Review by: Night Ninja
Use of Alcohol
I feel as if this has been a long time coming for me, this is the game of the Kingdom Hearts series that I’ve played the most, obsessed over the most, and have enjoyed the most. This is also most people’s last game they’ve played of the series, back in 2005 when it released, most people either didn’t know about Chain of Memories, or thought it was a side game and, regardless, was greeted to a metric fuckton of confusion. This may have been the game that really started people’s confusion on the series and cementing it as such in its reputation, however; this game is to this day the best and had caught the attention of many, so you can’t overlook what it did for the series. At this point in the series, if you want to follow along, you will have to play the Final Mix versions of these games to not miss even the tiniest of details, as they tend to set up a lot for future installments, and even will tie in with them in some ways that are great, and some oversights on behalf of those in charge of the story. For as much as fans can praise the director Tetsuya Nomura for making a story that CAN capture fans hearts and keep them engaged, as I look back, I’ve noticed certain inconsistencies and in the story section I may point them out. Should that impede your overall enjoyment with the games though? No, but for everything that this game DOES do right, it does right REALLY damn well. So, let’s start tackling this 2005 JRPG with its story!
SPOILERS FOR THOSE THAT HAVE YET TO PLAY FINAL MIX AND CHAIN OF MEMORIES
So this game has quite an interesting way of starting, instead of with Sora, Donald, and Goofy and immediately set course for the new worlds in the game; you are instead playing as a boy named Roxas and in a place called Twilight Town. Through the prologue, you discover that things seem off, you spend most of it trying to be a kid on summer vacation with his 3 buddies, enjoying sea-salt ice cream, playing the local sport/tweak on sparring called struggle against a young Seifer with Fuu and Rai from Final Fantasy VIII WITH Final Fantasy IX’s Vivi also being a part of their little gang. Or even challenging the struggle champion, Setzer from Final Fantasy VI, along with another day doing odd jobs for munny so you can go to the beach. As much as this can remind many of summer vacation as a kid, Roxas ends up having some of the strangest issues with mysterious creatures stealing belongings and the actual word for some reason, to Axel from Chain of Memories showing up and claiming to be friends with him, and Roxas reliving the events of the first game and being granted the keyblade at certain points. It only spirals downwards until he finds out that the reality you’ve played through in the prologue was all a simulation, and Roxas is a member of Organization XIII, the same group that had a good amount of its members stationed in Castle Oblivion in the GBA title. It only gets deeper, as Namine herself from the GBA title had Roxas stay in the simulation as he is the Nobody of Sora, and for him to awaken from his deep sleep from the in-between game, he needs Roxas to be complete.
Quick education time!! A Nobody is a creature left behind after one subcomes to darkness and their heart is swallowed and becomes a heartless, the shell behind without a heart is just that, a being that lacks a heart, and shouldn’t exist. So Roxas begrudgingly accepts his fate after a battle with who was his only true friend, Axel, and he becomes one with Sora, ending the prologue and starting the true Kingdom Hearts II.
Now I have to say how I feel on the prologue, it is one of the biggest complaints with this game as people look back on it, no Sora in sight, a character no one knew anything of, and no knowledge of Chain of Memories will leave so many in confusion, especially towards Sora’s condition up until the end of the 4 hour long prologue. Is it a bit slow? Yeah, I won’t deny that, but it sets things up, and any longer and people would have been annoyed but Roxas could have been fleshed out more, but any shorter and you’d have cared even less about Roxas, a boy who was never supposed to exist and was forced to give up his existence all for someone he never knew he was even connected to. I believe the point of the prologue was supposed to set the tone, that yes… Sora may be back, but someone had to give up quite a bit to get that, and their sacrifice will not be forgotten, as a matter of fact, the game won’t let you.
