Kingdom Hearts is infamous for a lot of things. People often make fun of the series for just how strange it truly is. Putting Disney and Final Fantasy together was already odd enough. But then you add all the original story elements and it just got all the more strange.
At least it made sense, though. Well, at least by Square Enix standards. It was a simple story about an anime boy finding his friends and beating up evil.
Then Chain of Memories happened and things got complicated. Then this game happened and the story went to hell! WE’RE THREE GAMES IN, PEOPLE!!
Kingdom Hearts 2 was the game where I really fell in love with this series. I disliked KH1 and was fine with Chain of Memories. But 2? I legitimately got addicted to this game! I kept playing it up until I had done literally everything it had to offer! Even then, I wanted to play more!
If only my poor controller had enjoyed it as much as I did… damn you, Critical mode!
Story: What the actual fuck is happening?
The first three hours of this game are trash, fight me.
After an unbearably long prologue with Roxas, Sora, Donald, and Goofy all awaken from their forget-Chain-of-Memories nap. Upon awakening, they discover that the worlds are being assaulted once again by the Heartless, as well as a new threat: Organization 13, a collection of anime bad guys with mysterious goals. Now, Sora and the gang must battle both the Heartless and the Nobodies in order to reunite with their friends and save the multiverse!
If I were to go into detail, a plot synopsis for this game would be as long as a god damn novel. The story in this game is ridiculously convoluted and nonsensical for what should be something so simple. If you want to keep track of all the characters and all the proper nouns and all the plot twists, you’ll fry your own brain faster than if you dipped it in frying oil.
There are two main problems with this story. One: the rules make no god damn sense. The writing in this game does such a poor job of explaining how things work that not even die-hard KH fans understand any of this shit. How do the data worlds work? How could Roxas and Sora exist at the same time? Why is this Kingdom Hearts different from the one at the end of the first game? Why does everyone suddenly have a Keyblade when it was implied that only two of those actually existed in the first game? What the actual fucking hell is happening?!
Problem two: the Disney worlds. This is a common issue throughout this series, but it feels more prevalent than most other games here. The stories of the Disney worlds are almost entirely self-contained, making no real difference for the plot of the game itself. Which means that a good 70% of your playthrough is spent on Disney-themed filler. Hooray! What a waste of time!
There are a few good moments peeking through the overall mess. Sora and Riku’s conversation in the Realm of Darkness at the end is pretty heartwarming. Goofy ‘dying’ is absolutely hilarious. Sora and Roxas becoming one is fairly well done. There are a few good things to reward those who are invested in this story.
And by that, I mean those who can actually keep up with this story. And to those select few, I applaud.
Presentation: Can you make it more anime?
Sorry zippers. Belts are my new best friend.
Graphically speaking, this game isn’t much of an upgrade over KH1. The character models do have a bit more detail, such as being able to actually move their fingers now. But in terms of actual models, it isn’t all that different.
Stylistically, it’s an improvement. This game sports my favorite character designs in the entire series; from characters to the monsters, everything in this game either looks genuinely awesome or so ridiculously anime that you can’t help but love it. The menus are more visually dynamic, changing to match the world you’re in, which is a nice flair. Not to mention that all the environments are much more visually distinct and interesting than what we got in previous games.
Cough cough Chain of Memories.
Also, hot take incoming: this game has the best KH soundtrack. There isn’t a single song in this game that I don’t love listening to. From the heartbreaking melody of the Roxas fight to the chill-ass Hundred Acre Wood song, Yoko Shimomura continues to bring her A+++ game to this series.
Honestly, I think this game holds up really well! The blocky anime-cartoon style stands out in a good way. To be frank, I prefer how this game looks to what Kingdom Hearts 3 has to offer. This look feels much more timeless!
Side note: thank god for the PS4 port. Almost instant load times and smooth frame rates? This game has never looked so good!
Gameplay: Introducing… The Triangle Button!!
This game is a very different experience depending on your difficulty. Easy and normal? Mash square and triangle and you’ll be fine. Proud? You might need to think. Critical? Prepare to become a master of all of this game’s mechanics!
Guess which one my masochistic ass went for…
The core gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 2 is much the same as it was in Kingdom Hearts 1. It’s a 3D action RPG; you run around fighting hordes of Heartless and Nobodies by mashing the X button, occasionally pressing the triangle button, or casting a few spells. Across your journey, you’ll unlock new abilities and items to expand your options in combat.
There are a few key improvements that helps this game play better. The platforming is much smoother and more responsive. Combat has better tracking, making it easier to attack enemies without slashing at the air just in front of them like an idiot. Plus, you start off with some key abilities that you had to unlock for some reason in the first game. Not to mention that the Gummi Ship segments are much more intense and engaging than the slow plodding through boring space that we got in KH1.
But those are all just the improvements. What does this game do that’s new? Well…
First and foremost: Sora can transform now. His different forms equip him with a second Keyblade, allowing him to duel wield, and changes the color of his outfit. As you progress, you’ll unlock more forms to play with. From the melee-focused red form (I forget their names) to the hovering caster-focused blue all the way to the supremely powerful silver form, these transformations bring a lot of variety to the gameplay. Plus, they just make you feel like an unstoppable badass! One of them even makes you into KH1 Sora!
Though be careful! If you’re unlucky, you’ll end up as a highly vulnerable Heartless. So… pray.
The different spells you have to play with in this game are also much more interesting than before. Spells that you think would be useless on paper end up being incredibly game breaking if used properly. Magnet, reflect, they’re all really fun and satisfying to use.
And make no mistake. If you’re playing on Critical mode, you will need it.
Which brings me to my oddest point: Critical mode. This difficulty level is insane!! You start out with a whole slew of abilities and the AP to use them. But in exchange, you’re left with very little health throughout the entire game. And as a nice little touch: most enemies, if not all of them, are fully capable of killing you in one or fewer hits. Boss fights especially.
And I absolutely loved it!
This challenge is absolutely merciless. In order to overcome it, you need to truly explore all of your options. Suddenly, abilities that seemed useful become a burden while abilities that seemed useless become game-breaking. By the time you finish the game, you’ll be a master of this game.
Just try not to smash your controller.
Then there’s all the post-game content. This is where KH2 goes from challenging to nearly impossible. The extra bosses unlocked are some of the hardest in any game I have ever played! The Lingering Will alone took more time to beat than any Dark Souls boss I’ve ever slain! And don’t even get me started on the Data Organization fights! Those legit almost killed me!
There are a ton of other things. Dozens of minigames that range from ‘meh’ to ‘please never make me do it again’ (cough cough skateboarding). Gimmick boss fights, like the arena. This game has a ton of content in it. Some of it is really fun. The rest feels tacked on.
Overall, the good outweighs the bad. As a result, we get one of, if not the, best game in the series.
Although Birth By Sleep may have something to say about that.
Three games in and we finally have a great one. Nicely done, Nomura. Now if only he was better at writing…
Kingdom Hearts 2 is an odd game. The story has flown so thoroughly off the rails that it’s landed on another planet. But the visuals are still so solid and the majority of the gameplay so good that it can be forgiven. It’s just a ton of fun to play!
So, yes. If you haven’t played KH2, I’d highly recommend you do. If the story is a problem, you can always just skip it and pretend like it’s just a Disney game.
That last sentence probably made me some enemies.