Kingdom Hearts II
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 06/26/2006


It’s been four years, but the questions have finally been answered. Kingdom Hearts II has been released in North America.

Kingdom Hearts II’s story starts off with a boy named Roxas, enjoying the last week of his summer vacation. When mysterious creatures show up in his town, the keyblade appears in his hands, and he sets off to figure out more about what’s happening. A few hours of surprising plot twists later, control is resumed on Sora, as he also sets out to combat these new creatures, called the “Nobodies.” The story only intensifies from here, cumulating in one of the best in recent memory, if not one of the best in this current gaming generation. For as good as this tale is however, it’s not the best tale ever told. When the plot isn’t focused on the main story, it’s slow, erratic, and at points, downright boring. The pacing isn’t very well done either, as a sudden two hour rush of story will come, and then after all that excitement, it drops into a Disney rehash for the next ten, before the main story resumes, which inspires more playing. This method of plot progression continues throughout the game.

Screen Shot
Sora’s acid trips were never in color.

The graphics found in Kingdom Hearts II are spectacular, from the opening and closing CGI cinemas created by the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children team, to the in game scenes, to the animation on the characters, and the backgrounds. Character movement has been mastered, giving each and every character their own style, depth, and appearance, from the way Captain Jack saunters, to the way Axel wields his chakrams. The backgrounds are richly detailed and varied as well, from the realistic settings of the jungles and buildings of Pirates of the Carribean, to the actual pages of Pooh’s book, to the shocking scale and epic size of the final area, every area has so much attention given to it that it truly begins to feel more like a real place, and less like a sequence from a film.

Kingdom Hearts II has wonderful sound on almost all fronts, from the music to the voice acting. Yoko Shimomura has composed another wonderful soundtrack, filled with stirring melodies that don’t let go for a while after having been heard, and Utada Hikaru has once again created a great theme song to start things off. Then there’s the amazing voice acting, with characters voiced by their original Disney counterparts, and almost all the voice actors have a wonderful english voice, which adds much to the story. There are a few disappointments in the sound department, such as some recycled music, and a few poor choices for voice acting, but none of it is so bad to be really detracting from the game.

The gameplay of Kingdom Hearts II is the major down point in this game. It’s almost like a two-edged sword: the combat has been remarkably overhauled, but most all exploration found in the original has been removed, and the game has become far more linear than it’s prequel.

Screen Shot
Auron trains Sora.

Sora is a destructive beast this time around, dashing around the battlefield, flipping in air, wielding dual-keyblades…it all adds an inspiring flair that keeps all the X mashing worthwhile. Also, now there are a multitude of more useful options this go round: in the previous Kingdom Hearts, Sora had other abilities that could be used, but really, they just weren’t as effective as attacking. But that is no more, as now he can use Drives, which increase his stats, abilities, and give him the power to use two keyblades at the cost of a party member. Summoning has been revamped to be far more useful, and magic refills, which allows it to be used more often, and every party member has at least one “limit break” which uses all Sora’s MP, but comes with major damage, and some major special effects on screen, as is common for Square Enix. Drives and summons now level up as well, increasing their power, which inspires the player to use them. But, where all this flourishes, the worlds decrease. There are more worlds now, and these worlds are more exciting and engaging than in the previous, which makes the confined feel all the more disappointing, because everything is so force-fed. The player simply must go where the game says, and if they try to go in other directions, messages appear saying which way to go, and barring movement in that direction. Also, most areas are big and sparsely designed, to accommodate for the combat, which hurts searching out areas for hidden chests and other surprises, because there aren’t any. Most all chests in the game are in plain sight, with the occasional one hidden on top of a building or tucked away a bit in the corner, which really hurts, because instead of getting an even balance to keep both fun, combat begins to get tedious when that’s all that there is to do.

Kingdom Hearts II has some weaknesses: a fact that is a little disappointing considering the development time. But there are many positives going for it, and all of these are exemplary–from the story, to the sound, to the combat–and help to make this one of the best RPGs of the year, if not game of the year. Here’s just hoping Nomura realizes that exploration was a great part of Kingdom Hearts, and that the sequel suffers for having little of it, so that the inevitable Kingdom Hearts III is a more balanced game.

-Joey Janowski

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Excellent
Graphics Excellent
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Bad
The Verdict: Very Good