You may continue on past that point as Sora up until the end credits, but it shows that there is a lot more sacrifice in these stories than just what Sora tried in the first game to save Kairi, or what freedom Riku gave up at the conclusion of the original game, and even more than what Roxas did in this game, and trust me… it will not stop piling up. Eventually once he wakes up from his big slumber since Chain of Memories, Sora gets some new clothes, and then it’s off to the worlds, as you deal with the returning heartless threat with Maleficent now alive and well and with Disney’s Pete at her side as I swear the most dimwitted sidekick any villain could have.
But the main villains in this game, is the organization, they operate in the shadows, and they wish to be whole with hearts of their own, but to achieve that goal they cause chaos and disorder by harming others, so ultimately at the end of the day they must be stopped. Be no stranger to the Final Fantasy characters, Squall(VIII), Yuffie(VII), Cid(VII), Aerith(VII), Cloud(VII), even Sephiroth(VII) comes back. This time newcomers include the aforementioned characters in the prologue at Twilight Town, Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII rocking her badass Advent Children redesign, Auron from Final Fantasy X in Olympus, or even the X-2 crew as… little… fairies for some reason… huh…
It is definitely a more story-heavy game this time, but what has seriously ranked up is the world line up and gameplay this time. Music is really fucking strong this time around, and arguably my favorite game score ever, as Yoko Shimomura returned and made some of the series’s best pieces in this title, from the Lazy Afternoons of Twilight Town in the prologue, the Tension Rising from the more crazy encounters, to even the Hazardous Highways you may travel between worlds, let alone the wondrous Space Paranoids you explore in a computer! Shoutout to the intro theme by Utada Hikaru “Passion” or Sanctuary for all us fans outside of Japan, still to this day one of the most epic opening themes and sets the stage for this game BEAUTIFULLY!
For worlds, you have the returning Hollow Bastion, The 100 Acre Woods serving as yet again a minigame world, Olympus Coliseum from Hercules with the underworld fully explorable, Agrabah from Aladdin, Halloween Town from the classic Tim Burton movie with Christmas Town fully explorable too, and Atlantica from The Little Mermaid. I’ll get to Atlantica soon… Oh, will I… But let’s talk about the new worlds!!!! For starters Twilight Town, a cool little suburban town between the realms of light and darkness, and connected to The Mysterious Tower, where the old magician in the classic Mickey Mouse cartoon “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” lives, being named Yen Sid as a clever use of being Disney backwards. In addition we have Beast’s Castle from Beauty and the Beast that looks absolutely wonderful with its atmosphere, The Land of Dragons from Mulan with some jaw-droppingly gorgeous shots that would do the movie proud even on PS2 hardware, Disney Castle as the homeworld for the main Disney characters, Timeless River a world connected to the castle as a way to travel back in time with the aesthetic and tone of the classic black and white cartoons of the early years,
Port Royale from Pirates of the Caribbean that looks great as well but with some poor imitators to replace the lack of any Depp or Bloom involved, The Pride Lands from The Lion King with being a little lion cub yourself in a charming recreation of many great locations from that classic as well, and finally Space Paranoids from the original 1982 Tron looking FANTASTIC and with Bruce Boxleitner reprising his role as the security program himself!
By far one of the most solid world lineups that the series has had yet, along with quite a few that beforehand you’d never expect to see, like Pirates and Tron! Pirates at the time was riding quite a bit of hype and success from the first movie and its eventual sequel, but Tron was considered ultimately a failed IP on Disney’s part as the original title didn’t do too well, but had a dedicated cult fanbase, and a game in the form of Tron 2.0 on the PC and original Xbox. The only stain on this otherwise fantastic line up is… well… Atlantica.
