The story that began in Kingdom Hearts has been taken up again and drawn lovingly to its conclusion in Kingdom Hearts II, based one year after the events of the first game. You should be able to figure out what has brought you to this point because a synopsis is given in a series of rather bizarre, movie-like, dreams and ‘flashes’. However, these will more than likely confuse rather than inform. The first part of the game plays as a tutorial in which you get to familiarise yourself with the menu and the controls while you - as Roxas – hang with your friends during the last six days of Summer Vacation. Roxas starts to show signs of unusual behaviour whenever he sees refelctions of himself, and his dark relationship to something called the ‘Keyblade’ begins to grow. He also begins seeing, and talking to, people that aren’t there - or at least that his friends can’t see. And then – at the end of the sixth day, things really start to get messy – but we won’t spoil it.
Without going into a tedious blow-by-blow comparison between this game and the preceding one, I still feel I need to point out that this one misses the mark on several levels. It feels as though the game has been stuffed into a package that is a size too small for it. And compared to the first one the amount of time spent in each ‘World’ is very brief. In fact it feels like nothing more than a quick; “Hi, great to see you again,” a few quick battles, a great-looking Boss fight and you’re off to the next World in your Gummi Ship. The overwhelming number of characters that make an appearance makes the game feel as though each ‘Star’ had been signed with the expectation that many will drop out come time to shoot. However, everyone reported on time, wearing full makeup and in costume so that none could be dropped without major legal battles. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see all these characters. It’s just that there are far too many.
Having said all that, Kingdom Hearts II does have some wonderful moments.The locations and characters are beautifully rendered with the Disney attention to fine detail very much on show, and that makes each World an interesting and a beautiful place to visit. It’s just a pity you don’t get to see very much of it. The combat is real time and consists of pushing the X and the triangle button repeatedly – however watching the combat unfolding is completely entrancing. Like any good RPG, after combat your characters are rewarded with improved stats and new moves, and KH II is no exception. The trouble though, is that there are so many moves, attacks and abilities to choose from, and there seemed no limit to how many you can equip that I quickly became confused. Apart from regularly learned abilities, there are also ‘Forms’ which allow you to merge powers with other party members for increased abilities for a short time. One aspect of the game I did enjoy was the costume and appearance changes in some of the Worlds. Even though they are purely cosmetic they pushed KH II a little higher up in my estimation. Seeing Donald and Goofy and the rest of the Disney gang in their original black and white forms at Timeless River was an amazing, not to mention nostalgic, experience. And then a few hours later Sora (you), Donald and Goofy were looking decidedly futuristic in glowing ‘Tron’ suits in Space Paranoids. Wonderful! Another aspect of Kingdom Hearts II that I found enchanting, indeed, endearing was the use of the majority of the original Disney character’s voices. If the originals weren’t available the next best thing was used, namely the person who is their television voice.