inally, the moment we’ve been waiting for. An English version of Kingdom Hearts 2 has arrived on our doorstep. Sure, we’ve had our fun with the Japanese version of the game – took some videos and wrote some impressions. But now that we can rely on our native language to understand what’s going on instead of just looking at pretty pictures, the world of Kingdom Hearts 2 has fully opened up. Check out our preview of the first few levels of the game as we gingerly tiptoe around major plot spoilers.
In our import preview we covered the big shocker in the first part of KH2, so if you want to know more about that check out our earlier coverage. We now know exactly what’s going on in the beginning, but we’re not going to talk about it to avoid spoilers. Some tiny bits of our story assumptions about this section turned out to be understandably a little off, but the overall vibe is predominantly correct. Today we’re going to discuss major mechanics rather than ruin the plot for everybody. So go ahead and take a look.
One of the biggest changes to the Kingdom Hearts battle system is the implementation of reaction commands. These are all tied to the triangle button and perform a ridiculous number of features. Players will use these commands to take down bosses and regular enemies alike, in addition to solving puzzles. For example, one situation will have you mashing triangle to move a heavy shelf out of the way. Or when you’re fighting a knight type of Heartless you can use commands to ride around on him as he flies through the air and then cause him to crash headfirst into the ground. As for boss fights, when you’re fighting the Hydra in the Olympic Coliseum you can call on the help of a certain friend to give you a ride past all of the heads so you can give them all a good wallop. These commands really keep things interesting as you’re always taking down enemies and solving puzzles in a completely different way. In KH1 you pretty much new before every major battle that you’d be mashing X and maybe throwing in some magic here and there. This time around you’ll find yourself always getting surprised with the new ways commands are implemented. It’s just very refreshing.
But let’s not forget the rest of the combat updates. The drive tactic totally owns. The first drive you’ll get in the game is called Valor, and you’ll have to combine with Goofy to use it. After boosting your drive meter to level 3 through battles and drive orb collection, you’ll be able to initiate Valor. Everything will slow down for a brief moment once this kicks in and Goofy will disappear temporarily. Sora’s black suit will turn red and he will wield two keyblades at once. We already talked about how Valor will increase Sora’s speed, vertical jump, and combo threshold. But now we know that this will also enable all of Sora’s unlocked abilities regardless of the amount of AP points he has. In the standard mode, players will find they have several more abilities than they have the points to equip them. So this is a nice bonus. Plus, you’ll also gain several specialty abilities that really kick ass.
Sora can also rock out some sweet limit attacks when teaming up with other characters in the game. Now when you allow a new character to join your party, you will also gain his limit attack. Though they may drain all of Sora’s MP at once, the limits are totally worth it. Similar to the double and triple techniques in Chrono Trigger, these attacks can do major damage to large groups of enemies and lone bosses alike.
Summons have also been beefed up. Now when you summon an ally you can control its various attacks, but not necessarily its movements. When you summon Chicken Little, for example, you’ll be able to have him throw baseballs at enemies while you’re attacking. But the really cool part about this is the ability to go into first person mode and throw balls at bad guys using an aiming reticule.
This English build is also the first time we’ve heard any of the Hollywood voice talent in action. Haley Joel Osment does an even better job this time around as Sora. But that’s not to discount completely stellar performances by Christopher Lee as the scheming DiZ and James Woods as the maniacal Hades. But for most of the characters Hollywood stars aren’t used or necessary. No matter how big or small the role is, the voice talent so far shines across the board.
Jiminy Cricket is back with his journal and it’s probably one of the most thorough in all of gaming. Not only does it detail every character and enemy, but it also retells the story up to the point you’re at in the game and updates every character profile as something new happens. You can even check on the treasure status of every world you visited to be sure that you got every chest in the game. The same tracking system is in effect while you collect Gummi pieces in the Gummi ship sequences.
We also found out more info about these ship sequences. In addition to the rotating side and backwards viewing angles we talked about, Gummi ships also fly through a variety of environments, have their own bosses, and are much easier to level up than before. You’ll not only fly through outer space, but also through tunnels, caves, and cityscapes. Several of the Gummi flight paths ended with an intense boss battle as well. The coolest one so far is a giant Heartless space pirate ship. You’ll rotate around this beast taking out its many turrets and weak points. If you don’t manage to kill it within a certain amount of time, you can still pass the level but you won’t the get all of the goodies the dead boss leaves behind. After beating a flight path you’ll get a new ship blueprint most of the time. This makes upgrades as easy as selecting another ship in the garage rather than building entirely new ones piece by piece, which you can still do if you like.
Our time with Kingdom Hearts 2 has been extremely exciting so far, but there is still a long ways to go. Look out for our full impressions the day the game is released in March 28. See you in a week and a half!