This world does deserve a whole section to touch upon why I don’t like it, now the first game’s version of the world, I didn’t quite mind. I thought it at least still had combat and the core gameplay, with some decent exploration that felt pretty immersive for the world itself. Now, what is so wrong with KH II’s version? EVERYTHING!!! No combat, no exploration, not even any story importance!!!!! It’s not like the organization came down into the water and coerced with Ursula, no heartless, no nobodies, instead? A musical world!!!!! Because that’s what people want in a JRPG… Now look, total disclosure, I am not a musical fan at all, but… holy horrid mother of god was this downright terrible, only 2 songs that were in the original film that I’ll… tolerate, and even less than the original performances, because the new ones are so… bad… but the other 3 are all original and beyond annoying, with a retelling of the original movie with the prince and Ariel turning human. If this was something you could just never touch and be good on the actual JRPG part of the JRPG, it wouldn’t be THAT big of a deal, I get it that these games are trying to still appeal to a younger demographic as well. But the issue is, they strong-arm you into completing all this, all so you can have some minor upgrades and the materials for some much-needed synthesis, so its required if you actually wanna complete some things in this game. It was pointless and strong-armed players into doing it, all to see a really abridged retelling of the original movie with 2 songs still retaining in… some way, and the rest being god awful, definitely not fun.
Now looking past that stain on the game, how is the rest of it? FUCKING AMAZING!!!!! It’s strange, it may have one of the most unbearable parts of a KH game yet, but the rest is truly some of the best the series has to offer. Combat feels so damn slick and perfect, the flow it has is beyond satisfying, especially if you get into a groove, you can end up kicking ass, and looking cool while doing it! Now you can add extra attacks into combos with the square button, ranging from an on the ground uppercut hit into the air, an explosion to shoot them up with more power, and extra fast hitting combos in the air.
So base combos have been extremely improved, even some that close distance even better than the original Final Mix had with just sliding dash, to even in the middle of the air, and it feels just right to pull off. In addition to all this, you have a new group of magic spells, some changing over the actual first 2 titles in the series. For example, fire is a spell that surrounds you in flames to hit enemies all around you, and thunder is more meant to be a direct hit of a bolt onto the targeted enemy, instead of an area of effect. On top of these additions, you have limits, special attacks that you’re invulnerable through and consumes all MP in your gage to use it, and usually with a party member from the world and even the Disney duo you’ve traveled with since the first game. Now you’d think with so much use of MP, that it would be dangerous to rely on too much, and you’d be right and wrong. Now once MP hits zero, there is a cooldown bar that pops in its place and once done, you have a full gage to use once again. But the biggest additions all involve the new drive gage, one that fills up by levels as you collect the orbs that enemies have a chance of dropping, or taking and dealing out damage with new abilities to equip. You use this gage to use the returning summon feature with the line up being Chicken Little to help advertise for the movie at the time, Genie from Aladdin, Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, and Peter Pan. Past the summons, the gage is used for drive forms, a system where Sora can use one or both of his party members to get a full gage of health and MP, and can even have an extra keyblade with heightened stats, and extra abilities to unlock for use outside forms. There’s Valor Form, the purely physical attack based form that you use with Goofy’s help and can lay down combos and damage, but can’t use any magic with 2 keyblades. Wisdom Form is a magic based form with Donald’s help using magical projectiles shot through the tip of your keyblade over any physical combos, and all magic is intensified keeping with 1 keyblade. Master Form is magic and air combo based, using a decent balance of both forms of attacking and using 2 of any party members to activate with 2 keyblades as well. Then there is the II +Final Mix+ exclusive Limit Form, a form that doesn’t require any party members at all, and is gives Sora his original outfit color scheme with combos and limits from the Final Mix version of the original game, with each hit you land in a limit giving you back HP. The last 2 forms are one of pure chance with ways of manipulating it, and one that can be unlocked through pure chance. Anti Form is a form that can occur if you abuse the drive forms, as a way to encourage not relying on them too much, and is almost like a heartless form for Sora, no magic, all physical attacks that hit hard and fast, but no way of healing yourself through health pickups or items, and you have to wait for the gage to run out to return to normal, with using both your party members too. The final form called Final Form, once unlocked through trial and error to have it activate, it is the exact opposite of Anti with it almost embodying light, with 2 keyblades controlled through telekinesis, floating above the ground, glide, intense magic, and the ability to reset the revenge value of enemies, requiring both party members as well to use.
