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 PLATFORM: PLAYSTATION 2
THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN SUMMON SPELLS AND CARTOONS
ingdom Hearts II makes great strides forward in exposing the battle-hardened spirit of Final Fantasy and the waggish mystique of the Magic Kingdom. Moments after Donald Duck’s temper flares into comical effect, there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself neglecting your combat duties just to watch Cloud Strife unmercifully mince a throng of Heartless. As much as these two worlds clash violently, they also dance harmoniously, unifying into a milieu that fills your mind with wonder. In a twist, it’s neither Final Fantasy nor Disney that remains embedded in your mind once this journey concludes. It’s the original content that is woven within these two worlds that dominates this wondrous adventure.
Even though the game starts out on an unfamiliar note, following the exploits of a troubled boy named Roxas, these moments are used to herald the return of Sora. In a devilish yet remarkable plot twist, you may not want Sora back. It’s an amazing chain of events, to say the least. The stones that Sora overturns in his desperate search for childhood friends Kairi and Riku lead him down dark paths and toward even darker revelations. Who has been pulling the strings? What are the Heartless? What secret lies behind Organization XIII? By the time the game concludes, everything is revealed. It’s not quite as powerful of a story as it was in the first game, but it will still most certainly give you shivers and make your heart leap.
Square has made every effort to make Final Fantasy elements feel at home within Sora’s world, but most of the Disney content feels tacked on. While serving well as a trip down memory lane, the Disney-themed conflicts that arise can once again be viewed as entertaining diversions that hold you back from the real meat of the story. This time around, however, much of the experience is repeated like a broken record. In The Nightmare Before Christmas you’ll be fighting Oogie Boogie…again! The same goes for Jafar in Aladdin. There is great opportunity to expand upon the stories from the movies, but I really get the feeling that Disney handcuffed Square Enix on being able to create new content. As a result, the overall experience is a choppy roller coaster ride. One minute it will have you screaming in delight, the next holding your head in pain.
Where the story alternates between hit and miss, Kingdom Hearts II absolutely clobbers in the combat that it unleashes. The combo potential that Square Enix places in your fingers is so divine that even God of War’s Kratos would deem it awesome. There are few games that deliver controls that make you feel as confident and comfortable as Kingdom Hearts II does. Given how dynamic the control is, you feel like you can defeat an army a thousand strong by your lonesome.
Chaining together massive combos delivers a thrill a second, but it’s the new reaction commands – opportunistic timing-based button presses – that really give this sequel’s melee razor-sharp teeth. They put your reflexes to the test and make you approach each enemy differently. Limit breaks, form changes, and summon spells are also used to great effect, allowing players to approach battles in numerous ways.
The RPG elements remain as light as can be, but offer a greater sense of satisfaction in the form of the new abilities and items that become available as your characters level up. The Gummi Ship was downright loathsome in the original game, and while remaining a far cry from truly respectable, at least offers some degree of satisfaction this time around.
Kingdom Hearts II is a remarkable journey and another Square Enix masterpiece. Just be forewarned that it has a knack for periodically strangling you with your childhood memories.
  -REINER

MILLER   9

Kingdom Hearts continues to be a hard sell for me. How a mishmash of Disney and Final Fantasy characters manages to be anything but ridiculous is beyond me. However, the fomula works, and Kingdom Hearts II delivers a powerful narrative filled with so many beloved childhood characters that it’s tough to keep them all straight. At the same time, it abolishes almost all of the problems of the original, tweaking cameras, menu navigation, inventory management, and the battle system. The resultant gameplay is streamlined and smooth, punctuated by incredible moments of action and interwoven with deep themes of friendship and personal identity. If anything hurts the experience, it might be its incredible length. Like a great movie that could have used some careful editing, this may be one instance where a game should have been more concise. But it’s nowhere near a deal breaker. Memorable, exciting, and incredibly fun, Kingdom Hearts II is exactly what you hoped it would be.

9
CONCEPT:
Masterful hack n’ slash and a spellbinding adventure set within well-known stories that have grown way too familiar
GRAPHICS:
The particle effects leap from the screen with stunning vibrancy. The character models and lip-synching are quite impressive
SOUND:
The maestros at Square Enix have conjured another unforgettable score. Additionally, Haley Joel Osment (Sora) does an exceptional job, but Christopher Lee (Diz) steals the show
PLAYABILITY:
Rather than focusing on both platforming and action, the game is now all about the glorious fray and the miraculous moves that players can perform within
ENTERTAINMENT:
It nears perfection when it isn’t recycling content
REPLAY:
Moderately High
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