up getting buried.
That being said I don't find the story bad, it just seems to very contrived at certain parts, like there's no real rules. Everything that doesn't make sense is just given one of the buzz words of the hour and then things move on. "Why are you alive again?" is explained by "Because of the darkness" or "How did that happen?" is explained by "The power of the heart". It all culminates in a story that feels rather self fulfilling.
I would like to mention how well this game has aged though, particularly the graphics and aesthetics. It's only about 7 years old, but it still looks great. The different styles for different worlds also keeps things fresh throughout the game. In fact where I thought the game looks the worst is when they tried a realistic look the Pirates of the Caribbean world.
That aside, characters, enemies and levels all look great today, and imagine they'll still hold up years down the line.
The music is also fantastic. I often hear people say that certain pieces of music sound like they're from Kingdom Hearts, and I attribute that to Yoko Shinmomura's fantastic style. Songs like The 13th Struggle highlight her talent at producing a strong melody while using a wide variety of instruments, something that seems often lacking in todays music.
So that's what I think about Kingdom Hearts 2. A great game that has some issues, but those are overlooked easily enough. Feel free to chime in below, about how I'm wrong about something, or what you think about this game.