Revenge value is a part of the game’s core design, as during boss fights you land hits on the enemy, racking up damage, but eventually they hit back and knock you out of your combo, the revenge value is how many hits a boss takes before they can knock you out of your combo and you’d have to wait for the next opening. It ends up making the fights engaging and exciting throughout the game, along with the new reaction commands that are context sensitive actions in battle and out of battle too, just all adding up to a true spectacle that must be experienced first hand to enjoy fully. Add on top of all of this, the great characters, extra battles even against Sephiroth again to even an unsettling suit of armor that becomes sentient, you’ll definitely stay busy!
Now with this being the next numbered title in the series, the gummi ship returns and kicks things up a notch, it goes from baby’s first Starfox, to a more on the rails and engaging action-packed fly through these routes that you only have to complete once to move on with the story. One thing I have to praise is making it more optional, not only was the first game more sluggish over travel until you can warp everywhere at least, but it was almost always mandatory, especially if you wanted access to the worlds like Monstro. Now it’s just a straight shot to the end, destroying all the enemy ships in your path, and with some amazing music to back it up and keep you pumped throughout the whole experience. Although this is a BIG step up from the original system, it’s still not too appealing to me personally, to where I’d go out of my way to complete the metric fuckton of extra missions that can be done, but it is more appealing, and for those who enjoy gameplay like this, you’ll have PLENTY to look forward to.
What can I say in the end, other than this is still my favorite game of all time to this day? I am not gonna sit here and say that it’s some perfect masterpiece, that it doesn’t have some jarring issues(I’m looking at you Atlantica!), but… Not only does the game make up for some of its shortcomings in spades with the fantastic gameplay and the amazing attempt at an intriguing story that begins to really show how fucked things can get, but how they can come out on top in the end, even if it’s just a single victory. I remember the first time I ever did beat this game with my childhood friend who introduced me to the originals on PS2, and when I got that ending version of Sanctuary and it just had that… it’s over feeling… nothing has ever felt so gratifying, and having that golden crown on Sora’s head from completing all the Final Mix version’s biggest challenges, to that bone-chilling secret ending, this is the series strongest entry! But please, don’t let me saying this, put you off from the other games, they all bring something to the table one way or another, and can all be a great time. This story above all will always keep me invested, and for that, it is a timeless title.
Graphics 8.5 – 10 From just how many different art styles they can make work in this game simultaneously, to just how good the live-action worlds look, to even the original worlds and their breathtaking visuals, it’s arguably the PS2’s best with how good it looks, and on PS4 in 60 FPS or even 4k on the Pro, you can’t pass this up!
Music 9.5 – 10 If it wasn’t for the horrible Atlantica songs, this soundtrack would be absolutely perfect, especially in the HD version where all songs were totally redone with a real orchestra!
Gameplay 9.5 – 10 It feels so right to cut down heartless and nobodies, along with absolutely destroying a boss in just total badassery!
Story 9 – 10 It still can even make you choke up and cry, it’s heartfelt, it’s eventful, it’s a story that will keep you here and ready for whatever may come next after the credits roll!
Content 9.5 – 10 If you get the Final Mix version on PS4, you will have plenty to do, lots of trophies, a lot of replay value, to %100 this game, you’d have to be one dedicated son of a bitch!
World Building 9 – 10 It’s damn near perfect, keeping in mind hardware limitations of the PS2, for the time everything was masterfully done on this front, everything has the atmosphere it needs, and the variety is astonishing!
Gummi Ship 8 – 10 Although it isn’t my thing, I acknowledge what it does well and the improvement from the first outing, definitely worth trying out!
9.5 – 10
Although I am awarding this game with a score that puts it neck and neck with NieR: Automata, for what it is, for what it does well, and for what it offers, it is a damn good game, despite its appearance, don’t take Kingdom Hearts II lightly!