When the first Kingdom Hearts video game came out in 2002 on the Sony PlayStation, quite a few people wondered if the folks at Square-Enix had gone out of their minds. A role-playing game showcasing sunny Disney characters along with the angst-ridden figures of the company's Final Fantasy games? The idea seemed cheesy at the time. However, Kingdom Hearts as well as Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (released on the Game Boy Advance) were runaway hits, appealing to both young and older gamers in the East and West. Now, with the release of Kingdom Hearts II, PS2 players can continue to explore old and new magical worlds with familiar and endearing characters.
It's not necessary for a person to have played the previous installments of the game to enjoy Kingdom Hearts II, but it would be helpful. The adorable Sora is still the main character (although you'll start the game as a guy named Roxas, but enough of that -- I don't want this to become a spoiler). Sora and his intrepid buddies Donald Duck and Goofy go on a quest to stop new enemies known as the "Nobodies," in addition to fighting old foes known as the "Heartless."
Sora goes through a variety of worlds in this game -- worlds that most people will recognize -- and get to interact with familiar Disney characters as well. For instance, you'll remember the movie "The Lion King" when Sora goes head to head with Scar in Pride Rock. Mickey Mouse, of course, features prominently in the story. You will also get to explore the worlds of Mulan, Aladdin, the Little Mermaid, Hercules, and many more. Port Royal, the world of Jack Sparrow of "Pirates of the Caribbean" fame, and the world of Tron, are especially entertaining, and the graphics are simply amazing. You will also meet a large number of characters from Square's hit Final Fantasy series, like Cloud, Tifa, Setzer, Cid, Sephiroth, Riku, and Auron.
The gameplay is still as fast-paced, but enhancements have been made. Battles are conducted in real-time -- the longer it takes you to make a move, the higher the risk that your character takes a hit. The new Reaction Command feature adds a more exciting dimension to battles and makes finishing off the Bosses much more gratifying. The Drive feature is another feature that makes playing this game so much fun. If the Drive meter is charged, you can combine characters to transform Sora and give him new and more powerful skills to defeat enemies in battle. You can also use the Drive function to enable Sora to cast Summons, or to call beings with extraordinary powers to help him during a fight. Some of the characters that Sora can summon are Chicken Little and Stitch -- you can probably imagine how entertaining that will be.
What's a role-playing game without magic? The spells have been fine-tuned for Kingdom Hearts II as well. Sora has a greater magic power (MP) threshold -- his MP gauge is refilled automatically once it's empty. Sora is also able to use magic spells in tandem with other characters. It's quite exciting to see what moves the characters have up their sleeves, and casting just the right spell at the right time makes for jaw-dropping and more fulfilling battle sequences.
The kinks that players complained about in the first Kingdom Hearts have been ironed out somewhat for Kingdom Hearts II. Camera angles and control have been improved, enabling the player to be almost fully in command regarding aspects of the scene that he or she wants to see and to have a better view of battles. Also, the game flows more smoothly because there is a sense of continuity in spite of the different natures of the worlds that Sora and his companions go through. The replay value of this game is high because aside from Sora's main quest, there are several mini-quests and side games that you can engage in, and these help keep the overall fun level high.
A big factor in the entertainment value of Kingdom Hearts II is the voice talent. Celebrities like Haley Joel Osment (as Sora), David Gallagher, Christopher Lee, Rachael Leigh Cook, Mena Suvari, James Woods, Steve Burton, and Hayden Panettiere lend their voices to bring life to the game's characters.
Kingdom Hearts II, from Disney Interactive and Square-Enix, has an E rating, which means that anyone from the very young to the very old can enjoy the game. It continues the tradition and fun of the first Kingdom Hearts, and it wouldn't come as a surprise if it surpasses the high level of success achieved by that game.