Kingdom Hearts II: what will probably remain as one of Square Enix's most anticipated PlayStation 2 titles, along with Final Fantasy XII suffered countless delays following its announcement. Due to the consistent degree of delays, fans were beginning to wonder if it would ever be released. As an entrée of sorts, we were offered Chain of Memories which ironically, chained events from the past game to some tidbits from the sequel. It received tons of criticism from both sides of the gaming medium. Now that Japanese and American gamers alike can finally rejoice over its post-dated arrival, its hype (not the game itself) is what's truly being put to the test. Were all the filler release dates and delays really worth it?
Definitely. Thankfully, one aspect that the series (as well as their developer) holds true to are its high production values. The first Kingdom Hearts included dazzling graphics that animated fully 3-D worlds as well the characters included in them in such a pixel-perfect manner that you really did feel as if Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and company crossed over from the big screen and into a video game. The follow-up is no different, as Sora, Donald and Goofy revisit heartful worlds from past adventures, while saving some new ones on the way.
You're not a Somebody, until you're a Nobody
Following up to the events of Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories, KHII reveals more than the simple premise behind freeing the worlds from the Heartless and Maleficent. With the apparitions of Nobodies, people who have once lost their hearts, turning them into uncontrollable corporeal frames akin to the dangerous Heartless, the good guys have a new army to watch out for. The stronger breed of these Nobodies formed Organization XIII, a mysterious faction of dark-cloaked members out to claim what was once lost to them. Alongside these new villains, old ones make reappearance. Sora, Donald and Goofy have to once again take part in another great adventure to save the various kingdoms from being swallowed into darkness.
Strangely, the game doesn't start you off with Sora at all. Instead, you play the first 3 hours as Roxas, a new character that bears a strikingly similar resemblance to Sora. Before Sora's quest even begins, you'll have to fiddle around through Twilight Town as Roxas in several scenes (or days, as the game unfolds). These sequences are more like guidelines – tutorials that lay out combat controls and various, useful information. It's not as well tied to the main game as you might think, since there's little to no action in the prelude in comparison to the rest of the game. It's just very boring. To make matters worse, Kingdom Hearts II must have suffered some influence from all the Disney movies it reanimated because at times it feels more like a short film than an actual video game.
While the story is the heart of the series, each time you walk into a new world, or even a new corridor or room, a cutscene plays. Regardless of how superfluous or important the cutscene is, you can be certain that you'll come across one at least every new area you walk through. This makes multi-tiered worlds a nightmare at times, leading exploration to become quite tedious and nerve-wrecking, since you know a two to three minute cutscene is lurking around every corner. Granted, the very welcome addition of skipping cutscenes was added for anyone lacking the patience, or playing through the game a second time. And regardless of how interested you may be, it is almost certain that you will skip a cutscene at least once or twice throughout the game. Thankfully, there's enough action to give the game a fast-paced vibe, but the cutscenes, while brilliantly animated, nevertheless reduce exploration to a very sluggish experience. Granted, 95% of the plotline behind Kingdom Hearts II surrounds past films in the Disney universe, so the general public already has an idea of what's going on and even how matters will likely end.
In regards to the characters who have no place in the Disney films, KHII manages to solve several questions that fans have likely asked each other during its production. Even the infamous Deep Dive video from Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix is explained. Sora, Riku and Kairi go through many interesting plot twists and events that would leave any fan satisfied after the credits roll. Although, like every successful franchise, there are many loose ends, discrepancies and plot holes that seem to lead to a possible spin-off or sequel. It's more obvious in the long run, but not everyone has a resolve once the credits roll, leaving an opening for a new chapter in the series.